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Kanchanaburi

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Train crossing the Bridge over the River Kwai

Kanchanaburi (Thai: กาญจนบุรี) is a city located at the confluence of the rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai.

Understand

For most visitors the main sight of interest is the Bridge over the River Kwai, as the start of the infamous World War II Death Railway to Burma (now Myanmar), as well as the many associated museums. There is an increasingly thriving backpacker scene taking advantage of the chilled-out riverside vibe for those that need to get away from Bangkok. Kanchanaburi is also the gateway to the surrounding province of the same name. 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.

Orientation

Orienting yourself in Kanchanaburi is very easy. The main road, Saeng Chuto Road, 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 Mae Nam Kwae Road where most of the guest houses and the local bar scene can be found.

  • Tourist Authority of Thailand, Saeng Chuto Rd (just south of the bus terminal). 08:00-16:00 daily. Distributes a useful free map of the city and province.

Get in

By bus

BKS public buses (line 81) leave from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Taling Chan สายใต้ตลิ่งชัน), which is located far west in the suburb Thonburi. 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 05:00-22:30, take about 2 hours, and cost 110 baht, including a bottle of water.
  • 2nd class buses (new route) leave Bangkok every 20 minutes from 03:30-19:00 and take about 2 hours. Cost 95 baht.
  • 2nd class buses (old route) leave Bangkok every 15-30 minutes from 04:00-18:00 and take about 3 hours.

There are also tourist minibuses directly to/from Khao San Road, departing Kanchanaburi at 13:30 and 18:30.

There are also some buses leaving less frequently from Bangkok's Northern Mo Chit bus terminal (note: not the same as Mo Chit BTS station, and not within walking distance of it, although a standard 50 baht moto ride is available. It's often called "Mo Chit 2"). Here are the times I could find at the station:

First-class bus with toilet (3 hours, 122 baht): 06:00, 11:00 14:30

Second class bus with no toilet inside: 05:00, 07:00 09:30 12:30 17:00

Bus rides may be variable or cancelled (for example, with 14:30 being last of the day.) BUT there are vans available at the bus station leaving even when you're told there's no way to get there by bus! It may pay to talk to the information desk for this. Price Feb '11 was around 120 baht, about 2 hrs.

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.

By train

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.

Be warned that reaching Thonburi Station from Khao San Road is harder than it looks; tuk-tuk drivers will try to charge you outrageous rates, and walking involves crossing two bridges and looping back a ways. The best way is probably to take the passenger boat from Phra Arthit Pier and connect to a cross-river ferry that reaches the Thonburi Railway pier, then walk or take the open minibus from there. You can also walk a bit away from Khao San Road and find a metered taxi that will not rip you off. The fare should be about 70 or 80 baht from Khao San on the meter.

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 definitely recommended.

Both train services continue to/from Nam Tok, the current terminus of the Death Railway. The normal trains will charge "Farangs" (Westerners) B100 in each direction from Kanchanaburi to Wang Pho, the last station before Nam Tok (as at late 2009)Thais pay a lot less.

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, also at the waterfall in Nam Tok Noi. As at late 2009 the steam train rides no longer operate.

By car

Kanchanaburi is about 3 hours drive from Bangkok, along Hwy 4 (Phet Kasem) from Bangkok until it hooks up with Hwy 323. This will take you all the way to Kanchanaburi.

You can catch a taxi to Kanchanaburi, return to Bangkok for the day for around 2,000 baht. This should include stopping at the Bridge over River Kwai and museum, Kanchanaburi township, the local dam and the cemetary for the prisoners of war. You may need to pay a bit extra to visit Erawan Falls which is about an hour out of the town centre and the Tiger Temple.

By limousine taxi

Bangkok (Airport) limousines are a comfortable and swift means of travel between Thailand's capitol and Kanchanaburi. Transfer rates by luxury Japanese Sedan are typically from 3,000-3,500 baht.

By Minibus

For shorter travel - day trips from Bangkok are commonly sold at Bangkok travel agencies. Typically these include Toyota minibus transport from one's hotel to Kanchanaburi and back (visiting the famous bridge, Erawan National Park, etc. depending on the package), and perhaps lunch and entrance fees. One example: Circa early 2011 - approximately 1,100 baht for transport, lunch, and entrance fees to Erawan National Park & the famous bridge.

Get around

Kanchanaburi is just a little too stretched out to comfortably walk around. 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 10 baht. Motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks are also available, with negotiable prices, and some guesthouses offer bicycle rental. A number of places in town (mostly along Maenam Kwai Rd) rent bicycles for 50 baht/day, or motorcycles for 150-200 baht, depending on whether it is an automatic. In the area near to budget accommodation / guesthouses such as Ploy, you can rent bicycles or motorcycles from Yanee at 197 Maenumkaew Road. Remember to ask for a map and directions to popular sights.

