Kanchanaburi, Thailand: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
The Kanchanaburi Town is located at the confluence of Kwai Noi River and Kwai Yai River and it is two hours away from Bangkok. The town has a population of about 34,000. It is the capital of the province of its name. The Kanchanaburi Province is the third largest province in Thailand. It is located 130 kilometers west of Bangkok. The province has 13 Amphoes or districts. The main districts that are housing the major tourist attractions are the Amphoe Muang, the Amphoe Si Sawat, the Amphoe Sai Yok, and the Amphoe Sangkhla Buri. The main sight of interest in Kanchanaburi is the Bridge over the River Kwai, a part of the infamous Death Railway to Burma. There are also museums, war cemeteries, historical park, and temples that mirrors the historical and cultural heritage of Kanchanaburi. It is a major tourist destination offering waterfalls, caves, national parks, tranquil rivers, forests, large reservoirs, and other attractions for nature lovers.
Kanchanaburi's major destination is the Bridge on the River Kwai. It is a black iron bridge that is a part of the Death Railway that links Thailand with Burma, which is now known as Myanmar. This is a historical place in Thailand. It was constructed by thousands of Allied Prisoners of War (POW) and Asian workers who had been enslaved by the Japanese during the World War II. Historical records show that thousands of the workers died during the construction. The railway line originally ran within 50 meters of the Three Pagodas Pass, which now marks the border to Burma. After the war, the railway was removed and sold. In addition, the dead were collectively reburied in the War Cemeteries. Nowadays, a daily train is still following the historical route from Kanchanaburi to the Nam Tok Railway Station.
Another part of the Death Railway is the Hellfire Pass or the Konyu Cutting. It is a rock cutting done by hand by the Australian and British POWs that measures 73 meters long and 25 meters high. The POWs started in April 1943 and finished 3 months later. The workers are forced to work 18 hours a day without rest. At night, the rock cutting were lit by lamps and torches. The light and the shadows of the haggard POWs that are working at the rock cutting was the origin of its name; Hellfire Pass. In July 1943, the cutting was completely done and more than 70% of POWs died of exhaustion and forced labor.
The information regarding the history of the World War II in Thailand lies in the museums of Kanchanaburi. These museums are the JEATH War Museum, the War Museum at the Bridge, the Thai-Burmese Railway Center, and the Hellfire Pass Museum. JEATH is the acronym for the primary nations that took part on the World War II; Japan, England, Australia, Thailand, and Holland. The JEATH War Museum is situated inside the Wat Chai Chumphon's complex. It was constructed mainly in a form of an Allied Prisoners of War camp. The museum is managed by a Thai monk. The exhibits are housed in a palm hut including some timeworn photographs. An admission fee usually costs 30 baht.
The War Museum at the Bridge is located on the bank of River Kwai that is near the Bridge on the River Kwai. This is a private museum that exhibits war instruments, photographs, uniforms, and other physical memorabilia of World War II. There is an Art Gallery on the museum's 2nd and 3rd floors. It features paintings that shows the ancient battles between the Thais and the Burmese, the murals that tells the Thai history, the portraits of prime ministers, the Khmer-style woodcarvings, a pair of Burmese Buddhas, and the Chinese deities' paintings. There is an admission fee of 30 baht upon entering this private museum.
The Thai-Burmese Railway Center is located next to the Don-Rak War Cemetery. It is considered as the best source of information regarding the World War II, the railway construction and the route, and the slavery of the POWs and the Asian Workers. This museum is mainly dedicated to the Death Railway. It also features exhibits including videos and interactive displays. The admission fee for this museum is 100 baht.
The Hellfire Pass Museum is open for public and admission is free. Its main purpose is to honor the POWs and Asian who worked and died during the construction of the Death Railway and the Hellfire Pass. Exhibits also contains information on how and why the POWs worked at the Hellfire Pass. The museum is maintained by the Australian Chamber of Commerce.
There are war cemeteries that contains the remains of the POWs and the Asian workers that died during the construction of the Death Railway. These are the Don-Rak War Cemetery and the Chonk-Kai War Cemetery. The Don-Rak War Cemetery is also known as the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery that is located at the opposite of the Kanchanaburi Railway Station. It contains the remains of 6,982 Australians, Dutch, and British war prisoners. On the other hand, the second cemetery, Chonk-Kai War Cemetery, occupies the former Chonk-Kai Prisoner of War Camp on the bank of the River Kwai Noi. It is more peaceful and attractive containing 1,740 remains of the men who died in the nearby hospital.
There are also temples in Kanchanaburi that reflect its religious aspect. The most visited temple is the War Pha Luang Ta Bua, which is popularly known as the Tiger Temple. It is one of the biggest attraction of the region. The admission fee usually costs 600 baht and a special photo with a tiger costs 1000 baht. Bright yellow, pink, and orange colored clothes are not allowed at the temple. Aside from the tigers, there are also water buffalo and deer roaming around the area. However, the volunteers from the Tiger Temple reported that the tigers are maltreated and abused by the abbot of the temple. With these reports, some of the tourists prefer not to visit the temple to support the animals that are maltreated.
The Wat Kao Phun is located at the Kao Pun Cave that is about 5 kilometers from the town. There are boat tours that stop and visit the cave and the temple. This is an important religious pilgrim because of the Hindu and Buddha images that are housed inside the cave. Behind the temple is a big Buddha image. From here, there is a beautiful view of the river valley. The temple is open daily at 9 am until 5:30 pm with a 20 baht admission fee for the cave.
