For some, Kanchanaburi makes for an emotional journey through a chapter of the Second World War. For others it’s little more than a chance to cross the bridge over the River Khwae off the old bucket list. And for many more, it’s an opportunity to hang with elephants or hike to sublime waterfalls. Given the vast scope of things to see and do in Thailand’s third largest province, it pays to do some prior planning. How much time do you have?
Ways and means
You’ll find many different methods of getting around Kanchanaburi and the transport can be a big part of the fun. A ride on the Death Railway is a popular activity in and of itself. Those looking to explore further afield should consider renting a car or motorbike (make sure your travel insurance will cover you) to allow for optimal freedom. Otherwise you could arrange a private songthaew for day trips or book a guided tour. Cheap public buses access some outlying attractions, like Hellfire Pass and Erawan Waterfall, but not others, such as Prasat Mueang Singh and Huai Mae Khamin Waterfall.
Day trip from Bangkok
So long as you’re up nice and early, a day trip from Bangkok with a private vehicle would allow you to hit all of the in-town attractions—Death Railway Bridge; War Museum and Art Gallery; Thailand-Burma Railway Centre; Kanchanaburi War Cemetery; JEATH War Museum; and Pak Prak Heritage Street—or a couple of these plus one outlying attraction, such as Hellfire Pass, Erawan Waterfall or Wat Ban Tham. If coming from Bangkok by bus, it’s possible—we’re not saying enjoyable—to check out Kanchanaburi town or even hit Erawan Waterfall if you don’t mind waking up at dawn and spending eight or more hours on the road, returning the Big Mango late at night.
This is a common trip length that will give you one full day to survey the war history in Kanchanaburi town and hit an outlying attraction or two, but you’ll need to be selective. On the out-of-town day you could ride the Death Railway or choose from three road routes. The first takes you up Route 323 to Prasat Mueang Singh and Hellfire Pass, perhaps with a stop at Sai Yok Noi Waterfall in Nam Tok or the monkey village in Wang Pho. The second would be Erawan Waterfall alone; and the third is to head southwest to a trio of mountain-cave temples: Wat Ban Tham, Wat Tham Sua and Wat Tham Khao Noi. When you find yourself tempted to laze beside the river on your second day, remember that outlying attractions like these are among the best in Kanchanaburi.
Three to four days
Now you’re talking! If you don’t intend to hit the province’s more distant corners, four days is an ideal amount of time for Kanchanaburi. You could check out all of the in-town attractions, plus the Route 323 attractions mentioned above along with Erawan Waterfall, or the mountain-cave temples, or Elephant’s World. Other options include doing a cooking class, kayaking tour or leisurely bicycle ride to Chung Kai War Cemetery and Wat Tham Khao Poon. With this much time, there’s no shame in losing a day on a riverside porch either.
A full week makes it possible to see all of the in-town attractions plus most (if not all) of the outlying sights mentioned above and some more distant attractions. Nature lovers should consider a night or two at angelic Huai Mae Khamin Waterfall, which can be hit on the same trip as Erawan Waterfall, giving you a chance to compare the two. Alternately you could stick to the west side of the province, stopping at Sai Yok Yai National Park along the scenic road to Sangkhlaburi, one of our favourite small towns in Thailand. If you make it that far, don’t miss a boat ride to the sunken temple at sunrise.
More than a week
Have plenty of time to spare? Factor in a night or two in the non-touristy market town of Thong Pha Phum, perhaps with a side trip to the remote outpost of Pilok or a multi-day hike along a spectacular ridge in Thong Pha Phum National Park. Continue up to Sangkhlaburi to be soothed by Variralongkorn Reservoir, or head further east to navigate the car ferries around Sri Nakharin Reservoir en route to distant national parks like Laem Khlong Ngu and Chaloem Rattanakosin. You could also volunteer at Elephant’s World or one of several charities found in the Sangkhlaburi area. Like we said, a month might be enough to do it all.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 11th February, 2017.
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