Kanchanaburi (population 52,000) is the gateway to Kanchanaburi Province. For most visitors it holds precisely one sight of interest, namely the Bridge over the River Kwai, the start of the infamous World War II Death Railway to Burma (Myanmar), although there is an increasingly thriving backpacker scene taking advantage of the chilled-out riverside vibe. More foreign visitors are discovering why Thais know it as one of the most beautiful provinces in the country with its easily accessible waterfalls and national parks.
Orienting yourself in Kanchanaburi is very easy. The main road, Thanon Saeng Chuto, runs through the length of town from north to south, connecting the River Kwai Bridge, the train station and the bus station. Running parallel to this, closer to the river, is Thanon Mae Nam Kwae where most of the guesthouses and the local bar scene can be found.
BKS public buses (line 81) leave from pier 4 of Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai). In Kanchanaburi, there are two separate but nearby bus terminals, with 1st class buses departing from an office off Thanon Saengchuto, and 2nd class buses from the larger terminal one block east.
1st class buses should leave Bangkok every 15 minutes from 05:00 to 22:30, take about 2 hours, and (as of February 2006) cost 99 baht, including a bottle of water.
2nd class buses (new route) leave Bangkok every 20 minutes from 03:30 to 19:00 and take about 2 hours.
2nd class buses (old route) leave Bangkok every 15-30 minutes from 04:00 until 18:00 and take about 3 hours.
There are also tourist minibuses directly to/from Khao San Road, departing Kanchanaburi at 13:30 and 18:30.
From Nakhon Pathom, there are direct buses (2nd class only) every 15 to 30 minutes between 04:00 and 18:00, which take two hours. Alternatively, you can hop off a 1st class bus when it passes by Nakhon Pathom, but double-check with staff to ensure the route allows this and they know your plans.
From Sangkhlaburi to Kanchanaburi, you're spoilt for choice:
Air-con VIP buses leave at 08:45, 10:45 and 14:30 and take 4 hours.
Air-con minibuses leave at 06:30, 07:30, 11:30, 13:00, 15:30 and take 3.5 hours.
Standard buses leave at 06:45, 08:15, 10:15, 13:15 and take 5 hours.
Trains leave Bangkok's Thonburi Train Station at 07:45 and arrive at Kanchanaburi at 10:20, also at 13:45 and arriving at 16:35. You may be interested in buying a ticket all the way to the River Kwai Bridge, since these two trains are the only ones which cross the bridge each day. Since December 2005, the fare is 100 baht for foreigners..
Return trains leave at 07:25 and 14:48 from the main railway station; from the River Kwai Bridge they leave 6 minutes earlier. Riding 3rd class is an adventure in itself, and a must do for everyone who hasn't travelled this way before.
Both train services continue to/from Nam Tok (17 baht), the current terminus of the Death Railway. The 10:30 train has a special tourist section, where the low, low price of 300 baht gets you air-con, a soft drink and a certificate of having ridden the Death Railway. This service has occasionally been operated by a steam engine, but usually uses an ordinary diesel DMU, and railfans will have to content themselves with the Japanese-era steamers plinthed at the main and bridge stations.
Kanchanaburi is about 3 hours drive from Bangkok, via the eastern highway towards Ratchaburi. There you can take a detour to the famous Damoen Saduak floating market for some sightseeing and lunch.
Kanchanaburi is just a little too stretched out to be comfortably walkable. Small orange and large yellow songthaews (converted pickups) cruise up and down Saengchuto, connecting bus station, train station and the bridge, and charge a standard 5 baht. Motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks are also available, with negotiable prices, and some guesthouses offer bicycle rental.
Bridge over the River Kwai
Located some 3 km north of Kanchanaburi (down New Zealand Rd off Saeng Chuto), this iron bridge (Saphan Mae Nam Kwae) across the Kwae Yai river is the main attraction for many visitors. Immortalized in the famous movie and novel, it was a part of the infamous Death Railway to Burma, constructed by POWs working for the Japanese in hellish conditions during World War 2. Some 16,000 POWs and 100,000 Asian workers died during the railway construction. The present iron bridge is the second wartime incarnation (a part of the original can be found in the War Museum), but 2 central 'boxy' spans were rebuilt after the war to replace three sections destroyed by Allied bombing.
