130 kilometres away from the city of Bangkok where the rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai meet, lies the beautiful province of Kanchanaburi.
The breathtaking landscape with its flowing rivers and tumbling cascades hides a dark past.
It was here that Japanese forces infamously used Allied prisoners of war and Asian workers to build a rail route between Thailand and Myanmar during World War II under horrific conditions. Over 100,000 men died in total. There is much in Kanchanaburi to commemorate and remember the atrocities.
In the present day, Kanchanaburi has a bustling modern city centre, and acts as a entryway to some stunning tourist attractions, including war cemeteries, national parks, elephant sanctuaries, temples and more.
Let’s get right down to it.
- 1 Bangkok to Kanchanaburi
- 2 Things to Do in Kanchanaburi
- 2.1 Bridge on the River Kwai and Death Railway
- 2.2 Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum
- 2.3 JEATH War Museum
- 2.4 Don-Rak War Cemetery
- 2.5 Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall
- 2.6 Erawan National Park
- 2.7 Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park
- 2.8 Wat Tham Sua (Tiger Cave Temple)
- 2.9 Wat Tham Khao Noi
- 2.10 Sai Yok National Park
- 2.11 Elephant’s World
- 2.12 Bo Ploi Jewellery Handicraft Centre
- 3 Where to Stay in Kanchanaburi
Bangkok to Kanchanaburi
There are several different options when travelling from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi.
Travelling by train has the advantage of providing a scenic backdrop to your journey. Trains depart twice daily from Bangkok’s Thonburi rail station on the west side of the Chao Phraya river. The journey time takes around two and a half hours, with the early train at 07:50 arriving at Kanchanaburi at 10:35, and the afternoon train at 13:55 arriving at 16:35.
Tickets are available to purchase directly from Thonburi Train Station and cost 100 THB.
Another option is to make the journey by bus. There are frequent departures from the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai) every twenty minutes, with the shortest journey time on an air conditioned bus taking around two and a half hours, and longer journeys taking up to four hours.
Tickets can be purchased at the bus station for 120 THB. Buses also depart from the Northern Mo Chit terminal.
Alternatively it’s possible to take a minibus from several locations in the city, including Mo Chit, Burana Sat Road and Chakkapong Road (nearby Khao San Road), and the Southern Bus Terminal.
Minibuses cost only fractionally more than the regular bus, and are usually air conditioned and tend to take a more direct route to Kanchanaburi.
For a more comfortable ride, you might want to consider taking a taxi although this will certainly be more expensive. You’ll need to negotiate a rate for the journey (and the rest of the day if you’d like your driver to transport you between attractions) as it’s unlikely any driver will be happy using the meter.
Things to Do in Kanchanaburi
Bridge on the River Kwai and Death Railway
By far the most famous attraction in Kanchanaburi is the 300 metre long Death Railway Bridge on the River Kwai.
The original bridge was destroyed during bombing in 1945, but the reconstructed version stands as a poignant symbol of the atrocities committed against the thousands of allied prisoners of war who were forced by Japanese officers to work to construct the bridge, and the 250 mile long railway which reaches from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat in Myanmar.
In addition to visiting the bridge itself, it’s also possible to take a train trip on this railway which took two years and many lives to create.
Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum
During construction of the Death Railway, it was necessary to cut through a remote section of the mountain in the Tenasserim Hills.
This mammoth, near impossible, task was completed using only hand drills, picks and shovels with prisoners of war working in continual shifts of 16 to 18 hours a day in brutal conditions with very little to eat.
Dubbed Hellfire Pass because the sight of the starved prisoners working by torchlight in blackest night looked like hell, 69 men were beaten to death in 6 weeks with countless more contracting diseases.
The on-site memorial museum is dedicated to telling their story.
JEATH War Museum
This open air museum was built in 1977 to exhibit photos and correspondence of the Japanese, English, Australian, Thai and Dutch POW victims of the Death Railway atrocity.
It recreates their horrendous living conditions and gives accounts of the suffering they underwent during the railway’s construction.
Don-Rak War Cemetery
6,982 Allied prisoners of war are buried at Don-Rak War Cemetery, a haunting testimonial to the torment suffered by those who constructed the Death Railway.
The POWs that died during the construction were originally buried in makeshift graves alongside the tracks where they fell, but at the end of the war were either relocated to Don-Rak, or had memorials erected in their memory at the site.
Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall
A little off the beaten tourist track in the Khuean Srinagarindra National Park lies Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall, an impressive seven tiers of cascade nestling amongst the bamboo forest.
This is thought of as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand — a true feat — and camping is available nearby should you wish to stay overnight.
Erawan National Park
550 square kilometres of mixed deciduous and evergreen forests on the limestone Tenasserim Hills of Kanchanaburi, rich with flora and fauna, streams, rivers and waterfalls — including the spectacular Erawan Falls which consists of three tiers of water tumbling down to the emerald green pools below.