See

Bridge over the River Kwai

Located some 3 km north of Kanchanaburi (down New Zealand Road, off Saeng Chuto Road), this iron bridge (Saphan Mae Nam Kwae) across the Kwai 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 II. Some 16,000 POWs and 90,000 Asian workers (most of them enslaved) 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 two 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 guardrails, but some areas of the bridge lack them, so be careful of small children! Off the end of the bridge, you can feed or ride an elephant bare-back at negotiated price of 600 baht per ride. At May 2010, the elephant was kept on a short chain, and had to stand in its own waste products.
  • As the bridge is still used locally, it is possible to take one of the trains that cross the bridge every day. The ride from Nam Tok (the train line's terminus) to River Kwai Bridge station takes a bit longer than 2 hours.

World War II

Pretty much all the sights in Kanchanaburi itself are directly related to World War II. The museums are dusty and generally not worth it, except for the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, which gives a good introduction of the Death Railway and its history. There are also two war cemeteries, the most moving of which is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

  • Chongkai War Cemetery, (either bargain with a taxi or rent a bicycle to get there; it's at the west side of the river). A neatly maintained smaller cemetery 2 km out of town along the road that leads to Wat Thaopoom. This is the final resting place of Dutch and British forces.
  • Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Don Rak), Saeng Chuto Rd (opposite the railway station), [1]. 07:00-14:00. This is the final resting place of almost 7,000 POWs who gave their life for the construction of the Death Railway to Burma. All POWs at this site are from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia. After World War II, the Allies decided to move all the buried POWs along the railway line to two war cemeteries in Kanchanaburi as they would be easier to maintain in a good condition. It is a sombre, yet very peaceful reminder of what went on here. The graves are set up in straight lines with neatly kept lawns. Some of the graves have a moving personal inscription. However, note that during the rainy seasons access to graves themselves may be closed to prevent damage to the grounds. If you have relatives buried there permission can be sought to enter the cemetery. An alternative is the Chong Kai cemetery which is always open. Both grounds are immaculately maintained. Free.
  • Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, 73 Jaokannun Rd (next to Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, near the south of Mae Nam Khae Road), +66 3 451 2721, [2]. 09:00-17:00 daily. Generally considered to be the best source of information regarding World War II in Thailand, railway construction and route, and the conditions endured by POWs and Asian labourers. Very moving exhibits, including video and interactive displays. A visit takes at least one hour, and probably longer if you want to read everything.Fee includes a free coffee or tea at upstairs cafe, where you can sit at the window bench overlooking the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. It is a good place to sit and reflect after your tour of the centre. 120 baht.
  • World War II Museum and Art Gallery, Mae Nam Khwae Rd (about 50 m from the Bridge over the River Kwai). 8:30-17:30 daily. This well-signposted complex houses a bizarre collection of museums and exhibits, most of which are poorly maintained and labeled. To your left as you enter is the "War Museum", a 4 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. 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. The World War II and (old) JEATH Museum is lurking in the basement. 40 baht.
  • JEATH War Museum, Th Pak Phraek (Adjacent to the Wat Chaichumphon temple complex 1 km south of the town centre). 08:30-18:00. The free guide leaflet concludes with these salutary words - "May Peace Always Conquer Violence". Exhibits are housed in a palm hut, modelled on the kind of buildings that Death Railway POWs would have slept in. The exhibits themselves are timeworn and many have been attacked by insects and weather. It may seem a amateurish in it's style of curation. The temple complex next door is much more interesting. A cross-river boat service is available from the Jeath museum. This is the main drawcard of the World War II Museum and Art Gallery complex. It features a section of the first wooden bridge, recreations of the POW barracks and random military paraphernalia. Downstairs is an exhibit of prehistoric Thailand complete with semi-erotic murals. 40 baht.

Notable temples

  • Don Chedi archaeological site
  • Giant Tree
  • Kuan Yum
  • Wat Ban Tham
  • Wat Tham Sua
  • Wat Tham Khao Noi
  • Wat Tham Khaopoon, 5 km out of town (past Chongkai War Cemetery). 20 baht entrance fee to cave complex with Buddha images.
  • Wat Tham Mungkornthong

Around Kanchanaburi

The area northwest of Kanchanaburi is dominated by the beautiful River Kwai Valleys. It is an area of great natural beauty, with a dazzling amount of waterfalls, caves, lakes and mountainous scenery. Most attractions can be visited as a day-trip from Kanchanaburi. Independent travel is possible for most attractions, but can be a hassle as local trains and buses are slow and inflexible. If you want to visit Hellfire Pass and the Erawan Falls in one day, be aware there is no public bus connection between them although there are guided tours.

Along the Death Railway

Sai Yok Noi Falls

While most visitors see the spectacular Erawan Falls, the Sai Yok Noi Falls are more accessible, because they are straight on the road to Sangkhlaburi. The Sai Yok Yai Falls are located further away from Kanchanaburi on the same road. But beside the falls, the national park is home to limestone caves and hot springs as well. And it can easily be combined with the Hellfire Pass Memorial.

