Kanchanaburi backpacking guide, Thailand
Kanchanaburi is a nice weekend getaway from Bangkok if you are tired of big city life and want to chill out a bit in a quite place Kanchanaburi is a good option for you. Hope our Kanchanaburi backpacking guide will inspire you to visit this beautiful place.
Small, compare to Bangkok, 150 km from the capital Kanchanaburi is a quite popular tourist place. Both history lovers and nature wonder seekers will find things to do and see around here. For the first, the famous bridge over the river Kwai and related tragic story that took place during the WWII. The second will enjoy Erawan National park with its waterfalls, cascades and pools with crystal clear water.
Useful tip for Kanchanburi and Thailand in general. Almost in all more or less touristy cities you will find water dispenser machines on streets. You can refill your 1,5 l water bottle for THB 1. For the same bottle in a shop you’ll pay from THB 10/$0,3. 9 THB doesn’t sound much but if you multiply it let’s say by 30 days you’ll save THB 270/$8. Good for your budget and for ecology as well.
Things to see. Kanchanaburi backpacking guide
Bridge over the river Kwai
The famous bridge is not the most beautiful bridge in the world but a quite standard one. It’s the tragic history of the place that makes this bridge special. Works on the bridge started in 1942 right in the midst of World War II. The construction was under Japanese supervision but the builders themselves were prisoners of war from the allied forces, mostly Dutch, British and Australians. The bridge was a part of the Burma railway between Thailand and Myanmar (ex Burma) that the Japanese planned to use for fast and easy transportation of their army and provision.
The working conditions were terrible, prisoners had to build railway through the jungle, swamp areas and rocks in the tropical heat and under pouring rain. Add here very poor nutrition and tropical diseases. All these factors result in many deaths during the construction of “the Death Railway”, it’s believed that there was one dead person for every tie.
A French novel by Pierre Boulle “The Bridge over the river Kwai” and subsequent British-American movie “the Bridge on the river Kwai” were based on the events happened near Kanchanaburi. The movie got 7 Oscars including the Oscar for Best movie. If you have time I’d recommend to watch it to get an idea about the place and its history.
From original 415 km of the railway nowadays left only 130 km till Nam Tok station the rest was abandoned. There were different projects of rebuilding the entire railway but due to the difficult terrain (mountains, forest etc.) it’d cost too much money.
By the way train from Thonburi station (Bangkok) goes all the way to Nam Tok station, price is TBH 100. You can do a day trip from Bangkok to see the bridge, the Death railway and the museum at Nam Tok station. Just be ready to spend most part of the day sitting on the train.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Don Rak)
The cemetery was established in 1957 in honor of all died prisoners of war during the construction. In total 7 000 people found their final resting place here. The cemetery is well maintained, all graves have similar headstones with name, age, type of corps. Most of the prisoners buried here were between 20-25 years old. Any cemetery is about tragedy and loss but to see so many young lives taken because of someones ambitions is more than just sad!
Around Kanchanaburi there is one more war cemetery with 2 000 graves.
Chinese Buddhist temple located across the famous bridge on the other side of the river Kwai. Difficult not to notice it! From faraway I thought it was some kind of local amusement park. Funny colorful sculptures of dragons and other fantastic animals, buildings colored in pink, blue, green and gold etc.
We visited it twice and both times alone, for some reasons tourists don’t come here often. The surrounding park is not big but nice for walking, you can sit on a bench and enjoy the view over the river Kwai and the bridge. Inside the main temple you can find Smiling Buddha himself, very friendly and a bit fat guy sitting in the middle of the temple.
National park Erawan
Wonderful nature place with waterfalls and pools full of fish hidden in the jungle. The park is opened every day from 9.00 to 4.30 pm, the trail to the far away waterfalls (from №4 to №7) closes at 3.30 pm. The entrance fee is TBH 300/$8,5.
The walk all the way to the last waterfall can be a bit challenging due to the heat and humidity. Some tourists don’t make it all the way turn back at the waterfall №4. It’s better to start early in the morning before it gets very hot. On the way you can refresh in several pools with nice clear water.
We spent about 4-5 hours in the park, walked from the waterfall №1 to №7, stopped in two or three places for a short swim and took a lot of photos.
