Kanchanaburi offers something for everyone and in my honest opinion, is certainly one of Thailand’s most underrated destinations. Blessed with natural and historical attractions, this laid-back town features many sightseeing opportunities that would please nature lovers and history buffs alike. World War II memories dominate a large portion of the town, with a number of museums and war memorials dedicated to the many lives lost during the Japanese occupation, while nature parks and its surrounding area offer visitors respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The following are some of the activities you can enjoy when you vacation here.
Brief Insight on Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi is located west of Bangkok and accessible by a 2.5 hours drive. Many Singapore males would be familiar with this quaint little town as they might trained in the region during national service overseas exercises as the region is the Royal Thai Army’s has a training base nearby.
The key attraction here is the Bridge Over River Kwai, as well as the start of the infamous World War II Death Railway to Myanmar, as well as the many associated museums. International visitors are gradually discovering why Thais know it as one of the most beautiful provinces in the country with its accessible waterfalls and national parks.
Kayaking at River Kwai
The River Kwai, merges with the Khwae Yai River to form the Mae Klong river, which empties into the Gulf of Thailand at Samut Songkhram. You can enjoy kayaking from a few kilometers upstream and enjoy beautiful scenery along the way.
The kayaking (about 2 hours) culminates at an end point just further down from the famed Bridge Over River Kwai. Feel like a ‘celebrity’ as many visitors on the bridge usually wave to you as you paddle under the bridge.
Visit the famous Bridge Over River Kwai
The River Kwai Bridge have gained worldwide fame, when it was featured in movies and books. The cliff-hugging tracks and the natural beauty of the mountains and valleys are well captured in David Lean’s movie, Bridge Over River Kwai. The track have been added with walkway and side platforms facilitating crossing the railway bridge on foot. These platforms also function as viewpoints and for avoiding oncoming trains.
Every year between November and December, River Kwai Bridge Festival is organized to commemorate the Allied bombing on November 28, 1944. Spectacular light and sound show is the highlight of the festival. For the best experience, a meal break at one of the floating restaurants to round up the visit is a must.
Local visitors enjoying themselves at the bridge. Two dummy bombs marked the start of the bridge and there’s many food and souvenir stalls around this venue. Special trains run from Bangkok for tourists during weekends.
Local children busking just steps away from the Kwai Bridge, providing a spot of music entertainment at the vicinity.
A group of novice monks on a day out at the bridge. As a travel photographer, photo opportunity like this are god-send. Pardon the pun.
Erawan National Park
As Thailand’s 12th National Park, this huge park covers an area of 550km². Established in 1975, it is one of the most famous national parks and in my humble opinion, if there is only two “must-do” activities in Kanchanaburi, it have to be a visit to the Bridge over River Kwai and this beautiful park.
The key attraction is its 7-tiers Erawan Falls with emerald green ponds, named after the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The top tier of the falls is said to resemble the elephant’s head. Rainy season is May to October , where the waterfalls are more spectacular (however, hot and dry season can change all this). Cooler weather is November to January, although average temperature of 30°C is remotely cool really. The hot and dry season is February to April. The picture above is tier #04.
Beautiful waterfall at tier #03, the cool emerald water are perfect on a hot summer day. For visitors less inclined to climb the steeper steps at the park, this is no.3 tier waterfall would usually be the last as the paths to waterfalls higher up get more challenging. Changing rooms are available and rest areas are available at each tier for visitors conveniences.
Waterfall tier #02. An easy stroll along cemented paths to reach this spot. There many fish in the pond which may nibble on the skin of your feet when you placed it in the water. Sort of fish-spa if you like, free of charge.
At tier #05, it gets less crowded as most visitors are deterred by the steeper climbs and trekking needed to reach the spot. Comfortable hiking shoes or sandals will go a long way in ensuring a better experience at the park. On the return trek near the tier #02, a paid buggy service is available to ferry tired visitors to the park entrance for a token fee of 30bht/pax.
Hin Dat Hot Spring
Hin Dat Hot Springs is one of most popular tourist spots. Many locals and foreign tourists (especially Russians) come to enjoy this natural hot spring. The draw of this venue are the minerals in the water, giving the skin a smooth feel after soaking in it. This is natural hot springs is available throughout the year.
The ponds are divided into 3 pools – hot, warm, and lukewarm pool for children. The stream that runs alongside the hot spring have refreshing cool water to chill off. Sheltered kiosks with masseurs providing traditional Thai body and foot massages are available for those who don’t want to get wet.
Hellfire Pass Memorial
Hellfire Pass is a 500 meters long and 26 meters deep section of rock that was dug out by Prisoners of War with the objective to allow the ‘Death Railway’ to continue its route from Bangkok to Rangoon. Soldiers were forced to remove the rocks using no more than basic tools like hammers, picks and their bare hands. Of the 1,000 Australian and British soldiers who took 12 weeks to clear the stretch of mountain, 700 died.
The Hellfire Pass Memorial and Memorial Museum were set up to commemorate the fallen. The memorial comprises a museum and a trail where visitors follow the old railway track into the jungle. This site is of particular significance to Australians as four hundred Australian prisoners began work at Hellfire Pass on Anzac Day in 1943. The site plays an important part in annual Anzac events in Thailand. Entry to this venue is complimentary, though donations are appreciated.
The museum contains write ups, pictures and tools alongside video exhibitions about the war period. Visitors with relatives or friends connected with the war atrocities will definitely get emotional here as it can be a heart-wrenching experience here.
A picture of serenity and calm, the bamboo shaded wooden path leads to the pass with a dark period in history.
Do spare a moment as you stroll along this man-made pass, to ponder on the extreme sufferings and death of prisoners of war. Then take a moment silence to offer prayer for the fallen.
Some of the tools used in the excavation of rocks and boulders to create the pass. These war relics are secured on the rocks to prevent pilferage.
The floral, fauna and wildlife of the Hellfire Pass will appeal to nature lovers, such as this white-rump Shama bird out foraging for food.
Nature finds a way, as can be seen in this unique little plant growing out of the cracks and crevices at the pass.
The activities above are just a glimpse of what the beautiful town of Kanchanaburi has to offer. There are many temples, animal conservatories, nature parks and great restaurants that will bring a smile to vacationers looking for off-the-beaten-path attraction. It’s best to stay at a good resort over at least 3-4 days, like in X2 Kwai Resort which is the most instagrammable resort in the province, then partake these attraction or activities according one’s interest. Do check out my other blogs of hotels and activities in Thailand.