You can cross the bridge on foot. While the center of the track has been thoughtfully turned into a steel-plated walkway and there are little side platforms between the spans for sightseeing and avoiding trains, there are no guardrails so vertigo sufferers and small children should steer clear.
The State Railway of Thailand operates a little tourist train with which you can drive across the bridge and back again, at 20 baht for the 15 minute round trip.
Art Gallery and War Museum
This well-signposted complex is located about 50 metres from the bridge and houses a bizarre collection of museums and exhibits, most of which are poorly maintained and labeled. Open 08:30-16:30 daily; admission to the whole lot is 30 baht.
War Museum. To your left as you enter is this four-story building encrusted with statues, which starts off with a little Burmese shrine but is mostly devoted to pre-WW2 Thai history through the ages and is filled with wall paintings of kings and racks of rusty pistols. There are good views of the bridge from the roof of the riverside building.
World War II and JEATH Museum. Lurking in the basement, this is the main drawcard and features a section of the first wooden bridge, recreations of the POW barracks and random military paraphernalia.
Jewelry Museum. Above the WW2 museum is the most bizarre section, housing (among other things) dusty stamp collections and a gallery with wall paintings of all Miss Thailand winners.
Other sights & attractions
Chongkai War Cemetery
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Somdet Phra Sri Nakharin Park
Don Chedi Archaeological Site
Wat Ban Tham
Wat Tham Sua
Wat Tham Khao Noi
Wat Tham Khaopoon
Wat Tham Mungkornthong
Thailand-Burma Railway Centre - next to Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (WW2 rail history)
Many day-trips to Kanchanaburi include a visit to the Tiger Temple. The temple is nowhere to be seen, but the tigers are lounging in a dusty canyon, surrounded by minders in yellow shirts and overseen by a monk off in the corner. You can watch the tigers from a distance, and when your time comes, the minders will take your camera and snap a few photos of you crouching behind the tiger, as well as a few close-ups of the tigers themselves. (You can also pay a few hundred baht extra for a "special" photo with a tiger.) It's all kind of odd, but the pictures will certainly wow your friends. However, please keep in mind that at least one tourist has been seriously mauled by the tigers. Admission is 300 baht, and comes with a nice book about the tigers.
The Sai Yok Noi waterfalls.
Erawan Waterfalls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand and a must see if you are in Kanchanaburi and your time/budget allows it. Public buses (No. 8170) leave Kanchanaburi bus terminal every 50 (sometimes 60) minutes between 08:00 and 17:20, fare 35 baht, duration 90 minutes. The bus drives on Saengchuto Road up to the north. If you live far away from the bus terminal, and you probably will, it may be a good idea to catch it there. Be sure to try and get an early bus, since there will be fewer people at the waterfall and you don't have to hurry to get back. The last bus will leave for Kanchanaburi at 16:00. Plan to spend at least three hours plus the time you want to spend swimming at the waterfalls. Entrance fee to the waterfalls is 400 baht for foreigners. Bicycles can be rented at the entrance (20 baht/hour), however you won't be able to use it for 90% of the distance, so they don't really have any use. Be sure to bring your hiking shoes (or whatever matches most closely) and swimming costume for a dip in the turquoise pools (although watch out for fish feasting on the soles of your feet!).
Sai Yok Noi waterfalls are more accessible but less spectacular than the Erawan falls.
Lumnam Jone Water Way is the beginning of the River Kwai. It is located in Amphoe Sri Sawat. It has a beautiful surrounding and cystal clear water. The only problem is that it is hard to get to. On foot it will take a few hours walk, and by boat it take 5 hours from Sri Nakarin Dam at the ferry pier.
Tours to nearby natural attractions can be made with local tour agencies. Some of the reliable ones are Good Times Travel or Nutty's Adventures. They both organize one day excursions and several day treks in Kanchanaburi Province. The single-day excursions range in price from roughly 500 to 1000 baht.
