My name is Virginie and welcome to my Kanchanaburi guide. I’m originally from Nancy, France and I’ve been teaching French since 2008. I discovered Asia on my round-the-world trip in 2019 and fell in love with the continent.
In particular, I adored Thailand – a country I moved to in 2020 to work for a prestigious private school. I’ve been in Phuket for three years now and love it! Recently, I stopped teaching to start a new career as a travel planner.
Why Kanchanaburi is So Unique
Kanchanaburi has already stolen the hearts of many tourists, Thais and expats (me first)! Known as “Kanchana” to friends, this province is located less than three hours drive from Bangkok. It’s so rich in places to see that when I visited I decided to spend five days here. By the end of the first day, I had already fallen head over heels in love with this part of Thailand.
Beyond the must-see destinations, I like the atmosphere, sense of well-being and positivity that Kanchanaburi exudes. Yet, paradoxically, the province is mainly famous for its tragic history during the Japanese occupation and for the construction of the Bridge on the River Kwai.
My Favorite Places in the Province
Kanchanaburi is full of epic spots, but my favorites are without doubt the Death Railway Museum and Hellfire Pass – a railway corridor dug out of the rock by hand to bring the trainline through a hill. The site is accompanied by a museum run by the Australian government in memory of the fallen. There is also Wat Tham Suea which is a wonderful temple to visit.
10 Amazing Things To Do in Kanchanaburi
By no means are the Death Railway Museum, Hellfire Pass and Wat Tham Suea the only attractions of the province. Below is my list of the best things to do in Kanchanaburi – from hot springs to waterfalls to floating hotels!
1. Learn About the Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai is not just a bridge – it’s a historic place featured in the 1957 film with the same name, and in the more recent movie called “The Railway Man” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.
It was constructed during WWII by Allied prisoners of war and forced laborers under Japanese control. Part of the Thailand-Burma Railway, the bridge aimed to create a strategic supply route for Japanese forces.
The Japanese ordered the bridge to be built in record time – resulting in heavy casualties. Today the Bridge on the River Kwai symbolizes the harsh conditions and human toll endured by those who built it, and serves as a reminder of the suffering that occurred during the war.
2. Check Out the Exhibits at the JEATH War Museum
The JEATH War Museum, which opened back in 1977, features a collection of artifacts and photos evoking the living conditions of the prisoners of war. Visiting it is a poignant and educational experience. The museum offers insight into the history of World War II, particularly the construction of the infamous Death Railway and the suffering endured by Allied POWs.
Its exhibits include photographs, artifacts and recreated POW barracks – providing a sobering reminder of the past. By coming here, travelers gain a deeper understanding of the human cost of war and the importance of peace – making it a meaningful addition to any Kanchanaburi itinerary.
3. Spend a Few Hours at the Chinese War Cemetery
Close to the Bridge on the River Kwai lies a large Chinese cemetery housing graves of forced workers who lost their lives during the construction of the Death Railway. This is one of many cemeteries and tombs paying tribute to the Chinese. Unfortunately they couldn’t resist the beating, insufficient portions of rice, spoiled fish and torture that the Japanese dished out.
4. Pay Your Respects at the War Cemetery
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is dedicated to the prisoners of war who died while working on the bridge and railway. The cemetery, beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is a somber yet serene place that fosters reflection on the human cost of war.
5. Soak in the Wat Wang Khanay Hot Spring
The Wat Wang Khanay Hot Spring is known for its lovely warm waters. Located within temple grounds, this hot spring offers a soothing soak in a picturesque setting. It’s an ideal spot to unwind after exploring the sites, such as the Death Railway Museum or Erawan National Park. The mix of cultural heritage and natural beauty makes it a must-visit destination.
6. Visit Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple)
“Wat Tham Suea” translates to “Tiger Cave Temple”. Travelers should make a point to visit Wat Tham Suea, as it’s one of the highlights of the province. Located roughly five kilometers from Kanchanaburi town, it’s accessible by car or taxi ride. This temple is renowned for its breathtaking setting, offering endless panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
The temple serves as a meditation center, and provides an atmosphere for contemplation and spiritual connection. Visitors can explore the temple complex, admire the giant Buddha statue and enjoy the ambiance while taking in the vistas. Note that the temple is perched on a bluff and requires a walk of 157 steps, but there is also a tram for the less athletic.
7. Marvel at the Seven-Storey Wat Tham Khao Noi
Wat Tham Khao Noi sits beside Wat Tham Suea, so it’s easy to see both at the same time. The seven-storey temple boasts a mix of architectural styles, with Thai elements (such as Buddhist relics) mixed with Chinese designs.
8. Stop By the Thailand-Burma Railway Center
Another veritable mine of information about the history of the Bridge on the River Kwai, the Thailand-Burma Railway Center is not to be missed. The center educates visitors about the Death Railway and the WWII era.
9. Explore the Beauty of Erawan National Park
The 550-square kilometer Erawan National Park is a gem known for its emerald-green cascading waterfalls and lush tropical forests. One of the most spectacular places to visit within the park is Erawan Falls – a series of seven-tiered waterfalls, each more beautiful than the last. The turquoise pools at the base of the falls are perfect for swimming and cooling off.
To get to Erawan National Park from Kanchanaburi you can hire a car or scooter, or book a taxi or tour for the 50-kilometer journey. When visiting be sure to pack walking shoes, swimwear and a change of clothes. Don’t forget sunscreen, insect repellent and a hat for skin protection too. It’s also a good idea to carry snacks and plenty of water for the day trip.
10. Stay in a Floating Hotel on the River Kwai
Staying in a floating hotel on the River Kwai offers a magical experience. These charming accommodations allow guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of the river’s surroundings. Waking up to the gentle sway of the water, enjoying colorful sunsets and even taking a refreshing dip from your private deck are just a few of the highlights to expect.
It’s a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of modern life, while still enjoying comfort and luxury. Additionally, the historical significance of the River Kwai and its connection to WWII adds depth to the overnight stay – making it a memorable and culturally rich journey for all travelers. One place that I can recommend is the River Kwai Jungle Rafts Floating Hotel!
Tips for Visiting Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi is best visited between December and April, during the high season. Not only will you get more sunshine and less rain during these months, but also the Erawan Falls boast turquoise waters at this time.
Getting to Kanchanaburi is easy. You can catch the train from Bangkok Noi railway station or go by bus from the Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal with departures every 15 minutes. Another option is to take the bus from the Northern Bus Terminal, however they depart to Kanchanaburi every hour.
In regards to dining, there are options next to the Bridge on the River Kwai such as Floating Raft Restaurant and Keeree Mantra. In the vicinity of Kanchanaburi, I strongly recommend visiting the Nakhon Pathom province home to the incredible Wat Sam Phran – a 17-storey cylindrical building in a typical color wrapped up by a dragon. It’s an Instagrammers dream!