When you make it to Thailand, undoubtedly you’ll fly into Bangkok, maybe spend a couple of days visiting a Temple or two, eating Pad Thai on Khao San Road and getting dragged to tailor after tailor in a dodgy tuk-tuk ride, before you set off to the islands or up north to gorgeous Chiang Mai. But don’t rush out of the Bangkok region too quickly, there are a few amazing trips to be taken within an hour or 2 of Thailand’s hectic capital. Kanchanaburi is one of Thailand’s gems, it’s close to Bangkok, cheap to get to, easy to travel around and has a lot of pretty amazing stuff to keep you occupied for a few days. It’s a place to kick back, enjoy the gorgeous scenery, wander around the countryside on a scooter and visit some amazing sites. So check out all the things to do in Kanchanaburi…
Now while lonely planet and wikitravel are all well and good for researching new destinations, I always end up wishing they were more real. Telling me only what’s really worth spending my time, effort and money on seeing, and where to stay instead of just listing a million things as if they’re all equal! So I’m here to save you from that stuff and give you an awesome rundown on how to make the most of a 2 or 3 day break in Kanchanaburi, so here we go:
HOW TO GET TO KANCHANABURI:
Bangkok to Kanchanaburi….
You have 4 options to get to Kanchanaburi and all leave from Bangkok – taxi, minivan, big bus, and the train.
Big Bus: Just don’t do it. You can get buses from the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok and from Mo Chit, both of which are far from Central Bangkok. The buses are slow and cost the same as the other options. If you want to do this (really, believe me, you don’t), then it’ll clost about 100THB/$3 and take 2 to 2.5 hours, not counting the time to get to these huge bus stations. Worst option by far.
By Taxi: The easiest and most expensive way, on a metered taxi the fare will be about 1200 baht/$35. Pretty decent option if there are 4 people, or if money isn’t an issue.
By Minivan: The best option if you’re going for a second time (take the train if it’s your first time!) Minivans leave every 15 minutes from Victory Monument, they cost around 120baht/$4 and take about 2.5 hours.
By Train: If it’s your first time in Thailand, or your first time to Kanchanaburi, this is the most fun option. The trains leave Bangkok’s Thonburi Train Station (not far from Khao San Road, and no need to book in advance) at 07:50 and arrives at Kanchanaburi at 10:25, (and a second one at 13:55, arriving at 16:24).
Also, you can buy a ticket all the way across the Bridge over the River Kwai, these 2 trains are the only trains that cross it – definitely do this if you take the train! Return trains leave at 07:25 and 14:48 from the main railway station .The train costs about 100baht/$3 and takes about 2.5 hours. It’s a great experience, riding through rice paddies, past villages and buffalos, with vendors popping on to the train to sell you cokes, beers or snacks. It’s not overly comfortable (wooden seats, no cushions!) but it’s a great experience.
THINGS TO DO IN KANCHANABURI
You can get lost in a list of things to see and do in Kanchanaburi, so I’m going to do what guidebooks seem terrified to do, list the things that you absolutely have to see, and forget anything else. If you go to Kanchanaburi, don’t miss these things, and to make it even easier, they’re in order of awesomeness, so if you don’t have much time, tick them off one at a time!
Take the train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi
As I mentioned above, the train is a fun way to get to the town. Super cheap, pretty easy, and through amazing Thai country sides, well worth the not-so-comfortable chairs for the fun experience. Take the morning train, there’s no air-con, so the cool breeze is welcome. You can actually ride the train past Kanchanaburi town, across the bridge itself, and onwards to Nam Tok station (home to Sai Yok Noi falls, see below).
The Bridge Over the River Kwai
This is the reason why Kanchanaburi is famous – the Bridge Over the River Kwai. A morbid history thanks to the Japanese forcing prisoners of war to build the bridge, but now a huge tourist attraction. You can walk across the bridge in about 5 minutes or so, and the place is surrounded with nice street stalls, fruit smoothies and some really cool floating restaurants. Try to visit the bridge around 5pm or so, and you can jump into one of the floating restaurants, watching the bridge as the sunsets, perfect.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetary
It’s important not to forget why Kanchanaburi is on the map, so you can visit the war cemetary to pay your respects. It’s quite beautiful and really well kept, and of course a reminded about how lucky we are to have the opportunities to travel the world as freely as we do. You can also check out the JEATH museum, about a 5 minute drive away. It offers a quick insight into life as a prisoner of war during WWII.
The Kanchanaburi Night Market
Any trip to a local Thai town isn’t complete with an evening spent wandering around a night market, spending a few Thai baht here and there for the most delicious snacks imaginable. It’s right by the main train station so it’s pretty easy to find, and you can easily spend a couple of hours walking around the place, pretending to be healthy while you chug down yet another amazing banana smoothie for $1, ignoring the 6 spoonfulls of sugar you saw the little throw in.
Wat Ban Tham – or the Dragon Temple Kanchanaburi
There are 2 temples you CANNOT miss when you’re in Kanchanaburi. I’ve been 3 times, and only the 3rd time did I discover these 2 places. It’s always a problem in Asia when people recommend a temple. Sometimes a temple is just a temple, and if you’re in the region, you’ve seen enough of those. BothWat Ban Tham, and belowWat Tham Khao Noi, are amazing. You won’t regret it. Wat Ban Tham is about 12km outside the town, I rented a scooter (more on that in the section below) and drove my mum and I out to it.
Once you get there, you’ll see why it’s so special. You have to enter a huge dragon’s mouth, and climb up inside his body, higher and higher up the mountain. Then you pass through a cave temple, home to a huge golden Buddha, and finally a hike up the mountain to to a gorgeous Pagoda on top, with spectacular views. Well worth the effort (and free of course).
