While most of Thailand is full of beautiful landscapes and temples, Kanchanaburi is a bit different. It’s 150 km to the west of Bangkok and can easily be reached by train or bus. Here you will find the Death Railway, also known as the Bridge over river Kwai. A piece of history you can’t ignore or miss out on when you travel through Thailand.
Another tourist spot is the Erawan waterfalls. These 7 waterfalls are located 60 km from Kanchanaburi. It’s a nice spot where locals and tourists come to swim and cool down, relax and enjoy the silence… If you go early.
A little bit of history
Kanchanaburi is a province in western Thailand. It is located approximately 130 km west of Bangkok. As of 2020, the estimated population of the province is around 775,000 people. The province is known for its natural beauty, including the famous River Kwai and the Erawan National Park.
Kanchanaburi was founded in the 1820s during the reign of King Rama III of the Rattanakosin Kingdom. The area has a rich history, including the construction of the Death Railway during World War II, which was built by prisoners of war and forced laborers under the Japanese occupation.
The majority of the population in Kanchanaburi province are Theravada Buddhists. Buddhism arrived in Thailand more than a thousand years ago and has since become deeply ingrained in the culture and daily life of the Thai people. Buddhism is also one of the most important factors in shaping the architecture, art, and beliefs of Thai society. There are many Buddhist temples, or “wats,” in Kanchanaburi, some of which date back to the early days of Buddhism in Thailand. Additionally, small communities of Muslims, Christians, and other religions are also present.
Kanchanaburi is also known for its elephant conservation and re-education program. It is home to several elephant sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers where visitors can interact with and learn about these magnificent animals. Many of the elephants in these centers were previously used in the logging or tourism industries and have been rescued and rehabilitated.
How to get to Kanchanaburi
There are several ways to get to Kanchanaburi. We took the first-class bus from Bangkok and it takes around 3 hours. Once you arrive you can take a songthaew to your accommodation. Bus tickets are available at the station on the day of departure.
Another way to travel to Kanchanaburi is by train. This will also take 3 hours and from the train station, you can also call a songthaew. It is a good idea to book your ticket in advance because the train is quite popular.
Because it only takes 3 hours, Kanchanaburi is perfect for a day trip from Bangkok or a weekend getaway. If you have time, combine this trip to Kanchanaburi with a trip to Ayutthaya to discover ancient temples.
How to get to the Erawan Waterfalls
The best way to travel to the Erawan waterfalls is by bus, minivan, or use your own transportation. There are a lot of tour operators in Kanchanaburi that can take you to the entrance of the park. This will take up to 1 1/2 hours. If you take the normal bus, the drive will be just as long, but you need to keep in mind the timetable of the local buses.
Another way to get to the national park is by bike or car. This will take up to 1 hour, but that really depends on how fast you drive and how many times you stop to enjoy the beautiful scenery of this area. We took a scooter and it took us 2 hours, but we went early.
Minibusses and tour operators are usually a bit more expensive than a local bus or renting your own transportation. Gas is really not that expensive in Thailand and even when they scam you with the gas prices, you still laugh about it.
The things you want to see in Kanchanaburi aren’t far apart. So you can do most on foot. If you book accommodation wisely, you can minimize the distances to the highlights. We booked Pongphen Guesthouse which has rooms including breakfast. They also rent out scooters.
From the Pongphen Guesthouse, it’s just a 23-minute walk to the Bridge over river Kwai and 12 minutes to the Death Railway museum. Both are the highlights of this town.
If you do want to experience everything in one day, a scooter could be a good idea. They are not really that expensive and it’s easier to get around. Especially when it gets hotter in the day and walking is a bit harder.
Note: Scooters in Thailand are 110 ccs or higher. This means they are actually motorcycles and you need a motorcycle license to drive them. Keep in mind you are in violation if you don’t have the proper license. Police could fine you or even take the bike. If you get in an accident you are not insured if you don’t have a license. You need to pay for everything. From damage to others to your own damages and the hospital, even if it wasn’t your fault.
The Bridge over the River Kwai, also known as the Death Railway Bridge, is a famous landmark in Kanchanaburi. The bridge was built during World War II by prisoners of war (POWs) and forced laborers under the Japanese occupation. The work was done in under terrible conditions and thousands of POWs and laborers died during its construction. That’s why the bridge has become a symbol of the suffering and sacrifice of those who were forced to build it.
