A trip to Kanchanaburi can certainly be more than a war remembrance, as it offers an endless number of recreations and natural excursions. Erawan National Park, with picturesque waterfalls and caves, offers a delightful escape closer to the city center. Thong Pha Phoom is an oasis filled with natural wonders. Discover a range of experiences from natural hot springs to waterfalls to mountain-hugged water reservoirs and an abandoned mine with a scenic viewpoint of the verdant landscapes around the Thai-Burmese border. Further northwest is Sangklaburi, a wild jungle town with untouched rural life and a pleasant down-to-earth vibe.
Bridge over the River Kwai (Kwae)
This reconstructed iron-rail bridge has become the immortal symbol of the Death Railway’s 414-km stretch. Linking the two sides of the Kwai Yai River, the bridge is perhaps the most photographed landmark in Kanchanaburi and has attracted travelers from all corners of the world. The one standing today is actually a reconstruction of the original bridge built by the Allied POWs under the Japanese army, which was bombed and destroyed in 1945 after being in use for 20 months. Set against a scenic backdrop of the river, the bridge is still used today.
You can walk on it and cross over to the other side of the river, but be careful of trains (twice a day) and motorcycles sharing the narrow path. It’s a good idea to drop by the JEATH War Museum before you actually head to the bridge, to learn about its history and stories behind the construction of the Death Railway.
Stretching 414km across western Thailand and into Burma, the Death Railway is a standing testimonial of a story that many wishes had never happened. Started in 1942 by Allied POWs, under the orders of the Japanese army, the construction was finished 16 months later, three years and eight months short of the original timeframe. It cut through some of the most rugged terrains – limestone cliffs and craggy mountains – resulting in over 100,000 deaths due to sickness, malnutrition, and exhaustion. This rail route linked Thailand’s Ban Pong (Ratchaburi) with Thanbuyuzayat, Burma, to carry supplies across into India.
You can trace the Death Railway route by hopping on the train at Tha Kilen Station (near Prasat Muang Singh) to the terminal station at Nam Tok (Sai Yok Noi Waterfall). This 77-km section passes through the most beautiful section of the Death Railway – as it crosses over the wooden viaduct hugging the cave-ridden cliff – and some of the most picturesque countryside in the country. The journey takes two hours.
Erawan Waterfall is recognized as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand. Located in the Tenasserim Hills in Kanchanaburi Province, some 200 km northwest of Bangkok, Erawan has seven separate tiers and is part of a national park of the same name. Besides the waterfall, the park hosts a handful of limestone caves.
Hellfire Pass Memorial
Put your experience of the Death Railway in perspective by heading over to Hellfire Pass Memorial. This 500-meter long, 26-meter deep cut through solid boulders is notorious for claiming the most lives. In the 12 weeks of construction, 700 out of 1,000 Australian and British soldiers died. Walking down the old jungle-fringed railway track on the way to Hellfire Pass and Museum, the deafening silence envelopes you. Visit the museum, co-sponsored by the Australian and Thai governments, and learn the moving stories of those whose lives were lost in what is deemed to be one of the darkest pages in World War II history.
Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park
A cultural highlight not far from the city center, this popular archaeological site features four 13th-Century Khmer-style ruins and an ancient human burial site. The main ruin is an ancient temple built from laterite stones and set on a rectangular base, with acorn-shaped prang standing at its epicenter. The temple is surrounded by four cloister walls and four entrance gates with stone-carved lintels. Archaeological evidence suggests heavy Khmer influences in the area and that the temple was built as a place of worship for Mahayana Buddhists. Strolling around the grounds of Prasat Muang Singh can be extremely hot, as there are few shaded areas where you can take a rest. However, you can rent a bicycle and explore the ruin site on two wheels. Enjoy the beautiful panoramas of the Kwae Noi River from the front of the temple.
Tiger Temple (Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua)
This controversial landmark has garnered fame amongst an international crowd. Known for its thriving tiger sanctuary, Tiger Temple shelters more than 60 Indochinese tigers and cubs on its ground. After paying a hefty entrance fee, you can watch the tigers going about their daily routine from a distance. There are also several photo opportunities with the tigers.
To get really close to them though, you will be required to pay a higher fee. For the curious mind, a visit to this temple may prove to be an interesting experience. Many travelers, however, walk away feeling ‘ashamed’, as the tigers, they say, ‘appear drugged’ and unresponsive. So, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to support this religious establishment’s ‘wildlife conservation’ activity.
The best times to visit Kanchanaburi for ideal weather are from November to March
Kanchanaburi is a small town about 125 kilometers (78 miles) west of Bangkok, best known as the site of the ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ which was made famous by the book and film of the same name.
The trains from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi leave from Thonburi station and not from the central station at Hua Lamphong, where most trains leave from. There are two trains a day and both travel all the way to Nam Tok, where you can get a taxi to Hellfire Pass.
Thai baht (฿)
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Exceptional – way exceeded our expectation
Absolutely loved every minute of our day. The car was very comfortable and the guide knowledgable and informative. We enjoyed our visit to the Bridge over the River Kwai and the WW2 cemetery but the highlight of the day was Elephants World. The elephants are so well cared for and in no way exploited for the benefit of tourism.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Super enjoyable trip, friendly and professional photo tour guide
We enjoyed our trip a lot and were so impressed by the beautiful waterfall in the Erawan National Park and the historic death railway. Our photo tour guide Noom definitely added lots of value to our trip.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Breathtaking and well organised experience
This trip is absolutely worth it. Our tour was private, so it was just the two of us being driven around in a well-air conditioned car. The waterfalls are stunning. You can choose to go and see all 7 of them (walking uphill in high humidity can be quite a challenge to see the last few ones, and the path can be quite a slippered – wear good water shoes), but don’t worry if you don’t fancy that
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐This tour redeemed our perception of Bangkok!
It was important for us to choose a tour where the animals were treated fairly and weren’t being exploited. After siphoning through a dozen options we chose Elephant World for the fact that it was a sanctuary for old, abused and rescued elephants.
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