You know when you arrive at a hostel and the conversation is always where are you from, or where have you travelled so far?
Well, anytime I talked with other travellers about where I’d already visited in Thailand, most of them had no idea where Kanchanaburi was. After backpackers check out the big bad city of Bangkok, they normally go straight to Chiang Mai in the North or the Southern islands.
If you’re planning to stay in Thailand for a few weeks to a month, you can’t miss this gem! I’d recommend staying at least overnight. Two or three nights are ideal.
Getting from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi
The good news is, it’s really easy. You can either take the train, bus, minivan or metered taxi.
Train: There are two daily trains from Thonburi train station in Bangkok at 7.45am and 1.35pm for 100 baht ($3). The journey takes around 2.5 hours. You can ride the train over the famous Death Railway in Kanchanaburi and onto Nam Tok station where Sai Yok Noi waterfalls are. Definitely the most scenic option! Sit on the left side for the best views.
Bus: I chose this option. The only downside to getting a bus is having to make your way to either Northern Terminal (Mo Chit) or Southern Terminal (Sai Mai Tai) bus stations in Bangkok. I paid $3 in a metered taxi just getting to the station… They’re both quite far from the centre. The bus itself costs 100 baht ($3) for 1st class and takes around 2.5 hours. Although the journey was comfortable, I’d probably take the train next time!
Minivan: This may be the easiest option for backpackers. However, it’s definitely not as safe as the train or bus. If you’ve experienced Thailand before, you’ll understand why… Minivans leave from Victory Monument (20 minute drive from Khao San Road) every 30 minutes or so from 5.30am and cost 120 baht ($4).
Taxi: Sharing with 3 other people will cut down the cost of 1,500 baht ($40) for a metered taxi ride. It probably goes without saying, if you’re travelling on a budget, choose one of the other options above!
Where to Stay
Most of the accommodation will be guesthouses, many near or on the river. I stayed in a recently opened hostel and I’m pretty sure it was the only one in the whole town!
The Bridge Over the River Kwai
The 1957 movie based its story on this famous historical landmark. It was built by the Japanese empire and originally stretched from Bangkok to Burma. Thousands lost their lives during the construction, giving it its modern day name, the Death Railway.
Visit the phenomenal 7-tier waterfall at Erawan National Park from 8am. Like many other attractions, officials charge a special price for tourists at 300 baht ($8). But it’s worth every penny!
If you don’t want to rent a scooter, get the public bus from Kanchanaburi bus station. You can also wave down the bus (dark blue) on Sangchuto Road on the side where traffic is going away from the bus station. It only costs around 50 baht ($2) and takes about 2 hours to reach the waterfall.
You can swim in all tiers. Don’t worry, you get used to the Garra Rufa fish nibbling at your toes! I guess that 300 baht also includes a spa treatment.
1. Get there early before the tour groups come.
2. Finish your food before the second tier because it’s not allowed beyond this point.
3. Bring suncream, insect repellent, good trainers or flip flops (it can get muddy), and a swimsuit.
4. Workers will start clearing the higher tiers around 3pm, so give yourself plenty of time to reach the top.
5. Check when the last bus returns to Kanchanaburi. Also, the last bus is the busiest so expect to stand for 2 hours.
Tip: If you’re short on time, the must-see attractions are the two I’ve listed above.
More things to do
Wat Ban Tham, Wat Tham Khao Noi & Wat Tham Sua
Rent a scooter to visit these three temples. Wat Ban Tham is a 30 minute drive from Kanchanaburi. Climb up inside the dragon and hike further up the mountain for incredible views.
Wat Tham Khao Noi and Wat Tham Sua are only an extra 10 minute drive from here. There are multiple temples, a massive golden Buddha and beautiful views with rice fields.
There’s no formal dress code or entrance fee for these temples.
Hellfire Pass and Memorial Museum
Either take the 8203 bus from 7.30am and tell the driver where you want dropped off, or rent a scooter. It’s 80km from Kanchanaburi on highway 323 and there’s no entrance fee.
700 out of 1000 workers died hand digging the Hellfire Pass to construct the Death Railway.
JEATH War Museum and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
If you’re interested in the history of Kanchanaburi, visit the JEATH War Museum museum from 8.30am to see exhibitions from World War II for 30 baht ($1). Afterwards, pay your respects to the 7000 soldiers (mostly British) buried in the War cemetery. Both attractions can easily be reached by bicycle, or by scooter.