The Best Things to Do in Kanchanaburi
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What to do in Kanchanaburi on a Solo Trip
If you plan to spend a few days in Bangkok and want to extend your visit, a trip to Kanchanaburi is a must. If you like to explore less touristy places, including off-the-beaten-path sites, rather than the classic destinations in Thailand, Kanchanaburi is the right place. While most travellers associate Thailand with sandy beaches and lush green islands, the country has much more to offer with many national parks for great experiences in the outdoors.
Kanchanaburi is only 2 hours bus drive from Bangkok city, and it has many exciting things to do. I recently spent a couple of days, but that wasn’t enough to do justice to this vast region. So I recommend planning 3-4 full days to make the most of it.
Here are my picks with some of the best things to do in Kanchanaburi town and province.
Walk across the River Kwai Bridge
Walking across the River Kwai Bridge is probably the top attraction in Kanchanaburi and the main reason for locals and tourists alike to take a day-trip from Bangkok. The bridge was built during the II World War in 1942-43 by Allied POWs, who had do endure terrible life and work conditions, and many people died while building the bridge.
This is why The Burma Railway is also known as the Death Railway. The bridge was bombed several times and what you walkthrough is a reconstruction and nothing like the original nor the one you see in the film. The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1952 won 7 Oscars and was an international success that draw tourists from all over the world.
Due to the film success, the town of Kanchanaburi decided to change the name from Mae Klong River to Kwae Yai River. Each last week of November a Sound & Light Show commemorates the bombing of the bridge. The shows take place every night for a week, and it’s fascinating.
They are well presented and staged with music, drones and a steam train crossing the bridge with spectacular light and sound effects and of course the fireworks. It’s awe-inspiring walking across it, with the massive guardrails and the many lookouts where people stop and take pictures. Be prepared for crowds, especially on weekends and if you can visit during the River Kwai Bridge Festival.
Visit the Art Gallery and War Museum
Just 2 minutes walk from the River Kwai Bridge, you find the Art Gallery and War Museum. You will be impressed to go through a mishmash of exhibits featuring the life of POWs, with photos and scenes recreating the working life of the soldiers. Still, while you walk you through the extensive premises, you will also see images of the Kings of Thailand and important public features, Thai deities, woodcarvings, paintings, murals of the Thai history, various historical events and curious artefacts of the past decades. An exciting place worth visiting.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Just across from the railway station in town, you find the Kanchanaburi war cemetery. There are two in town, but this is the largest and most visited. There are 6982 graves here, but this is only a fraction of the people who died. It’s a very well kept place for reflection and remembrance. Walk along the graves row by row, and read the plates with mentions about the soldiers who lost their lives while building the railway.
The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre – Death Railway Museum
You cannot leave Kanchanaburi without seeing the Death Railway Museum. Just opposite the war cemetery, this museum offers an interactive and moving experience about the Thailand-Burma Railway which stretched for 415 km and built by the Japanese Army with the work of the prisoners of war. Go through the photos, videos and commentary for an experience that will stay in your memories for a long time.
Stroll at the Night Market at River Kwai Bridge
The bridge on the River Kwai is a significant attraction and also of commercial activities. Visitors hang out at the day and night market with stalls selling pretty much anything from clothing, accessories, jewellery, souvenirs, artisan products, to street food with a variety of local food.
Alongside the main road, you will walk through old locomotives and war memorials. During the River Kwai Festival, this turns very scenic with lots of lights and music entertaining people who flock here to see the memorial show and stroll through this truly picturesque market.
Take a train ride from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok
Experiencing a train ride from town to Nam Tok is another popular thing to do in Kanchanaburi. While the journey takes +2 hours to cover 70km, it still is worthwhile. You will cross over the River Kwai Bridge, and the first half takes you through the countryside. The second part is more scenic as it goes through some narrow paths.
The train stops at some tourist attractions like Tham Krasae, where people are keen to see the Buddha statue inside the Wat Kra Sae Cave.
Relax on a bamboo rafting along the River
If you want a real experience of the River Kwai, there is no better way than a bamboo rafting ride. You can book it from your hotel, and after a short trip on a motorboat, you will descend the river by gently floating on the bamboo raft. Best to go for a sunset rafting tour for good light reflections.
Walk the Hellfire Pass
If you have visited a few war museums in town, once you are in Nam Tok, a visit of the Hellfire Pass is a follow on. Located on the way to Sai Yok National Park, many tour companies are offering a stop here a part of their packages. If you don’t want to hire a car, you can still visit it by yourself, by taking the train to Nam Tok and then by truck taxi to the entrance.
There is also an interpretive centre of the history of the Pass and the Thai-Burma Railway. Mostly are live interviews of the POWs who survived, it’s very impressive and moving to hear their stories and commenting that time. This memorial was built by the Australian Government and opened in 1998.