Also a tour service from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi by bus or van, which take the tourist to Sri Nakarin Water Reservior. The tour can be reach at Truly Yours. Price depends on number of guests.
Another tour service from Ayutthaya to Kanchanaburi by bus or van can be reached at Ayutthaya Boat & Travel.
For cheap street eats, the market in front of the train station will fulfill all your 10 baht phad thai needs.
Ahaan Fine, Thanon Maenam Kwai (about 75m up from Apple Guest House on the left). Daily 11:00-23:00. A small, tastefully laid out restaurant offering a wide selection of Thai dishes at prices between food stall prices and guest house prices. 30-70 baht.
Apple's Guest House, 52 Rong Heeb Oil; tel. +66-034512017 . This guest house includes a popular restaurant with reasonable prices.
Floating restaurants just next to the River Kwai bridge uphold the fine traditions of their brethren worldwide by serving mediocre food at inflated prices. Nice views though.
Night Market, in front of the train station on Saeng Chuto Road. Nothing out of the ordinary, but quite cheap as it's geared for locals.
River Kwai Park Market, right next to the bridge. Dozens of stalls selling touristy knick-knacks, but quite a few Thais seem to come here for jewelry shopping as well.
Tesco Lotus, Saeng Chuto Road (to the south of town). Standard issue hypermarket.
There are numerous locations where you'll be able to enjoy your drinks. Especially around the Guest Houses near the river.
Beer Barrel Bar along the main drag offers cheap drink prices and an unbeatable atmosphere - including free pool tables. Ask about the free ostrich feeding!
There are lots of guesthouses, resorts and hotels available. The density increases the nearer you get to the bridge. As usual if you book in advance they will arrange a free pick up service for you. If you haven't done so yet, you should try one night in a raft room floating on the river.
A view along the entrance to rooms at Apple's Guest House.
Apple's Guest House, 52 Rong Heeb Oil, ☎ +66-034512017, . Adjoined rooms of bamboo construction with bath and fan 300 baht per night, air-con rooms also available.
Jolly Frog Backpackers, Soi China, Mae Nam Kwai Road, ☎ +66-34514579, . Popular with budget travellers. Relaxed atmosphere. Unusually for a guesthouse restaurant half the customers are local Thais. Single rooms with fan and shared bathroom 70 baht, air-con rooms 290 baht.
C&C Guest House, 265/2 Mae Nam Kwai Road, ☎ 01-9217644, 05-8336466, 034-624547 (email@example.com, fax: 034-624548). Fantastic value for the rooms situated on the houseboat on the River Kwai and the bamboo huts on the picturesque riverside. Garden, restaurant, basic sanitary facilities. Close to the Death Railway bridge.rooms from 100 baht/night.
Ploy Guest House, 79/2 Mae Nam Kwai Road, ☎ +66-34515804, . All rooms in Siam style with air-con, private toilet and hot shower. Double rooms from 550 baht (Internet rate) or 650 baht, including coffee and toast for breakfast. Restaurant/bar with river view.
V.N. Guest House, 44 Rong Heeb Oil Road, ☎ +66-34514082 (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org), . Raft rooms from 250 baht, double rooms with bath 250 baht, air-con rooms 400 baht.
River Kwai Hotel, 284/15-16 Saeng Chuto Road, ☎ +66-34511565, . Centrally located halfway between the bus and train stations, this was once the city's fanciest hotel but now it's getting a little long in the tooth. Large swimming pool, restaurant, Internet café, beer garden, dubious massage/karaoke joint, etc. Singles from 900 baht.
Felix River Kwai Resort, 9/1 Moo 3, Thamakham, ☎ +66-34515061, . Walking distance from the bridge, just on the opposite side from the main touristy area. Nice, well-maintained facilities, with several restaurants, Internet access in the lobby, massage parlor, air-con, etc. Rooms from 1,800 baht.
Tourist Authority of Thailand, Saeng Chuto Road (just south of the bus terminal). Distributes a useful free map of the city and province. Open daily 08:00-16:00.