The Wonderful Attractions of Kanchanaburi
Lying on the peaceful Khwae Yai River, Kanchanaburi is a destination that offers all sorts of opportunities to visitors from the exceptionally beautiful Erawan Falls to the dramatic ride on the Death Railway and the pathos of its World War II museums, dedicated to Japanese prisoners. There’s ancient history at Meaung Singh Historical Park, the fascinating architecture of Heritage Walking Street, wonderful cave temples and further west, the spectacular, wild terrain of Sangkhla Buri town and the Three Pagoda Pass.
Here are just a few of Khiri Travel’s recommendations for this beautiful destination, once Thailand’s final frontier and the front line of defence against potential Burmese invaders.
Heritage Walking Street
Kanchanaburi town was established in the 1830s and many of its buildings feature a unique mix of Sino-Portuguese, Thai and Vietnamese architecture.
There are about 20 of these heritage buildings on Pak Phraek Road in the older part of town, with information explaining their history posted on signs in English and Thai. Some of them have been renovated, while others now function as coffee shops or local businesses.
In the early evening Pak Phraek Road becomes a Heritage Walking Street, enabling visitors to explore the shops, learn about their construction and what the buildings were originally used for. It’s also possible to learn how some buildings and their owners played a role in WWII.
Heritage Walking Street is open daily from 4.00 pm to 9.00 pm, and in addition to finding out about the street’s history, visitors can also try the traditional snacks and Kanchanaburi’s cuisine sold by the local vendors.
Giant Rain Tree
Kanchanaburi’s giant rain tree is located just outside town, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The tree is 20 meters tall and the massive trunk needs at least ten people to circle it. The branches spread out nearly 26 meters, creating a shaded area the size of half a football field!
The Death Railway
The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, was a 415-kilometer railway built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 to support its forces in the Burma campaign against British troops during WWII. The intention was to build a rail link between Bangkok and Rangoon (Yangon) in Burma, along which the Japanese army would ferry troops and arms.
Forced labor was used to build the railway, consisting of about 250,000 Asian civilians and approximately 61,000 Allied POWs. Due to the appalling treatment by the Japanese soldiers, more than 90,000 Asians and 12,000 Allied prisoners died constructing the railway, hence its name.
We recommended taking an hour-long train ride along the railway, which crosses the ramshackle Wang Po Viaduct, stopping at small stations along the way, before reaching its final destination at Nam Tok.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Although Allied Forces bombed the River Kwai Bridge in 1944, it was rebuilt after 1945 with war reparations provided by the Japanese.
The bridge, which spans the Khwae Yai River, became the subject of an epic movie ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’, released in 1957, starring William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness, and Sessue Hayakawa.
Today the bridge is a well-known tourist attraction. A walkway has been constructed along the track with two viewpoints, allowing visitors to cross the bridge on foot.
World War II Museums
One of the first museums in Kanchanaburi to document the treatment of POWs and Asian civilians at the hands of the Japanese was the JEATH War Museum. However, there is now a new museum, the Thailand Burma Railway Center, which offers much more up to date information and includes interactive installations and research facilities dedicated to the Death Railway’s history.
Another museum the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Center is also a fascinating museum dedicated to Allied POWs and Asian laborers who suffered and died at Hellfire Pass, a part of the railway that cuts through solid rock. The museum also includes a Memorial Walking Trail which follows the alignment of the original Burma-Thailand railway, through the pass.
The museum is located about 80 km northwest of Kanchanaburi on Sangchuto Road, the road to Sangkhla Buri District.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Opposite the Thailand-Burma Railway Center is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Don Rak) where 6,982 Allied servicemen are buried. The smaller Chungkai (UK) War Cemetery is just outside town with the graves of 1,750 British soldiers. Sadly, no memorial has been established for the larger number of Asian civilians, who died on the Death Railway.
Mueang Singh Historical Park
Mueang Singh is a fascinating historical park that is home to the remains of two Khmer temples dating from the 12th and 13 centuries. The place was once a flourishing trading post on the edge of the great Khmer Empire during the reign of King Jayavarman VII.
Erawan National Park
This stunning park is on most visitors’ itineraries and rightfully so. One of its highlights is the seven-tiered Erawan Waterfall with a number of stunning jade-green pools that are ideal for taking a refreshing dip. The trail that wends its way up to the different levels is relatively easy, although it can get slippery during the rainy season. Keep in mind that the pool at the base of the waterfall can become quite busy during weekends and holidays
Another option is Sai Yok National Park nearby, which is well-known for its Sai Yok Yai Waterfall, but usually has fewer visitors.
Wat Tham Khao Poon
Like most provinces, Kanchanaburi has plenty of temples, some of which feature cave complexes. Wat Tham Khao Poon is one such temple only 5 km outside Kanchanaburi town. Its well-lit natural halls feature a cave system that links nine caverns full of Hindu and Buddhist shrines. It’s the easiest to reach of Kanchanaburi’s many cave temples.
Wat Tham Suea and Wat Tham Khao Noi
Two connecting temples – Wat Tham Suea situated at the top of a hill and Wat Tham Khao Noi at its base – are the perfect place to visit to get a bird’s eye view of the region’s countryside. You can either climb the long steep staircase to the top, or make the ascent in a little cable car. At the top visitors can also climb up the Ket Kaew pagoda, which offers stunning panoramas of the landscape, mountains and Mae Kong River, below.
Something completely different is offered here, an interactive city depicting Siamese life in the Chao Phraya River basin during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1873-1910). Explore this replica town where all the staff are dressed in authentic period costumes, and where you can also choose to do the same! You can enjoy an authentic dinner and show, as well as visit the town’s local attractions, including the Ancient Market Zone, Cooking Kitchen and Jasmine Garden.
Sangkhla Buri Town
Lying 200 km northwest of Kanchanaburi on Route 323 is Sangkhla Buri town, famous for its Uttamanusorn Bridge. Spanning the Songaria River, it is the second-longest wooden bridge in the world, built by the ethnic Mon people living in the area.
Sangkhla Buri is also home to the stunning Khao Laem Reservoir, a lake formed by the Vajiralongkorn Dam on the Khwae Noi River, which submerged a whole village when it opened in 1984. During the dry season from March to May, the water levels drop and it is still sometimes possible to see the village’s temple protruding from the water on a submerged hill.
Elephants and other Wildlife
There are now a number of programs in Kanchanaburi for elephants that don’t use these gentle creatures in cruel performances or allow you to ride them – an activity that can cause damage to their spines. Several of these programs are located in forest sanctuaries with spectacular nature walks to spot local flora and fauna, and possibly even a wild elephant! Most of these programs are in combination with visits to local communities to promote an understanding of wildlife conservation and responsible tourism initiatives.
Kanchanaburi town is a three-hour drive west of Bangkok, either by car or bus.
There is a slow, third-class train that departs twice a day from Bangkok’s Thonburi Railway Station (07.45 and 13.35), which takes about five hours, passing through Kanchanaburi and continuing on to Nam Tok, the last station on the Death Railway.
From Kanchanaburi town, it is a good three-hour drive northwest to Sangkhla Buri and the Three Pagoda Pass on the border with Myanmar. Note that this border crossing is not open to foreigners!
While Kanchanaburi is blessed with decent weather all year round, the best time to visit is from November to February – during the dry season – when temperatures are cooler. The exception is the month of April, during the hot season when the heat is intense.
For bookings, or more information about Kanchanaburi’s attractions, get in touch with us at: [email protected].