Kanchanaburi is a small town a few hours away from Bangkok, near the Thai/Myanmar border. It’s a peaceful place that’s not overly developed, but it still has great restaurants and interesting things to do. The main sights in Kanchanaburi refer to the horrors of the Thailand-Myanmar railway, that was constructed by foreign POWs and Asian labourers under Japanese rule during WW2.
Despite the melancholic museums and memorials which are well worth seeing, Kanchanaburi is a great place to visit. Day trips are offered from Bangkok, but I recommend spending at least a couple of days exploring the town and surrounding sights.
Ste and I got the train to Kanchanaburi from Thonburi station in Bangkok. The journey took three hours and cost us £2.20 / 100 Baht. The carriages were comfy and the journey was very peaceful – passing through small towns and beautiful countryside.
We stayed in the beautiful, centrally located No. 25 Hostel & Cafe, in a four bed dorm for £8 / 350 Baht each a night, which included a great breakfast. The hostel had a roof terrace, beautiful gardens and two very affectionate cats. The owner was really welcoming and helped us book bus tickets to Kamphaeng Phet.
Things to do
Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum & Walking Trail
This museum is absolutely fantastic and is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Although it’s about an hour out of Kanchanaburi town, it’s really worth the trip.
The museum commemorates the British, Australian and Dutch POWs, and the forced Asian labourers that were forced to construct the 415 km ‘Death Railway’, that linked Thailand and Myanmar, under Japanese rule in WW2. Sadly over 12,000 POWs and 90,000 civilian labourers died whilst building the railway, due to starvation, disease, working 16-18 hour days and harsh thrashings from Japanese officers. Hellfire Pass refers to the particularly treacherous part of the railway, that had to be hand carved out of the rock, in order for the track to be laid along precipitous mountain slopes.
An excellent audio guide can be hired for free from the museum, which gives greater insight into the stories and experiences of the POWs and labourers. The museum has clearly marked audio stops both indoors and outdoors. Part of the walking trail is along the Hellfire Pass and it’s possible to walk further along the railway line to various viewpoints overlooking the countryside. It’s a peaceful (but sweaty) walk, and allows time for reflection and thoughts for those that lost their lives.
The museum is wheelchair accessible and if you don’t fancy the walk along the railway line, all the historical information can be found inside the museum.
Tours are offered to this museum from Kanchanaburi, but I’d really recommend making your own way there to have enough time, 3 hours should be enough. We arrived by public bus, which cost us £1.10 / 50 Baht each and took just over an hour. On the return journey, we hopped in a shared truck with four other people for £2.50 / 100 Baht each because we’d missed the last bus.
We hired bikes for a day for £1 / 50 Baht to cycle around the town. Although everything is walking distance, it was much quicker and cooler to cycle. We visited the Bridge over the River Kwai, the War Cemetery and a beautiful temple in just over 3 hours.
Bridge over the River Kwai
This bridge is a historical landmark in Thailand and is also featured in the 1950’s novel ‘The Bridge Over the River Kwai’. The bridge was constructed in WW2 by POWs and forced labourers under Japanese rule and unfortunately was a site of conflict and massacre. After the war in 1946, the Thai government renovated the bridge.
It’s possible to walk over the bridge but trains do still run along the tracks – just make sure to stand out of the way when one comes! It’s a short walk and the bridge provides nice views of the river.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
This cemetery pays homage to 6,982 POWs that sadly lost their lives in WW2 whilst constructing the Thai-Myanmar railway. It’s a beautiful, moving site to visit, but also a place to reflect and pay respects to the deceased.
Starting about 5pm on Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings next to the train station, the night market has a mixture of food, book, clothing and souvenir stalls. The market doesn’t feel touristy and is mostly filled with locals. It’s not too big and isn’t overwhelming, unlike some of the markets in Bangkok. It’s a great place to eat some cheap, local food and browse the various stalls.
Places to eat
- On’s Thai Issan – this is a purely vegetarian, Thai restaurant that also offers cooking classes. The food was delicious and freshly made. If we had had more time, we would have taken a cooking class here.
- 10 O Clock cafe – this place makes the best passion fruit shakes and cheesecake! The prices weren’t bad and the ambience was peaceful. The wifi was great too so it’s a good place to work for an afternoon.
- Mangosteen Cafe – this small cafe had clearly labelled vegetarian options and served one of the best Pad Thai’s I’ve eaten! Prices were cheap and the owners were really lovely.
- Vegetarian food stall at night market – I was surprised to see a purely vegetarian food stall at the night market! Although I didn’t eat any of the food, it looked delicious and was cheap – 80p / 30 Baht for a selection of noodle and curry dishes. The stall was clearly labelled vegetarian.
Next stop: Kamphaeng Phet.