Hellfire Pass

Only re-located in the 1980s, Konyu Cutting (known as Hellfire Pass by POWs and Asian labourers who cut and blasted through rock by hand to clear this pass for the Death Railway) has been reclaimed from the jungle as a profound war memorial funded by the Australian government. Excellent museum and self-guided walking tour facilities are available (donations welcome). Highly recommended. The descent through the jungle down to the Pass (listening to oral histories through audio headsets) is a moving experience. Before leaving, take a moment to reflect at the peace lookout overlooking the beautiful Kwai Noi Valley. More challenging walking options are available. Annual Anzac Day Dawn Service held here. 80 km NW from Kanchanaburi. For a day trip, consider taking morning train from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok (2.5 hrs), then saamlor to Memorial (20 min); return by bus (1 hr) or afternoon train.

Namtok to the Museum is quite a distance. It may be that your only option is a bus from the main road, which means walking from the station to there. Songteows may be available.

Sai Yok National Park, Phra That Falls and Hin Dat Hot Springs

Tiger Temple

Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua, popularly known as the Tiger Temple, is the biggest tourist trap of the region. Admission starts at 600 baht per person, but depending on the 'experience' you'd like, goes as high as 5,000 baht. 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. When they are not sitting unnatually still, the tigers are kept in barren concrete cells. 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 dazed tiger, as well as a few close-ups of the tigers themselves.

You can also pay a 1,000 baht extra for a "special" photo with a tiger, where you can have the head of a semi-unconscious one put in your lap. It's all kind of odd, but the pictures will certainly wow your friends, unless they value animal welfare over souvenirs in which case you might seriously disappoint them. Unverified reports of a tourist being seriously mauled by the tigers abound, regardless of which it is only common sense to not annoy tigers - a few years of domestication will not erase centuries of innate wildness.

Also, you are NOT allowed to wear bright yellow, pink or orange T-Shirts, or they will not allow you inside. You must also sign a release form, just in case you're harmed by the many animals at the temple (there are also water buffalo and deer roaming the parkland). You MUST bring your own camera, because the trainers do not have any.

The tiger temple is off the road heading to Sai Yok. you can take a bus heading towards Sai Yok or Sangkhlaburi. There is a sign about 1 km before the Tiger Temple. Once you see the sign make a big fuss and run up to the front of the bus and motion that you want to get off. The temple itself is about 1-2 k down the side road. to get back to kanchanburi, you can either try and flag down a bus on the main road going towards kanchanaburi or you might be able to buy a ride with one of the minibus tour groups. you can also rent a motorcycle and ride there yourself.

In the past, reports from Tiger Temple volunteer workers and staff released that the tigers were maltreated and abused by the Abbot of the temple and his staff. A 2008 report from the British conservation group Care for the Wild International (CWI) reveals disturbing evidence of animal abuse and illegal tiger trafficking at the temple. It has since been revealed that the animals are drugged on a daily basis, although there are some travellers reporting otherwise. There are numerous conservation and animal welfare groups campaigning against the controversial Tiger Temple, which has a track record of ill-treatment of the animals, including tigers disappearing in trucks during the night.

If you'd like to ignore the warnings of many travellers before you, as well as the reports of conservation experts, then to get to the Temple, you can approach a songteaw driver at the bus terminal and ask to hire him for an afternoon as you should best visit the Temple then and not in the morning. He should charge about 700 baht for a hire from 13:00-18:00.

Erawan National Park

One waterfall of Erawan National Park

The Erawan Falls are contenders for the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand, and a must see if time and budget allow. Entrance fee is 200 baht for foreigners plus 20 baht for a moped. The falls are composed of seven tiers — all of which are picturesque and great for swimming. Plan to spend at least two hours hiking plus the time you want to spend swimming in the falls.

Don't come unprepared. Wear a swimsuit and bring sunblock, since you'll want to have a dip in the turquoise pools (although they revert to dirty brown during the rainy season) on most levels. Don't forget to bring a towel. When swimming, watch out for fish feasting on the soles of your feet. They won't hurt you and are only looking for a meal on dead skin cells, but the feeling can be disconcerting.

Everyone can do the hike, but don't underestimate it; some shoes with profile will make the trip more pleasant, though flip flops are commonly worn. At the highest levels, one may have to walk through shallow water. The first four tiers are relatively close together and the walk is very straightforward. For the more adventurous, there is a large rock at the fourth tier that can be used as a water slide. Beyond the fifth tier, the hike will become slightly more difficult. The sixth and seventh tiers are not far from each other, but the paths are not well defined at this point, so be sure to look for the hard-to-spot signs. Additionally, beware of hornets at the top tier.