The construction of the bridge was part of the Thai-Burma railway, also known as the Death Railway, which was built to support the Japanese war effort in Burma.
Today, the bridge is a popular tourist attraction and is a part of the Death Railway Museum, which tells the story of the railway’s construction and the lives of those who built it. Visitors can walk or bike across the bridge, and there is also a train service that crosses the bridge, allowing people to experience the same journey as the POWs did during the war.
The bridge was partially destroyed by allied bombing in 1945, and it was rebuilt after the war, so the current bridge is not the original one.
Walking over the bridge, and moving through the crowds, gives you a somber feeling. Thinking of all the people who died to construct this railway.
There are two museums in regard to the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi: the JEATH War Museum and the Death Railway Museum. We didn’t go to the JEATH War Museum because of all the bad reviews. People mentioned “garbage” and “went outside after 5 minutes” and noted that it’s just a bunch of photos and stuff. The JEATH War Museum has an entrance fee of 160 Bath per person and is located next to the Bridge over the river Kwai.
The Death Railway Museum is a museum dedicated to the history of the Thai-Burma railway, also known as the Death Railway. It’s located a bit further than the JEATH War Museum, about 40 minutes walk.
Here they tell the story of the railway’s construction and the lives of those who built it. You can see exhibits of photographs, documents, and artifacts related to the railway and the prisoners of war who were forced to build it. The museum also features a replica of a prisoner-of-war camp, which gives visitors an idea of the harsh conditions under which the prisoners lived and worked.
You learn more about the history of the war in the region, the reasons why the railway was built, the impact of the railway on the local communities and the environment, and the history of the prisoners of war.
Note that it can be a bit overwhelming since they use dolls that really look like the people from back then. There is even a sign that warns people about the exhibit. I must say it really works because they really gave me the idea and feeling about the conditions of the POWs.
But what hit me the most was the personal belongings. People from all over the world have sent personal items of POWs to this museum. Letters, cups, cans, coins, you name it. Under the POWs were a lot of Dutch people so I could read the letters and some pages of the journals.
Time for something different: nature and waterfalls.
The Erawan Waterfall is located in the Erawan National Park, near the border with Myanmar. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region and is known for its crystal-clear water and seven levels of pools.
The name of the waterfall is based on the Erawan, the three-headed white elephant of Thai mythology. The Erawan Waterfall is considered one of the most beautiful in Thailand and is a popular spot for swimming, hiking, and picnicking. Because you are surrounded by jungle you can spot many species of birds, monkeys, and other wildlife.
The park offers several hiking trails that lead to the different levels of the waterfall. The trails are well-maintained but can be steep and slippery, so appropriate footwear is advisable
It’s important to note that the Erawan National Park is open daily from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, and there is an admission fee to enter the park. Also, the park has a dress code, and visitors must wear shirts with sleeves, and pants or skirts that cover the knees, to respect the local culture and religion.
Okay, so that was the general information. Now reality. If you want to enjoy nature and the calm water, go early. Like, stand in front of the gate before 6 am. If you go after lunch, the park is swarmed by locals and tourists and you can’t walk normally. People with cars full of picnic stuff, inflated swimming devices, and whatnot block the paths.
Tourists don’t really mind the rules, such as the dress code. Mini-bikinis and male tank tops are pretty normal, but not to the locals. We have seen a lot of nature and people enjoying and respecting it, but not here. So, again: Go early.
A unique experience where you can book your room on the river bedding or even on the river. You can also include breakfast.
Located a bit between the highlights of Kanchanaburi, with just a 23-minute walk to the Bridge of river Kwai and a 12-minute walk the to Death Railway Museum.
Also located in the center and with view of the river. They have bungalows and bigger rooms. Breakfast is not included!
Kanchanaburi; a city with a history
Although Kanchanaburi is not all about fun, it’s something you should experience yourself. It’s something different from what we saw before in Thailand. No temples, but a terrible chapter in the history of Thailand.
But nature is not far away if you are up for a small trip to the Erawan waterfalls. Go early to escape the city and busy tourists.
Kanchanaburi is easy to reach by (mini)bus or train. There are plenty of accommodations and you won’t be bored easily.
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