There is a temple at the district of Sangkhla Buri; the Wat Wang Wiwekaram. Its pagoda was built similar to India's Pha Phutta Khaya. Inside the temple is a huge Buddha image that is made of marble. The temple's abbot, Luang Phor Uttama, is a highly respected Buddhist monk. He is famous for his chanting beads that can easily chant one's prayer or mantra to exactly 108 times.
National Parks and Natural Attractions
Kanchanaburi is known for its beautiful and scenic natural attractions that are well-preserved through time. The national parks are full of pristine natural attractions like waterfalls and caves. These are the Erawan National Park, the Sai Yok National Park, the Sri Nakarin National Park, the Lam Klong Ngu National Park, the Chalerm Rattana Kosin National Park, the Khao Lam National Park, and the Thong Pha Phum National Park.
The Erawan National Park is Thailand's 12th national park. It has an area of 550 square kilometers with high mountains that rise to almost 1,000 meters and there are also valleys in the national park. Forest covers 80% of the national park with many dominant tree species. The main natural attraction in the national park is the 7 leveled Erawan Waterfalls with an emerald green water. It is one of the most beautiful falls in Asia and the most beautiful falls in Thailand. The national park is also the home of the Phra That Cave. It consists beautifully shaped stalactites and stalagmites distributed among 4 big rooms. There is an admission fee of 300 baht for adult and 200 baht for children upon entering the vicinity of the national park.
The Sai Yok National Park has an area of 500 square kilometers. It is a mountainous area that is mostly limestone mountains. It is covered with evergreen forest and bamboo forest. Wildlife in the national park includes species like Khun Kitti Bat, the world's smallest bat, and the Poo Rachinee, the Queen Crab. There is a 300 baht admission fee for adult and 200 baht admission fee for children. The main natural attractions in the national park are the Sai Yok Yai Waterfall and the Sai Yok Noi Waterfall. The Sai Yok Yai Waterfall is widely celebrated in Thai poetry and songs. Outside the national park is the Sai Yok Noi Waterfall. Its landscape is one of the most beautiful places in the country where the Death Railway also passes.
The Sri Nakarin National Park has natural features like waterfalls, hot springs, caves and an island studded reservoir. It has an area of 1,532 square kilometers. Also, the limestone mountains are covered in evergreen forest. The main sight in this national park is the Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall that gives breathtaking views. There are also 2 hot springs located just outside the national park. Like the other parks, there is an admission fee of 300 baht for adult and 200 baht for children.
The Chalerm Rattana Kosin National Park is the smallest park in the Kanchanaburi province with an area of 59 square kilometers. The national park has fertile forests, steep limestone mountains, waterfalls and mysterious caves. Kam Paeng Mountain is the highest peak in park that reaches 1260 meters. The two Tham Than Lot Caves are the main attraction of this national park. There is a 2.5 kilometer walking trail that leads from the small cave of Tham Than Lot Noi to the big cave of Tham Than Lot Yai. The trekking path leads to the three-stepped Trai Trueng Waterfall. There is also an admission fee of 300 baht for adult and 200 baht for children in entering the park.
The Khao Lam National Park covers 1,497 square kilometers in area. It consists of fertile forest surrounding Khao Laem reservoir. It is the water source of Kwai Noi and other important rivers. Some of the natural attractions found here are the Dai Chong Thong Waterfall and the Kreng Kravia Waterfall with the Kreng Kravia Cave. Like the other parks, there is an admission fee of 300 baht for adult and 200 baht for children.
The Thong Pha Phum National Park has an area of 1,120 square kilometers. The forest covering the national park is connecting to with the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, the Sai Yok National Park, the Khao Lam National Park and the forests in Myanmar. There is also an admission fee of 300 baht for adult and 200 baht for children in entering the park.
With an admission fee of 300 baht for adult and 200 baht for children, the Lam Klong Ngu National Park is a fertile forest complex in the Tanaosri mountain range. There are towering mountains that serves as the watershed for the Sri Nakarin Dam Lake. The national park covers an area of 600 square meters.
Some Nightlife and Hotels
At night, there is a lineup of bars and pubs along the riverside. The Buddha Bar offers a fusion of the Caribbean and African, Thai reggae songs, tasty barbecues, and a manager dressed like Captain Jack Sparrow. The Buzz Pub on the other hand offers a young and energetic crowd. There are other bars and pubs like the Discovery Nightclub, the Glitzy, the No Name Bar, and the Resort. In staying in the city for a night or two, there are accommodation that offer luxury stay and budgeted stay. A popular five star hotel is the Dheva Mantra Hotel. It is a 10-minute drive away from the Bridge Over the River Kwai. There are also places offering cheap prices like the Hop Inn, the Duenshine Resort, and the Noble Night Guesthouse.
There are buses in Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Pattaya that service to Kanchanaburi. From Bangkok, there are first class bus tickets that usually cost 100 baht and second class bus tickets that cost 95 baht with a 2 hour travel time. Form Ayutthaya, the cost of a ticket is 80 baht with a travel time of an hour and a half. From Pattaya, bus tickets usually cost 315 baht and travel time is approximately 5 hours. If planning to arrive by train, trains leave at Bangkok's Thonburi Train Station. The fare is usually 100 baht all the way to the Bridge over the River Kwai. There are also minivans from the Victory Monument at Bangkok; it usually costs 130 baht for a ride.
There are songthaew available in getting around the city; orange and yellow in color. The route covers bus station, train station and the bridge with a very cheap fare of 10 baht. There are motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks available. However, tourist must do a research on the fare prices or ask a local since some drivers are known for overpricing to foreigners. Some guesthouses offers bicycle and motorcycle rentals. A bicycle rental usually costs 50 baht per day and a motorcycle rental is 150 baht - 200 baht per day depending on the model. Tourist must be aware that street signs are in Thai.