Bicycles can be rented at the entrance for 20 baht/hr, however you can only bike to the first level, which is only a 5 min walk, so they don't really have any use. Many Thais don't go further than the second level — as beyond this food & beverages, sans a water bottle after leaving a deposit, are not allowed.

If you walk on the right hill side of the road leading to the park gate, rather than the road itself, you will pass nice bamboo forest and you won't be asked to pay entrance fee, since they collect it only at the toll gate, if you enter by main road.

  • Please note as of recently (October, 2012) there are guards posted after the initial tollbooth just before the parking/main area to the falls. I also was unable to find the aforementioned path and the surrounding area itself apparently houses some high level police officers and officials and the locals are either knowledgeable of this path or wary of outsiders (I was warned away by several people when I was trying to locate this path).

Getting there:

Public Transport: Public bus 8170 leaves the Kanchanaburi bus terminal every 50-60 min. between 08:00-17:20. The fare is 50 baht and the ride takes ~90 minutes. If you stay far away north from the bus terminal, and you probably will, you can just walk to Saeng Chuto Road from your guest house and hail the bus there. Be sure to get an early bus, since there will be fewer people at the falls and you won't have to hurry to get back. The last bus leaves for Kanchanaburi at 16:00.

Transport Tour:, Tour agencies in Bangkok commonly sell a package that includes Toyota minibus transport from your Bangkok hotel to the falls and back, with lunch and the park entrance fee of 200 baht included, for 1,100 baht, circa early 2011. The packages are generally standardised and non-negotiable in price. Some tours also include a stop at the Bridge over the River Kwai, so inquire.

Tour packages that visitors can purchase from the nearby hotels/resorts in Kanchanaburi may include a stop to the Erawan waterfalls and other selected tourist attractions such as elephant riding, bamboo rafting, Tiger Temple and Hellfire Pass. These packages range around 1600 Bhat and include all transportation to and from the resort, the park fees, lunch, and an English-speaking guide.

In July 2011, many tour agencies and hotels were offering tours for 1,000-1,100 baht including entrance fees, lunch, elephant walk, bamboo raft ride, River Kwai Bridge, and a choice of Hellfire Pass or Erawan Falls. Not all combinations of tours leave every day so check a few days ahead if you're after something specific.

Sleeping:

It is possible to spend the night in the national park, meaning you get to experience the falls without the day tripper crowds. Camping sites are available on a nice green area by the riverside. The National Park rents out tents starting from 50 baht up to 300 baht for the biggest. The park also rents out accessories such as sleeping bags, lanterns or stoves for a very small amount. The accommodation services office is just past the car park. Bungalows are also available from 800 Baht. For food, try the market which is a one kilometre walk back up the road towards the highway. There it is also possible to find cheaper snacks, drinks or other items. Just remember to bring your National Parks ticket with you to prove you have already paid.

Srinakarind National Park

Another area of beautiful natural scenery is the Srinakarind Reservoir, which is located right behind the Srinakarind Dam. Unfortunately, there is no public bus service here. The beginning of this water way is called Lumnam Jone, which is the beginning of the ever famous River Kwai. It has some beautiful surroundings and cystal clear water. It is hard to get to though; on foot it will take a few hours walk, and by boat it takes around 5 hr from the ferry pier at Srinakarind Dam. Lumnam Jone can only be reached by one tour operator to limit the amount of visitors to the region. The trip takes two days and one night and can only be booked for the first weekend of the month. Some other interesting sights in the area are the Phra That Cave, the Huay Mae Khamin Waterfalls and the Tham Than Lot Cave. The Srinakarind Dam has a nice cafe serving mostly Thai food and is open every day.

The area has two main ethnic groups, Thais and Karen. There are several villages of mostly Karen people in tambon Naasuan of Amphoe Sri Sawat. Near the Amphoe is a small Mon village. Beyond Ong Sit village and off a side road is a Lao village called Jerot. The villagers originally came here to help clear the forest when the dam was built and ended up settling in the area. Although many of the Karen women do a wonderful job at weaving (sarongs, blouses, bags), there is no local shop that sells these products. Occasionally there will be a house that will have items for sale but they may be hard to find.

Tham Than Lot National Park

Elephant camps

Kanchanaburi features several elephant camps but one of the largest is Taweechai Elephant Camp, ☎ +66 1 774-8301, [3]). Home to nearly 30 elephants including one born in late 2009, Taweechai offers elephant rides, bathing with elephants (suitable for children), bamboo rafting (swimming optional) and special elephant training mahout courses. You can also buy photo frames made from real elephant dung.

The camp itself is well maintained and nicely decorated, for example featuring the mounted skeleton of a 100 year old elephant. The elephants are well-treated and fed almost constantly. The camp owns large areas of nearby forest and at 16:00 the elephants leave the camp to spend the night wandering and grazing. They are given a very long chain so not confined and in the mornings they are usually very dirty.