Many species of birds dwell in the park, as well as a variety of animals including monitor lizards, macaques, wild elephants, deer and boar.
Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park
Once the westernmost outpost of the vast Khmer kingdom, the ruins of this religious temple were built somewhere between 857 and 1157 on the banks of the River Kwai 40km west of Kanchanaburi.
As well as the ruins themselves, there are a wealth of artifacts, antiques, pottery, skeletons and religious ornaments on display.
Wat Tham Sua (Tiger Cave Temple)
Kanchanaburi’s Wat Tham Sua — AKA the Tiger Cave Temple — should not be confused with the notorious Kanchanaburi Tiger Temple where tourists paid to get up close to tigers and have their photo taken.
An investigation by the the Thai Department of National Parks and numerous animal rights activists discovered serious maltreatment, suspected trafficking and closed the Tiger Temple in 2016.
The Tiger Cave Temple, on the other hand, is certainly worth visiting. It has the the largest Buddha Image in Kanchanaburi, and features a small tiger shrine and some fantastic panoramic views over the province.
Wat Tham Khao Noi
Just across from Wat Tham Sua on top of Noi Hill is Wat Tham Khao Noi, a Chinese style temple with pagodas and stairways decorated with dragons and ceramic mosaics.
Built in 1881, the view from the top of the seven tiered pagoda gives views across to Wat Tham Sua and out across the town and the river.
Sai Yok National Park
Sai Yok National Park is Kanchanaburi’s second favourite national park and, covering 958 km², it is even more vast than Erawan National Park.
It borders the River Kwai, and is famous for the waterfalls, caves, historical sites and raft houses which can be found here.
Amongst the animal species which live here are elephants, gibbons, macaques, porcupine, slow loris, barking deer, wild boar and purportedly also a small tiger population.
Elephants World is a sanctuary for sick, old, disabled, abused and rescued elephants, who can thankfully live out their final days in peace in their natural environment.
Visitors to the sanctuary can help take care of the elephants by gathering their food, feeding them and bathing them.
Make a short day visit to the sanctuary or take a 3 day, 2 night excursion hiking with the elephant herd to their forest sleeping area.
Bo Ploi Jewellery Handicraft Centre
Kanchanaburi is the centre of Thailand’s gemstone mining industry, and Bo Ploi Jewellery Handicraft Centre north of Kanchanaburi town is quite literally a treasure trove of quality precious and semi precious stones which visitors can watch being crafted into stunning rings, pendants, and other items of jewellery.
It’s hard to leave here without making a purchase, but be prepared to spend.
Where to Stay in Kanchanaburi
X2 River Kwai Resort
Located right on the banks of the River Kwai, this leading luxury 5 star hotel hosts spectacular views on the backdrop of misty mountain ranges.
There are 22 rooms available, each uniquely styled and facing onto the river. There are also poolside cabins and floating cabins on the river itself which feature bathtub, private rooftop sundeck and dazzling river views.
The cutting edge design of this resort is industrial chic, and the X2 River Kwai has won numerous awards.
- Outdoor pool
- Riverside restaurant serving Thai and international dishes
- Luxury design
- River views
- Free bicycle hire
Away Kanchanaburi Dheva Mantra Resort & Spa
With sweeping views and lavish accommodations, Dheva Mantra Resort & Spa offers a sophisticated ambience in a beautiful setting.
Rooms and suites are decorated with wood carvings and artworks in the colonial style and feature private outdoor balconies with views of the resort’s lush tropical garden and the river beyond. Four restaurants offer a choice of Thai and western cuisine, and the wine bar features karaoke rooms.
The Dheva Spa offers a wide array of classical treatments from around the world, including age-old Thai massage and herbal scrubs.
- Multiple dining options
- Health club and fitness centre
- Luxury spa
- Mini golf
U Inchantree Kanchanaburi
Designed in an elegant, rustic lodge style this luxury 4 star boutique hotel nestling on the riverbank in a dramatic setting offers 50 romantic rooms and suites with top of the range amenities and rain showers.
The enchanting riverside restaurant offers elegant Thai and western cuisine and the bar lounge with terrace is suspended over the river with the unique backdrop of the River Kwai bridge.
- Landscaped gardens
- Outdoor swimming pool
Natee The Riverfront Hotel Kanchanaburi
Located in the center of Kanchanaburi, Natee The Riverfront Hotel Kanchanaburi offers Thai-contemporary style accommodation in the exclusive serenity of a tropical retreat along the wonderfully idyllic river Kwai with striking mountain and river views.
Each of the 56 rooms at this 4 star hotel benefits from a balcony and jacuzzi. The outdoor pool features both river and mountain views.
- Outdoor swimming pool
- Fitness centre
Have you visited Kanchanaburi yet?