Kanchanaburi and River Kwai Tourist Guide

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Kanchanaburi Wall Cemetery

Kanchanaburi is most famous for the Bridge over the River Kwai and Death Railway, and many people visit the town for that reason alone. However, there is much more to Kanchanaburi than its bridge. The stunning surrounding countryside is great for exploring on a motorbike or a bicycle, while the town itself is quite relaxed.

There are comfortable, quiet guesthouses which are ideal for simply relaxing, too, along with many other attractions in the area – waterfalls, temples and routes for scenic boat trips. This western part of Thailand is especially popular on short tours from Bangkok, to include Ayutthaya.

Kanchanaburi is about two hours by bus from Bangkok and, therefore, many people just visit for a day, see the bridge over the River Kwai and other related attractions, and then return to Bangkok. While these attractions are very interesting and can provide for a good day out, if you have the time you may want to consider checking into a hotel or guest house and staying over.

If you do decide to stay a while, be sure to check out the Allied War Cemetery and the museums associated with the war tragedy; all within close proximity to the Bridge over the River Kwai. These attractions have great historical relevance and are excellent for learning a bit more about the history of Kanchanaburi, its famous bridge and the railway’s construction during WWII. The museum opposite the Allied War Cemetery is the best.

A popular day tour includes some soft adventure in hilly jungle environment. The history part of the tour sobers you up at the moving and excellent memorial museum at Hellfire Pass, built by the Australian Chamber of Commerce. You get to visit the site on which POWs slaved under appalling conditions, before boarding a train on the remaining stretch of rail, to the bridge over the river Kwai. At one point it skirts the sheer cliffs of the riverside on a rickety original piece of the railway line gantry.

Note: To secure a guaranteed room and find the best rate Kanchanaburi hotels, we suggest you look online at Agoda.com. They seem to be the most competitively priced of the hotels sites.

But it was the railway that pressed on to the border that is mostly soaked in blood. Given the mountainous terrain and the Imperial army’s determination to complete the task in less than 18 months (their engineers had estimated five years would be needed), it’s not surprising that as many as 100,000 people died constructing the 415-kilometre stretch that required deep mountain cuttings and hand-digging.

Very little of the original track remains, and visitors now come to pay their respects at the Allied War Cemetery for the estimated 16,000 POWs that died under extreme conditions. A trip (best arranged with a tour company) to Hellfire Pass is the best way to see a typical cutting and experience the tragedy of war through the excellent information centre at the site, which tells the story thoroughly.

But it was the railway that pressed on to the border that is mostly soaked in blood. Given the mountainous terrain and the Imperial army’s determination to complete the task in less than 18 months (their engineers had estimated five years would be needed), it’s not surprising that as many as 100,000 people died constructing the 415-kilometre stretch that required deep mountain cuttings and hand-digging.

Very little of the original track remains, and visitors now come to pay their respects at the Allied War Cemetery for the estimated 16,000 POWs that died under extreme conditions. A trip (best arranged with a tour company) to Hellfire Pass is the best way to see a typical cutting and experience the tragedy of war through the excellent information centre at the site, which tells the story thoroughly.

Farther afield, there are some impressive temples which are worth a visit. A trip to Wat Tham Seua (the Tiger Temple), is a good family excursion as you will have the opportunity to mingle with, and even touch, live man-eaters. However, we’ve had several reports of poor treatment and safety, with some pointing out that these animals should rather be in zoos and the monks left to meditate.

Day trips are also often arranged from Kanchanaburi to the nearby waterfalls; a particularly impressive example being the multi-levelled Erawan falls, which is 65kms from the town. A bit more rustic and overgrown is the Sai Yok Noi Waterfall, 60kms from town; although during the dry season this waterfall is less spectacular. Other activities include trekking, elephant riding, boat trips, and trips to Three Pagodas pass at the border.

If you don’t want to go on an organised tour and prefer to just do your own exploring, this can be a very rewarding way to spend your time as the surrounding area is spectacular at times. Why not just hire a bicycle and ride off into the countryside? On a fine day, this is a great way to get away from it all for an afternoon.

Getting to Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is easily reached by bus from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal – buses leave frequently from 05:00 until 22:00 – and the journey takes just two hours. There is also a handy private minibus link between Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya which departs twice daily (morning and early afternoon) – enquire with your guesthouse, concierge or a local travel agent for details. Journey time is two hours.

Planning your own journeys can be tricky, as timings are never absolute in Thailand especially during the peak season. It’s a must to check up-to-date information as well as booking in advance. 12Go Asia is providing e-tickets for trains, buses, ferries and flights with the quality, safe, secure and efficient transportation services. 

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Alternatively, you can catch a train at either 07:45 or 13:45 from Thonburi Station in Bangkok Noi. By train, the journey takes about three hours, although is a lot more scenic and relaxing than taking the bus. Hiring a car is also an idea and you can easily navigate your way west from Bangkok by following Highway 4 through Nakhon Pathom and then get onto route 323. It follows lovely countryside full of fruit orchards, becoming undulating nearer the western mountains that form the border with Burma.

A Bridge built on blood: Made famous by the 1957 movie, Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi’s River Kwai Bridge (Saphan Mae Naam Kwai) is its chief attraction, and an infamous one at that. The steel bridge that you see today replaced the original wooden one that was completed in 1943 by POWs’ slave labour under the command of the occupying Japanese, who were determined to push a rail link through to the Three Pagodas pass into British held Burma. Less than six months after its completion the Allies successfully bombed it.
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