The halfway town of Thong Pha Phum is nestled under limestone hills at the southern end of Vajiralongkorn Lake, 147 kilometres from Kanchanaburi, 70 kilometres short of Sangkhlaburi and just off Route 323.
Though it lacks the tourist amenities of Kanchanaburi and the rustic appeal of Sangkhlaburi, it's still an attractive little town surrounded by a spectacular landscape. With only a few narrow roads and a colourful market, facilities for Western tourists are limited and the town can be easily explored in a couple of hours. Locals are charming and seem excited to see foreign travellers making time for their quaint town, which offers a good opportunity to get off the beaten track and see something different in the kingdom.
Until the construction of Route 323, Thong Pha Phum was a remote outpost of Kanchanaburi province, best known to Thais as one of the last diehard communist strongholds during the 1970s. Nowadays it's better known to the trickle of Thai tourists who stop here for its natural beauty. Vajiralongkorn Dam, which was built in the early 1980s to create the lake that submerged old Sangkhlaburi village, is found at the northern crest of Thong Pha Phum and offers sweeping views of the valley and lake.
If you decide to stay, you'll find a decent range of good value accommodation, and some restaurants offering delicious local fare.
Thong Pha Phum is a tiny town, with all three of the accommodation choices, the bus station and the market all within a square kilometre just west of the Khwae River. The main bus station is located to the south of town just off Thetsaban Sailak Road, but buses typically cruise in a loop through town and past the market so you can really catch them anywhere.
Continue north up Thetsaban Sailak Road and you'll pass a town centre with a couple of banks and ATMs, convenience stores, the police station and the regional tourist office, which rarely receives foreign visitors, so don't expect a lot of very helpful info.
Passing through the town centre, a great local fresh and prepared foods market stretches east towards the river. The hospital is a short walk further north on Thetsaban Sailak Road, on the way to Vajiralongkorn Dam. Route 3272 connects Thong Pha Phum to the larger Route 323, which is the main road connecting Kanchanaburi to Sangkhlaburi.
By David Luekens.