The province of Kanchanaburi in Thailand is located just 130km away from the city of Bangkok and is a popular tourist destination for both foreigners and Thais looking to escape the craziness of Bangkok. An area filled with magnificent landscapes and natural charming beauty, you will find there are plenty of places to relax in this province as you check out the fabulous natural waterfalls and plentiful hot springs that are on offer here.
The province is also rich in history, especially from the World War II era, the Japanese came here and built the Death Railway that took away thousands of innocent lives, today you can see the memories of this by going to the many memorials and museums that you will see dotted around the area.
With so much to do in this inspiring part of the county let’s not waste any time and take a look at the top things to do in Kanchanaburi.
1. Relive History At Death Railway Bridge
The most famous of all the sites in Kanchanaburi is the Death Railway Bridge, which really came into people’s minds after the film ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ was filmed here in 1957. The bridge itself was made in Japan in a place called Java and brought over by the Japanese in World War II. Once the bridge was here it was then reassembled by the Prisoners Of War that were stationed here. The bridge played an important part in the rail link between Thailand and Burma and really is the star attraction of Kanchanaburi, when in the province this has to be top of your list.
2. Take A Train Journey To Bangkok
Train journeys in Thailand are notorious for being slow, breaking down and running behind schedule. That being said they are also the best way to see a countries wildlife and natural beauty, this journey is no exception. The local train from here to Bangkok is an excellent way to travel if you are not in a rush. The journey itself is very cheap and will cost only around 100 baht for the journey, you can pick which class you want to sit in and just sit back and watch out the window at the ever changing scenery until you arrive in Bangkok.
3. Meet The Elderly At Elephant World
Elephant World is very different to the normal elephant camps and parks you see across Thailand, here the elephants are either sick, old or abused elephants that have previously been used for some form of work or entertainment. Elephant World is a complete non-profit organization and all money earnt is recycled back into the scheme. A day spent here is all about you working for the elephants not the other way around, you will feed them fruits before making their lunch, you will play with them, wash them and make sure they are content.
4. Learn The Facts At Death Railway Museum
When you look back at the building of Death Railway it was tragic in many ways, the huge number of POW’s and forced laborers that lost their lives during its construction is staggering. This relatively new museum was created to tell the story of the railways construction and outlines all the facts and figures associated. It is quite a sobering place to visit and one that will end with you feeling thoughtful. There are actual exhibits from the prisoners as well as letters that detail the pain that was endured. You can also watch a video whilst you are here that gives even more information to the visitor.
5. Visit The JEATH War Museum
If you have visited the Death Railway Museum then a visit to this place is a natural follow on, JEATH stands for Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland. The museum contains artwork and photos that show the visitor the appalling conditions that the POW’s were under whilst the railway was being built. Each image has a caption beneath that lets the visitor know what was happening. A truly moving experience and one that will remain in your thoughts for a long time after.
6. Come Equipped At Hellfire Pass Museum
You may have noticed by now that there are quite a few museums dedicated to the building of the railway, this one is a little different. This is a hiking trail that shows the conditions the workers would have been under. Before arriving here you need to be prepared for some serious walking, sweating and struggling. The temperature can reach 40 degrees and the terrain is very rugged in places which will leave you feeling out of breath. The workers here would have worked for 18 hours a day under these conditions, luckily for the visitor it will only take you a couple to hike.
7. Visit Chung-Kai War Cemetery To See The POW Graves
On the far banks of the River Kwai sits this cemetery, it used to be the actual site of the Chung-Kai Prisoner Of War Camp but now it is the resting place for about 1,750 people who lost their lives here. Naturally the place is very quiet and there are rows upon rows of graves to walk along, some graves just have a name where as others will have personal messages from family and loved ones who have managed to track them down.
8. See The Floating Nuns At Wat Tham Mongkon Thong
When translated into English it becomes the Cave Temple of the Floating Dragon, there is not a dragon floating here but there is a floating nun that can be seen walking around the temple. On a regular basis the nun will put on a show that makes it look like she really is floating on top of the water whilst she assumes various yoga positions. When the nun has finished her show she will go around and bless any of the visitors that have an injury or illness. There is not a fixed schedule for when the nun will perform so it is worth trying to find out in advance if possible to avoid disappointment.
9. Marvel At The Erawan National Park
Set out over 550 square kilometers the Erawan National Park is pretty huge and will keep nature, cave and bird lovers happy for a long time. Most visitor’s however come to see the Erawan Waterfall. The waterfall is multi-tiered and named after a three headed elephant. Behind the visitor center is where the action begins, here is the first tier and you can dangle your feet in the pool to receive a free fish spa from the resident minnows. There are plenty of tiers to explore here and you will find that in some places you will encounter steep climbs. The climbs are well worth the effort as you get to follow the journey of the water and take in the natural beauty.
10. Time To Reflect At Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Whichever day or days you choose to check out all of the war museums and cemeteries this is one that you will want to include on your list. Here lie the remains of 6,982 POW’s that died during the railway construction. The grounds are kept in immaculate condition and it is not unusual to see a uniformed veteran spending their time walking among the graves. Row upon row of neatly laid graves fill the area and it is worth the time stopping to read the plaques and thinking about the history of this railway.
