We weren’t sure whether to visit Kanchanaburi or not, but we are so, so glad we did. It’s a fascinating town with masses of history.
We’d hoped to poignantly travel by train to Kanchanaburi but as the only morning train leaves at 7am, and we are late sleepers, that didn’t happen. Instead we took a bus from the Southern bus terminal, which bizarrely is an old shopping mall – slightly confusing!
Most of our sightseeing revolved around the area’s war history. In 1942 Japan had captured Burma and pushing to build a railway to Thailand in order to transport supplies to support their occupation. Allied prisoners of war were used, along with hundreds of thousands of Asian labourers, to build the railway through incredibly difficult terrain. It became known as the death railway due to the amount of people who lost their lives building it.
On our first day we took a bus out to see Hellfire Pass. This was one of the most dangerous and difficult sections of the death railway, a cutting through solid rock. It is so named because the scene of labourers working on it by night resembled a scene from hell.
Despite being a must see, it is located quite far out of town. We didn’t want to go on a tour or hire a driver so we got a public bus and were dropped off outside the museum.
The railway is long gone but the location is where the Australian government chose to open a museum commemorating those lost during the railway construction. It’s a superb and moving museum, and a must see.
The pass itself, and a long section of the former track bed, is now a walking trail, which has some incredible views and also makes you realise quite how treacherous the work to build it must have been. There is even a broken drill bit in one of the rocks.
After the museum we wanted to get the train back to Kanchanaburi from the present day terminating station of Nam Tok. Problem was, it was 20km away and we were alone on the rather deserted highway. We were a bit worried we’d have to spend the night in a bus shelter but luckily after 10 minutes a coach came past, and as we all know, in Asia a fare is never refused so they pulled over for us.
We were dropped off just down the road from Nam Tok, near Sai Nok Yoi waterfall. The waterfall was ok but nothing amazing, I also managed to slip over on the wet rocks much to the amusement of the teenage Thai girls all around.
We walked to Nam Tok station, which was quiet to say the least – there are only 2 trains a day and I was worried we may have missed the last one. But one did arrive, on time surprisingly, and we were off, for the princely sum of 100 baht each.
Apart from the historical nature of the line, there are 2 other reasons I wanted to take the train. The first is that it crosses the famous Bridge Over The River Kwai, and the second is that it travels over the Wampo viaduct (very slowly, since it is so old) giving some fantastic views of the scenery below and also of the train itself.
The train certainly wasn’t comfortable, with hard wooden seats (we later heard there is one comfortable tourist car but we didn’t find it), was very bumpy, and took 3 hours to get back to Kanchanaburi, but it was an amazing experience.
Another day we visited the Erawan Falls, this time renting a scooter to cover the 80km or so distance. This took a LONG time and perhaps wasn’t the ideal way to do it. However it was an interesting ride with a stunning dam to see just before we reached the national park.
The falls themselves were a mixed bag. They are undoubtably very beautiful but not at their best in wet season – the water wasn’t as turquoise as we expected.
Also, without realising, we visited on a weekend where around 10 million locals decided to have a family day out. This made it very cramped and busy, and just getting into the water for a swim really difficult. Once in, you were severely assaulted by fish. These fish are not like a fish foot spa, which is a pleasant experience. No, these fish were massive and had a bite to go with it! They didn’t hurt but it was very disconcerting.
We hiked up to a couple more levels, where it was quieter and swimming was easier, but after a few hours with the sky clouding over we decided to make a move. Before getting caught in an enormous storm just a few km outside of Kancahnaburi, of course.
What else? We walked over the bridge a few times.
We visited a bizarre war museum, which along with war memorabilia, also had things like a mural of all the Miss Thailand winners, a doctor’s office in the middle of it, and this plane which had nothing to do with any war, ever, as far as we could tell.
We also went to the JEATH War Museum – the name incorporates Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland, the nationalities who were involved in the building of the death railway. It couldn’t be more different from Hellfire Pass, it’s very small and showing it’s age. The temple next door run it, and are obviously struggling to maintain it, so please visit and donate!
Lastly we also visited the Allied War Cemetery, which made for a sombre experience, as you can imagine.
Well, I have had to cut this post down and still it is enormous. I think that shows just how interesting Kanchanburi is!
Where We Stayed
We found P.Y Guesthouse online and the reviews were too good to ignore. On arrival we were skeptical as the location seemed to be a bit far out of town, but as soon as we got inside we were in love with the place. Small but beautiful gardens surround the rooms, which are spotless and beautiful. The owner is a really lovely guy, who gave us lifts to the bus station twice for free! The area is very local but this is a good thing – the backpacker area of Kanchanaburi was not too attractive.