KANCHANABURI

Kanchanaburi (pronounced gaan jà ná bù rii) (Thai: กาญจนบุรี) is a city located at the confluence of the rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai. It is the Capital City of the Province of this name.

For most visitors the main sight of interest is the Bridge over the River Kwai(pronounced khwaae as in air), 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.

Regrettably, there does not appear to be as many tourists now coming here as of 10 years past, maybe because WW 2 was so long ago now, so the City appears to be slowing down compared to ten years previously.

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.

  • Tourism Authority of ThailandSaeng Chuto Rd (just south of the bus terminal). 08:00-16:00 dailyDistributes a useful free map of the city and province.  

By bus

From Bangkok to Kanchanaburi:

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 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

Minibus leave from Terminal 4 regularly, (12 noon was one of the scheduled times) taking 3 hours for 120 baht (July 2015)

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 ’17 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.

ERAWAN WATERFALL

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 offering plenty of exploration opportunities to visitors

The entire length of the seven tiers span approximately 1,500 m through the thick rainforest of the park. Each of the steps has its own name. The access to the first waterfall – named Hlai Keun Lung, is relatively easy, as you can get there on a flat trail, directly from the visitor centre’s car park. The highlight of this first waterfall is the great number of fish swimming in the ponds formed by the smooth limestone sculpted by the water. The fish are rather curious and will swim around your legs. It can be disconcerting at first but you soon get used to it. The trail gets steeper as it carries on to the next tier, Wung Macha, which is usually busier with swimmers. It’s very scenic as there’s a small cave under the falls. Another hike of about 50 m takes you to the third tier, called Pha Nam Tok. This tier is taller than the two first falls (about 20-metre high), and offers a large pond, again filled with fish, at which you can refresh yourself. Oke Nank Phee Seah and Bua Mai Long are the fourth and fifth steps of Erawan Waterfall. They feature small cascades and ponds surrounded by rock formations and dense vegetation.

The trail gets rougher after the fifth tier, and you have to use rickety ladders and ropes to progress through an even thicker lush vegetation. Named Dong Prook Sa, the sixth tier is another multi-tiered cascade featuring a wide plunge at the foot. It takes some more effort to reach the seventh tier of Erawan Waterfall, as the last stretch of the trail is particularly challenging. Called Phu Pha Erawan, this last fall features the three steps that give their name to Erawan Waterfall. In fact, Erawan is the name of a three-headed Hindu God. It takes roughly takes three hours to explore the total length of the fall and see the seven tiers. Do not forget to bring mosquito repellent, water and snacks, as the hike is rather physically demanding, especially the final tiers. You have the possibility to hire a guide if you wish to, but the trail is pretty well marked and easy to follow until the fifth tier; only the last two of them are slightly trickier to get to.

There’s an admission fee for foreigners of 400 baht per adult and 200 baht per child that has to be paid at the visitor centre (the price for Thai citizens is cheaper).

 

PRASAT MUANG SINGH HISTORICAL PARK

A cultural highlight not far from the city centre, 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 a corn-shaped prang standing at its epicentre. 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.

Opening Hours: 09:00 – 16:30 daily
Location: Sai Yok District, about 43km. from Kanchanaburi How to get there: Hop on a songtaew or rent a motorcycle

 

SAI YOK NATIONAL PARK

At the end of the Death Railway’s 77-km line, another journey begins. From Kanchanaburi City, the railroad track runs along the Kwae Noi River, passing through the ‘deadly curve’ – believed to be the most scenic section of the Death Railway – before culminating at the Nam Tok (Waterfall) Terminal Station, where Sai Yok Noi Waterfall is located. North of Sai Yok Noi, along the old rail route, explore a range of attractions that together comprise Sai Yok National Park, including Sai Yok Yai Waterfall, Lawa Cave, Daowadueng Cave, Kaew Cave and Hellfire Pass Memorial.

Location: At the end of the Death Railway line (Nam Tok Terminal Station)
How to get there: Take the train from Tha Kilen Station to Nam Tok. Local buses also operate between Sai Yok National Park and Kanchanaburi City. The trip takes about two hours.

 

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 real 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 travellers, 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.

Opening Hours: 10:00 – 16:30
Location: On Highway 323, about 38km from Kanchanaburi City How to get there: Buses that run between Kanchanaburi and Sai Yok will pass the site, or you can rent a motorcycle from the city

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 travellers 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.

Location: Mae Nam Kwae Road How to get there: Trains leave Bangkok twice a day to the Bridge. Or hop on a songtaew if you are already in Kanchanaburi.

Death Railway Stretching 414km across western Thailand and into Burma, the Death Railway is a standing testimonial of a story that many wish 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.

Location: Kanchanaburi City to Sai Yok How to get there: Hop on a songtaew or rent a motorcycle

Hellfire Pass Memorial Put your experience of the Death Railway in perspective by heading over to Hellfire Pass Memorial. This 500-metre long, 26-metre 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. Opening Hours: 09:00 – 16:00 daily (museum)

Location: On Highway 323, between Sai Yok and Thong Pha Phoom Districts How to get there: Buses that run between Kanchanaburi and Thong Pha Phoom will pass the site. Alternatively, buy an organised tour from one of the travel agents in the city centre.