Only two hours from Bangkok you will find the city of Kanchanaburi, known for the Bridge Over The River Kwai. Fascinating war history, gorgeous river huts, Instagram-worthy waterfalls, ornate temples and plenty of outdoor activities. Kanchanaburi is definitely worth the visit.
Before we begin, what is a “kwai” anyways? Well, good question. The word kwai is “buffalo” in Thai so basically it’s the Buffalo River Bridge. The word kwai is also used as an insult among Thai people. I digress.
If you love history and particularly war history, Kanchanaburi has a lot to offer. If you are not into history, that’s ok too because the area is loaded with stunning scenery and tons of outdoor fun. Let’s start with the history then move our way down to some of the beauty, romance and fun that makes Kanchanaburi special.
A few short months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and the Nazi’s were continuing to advance throughout Europe, Kanchanaburi earned its place in history. Known as Siam at the time, the country was under Japanese control. Kanchanaburi was used as a strategic gateway to Asia for the transportation of weapons and supplies from the Gulf of Thailand. It was here that forced laborers and Allied POWs built the infamous Burma Railway. AKA the Death Railway, almost half of the prisoners working on the project died from disease, maltreatment, or various other accidents.
Today, the infamous bridge which has since been rebuilt, supports a local passenger train and plenty of foot pedestrians. Some other war history attractions in the area include:
- Thailand-Burma Railway Center & War Cemetery. A somber place to pay respect and to learn of the brutal conditions suffered by POWs.
- Hellfire Pass & Memo. A 500-meter stretch of rock that over a thousand POWs dug by-hand in efforts to pave way for the Death Railway. The path, which takes about 4-5 hours to walk, leads to a memorial museum honoring those who died.
- Chungkai Cemetery is an area long the Noi Kwai River and home to the graves of 1700 POWs. Once the site of a former POW camp, the area is located about 2 kilometers south of the city.
- Jeath Museum is probably the most sobering place of all. It was named after the countries who were involved in the events: Japan, England, Australia/USA, Thailand, and Holland. Built as a replica of the actual prisoner war camp the museum is full of artifacts and war memorabilia. You can easily spend half a day here.
- Erawan Falls. Who doesn’t like falls? There are plenty of beautiful waterfalls scattered throughout Thailand and Kanchanaburi is home to one of the best. The Erawan Falls is one of the most photographed spots in Kanchanaburi. This picturesque 7-tiered attraction can only be reached by hiking uphill on trails and bridges. It’s best to start early as the hike can take 2-3 hours.
- Elephants World. For those who want to experience these majestic beasts up-close, Elephants World is the best possible place. This self-supporting Environmental Conservation Organization cares for domestic elephants that have suffered years of labor and abuse. Riding elephants may seem fun but how would you like it if thousands of tourists wanted to ride on your back year-after-year? Help support the care of these loving creatures by paying a visit to Elephants World and learning more about conservation. Please help educate those who are traveling to Thailand by encouraging them not to ride elephants and to be cautious of places claiming to be elephant sanctuaries. To learn more about Elephants World and see a short video click here.
- Khuean Srinagarindra National Park. Less busy than Erawan Falls but only accessible by boat or 4WD, you can see the Huay Mae Khamin Waterfalls.
There are many temples in Kanchanaburi and the following is a list of some of the most notable:
Prasat Muang Singh National Park. This historical park features ancient Khmer ruins from the 13th and 14th century.
Wat Tham Sua. This impressive hilltop temple features an extremely large golden Buddha, a 69-meter tall chedi and sweeping views of the rice paddies and mountains.
Wat Ban Tham. Also known as the Dragon’s Head Temple, this temple has a stunning collection of caves, Buddha’s and hilltop views of the Mae Klong River.
- Wat Tham Pu Wa. This well-known meditation retreat features Khmer influenced architecture on the outside and an impressive cave on the inside. Follow the path to enlightenment by visiting the monk deep inside the cave who will give you blessings for good luck.