11. Discover The Prasat Muang Singh
A trip to Prasat Muang Singh will take you to the westernmost Khmer site that has been discovered so far. This place is also known as the ‘Sanctuary of the City of the Lion’. The site dates back to the 12th century and sits alongside the banks of the River Kwai Noi. Thought to be a large trading post and also a garrison town, it would have been used to protect the western side of the Khmer kingdom. The temple is a site to behold and has been renovated over the years, during the weekend the temple is full of Thai and foreign tourists so a weekday trip is recommended.
12. Take A Trip To Sai Yok Noi Waterfall
The Sak Noi waterfall is located just a short walk from where the Death Railway has its final station (Nam Tok Rail Station). The falls here are not the most impressive of all the waterfalls in Kanchanaburi Province but they still look pretty impressive as they cascade down the side of the limestone rock. Whilst you are in the area of the waterfall you can buy some locally grown tamarind that is readily available from the street vendors you will see.
13. A Different Style Of Grave At The Chinese Cemetery
The other cemeteries that are in the area are all well-kept, with rows of straight graves and manicured lawns. This cemetery does not have the same appearance, here you will find a mixture of styles, there are Chinese graves that are in little round mounds and Thai style reliquaries. The layout is haphazard and the area is always deserted, no accurate records have been kept on the number of Chinese that died in the making of the railway but the numbers are of quite a significant size.
15. Take A Cooking Class
The food of Thailand is popular across the globe and its popularity is growing at a steady rate, there are several places in Kanchanaburi that offer cooking classes where you can learn to cook authentic Thai food at home. The classes usually start with an introduction to the ingredients and the kitchen tools that you will need to prepare the food. Throughout the lessons you will learn all about the traditional ways that the food is prepared before sitting down with the class to enjoy your creations. Lessons are generally not too expensive and are another interesting insight into Thai life.
16. Marvel In The Wonder Of Wat Tham Sua
When translated into English the name of the temple is ‘Tiger Cave Temple’ the temple and the scenery around the temple are not something that you will want to miss during your time in Kanchanaburi. When you get to the temple there are some stairs that lead to the top, from here you can see a massive Buddha image, at the front of the ledge you can look down and enjoy some beautiful views of Kanchanaburi as well as the dam and the river. The temple itself is still active so there are various monks going about their work and will stop and talk if you have a Thai guide with you.
17. Get Off The Train At Tham Krasae Bridge
The train journey stops at this station on its route and allows all of the passengers off the train to take a look around and buy their souvenirs. The reason the train stops is because the view from the station is staggering, you can take a wander and go to the restaurant here for lunch, the food is average but the views are what you really came for. There is also a cave a couple more minutes up the road which is said to have been the home of the Japanese soldiers whilst the railway was being constructed. If you decide to take a walk along the railway tracks you need to remember that in certain parts there is nowhere to go if a train happens to come along at the same time.
19. Camp At Pha Tad Waterfall
Located within the Khuean Srinagarindra National Park is the Pha Tad Waterfall, the waterfall receives its flow of water from the Kala mountain range. The waterfall has three tiers but unlike the other waterfalls you do not need to climb up it to see each tier, because of its layout and location you can stand at the bottom and view the different layers. Because of the popularity of the falls and the distance away from the city a lot of visitors choose to camp in the park to take full advantage of the journey they have had.
20. Wander Around The Night Market
Wherever you go in Thailand you are never far from a night market and Kanchanaburi is no exception to this, there are two night markets located in the city. The main market is at the train station which has stalls selling just about anything you would want to buy (and plenty of things you won’t). The second and smaller market is at the main bus station, this one is less touristy and the prices are slightly less, if you are staying in the area and will be cooking at any point this is a great place to pick up your fresh produce.
22. See The Century Old Buddha At Tham Phu Wa Temple
When you arrive at the temple you are greeted with a ninety five step staircase that has carvings of dragons on either side. The main reason people come here today is that inside the cave there is an image of Buddha that is more than a century old. The caves are also famous for offering meditation courses to those that wish to perfect the art form. Inside the cave you will also see several stalactites that make for excellent photo opportunities.
23. The Biggest Cave In Kanchanaburi Is Kaeng Lawa Cave
Located near to the river Kwai and looked over by huge mountains and wild jungle is the Kaeng Lawa Cave, the caves go back some 500 meters and have several hidden chambers. The most notable of the chambers are the music chamber, throne chamber and the curtain chamber. There are several Buddha statues that you will come across as well whilst you are exploring. If you are lucky you might get to witness a Khun Kitti bat, the smallest bat ever discovered with a wing span of only 10cm.
24. Relax At Shinto Park
Shinto Park is located in the small town of Lad Ya, which is on the west side of the river Kwai. The park itself is a joint Thai and Japanese venture that was built to promote peace in Asia and it is a beautiful memory of all the people that gave up their lives in the construction of the Burma to Thailand Railway. The gardens are well manicured and in excellent condition. There is not a lot to do here but relax and rest in the shade of the overhanging trees. For anyone interested in learning more of the history you can visit the small onsite museum and have a look.
25. Take A Soak At Hindad Hot Spring
Discovered by the Japanese during the building of the railway in World War II are the Hindad Hot Springs. They are sat right by the river and have plenty of trees overhanging to provide shade. There are three pools that are perfect for swimming in and the natural coolness of the river is just next to it when you need to cool down. The change between the hot spring and the cool river is perfect for your body as it will relax every muscle within you. There is also a massage parlor onsite that will continue your pampering for a small fee.