Taweechai is conveniently located halfway along the route from Kanchanaburi to the Erawan Falls and so can be included in a day trip to the falls. The majority of Western tourists have not yet discovered the camp as it seems to be visited almost exclusively by Thai and Russian tour groups. It is very busy so calling ahead to book is a good idea for groups. For couples or small groups it may be possible to turn up and ride, particularly in the low season.

The camp is very easy to get to from Kanchanaburi, essentially a straight line drive for 40 km along Route 3199. There are English road signs indicating the camp. If coming by bus, take bus 8170 bound for the Erawan Falls and tell it to stop at Taweechai. You'll need to take a motorcycle taxi to the camp for 30 baht. Admission prices vary depending on activity and group size so again it is a good idea to call ahead.

  • Elephants and Friends Conservation Camp, +66 8 58475996. This elephant camp started in November 2005, with the goal of helping the mistreated, sick and old elephants in Thailand and to give them a good home. As a visitor you will help in the daily care of the elephants, such as riding them (bare back) to the river for their bath, growing or collecting food (banana trees) or just playing with them. It's impossible to get there by public transport. You can get there by (rented) motorbike or arrange a pick-up from Lat Ya or Kanchanaburi. If you want to come and help, the only way to make a reservation is to call Phot Nadee, the owner, (see phone number; speaks English or Thai, please check the time difference). With him you can make an arrangement for a pick-up.

Itinerary

A songthaew can be hired at the bus station the day before you want to travel - should cost between 1,500 and 2,000 baht, and you tell the driver where you want to go. He will pick you up from your hotel in the morning as part of the deal and return you there afterwards.

For your day out, check out Hellfire Pass and the museum, 80 km from Kachanaburi - take a couple of hours or more there - then come back along the same road to Naamtok Saiyoknoi waterfall. Erewan waterfall is too far away for this trip but well worth a look, and there is also an old preserved steam locomotive. From there ask to go to Wang Pho village, and make sure to get the driver to stop at a market along the way to buy bulk peanuts/bananas because you want to see "Ling Ling" (Thai for monkey, and the repeat means a lot of them) On the road down to Wang Pho,the driver should veer off to the left near the bottom of the winding road leading towards the River Kwai. Here there are millions of wild monkeys or at least an awful lot of them. Enjoy yourself feeding them peanuts or bananas - they are not aggressive. You can watch all the tour buses driving past this little known attraction. However, feeding monkeys disrupts their natural feeding habits and can make them reliant on humans for food. So, its probably better just to watch the monkeys in their natural environment.

In Wang Pho village, take time to have a look at the place - the Death Railway has a station here, the final one before Naamtok - the villagers are friendly, and one stall does a really good fried banana! Then go to Tam Grasae - a cave a couple of kilometres distant where the railway crosses a trestle bridge built by the WW2 POWs, it appears to be in original condition. The River Kwai is immediately below you, and the trestle hugs the side of the cliff in skirting it. The cave itself is well worth a look. There is a tourist market here also.

On the way back, on the main road to Kanchanaburi, depending on the time you have taken so far, there is a temple on the way back on the right where the monks are friendly to tourists, and then the Tiger Temple on the left further along.

For those wishing to avoid the package tourism to Hellfire Pass they can opt to catch the 0607 train to the last stop at Nam Tok and quickly catch a connecting 30 baht songthaew with the locals to the main road. Along the main road there are infrequent buses (30 baht again) that stop both outside the memorial and to the road shack restaurant/university bus stop near Wang Pho/Tam Grasae. Be warned that these buses don't often come frequently or come to a complete stop so you may have to run to board them! At the Wang Pho/Tam Grasae stop there is a motorcycle taxi rank connected to the restaurant shack and a driver will take you to the cave/track/station at Tam Grasae for around 50 baht including a stop at the monkeys which are on the way. Note that there are no bananas or peanuts sold anywhere nearby (except in abundance at the Tam Grasae market itself) so if you are interested in ignoring the sign 'not to feed' the monkeys you will need to bring your own. If you arrive at Tam Grasae before 1600 you can catch the return train back to Kanchanaburi. This method is much cheaper than a package deal (100 baht each way for the train plus about 100 baht for songthaews and buses) and you'll only be able to visit Hellfire Pass, walk the 2.4km trek return and visit the cave near ... You could try to visit Sai Ya Nok falls along the way but you will probably be pushing to catch the final 1600 train back to Kanchanaburi and may have to avoid the trek should you wish to do the falls. You are also relying on local transport so it will be hit and miss at best but overall a much more interesting experience!

