Less than a 3 hour bus ride from Bangkok Kanchanaburi is the ideal weekend trip and perfect destination for the Thailand traveler that wants to experience both the beaches and the mountains but is short on time.
Where to stay: Budget Lodgings
Blue Star Guesthouse: (aircon room: 350 Baht/night, fan room: 150 Baht/night) Built on the banks of the river Kwai, what this guesthouse lacks in amenities it makes up in charm. All rooms are separated bungalows built on slits over the river. The construction of the aircon rooms is the best with solid walls and hot water in the bathroom. Fan rooms are a little more run down and dirty but it’s livable.
Jolly Frogs: (non aircon: 150 Baht/night) Popular with backpackers there will always be new people to meet. Rooms here are clean (no hot water) and have very interesting decorations. Built along (but not on) the river you can get awesome views of the mountains to the east as well as the river Kwai as it flows along. A large grassy area in the middle has many trees with hammocks and lawn chairs set out for you to relax. Jolly Frog also houses its own restaurant, which is a nice place to hang out and watch movies at night. Be sure to try the banana pancakes. They are amazing.
Apple Guesthouse: A little bit more on pricy than the first two. The building is brand new and clean. Built just across the street from the river the guesthouses restaurant is built riverside and features a platform where you can go down to watch fireflies on the summer nights.
Where to go
The River Kwai Bridge and Death Railway
Made famouse by the 1950’s movie “The Bridge over the River Kwai,” this landmark is the towns centerpiece and most visited attraction. Built by the Japanese using POW labor the bridge serves as a reminder of our human history. Today you can walk across the bridge (be careful there are no railings). Or take a two hour train ride part way up the historical line through Hellfire Pass (sounds inviting right?). Visiting the bridge is free and the train ride costs approx 100 Baht.
Erawan Waterfall (entrance fee for tourists, approx 200 Baht)
About an hour north of town is Erawan Waterfall. Don’t expect anything colossal like Niagara Falls but it’s seven tiers of gently cascading waterfalls in the middle of the jungle are spectacular in their own right. Be sure to leave early so you can make it all the way to the top tier (they stop letting people past the 5th tier between 3 and 4 o’clock. We typically start at the 7th tier and then work our way down). Each tier is a little different and attractive depending on what you wish to do. Our favorite is the 4th tier where smooth boulderns have been worn down into natural waterslides.
Sai Yok Noi Waterfall
About 60km from Kanchanaburi the waterfall is another option. I’ve personally never been here but I have friends that have and they said it was amazing.
About an hour away is Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery aka the Tiger Temple (if you’re driving yourself there aren’t any signs until you are right there). Several years ago the monks began rescuing tigers and since that time it has become somewhat of a tourist attraction. A fee of 500 Baht will get you inside the park where you can get your picture taken with live tigers (chained down of course). It’s actually quite a strange experience. You give your camera to one of the workers and they will lead you around (by holding your hand) from tiger to tiger to take the pictures. The whole process lasts maybe 2 minutes and then that’s it you’re done. Afterwards you can walk up out of the gorge where the grown tigers are kept to a smaller area where you can again take pictures but this time with the Tiger cubs. There are also several cows, goats and other animals walking around the property so don’t miss all it has to offer. You definitely paid for it.
Note: Do Not Where Bright Colors (ie. orange, red etc.) at the Tiger Temple, you will be asked to change
What else is there to do?
Many guesthouses arrange tours for different activities around the area, some of which include some of the places I listed above. Some other popular activities you can take part in around the Kanchanaburi area are Elephant trekking as well as bamboo rafting.
Buses leave every 30 minutes from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Dai Mai) where the ticket counters are located on the top floor (120-150 Baht). You can also arrange a private van or taxi as well (1000+ Baht).
Song Tao’s (pick up trucks with seats in the back) are a popular and relatively cheap form of transportation. You can get one for yourself or share it with others. If you want to take the trip to Erawan Waterfall buses leave from the Kanchanaburi bus station several times a day.
My favorite way to get around by far is by renting a motorbike. Many guesthouses as well as shops offer rentals. The cost is approx 200 Baht for 24 hours and you will need to bring your passport to leave with the shop owner (if that sounds sketchy don’t worry, I’ve never had a problem). You will also need to buy your own gas. Just pull into any gas station and the attendants will know what to do.