You must walk the entire length of the Hellfire Pass 2.6 km (one-way) and stop along your way to get a feeling of the harsh conditions in which the soldiers worked. You will see different kinds of tributes, Australian flags, photos, and poppies sticking out of the cracks of the Hellfire Pass; they are left by visitors and relatives of the soldiers and labourers who perished while completing this difficult task. Get the audio headset to enhance the whole experience.
Hike and Swim in the Erawan Falls National Park
This is one of the most photogenic places in Thailand, and you should not miss out on a day trip here. The Erawan National Park is about an hour drive from Nam Tok or 1.5 from Kanchanaburi town and the perfect place for a hike and swim. Especially in the dry months, when the turquoise water will make it to a picture-perfect scenery.
Due to large tour groups flocking here to take pictures, it is advisable to get there early in the morning if you want to walk and swim in peace. There is an entrance of 300 Baht, and beware that this place closes at 4.00 pm. Walking up to the 7-tiers multi-levelled pools is indeed one of the top-rated things to do in Kanchanaburi, I highly recommend.
Visit the Srinakarin Dam
The Srinakarin Dam is just 15 min drive north of Erawan National Park. This is a massive hydroelectric plant on the River Kwai Yai which produces most of the power for the city of Bangkok. There is no public transportation to this place, but if you are driving visiting the water reservoir is worth your time. The whole area is scenic and peaceful for further walking and a lovely café for a break. You can also stay overnight.
Take a dip into the Hindad Hot Springs
You will be surprised, but this region also offers some great hot springs spots. And the Hindad Hot Spring is a hidden treasure of Kanchanaburi. While it is not popular among international visitors, locals flock here in large numbers. This natural SPA has three pools, and each has a different hot thermal water temperature.
You can take a dip in each from 36 to 40 C and then walk into the icy cold river water just a few steps nearby so that you get the Kneipp effect. Next to being a relaxing spot, there is also an onsite Thai Massage. There is a small entrance fee for foreigners 60 Baht and 20 Bath for Thai. Get there early, before 8.00 am if you want to avoid the crowd.
Visit the Elephants World
In the Kanchanaburi region, many elephant camps offer rides on elephants. However, wildlife conservation groups discourage from riding elephants in Thailand, and so do I. If you’d like to come close to wildlife, I recommend ElephantsWorld, is a different kind of experience where you will interact with the animals. You will wash them, feed them, and learn about them, without having the elephants to perform or entertain visitors. Many volunteers are living at this camp: a non-profit organisation that uses all the money to fund the project.
Where to Stay in Kanchanaburi
One of the best things to do in Kanchanaburi is to stay in a raft hotel. This unique accommodation style is typical of this region in Thailand. The raft hotels in Nam Tok are building alongside the bank of the river.
A floating Raft House
While most are standard concrete buildings, the Raft Boutique Resort where I stayed, is made with local natural resources, hardwood and bamboo platforms anchored to the shore. You will cross a small wooden bridge to enter your room, which is beautifully decorated, and each piece of furniture individually designed and handmade. I spent a night at the Raft Boutique Hotel and loved it. It’s a great place for relaxation: you can sit on the balcony, floating on the river and overlooking the forest on the other side of the river.
More places to stay in Kanchanaburi
In Kanchanaburi Town, I stayed at the River Kwai Bridge Resort. This is only 5 min walk from the bridge and the Art Gallery and War Museum.
In Nam Tok, in the Kanchanaburi Province, I stayed at the Boutique Raft Resort and loved the unique experience of staying on a rafting house.
How to get to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok
From Bangkok, the easiest way is to take a bus from the Southern Terminal Bus Station (Sai Tai Mai) or Mochit (The Northern Bus Terminal). A one-way ticket will cost you between 100-150 Baht. There are however smaller vans and coaches that you can book online through 12Go.Asia.
By checking online, I found a bus service very close to my accommodation. From Makassan Station, where the Airport Skyrail Link to Bangkok Airport is, I booked a seat on the 12.Go.Asia Bus to Kanchanaburi. These bus rides are more expensive than the regular buses, but for 330 Bath I think it was a good deal, it saved me time and the hassle of travelling across Bangkok to the Southern Terminal Bus Station.
Getting around in Kanchanaburi Town and Province
Tuk-Tuk taxi services are the way to get around unless you want to walk. But the city is quite spread out, and you will need a car or a taxi to move around. A tuk-tuk taxi will cost you between 40-150 BHAT depending on the destination. There are also taxi on scooters if you prefer more adventure.
To get around from the city to more destinations like Nam Tok the Train via the Death Railway is the way to go. While there may be buses that take you on a day tour to Nam Tok and the Erawan Waterfalls, hiring a car is another good alternative if you prefer moving around independently. There is much to see in the Kanchanaburi region.
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