Thailand is a vast country, though most travellers stick to the same tried and tested tracks.
The Land of Smiles’ third largest province, Kanchanaburi is a microcosm of what makes Thailand such a popular destination, thankfully minus the tourist circuit. It's a land gifted with jungle-clad national parks, scenic waterways, magnificent temples and timeworn traces of World War II.
That being said, here's why Kanchanaburi should make your bucket list:
It's where History And Nature Go Hand In Hand
If you happen to know a little about Kanchanaburi, it could be because of the Death Railway
. Sounds spooky and its past is even spookier.
The name acts as a reminder of many deaths of the allied POWs (Prisoners of War) and slaves who constructed this railway under the Japanese Imperial Army supervision during WWII. Yet today, it's more a relaxation activity than a mere transportation.
Precarious cliffs within touching distance on one side, admiring the windswept fields of tapioca and sugar cane on the other and crossing over the Bridge on River Kwai will leave an imprint on your memory forever.
The bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks here and when the train is not passing by, locals and street vendors occupy the viaduct.
Historians at heart, don't miss the Hellfire Pass. It's a 26m-deep, 500m-long passage through a huge rock that 1,000 prisoners dug out by hand so that a train could pass. Within the 12 weeks of chiselling period, 700 of those men lost their lives.
Continue a little further to the Hellfire Museum
, rated as one of the best museums in Thailand, as it abounds with extensive information, photographs, tools and testimony to help visualise those hair-raising moments.
You'll also find sites dating further back. The Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park
is approximately 45 kilometres from the city and is built in the 12th century during the Khmer empire.
Ruins of laterite walls, rampant, shrines and museums housing bronze utensils and artefacts, within a quaint area dotted by clusters of trees and flowers make this place a popular subject for photographers.
Reconnect with Nature at National Parks
Kanchanaburi does not run out of adventure-filled, postcard-perfect national parks. The most revered one got to be the Erawan National Park
, which is home to the Erawan Waterfall - seven-tiered, emerald green waterfall enrobed in dense forest surround.
The distance from the bottom to the top is approximately two kilometres which involve steep hikes, clambering over rocks and greeting wildlife such as gibbons, elephants, monkeys and tarantulas.
Use the boulders as natural sliders or plunge straightaway into the cool, refreshing pools to reward yourself for all the hard work. Enjoy complimentary fish spa too.
If you seek a slight detour, make your way to the park’s Pra That Cave
to discover ancient stalagmites and stalactites.
At the White Elephant Mountain
, the province's third largest peak located in Thong Pha Phum National Park, true-blue adventurers are in store for an experience unlike any other.
Guided by professionals, balance your way along the perilous ridge till you reach the summit to treasure the jaw-dropping views of undulating mountains only interrupted by cottony clouds. You will be forgiven for pinching yourself to question reality.
If height isn't your thing, head to Lam Khlong Ngu National Park
. Here lies the 'Alien' Rock - a limestone stalagmite formation crafted entirely by the hands of nature, taking shape just like the creepy creature.
However, reaching here is no easy feat, you'll need to bring your A game. There are also waterfalls, grottoes, large caves, stalagmites and stalactites waiting to be explored.
Other national parks worth making time for are Srinakarin National Park
and Sai Yok National Park
Spend Time with Elephants - Ethically, Of Course!
If you genuinely love elephants, Elephants World
is the place to be. The elephants here are rescued from years of labour and abuse, particularly due to tourist-driven attractions.
Visitors from around the world spend the day at this non-profit organisation preparing food, feeding, playing and bathing these amiable animals. With sceneries of River Kwai waiting to flood your Instagram feed and cottage-like stilted huts offering much-needed shelter and view points, this experience feels like stepping into the pages of Jungle Book.
Stunning Temples That Keep Your Senses Primed
There’s no shortage of temples in Kanchanaburi, each with its own unique appeal.
Wat Ban Tham
is one that will have you at hello. A bright red staircase sandwiched by naga serpents balustrades lead to a massive dragon mouth and further inside its body, murals, caves and Buddha statues make themselves known. Keep going till you reach its peak to be amazed by the arresting river views and a mountaintop chedi.
Wat Tham Sua
and Wat Tham Khao Noi
are perched side by side on a limestone hill near Mae Khlong River and can be seen from miles away. Either hike your way up or ride a cable car to reach a breezy platform and be welcomed by an imposing Buddha statue.
Wat Tham Sua is still active, so it's common to see monks uplifting the aura with chants as you embrace the beauty of arts and sculptures within. The latter is equally picture-worthy with Chinese style arts.
Located next to the Bridge on the River Kwai, Kuang Im Chapel
is easily recognised with its towering Chinese Goddess of Mercy statue.
However, it’s actually a Buddhist temple adorned with a Chinese theme in mind. Photography enthusiasts will have a field day as there are vivid, tale-telling sculptures at every turn.
A River That Has Given Beaches A Much-Needed Break
If you had enough of being a landlubber, make your way to the banks of River Kwai.
You’ll find a number of floating resorts and guesthouses offering the perfect place to relax and recharge. Float House River Kwai
is among the top choices here as it blends seamlessly into the serene setting.
It's teak-wood furniture, traditional thatched roofs and private balcony enhanced with deck chairs and swing encourages you to bob gently over the river with a warm drink and a good book, or simply have the sweet pleasure of doing nothing. The silence is only broken by the pulse of nature.
If lazing in the hotel isn’t you kind of thing, then explore the river by kayaking, canoeing or hop onto a river cruise.
Drool-Worthy Food Is Part Of The Equation
No visit to Thailand is complete without good food and Kanchanaburi is no exception.
The culinary scene here is less hoopla but does not lack authenticity and authentic flavours, which matters most. You’ll find numerous stalls vendors and night markets selling unpretentious Thai favourites like pad thai, mango sticky rice, fried banana and more.
On’s Thai Issan
, which also doubles up as a cookery school, serves up an array of vegetarian food that eliminates even the thought of meat. If you’re looking to raise the romance factor, Keeree Tara
will not disappoint.
In a nutshell, Kanchanaburi melts down the need of the material world just by its ability to stay true to nature, wildlife and the past.