Wat Tham Khao Noi and Wat Tham Sua
Once you’ve made the effort to Wat Ban Tham above, just go an extra 4km for this stunning temple complex. There are 4 or 5 temples are scrambed together, a huge, HUGE buddha, a giant Pagoda, beautiful views of Kanchanaburi and the rice paddies. It’s just gorgeous, and only 5 minutes from the other amazing temple.
Erawan Falls (300THB entry) is a 7-tiered waterfall complex about 50km north of Kanchanaburi, often referred to as Thailand’s most beautiful waterfall. Getting there is easiest on a scooter, but you can also take a tuk-tuk or a tourist day trip there too, there are even daytrips from Bangkok but if you go all the way to Kanchanaburi I would recommend staying at least 1 night, ideally 2 or 3. I’d recommend heading out to Erawan Falls pretty early as it gets busy around midday, but if you’re there just after brekky, you’ll have the place to yourself.
Sai Yok Noi Falls, Hell Fire Pass & Krasae cave
This falls requires the most effort as it’s pretty far from Kanchanaburi (about 7km), but only about 10% of the people that go to Erawan falls, so you’ll likely have the place to yourself! The 2 easiest ways are either by your scooter rental, or by taking the train from Bangkok (or Kanchanaburi) across the Bridge over the River Kwai all the way to the last station, Nam Tok station, about 2 hours from Kanchanaburi. The falls are a 2km walk from Nam Tok Station.
Hell Fire Pass is infamous due to the deaths of the PoWs as they built the bridge, they were forced to cut through the mountain with manuel labour for months on end. Now it’s a tribute to their resoluteness and strength of the men involved. The descent through the jungle down to the pass (listening to oral histories from survivors through audio headsets) is a moving experience. Allow yourself 2 hours for the 3km trek too. The Krasae Cave temple is nearby too and worth 10 minutes of your time, especially if you’re knew to Thailand.
There are just 2 places to answer your elephant experience in Thailand without hurting any animals. One in Chiang Mai, and one in Kanchanaburi. These places are amazing. Don’t go riding elephants, or watching them paint, or play football, it’s animal abuse plain and simple but Elephant’s World rehabilitates these beautiful beasts, saves them from years of tourist trade abuse and gives them an amazing retirement. You can go and help out, bathe with them in the river, play with them and learn all about how we should interact with animals in the world, not just riding them for our please. Amazing place. You can even sign up, pay a stipend and volunteer for a week or 2!
The Giant Tree, Kanchanaburi
Pretty self explanatory this one. A huge, gorgeous tree, maybe the biggest you’ve ever seen. It’s a little bit tricky to get to, especially if you haven’t hired a scooter, but if you grab some good and chill under this mammoth tree for an hour, you’ll understand how beautiful it is. Somethings you need to experience to appreciate.
NOTE: TIGER TEMPLE KANCHANABURI: Don’t go! It’s cruel, and perpetuates the abuse of tigers. A cool instagram pic with a tiger isn’t worth it when these gorgeous animals are drugged and abused all day.
WHERE TO STAY IN KANCHANABURI
I’ve been to Kanchanaburi 3 times during my time in Thailand, from being a broke backpacker to making $1m+ blogging, so I’ve stayed in all types of accommodation here! Check out my 3 options depending on your budget:
Luxury: The Dheva Mantra Resort and Spa
I took my mum here for 3 days and it’s amazing. Beautiful original colonial architecture with a gorgeous spa. The Dheva Mantra is just outside the city, and the grounds are huge, right by the river, it’s the most picturesque setting, absolutely stunning. The pool is great, and the restaurants are delicious, especially the floating Thai restaurant on the river. Rooms start around $90, amazing value for a 5* place. One of the cheapest 5* I have ever stayed in, highly recommended!
Mid Range: Sabai at Kan
$35 for boutique beauty. Great location, beautiful garden, a fraction of the price of Bangkok. Unreal value. Aircon, wifi, pool all as standard – amazing.
Backpacker: Sky Resort Kanchanaburi
Right on the river, restaurant, bar AND a pool for $20, that is serious good value. Share a room, $10 each. You gotta love Thailand!
HOW TO GET AROUND KANCHANABURI
Rent a scooter: For me, always the best way to get around small towns, islands, or the countryside in Thailand is by scooter. 200 baht ($6) a day and you’re free to go anywhere and everywhere. Also, Kanchanaburi is so beautiful, just going for a drive 15 minutes outside the town is an adventure in itself, honestly this place is amazing. Erawan falls, Sai Yok falls, the 2 amazing temples all become a fun journey to get to instead of annoying public transport and confusion. For sure this is the best choice.
Rent a bicycle: Same as above but a lot more work and 50THB per day ($1.50) it is amazing value so if you can handle the heat and the exercise then this a great choice. Maybe one day would be enough though, because it gets hot out there in the countryside!
Rent a tuk-tuk/song-thaew/moto-taxi: You can jump any of these options and negotiate rates directly with the driver. If you’re going all the way to the falls though, I’d say perhaps the moto-taxi isn’t a great choice, your ass will thank me for the warning! To ride a tuk-tuk yourself is a much cheaper option than taking a tour too, with self driving a scooter is the most fun (and cheapest) of all!
Tours: Either from Bangkok, or once in Kanchanaburi, you can organise tours everywhere, as day trips or half-day trips to all the places I’ve listed above. Don’t worry, when you’re in the town centre, you’ll see so many places offering these tours. They normally start around 1200THB ($35) per person per tour.