Do

There are many massage parlors along Mae Nam Khwae Road in Kanchanaburi. Having a Thai massage is cheap and a good place is Foot & Thai massage at 228/2 Tambon Tamakam, ☎+66 8 7166-6381). It is diagonally opposite to Yanee (bicycle or motorbike rental). Or relax at a spa. Some better ones include:

  • Azure comsaed Spa Azure Comsaed River Kwai Resort & Spa, 18/9, ☎ +66 3463 1443 (Fax: +66 3458 9094)
  • Pung-Waan spa Pung-Waan Resoret and Spa, 72/1 Mu 2, Thamakham, ☎ +66 3451 4792-5 (Fax: +66 3451 5830)
  • Suan Nanachaat [4] - Garden of Many Nations 36/12, Tambon Nong Bua, Amphoe Muang, ☎ +66 35 633356 (Thai), ☎ +66 8 1699 9052 (English))
  • Rest & Relax Massage on Mae Nom Kwae Rd next to Bell's Pizza. Massage starts at 150B/hr. Comfortable and relaxing interior. Convenient location. Variety of services offered.

Tour

  • Take a guided motorcycle tour with Death Rail tours of the death railway. A very informative full day, sightseeing tour on your own "little big Bike". Includes fuel and food, the guide is very knowledgeable about the history of the railway and the province in general.

Buy

  • Night Market, also known as JJ's, in front of the train station on Saeng Chuto Rd. 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 jewellery shopping as well.
  • Tesco Lotus, Saeng Chuto Road (to the south of town). Standard issue hypermarket.
  • Kanokarn, off Saeng Chuto Road in the centre of town, behind the area that becomes a food market at night. The first two floors are similar to a Western department store. It is sectioned off by brand and sells clothes and electrical goods. The top floor is like the shopping malls found in Bangkok or Hong Kong. It looks like an indoor market and sells phone cases and accessories, manga figurines and VCDs.

There's enough ATMs, which all charge a 150 baht commission for using foreign cards, except for Aeon. Their ATMs are at the corner of Saeng Chuto Rd and Chaichumphon Rd, which is the crossing with traffic lights just south of the bus station.

  • River Kwai Bookshop, 293 Maenam Kwai Rd. (Opposite Im-Jung open-air restaurant), +66 3451 1819. 12.30–21.00, closed W. Thousands of new and used books, categorized for easy browsing, including author-signed titles. Books bought and sold. Ordering service. Also 2 big roofed river rafts on River Kwai for overnight (sleep aboard or ashore), day or half-day private hire — dinner cruise, disco, karaoke, educational field trip, just viewing, or lazing in a hammock with a good book amidst idyllic river and mountain scenery.

Eat

Budget

For cheap street eats, the market in front of the train station will fulfill all your 10 baht phad thai needs.

Street venders parade up & down River Kwai Road all day & night - approx 20 Baht per serving. Many stop outside of 7-11 by Jolly Frog selling sausages, roti, and other small snacks. Ice cream and pastries during the day.

  • 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.
  • Jok Isaan Food This small entirely Thai run place doesn't actually have a name but all the locals know Jok makes some of the best food. Her location changed in early 2011 to a small, clean, building right near the reggae bar Land Pole. She specialises in Isaan dishes such as lab, som tom, gai yang, and khao niew.
  • On's Thai/Isaan Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant & Cooking School New in 2012. Between Living Room and Tesco Lotus Express on opposite side of road (Mae Nam Kwai). Large menu with a great variety of classic Thai and also Issan dishes. All mains 40B + 10B for brown rice. Dishes can be made with or without tofu and Ms On can customize most entrees to include or remove vegetables based on your preferences. She also offers a two hour cooking school for 600B/person anytime between 10am and 6pm. See and read more at http://onsthaiissan.com/
  • BBQ-all you can eat, Sang Chuto Rd. (200 m before Tesco on LHS heading from the town). 90 Baht for all you can eat. Represents great value if you are hungry. You cook the food at the table (no burgers/sausages). They also supply you with rice/noodles etc. Good selection of seafood, chicken, liver, pork etc. Very popular with local residents of the town. 19:00-23:00.

Mid-range

  • Bell's Pizzeria, 24/5 Maenamkwai Rd. ☎ +66 8 1010-6614 [5]. Italian and Thai food. Bar during the afternoon. 170-220 baht for a pizza. 16:00-23:00.
  • Floating restaurants, (Just next to the River Kwai bridge). These seem to uphold the fine traditions of their brethren worldwide by serving mediocre food at inflated prices although some travellers find the food good and the price reasonable. Nice views and great atmosphere though. However, the main problem is transport back into town if you are staying there - the river and bridge are a little distant unless you are really into walking (there are songteows though).
  • Friend Bar & Restaurant, 44 Maenamkwai Rd. ☎ +66 818581326. Full English breakfast, classic Thai food, Western menu and Japanese food. Drinks, cocktails and free pool. 09:00-23:00 daily.
By de River restaurant, the spirit of The River Kwai.
  • By de River Restaurant and Massage, On the Mae Nam Kwai Rd about 700 m from the River Kwai Bridge, serve home-made Thai foods with views. Open 17:00-23:00.
  • Schluck, Western and Thai food. Pizza and steak are home-made. Euro-oriental decor and jazz music. Price from 40 baht for Thai food, 90 baht for European style food. Open 17:00-23:00 daily.
  • Mangosteen Cafe and Books, Thai and Western food with good service. Great coffees, apple pie, cocktails and fresh fruit drinks. One of the cleanest and best run places on the strip. Also 1,000 English language books for sale and small reference library for cafe guests. Open 8:30-17:00 daily.