We were in Erawan in June the beginning of the rainy season but there was no rain and not much water. Some waterfalls and pools, specially smaller ones, were almost dry. The place is very beautiful but can be crowded, many tour groups come here for a day visit.
How to get to Erawan from Kanchanaburi
The cheapest option is by public bus, it leaves from Kanchanaburi bus terminal every hour or so (check the timetable below), costs TBH 50/$1,5 and takes about 1h30min. You can take a taxi or tuk tuk as well will be faster and of course more expensive. To get back you can the same way by bus, taxi or tuk tuk.
How to get to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok
It’s very easy to get here you have different options; shuttle bus, public bus or train. We spent most of the time in Bangkok near Lumpini park and all the time to move around the city used public buses, very cheap sometimes even free. For more details on Bangkok check our article Bangkok, beyond the Khaosan Road.
We took a bus both ways. Buses to Kanchanaburi leave from Southern bus terminal every 30min. or so. Ticket costs TBH 110/$3 if you buy it at the ticket office inside the terminal, on the second floor. If you pay at the platform it’ll cost TBH 80/$2,2. Sometimes Thais try to cheat and explain that the price 80 is only for students or Thai people but it’s not true so just insist and you’ll get it for 80. The way takes about 2 hours, all buses are quite comfortable and have AC.
To get to Southern bus terminal from Lumpini you can by public bus № 149, it takes about an hour, depending on the traffic and costs TBH 9. There are several buses to the terminal from different areas of the city. Check Google.map they give quite precise public transport options for Bangkok.
By shuttle bus
If you stay at Khaosan Road the easiest way is to take a shuttle bus, it’s more expensive but more convenient. Ticket costs about TBH 200/$5,7, buses leave in the morning between 9.00-10.00 am., you can buy it in many agencies around Khaosan Road. It’s better to book your ticket the day before sometimes buses can be full.
Trains leave from Thonburi train station every day at 7.45 and 13.45, price TBH 100/$2,8. For more details go HERE.
Where to stay in Kanchanaburi
Most tourists stay at Maenamkwai Rd., in a way it reminds Khaosan Road just in a smaller scale. All hostels, bars, restaurants, massage salons etc. located here. The area is quite far from the bust terminal but relatively close 2 km to the famous bridge and sits right at the river Kwai.
Jolly frog hostel
Very popular place, with nice garden overlooking the river, good and cheap restaurant and accommodation options for different budget. Location is good, close to the bridge right in the busy tourist area. Room prices start from TBH 110/$3 for single or TBH 220/$6 for double with fan to TBH 320/$9 for double with AC. There are only two AC rooms so they are always full. The best things about this place are its garden with the river view and the restaurant, breakfast from TBH 25/$0,7, lunch from TBH 40/$1. Not the best facilities; only cold shower, no flash in the toilet (bucket with water), wi-fi signal very weak, didn’t work in our room.
We stayed here the first night, very close to the bus terminal but quite far from the tourist area. Of course with a tuk tuk you can get around any time. Nice and clean place, with hot water shower, towels, big and comfortable beds, good wi-fi. You can buy some food as well but everything is 10-15 TBH more expensive than in local food places. Double room with AC and private bathroom TBH 380/$11, with fan TBH 340/$10.
Food in Kanchanaburi
Our typical Thai breakfast consisted of 7-eleven sandwiches and self-made coffee. To find good black coffee even just black coffee not 3 in 1 in Thailand is a problem. You have to go to a proper coffee shop which is expensive or try to find a supermarket where you can buy black ground coffee. I don’t have coffee problem but for Campbell it’s a question of life and death. When we didn’t have coffee to make we drank cold can coffee from 7-eleven.
For lunch we usually went to Jolly Frog restaurant to eat some Thai curry rice with chicken, meat or shrimps for TBH 40/$1 and fruit shake for TBH 30/$0,8. The food there was really good and cheap.
For dinner we bought some noodle soup or Pad Thai on the street for about TBH 30-40/$1.
Average for food we spent 110-130/$3-4 per person per day and never were hungry.
We spent a couple of days in Kanchanaburi and liked this place, a lot to see, to do and to think about.
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