Whether you're in it for the WWII history, the outdoor pursuits, or the cheap drinks and Thai ladies, Kanchanaburi has it all. Find out how to navigate this little town that could.
See and Do
Have you watched The Bridge Over River Kwai? If so, you're familiar with the POW camps that the Japanese operated in Kanchanaburi during WWII. More than 100,000 men died in this area while building a railroad that should have taken years but took a matter of months. The Allied soldiers are remembered in several museums and cemeteries, but what we found incredible was how many Asian men, essentially forced laborers, perished alongside them. Since the Japanese didn't need to keep war records on "slaves," the POWs receive most of the accolades and shrines. The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre museum does a great job of telling the story of this area, and the bridge itself, while small, brings it home. Taking a ride on the railroad is a good way to pay tribute to the many lives lost.
Nature abounds in the Kanchanaburi region. You can ride elephants and cuddle with tigers, though we did neither as we plan on doing more of those activities in Chiang Mai. If you are craving wildlife encounters, we urge you to avoid the Tiger Temple as many believe the animals are drugged and abused.
A visit to one of the many waterfalls is a great way to spend a hot day. Erawan National Park boasts seven tiers of watery adventury for 200B/pp. Hike to the top and make your way down for the 4pm bus back. Each level has something different, but the flesh eating fish (the ones we think are used in fish spas) are ever-present!
A waterfall that gets less notice is Soi Yok Noi. It's not nearly as beautiful as Erawan, but it does offer a great way to observe Thai families doing what they do best - eating gourmet picnics!
There's also a cool cave to explore and you can take the bus back instead of the train, which saves some money and time.
The last sight is one you unfortunately can't avoid in Kanchanaburi, even if you try. Groups of old potbellied men sit around at bars with several bars of beer, waiting for Thai women to join them. Unlike our hotel in Bangkok, the guesthouses here seemed to have no problem with prostitutes. We saw these unlikely couples at breakfast, at the pool, at dinner, at bars, at the massage place, you name it. It seemed that most men paid for the "girlfriend experience" because the women stayed with them throughout the day. What we found most strange, however, was that none of the women spoke much English. Observing these couples over dinner, you'd think they were headed toward divorce, not a night of passion...
You can get a lot for your money in Kanchanaburi, and the best way to ensure you get what you're looking for is to get to town and walk around. We arrived hot and tired from Bangkok, so we settled for T&T Guesthouse, a simple room with a private bath and AC for 500B/night.
When we saw how hot it was the next morning, we set out in search of a pool. Even though Kanchanaburi is set on the banks of the infamous River Kwai, the river isn't swimmable, so a pool was a must. We settled on [Tara B&B, although Ploy also looked quite nice. For 670B/night, we got a beautiful room with water bottles, AC, a really nice bathroom, and a pool set on the shore of the river. We ended up staying three nights, partially because of how nice the bed was.
Eat and Drink
Kanchanaburi was a relief for the wallet! The prices for most entrees at restaurants ranged from 60-120B, and the food was pretty good. We ate at Jolly Frog for breakfast as it was super cheap (35B for eggs and toast for Rob) and at Sri Rung Reung for dinner (tons of veggie options for Lina).
The other good thing about the town was the bars. "Get drunk for 10 baht" signs hung from several streetside stalls and while we didn't take them up on it, plenty of other travelers did. One of these street stalls was across from Blue Jeans Bar & Restaurant, which had live music nightly. They even had a visitor one night.
Taking the historic "death railway" to Nam Tok, the stop for the Soi Yok Noi waterfall, was super easy. Just ask your guesthouse for the schedule, arrive at the station and buy a ticket. Don't expect the train to be on time and don't get annoyed when you pay 100B while the locals pay 27B.
The local bus is useful to get to Erawan (50B/pp) and leaves at some indeterminate time. Ask your guesthouse for an updated schedule. Jolly Frog has one, but it's out of date. The bus from Soi Yok Noi cost 40B/pp.
We headed to Ayuthaya from Kanchanaburi by public bus, which was a ton easier than getting to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok. The tuk-tuk to the bus station cost 40B - bargain as they start at 60B. The bus to Suphanburi cost 50B each and took a bit under 2.5 hours. From there, we had an air conditioned minibus for 80B each, which took about an hour. You can get a minibus directly to Ayuthaya from Kanchanaburi for 380-400B, which takes a bit less time but you'll end up paying at least 230B more than we did and you won't get to meet the local monks that sit at the back of the bus.
Interested in seeing the Bridge over River Kwai without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Kanchanaburi photo tour!
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