Drink

There are numerous locations where you'll be able to enjoy your drinks, but most of the bars are close to the guest houses along Mae Nam Kwai Road. Most of the bars are noisy karaoke bars popular among the locals or the usual British pubs with football on show. Some bars have young Thai ladies on the hunt for rich foreigners.

  • Birdland Books, Mae Nam Kwai Rd. Run by 'Big Jimmy', an American ex-pat of 30 years. This place was a bookstore that doubled as the favorite bar for tourists and ex-pats alike. Ask Jimmy if you need any information regarding Thailand as he's very helpful and has extensive knowledge of Kanchanaburi and most of the country. He also buys, sells, and trades used books from his library of over 1,000 books. Location in KANCHANABURI is CLOSED. Jimmy can be found at Birdland Books in Sangkhlaburi.
  • Four 9's Bar/Red Kangaroo, (situated on the main road in Kanchanaburi opposite the River Kwai Hotel). This is a 'British/Australian' style pub run by a Scotsman named Don and a Thai lady called Mem. Mem will also organise tours and taxis if required. The bar stays open the longest as it only shuts when the last person leaves. Premiership football shown here also.
  • I Baa Bar, Mae Nam Kwai Road. Originally located across from Birdland Books, it has now moved down the road to larger premises. The great music and atmosphere is still present, but now there's a pool table added to the scene. Ek, the Thai owner, is very friendly and a good source of local information. They also serve good Western and Thai food.
  • My Corner, Soi Pakistan (on the way to Sugar Cane 1 Guesthouse). Quiet nice place away from the dust of the main road. Chill spot with free Wifi, cold beer, and real coffee. You can play your own music over the speakers or pluck at a guitar.
  • No Name Bar, Mae Nam Kwai Rd. Good food and a good place.
  • Crackers Bar, 232/5 River Kwai Rd, +66 34 624119. Run by an Australian expat (crackers) or Mr Phillips, great bloke who will give you the rundown of Kanchanaburi. Good prices, great atmosphere.
  • Sugar Members Bar, Mae Nam Kwai Road. This thriving bar is usually packed with foreigners and backpackers, and stays open until the last person stops buying drinks. The music is loud and usually Western based. Sugar, the owner, is a very friendly Thai woman with a taste for amusing innuendos. Shisha is avaliable.


Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under 1,000 baht
Mid-range 1,000 baht to 2,500 baht
Splurge Over 2,500 baht

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.

Budget

  • Apple's Guesthouse, 52 Rong Heeb Oil (at the southern end of Mae Nam Khwae Rd), +66 3 451-2017, [6]. This guest house features a bunch of rooms adjoined by a nice big garden outside. The rooms are fairly spacious and luxury, and contain hot showers. Rooms have either fan or air-con rooms, with the fan-rooms being cheaper. Rooms do not feature TVs, according to the owner due to environmental concerns. There is a good restaurant attached as well, but breakfast is lacking. Portions are small, it is served late (not before 07:30) and it is not included in the room price. 490-690 baht.
  • Bluestar Guesthouse, 241 Mae Nam Kwai Rd (between the two 7-11s), +66 3462 4733,+66 3451 2161, [7]. Near Sud Chai Bridge. All rooms with private toilet. WiFi streams from the main counter. About half the rooms are within range. from 150-650 baht.
  • Jolly Frog Backpackers, Soi China, Mae Nam Kwai Rd, +66 34 514 579. Restaurant with WiFi, nice lawn and garden area with hammocks, and dock on river. Bring your own towel. Staff is hit or miss and are not customer-service oriented. Doubles 150 baht, 200 baht with private bathroom, 290 baht with air-con.
  • Pong Phen Guesthouse, Soi Bangklated, River Kwai Rd, +66 34 512981, +66 85 2937683, +66 9 5494920 (), [8]. Swimming pool, motorbike hire, shuttle/taxi services to Bangkok & the local area, and local sightseeing tours. Friendly staff, WiFi, movie screenings on a large TV at 18:00. The reception is shared with the restaurant and is a good place to meet other guests. start at 400 baht/night.
  • Ploy Guest House, 79/2 Mae Nam Kwai Rd, +66 34 515804, [9]. All rooms in Siam style with air-con, private toilet and hot shower. Restaurant/bar with river view. Walled garden outside your room with incorporated open-air shower. 550+ baht.
  • Rainbow Lodge, 48 Rong Heeb Aoi Soi, Caokhunnen Rd (call for free pick up), +66 34 513976, +66 81 763 0116 (), [10]. All rooms have free WiFi and a buffet dinner is provided. Fan room with TV & toilet 1,050 baht, fan & hot water 390 baht, standard room: TV, air-con, hot shower &toilet 490-590 baht. VIP room TV, air-con, fridge, hot shower & toilet 1,050-1,200 baht..
  • Sams Guesthouse, 14/2 Moo 1, Maenawkwae Rd (short drive from bus station), +66 34-515956, Sam's cell: +66 81 9483448 (), [11]. All rooms come with air-con, most are wooden bungalows in a quiet area on the River Kwai. 400-1,000 baht. (N 14.03507,E 099.51771)
  • Tamarind Guesthouse, 29/1 Thamakham Rd, +66 8 9837-7256 (). Rooms overlook the River Kwai. Raft house and new building, Internet and WiFi, travel advice, tours, transfers to other places in Thailand. Friendly staff. Close to night market. Air-con rooms with hot shower & TV 550 baht, fan room with hot shower 350 baht, suit room, air-con, hot shower and TV 700 baht, raft house with hot shower 350 baht, single room with share bath 150 baht..
  • Tanaville, (walk towards the GKhwae bridge on Mae Nam Kwai Rd, pass the 2nd 7-11 and it is 150 m to the right). Not a new place but the owners are nice and there is a well cared for garden. Shared facilities are clean. Good if you want to sit on the river, relax and see the water flow by with an occasional boat. 200 baht for a raft room (on the river itself) with a shared bathroom. 300 baht for a room with a fan. 400 baht for air-con.
  • V.N. Guest House, 44 Rong Heeb Oil Rd, +66 34 514 082 (), [12]. Free WiFi. Raft rooms from 250 baht, double rooms with bath, 250 baht, air-con rooms, 400 baht..

