Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Thailand : Central Thailand : West of Bangkok : Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi (Thai: กาญจนบุรี) is a city located at the confluence of the rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai.
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.
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.
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.
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 motorbike 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:
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 70-80 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) 100 baht in each direction from Kanchanaburi to Wang Pho, the last station before Nam Tok. 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 rail fans 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. The steam train rides no longer operate.
Minivans depart to Kanchanaburi from BTS Victory Monument. The minivans leave when they are full or every 15 minutes. The price is 130 baht from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and 120 baht from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok.
Kanchanaburi is about 3 hours drive from Bangkok, along Hwy 4 (Phet Kasem) from Bangkok until it meets 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 cemetery 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.
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.
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 Rd. Remember to ask for a map and directions to popular sights.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. An annual Anzac Day Dawn Service held here. 80 km northwest of Kanchanaburi. For a day trip, consider taking the morning train from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok (2.5 hrs), then samlor 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. Songthaews may be available.
Sai Yok National Park, Phra That Falls and Hin Dat Hot Springs
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 unnaturally 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 comatose 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 tee-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 km down the side road. To get back to kanchanburi, you can either try to 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 could also rent a motorbike and ride there yourself.
In the past, reports from Tiger Temple volunteer workers and staff revealed 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 songthaew 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 for a hire from 13:00-18:00.
Erawan National Park
The Erawan Falls are contenders for the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand, and a must-see if time and budget allow. The entrance fee is 200 baht for foreigners plus 20 baht for a motorbike. 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, water bottles excepted after leaving a deposit, are not allowed.
If you walk on the right hillside of the road leading to the park gate, rather than the road itself, you will pass a 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.
Erawan can be very crowded with huge package tourist groups most of the day. So the best visiting time is early morning or just before sunset.
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 Rd 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 baht 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.
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
Kanchanaburi features several elephant camps but one of the largest is Taweechai Elephant Camp, ☎ +66 1 774-8301, ). 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.
A songthaew can be hired at the bus station the day before you want to travel - should cost between 1,500-2,000 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 16:00 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 2.4 km return and visit the cave nearby. You could try to visit Sai Ya Nok Falls along the way but you will probably be pushing to catch the final 16:00 train back to Kanchanaburi and may have to avoid the hike 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!
There are many massage parlors along Mae Nam Khwae Rd in Kanchanaburi. Having a Thai massage is cheap and a good place is Foot & Thai massage at 228/2 Tambon Tamakam, ☎+66 87 166 6381). It is diagonally opposite to Yanee (bicycle or motorbike rental). Or relax at a spa. Some better ones include:
There are plenty of 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.
For cheap street eats, the market in front of the train station will fulfill all your 10 baht pad thai needs.
Street vendors parade up & down River Kwai Rd all day & night. Approximately 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. For a more local experience, try Mae Nam Kwai Rd. Street vendors there sell snacks (freshly fried crisps, iced coffee), flocking to the school grounds behind the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
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.
There are lots of guest houses, 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.
Most of the guest houses along Mae Nam Kwai Rd have at least some form of Wi-Fi available. Some of the bars along that road also have Wi-Fi.