Mid-range

  • Tamarind Boutique Resort, +66 22 33 4250 (), [13]. An alternative relaxing and ‘Green’ resort which lays in a small, calm and peaceful village, 30 min. from downtown, with wooden single houses equipped with all the facilities that you need for a real rest.
  • River Kwai Jungle Rafts [14]. Floating rooms in the heart of the jungle near Saiyok Kanchanaburi.
  • Saiyok River House, +66 34 591 050, [15]. Rooms are for two persons, three persons & six persons. There is a three-bedroom house for couples or a family.
  • River Kwai Hotel, 284/15-16 Saeng Chuto Rd (halfway between the bus and train stations, 600 m away), +66 34 511565, [16]. Centrally located hotel with a really good breakfast, Thai or Western. Was once the city's fanciest hotel but now it's getting a little long in the tooth. Large swimming pool, an OK restaurant. If you want to be adventurous, better walk to the railway station some 600 m distant, turn right as you leave the hotel, go around the night market, and eat there cheaply, because this is where the locals shop and eat. Internet café, though more expensive than many other nearby cafes, beer garden, dubious massage/karaoke bar and disco 1,000 baht.
  • Kasem Island Resort, 44-48 Chaichumphon Rd, Chukadon Pier River Kwai, +66 81 499 4941, [17]. Fan-rafting rooms or air-con rooms with private balcony overlooking the River Kwai. An island resort on the River Kwai. Rooms for 2-3 persons.
  • Pavilion Rim Kwai, [18]. Beautifully landscaped gardens on the banks of the River Kwai Valley.

Splurge

  • Felix River Kwai Resort, [19]. 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 rooms. From 1,800 baht.
  • Nakakiri River Kwai Resort [20] One of the largest River Kwai resorts. Enjoy their own hot springs, huge ATV track, giant swimming pool and nearby waterfall. Stay in jungle river raft houses, more luxury hotel rooms overlooking the river or the top location pool side or river view villas. Starting from 1,350 baht.
  • Royal River Kwai Resort and Spa Great views, OK breakfast, helpful staff but a distance from the town itself. Tranquil environment and twice-daily (10:30 and 14:30) hotel taxi service which can be booked for the entire afternoon. From 2,300 baht/night.
  • U Inchantree Resort, (5 min walk from the bridge), [21]. 26 small but well-equipped modern rooms. Luxury bed and duvet, LCD cable TV, iPod. Friendly attentive staff, restaurant and riverside terrace. Fitness room, library and free WiFi. Located on a bend in the river offering views of the mountains in the distance. From 2,900 baht including breakfast for 2.

Contact

Most of the guest houses along Mae Nam Kwai Rd have at least some form of WiFi available. Some of the bars along that road also have WiFi.

Get out

  • Bangkok — most visitors get out where they came from
  • Nakhon Pathom — the world's largest stupa makes a good pitstop along the way to Bangkok
  • Sangkhlaburi — last town before the Three Pagodas Pass border crossing into Myanmar
  • Three Pagodas Pass — the border between Thailand and Myanmar, 4 hours away by bus


Routes through Kanchanaburi
BangkokNakhon Pathom  N noframe S  River Kwai BridgeNam Tok




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