Kanchanaburi is a city in the west of Thailand, with a population of 52,000. It is located at the confluence of the rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai.
The Bridge over the River Kwai, located 3 km north of Kanchanaburi is the main attraction for many visitors. The bridge, immortalized in the movie and novel, was a part of the infamous Death Railway to Burma, constructed by POWs working for the Japanese in hellish conditions during World War 2. Some 16,000 POWs and 100,000 Asian workers died during the railway construction. Do note that the original bridge was destroyed by Allied bombing during the final years of the war, and the current bridge was rebuilt after the war in a different location.
The State Railway of Thailand operates a little tourist train with which you can drive across the bridge and back again. Duration: 15 minutes. You may also take one of the standard trains that pass by.
In 1942 Kanchanaburi was under Japanese control. It was here that Asian forced labourers and Allied POWs, building the infamous Burma Railway, constructed a bridge; an event immortalised in the films The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Return from the River Kwai (1989) and The Railway Man (2013). Almost half of the prisoners working on the project died from disease, maltreatment, or accidents.
At Kanchanaburi, there is a memorial and two museums to commemorate the dead. In March 2003, the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum opened and the JEATH War Museum (Japanese-English-American-Australian-Thai-Holland) dedicated to the bridge and the Death Railway. The city is also home to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
The Chong Kai Allies Cemetery is near Kanchanaburi, about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from Wat Tham Phu Wa.
Kanchanaburi has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate classification Aw). Winters are dry and very warm. Temperatures rise until April, which is very hot with the average daily maximum at 38.2 °C (100.8 °F). The monsoon season runs from May through October, with heavy rain and somewhat cooler temperatures during the day, although nights remain warm.
Weather in Kanchanaburi
How to Go
From Bangkok to Kanchanaburi:
BKS public buses (line 81) leave from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Taling Chan สายใต้ตลิ่งชัน), which is located far west in the suburb Thonburi. In Kanchanaburi, there are two separate but nearby bus terminals, with 1st class buses departing from an office off Thanon Saengchuto, and 2nd class buses from the larger terminal one block east.
1st class buses should leave Bangkok every 15 minutes from 05:00-22:30, take about 2 hours, and cost 110 baht, including a bottle of water.
2nd class buses (new route) leave Bangkok every 20 minutes from 03:30-19:00 and take about 2 hours. Cost 95 baht.
2nd class buses (old route) leave Bangkok every 15-30 minutes from 04:00-18:00 and take about 3 hours.
There are also tourist minibuses directly to/from Khao San Road, departing Kanchanaburi at 13:30 and 18:30.
There are also some buses leaving less frequently from Bangkok’s Northern Mo Chit bus terminal (note: not the same as Mo Chit BTS station, and not within walking distance of it, although a standard 50 baht motorbike ride is available. It’s often called “Mo Chit 2”). Here are the times I could find at the station:
First-class bus with toilet (3 hours, 122 baht): 06:00, 11:00, 14:30
Second class bus with no toilet inside: 05:00, 07:00, 09:30, 12:30, 17:00
Bus rides may be variable or cancelled (for example, with 14:30 being last of the day.) BUT there are vans available at the bus station leaving even when you’re told there’s no way to get there by bus! It may pay to talk to the information desk for this. Price Feb ’11 was around 120 baht, about 2 hrs.
From Nakhon Pathom, there are direct buses (2nd class only) every 15 to 30 minutes between 04:00 and 18:00, which take two hours. Alternatively, you can hop off a 1st class bus when it passes by Nakhon Pathom, but double-check with staff to ensure the route allows this and they know your plans.
From Sangkhlaburi to Kanchanaburi, you’re spoilt for choice:
Air-con VIP buses leave at 08:45, 10:45 and 14:30 and take 4 hours.
Air-con minibuses leave at 06:30, 07:30, 11:30, 13:00, 15:30 and take 3.5 hours.
Standard buses leave at 06:45, 08:15, 10:15, 13:15 and take 5 hours.
Trains leave Bangkok’s Thonburi Train Station at 07:50 and arrive at Kanchanaburi at 10:25, also at 13:55 and arriving at 16:24. You may be interested in buying a ticket all the way to the River Kwai Bridge, since these two trains are the only ones which cross the bridge each day. Since December 2005, the fare is 100 baht for foreigners.
Be warned that reaching Thonburi Station from Khao San Road is harder than it looks; tuk-tuk drivers will try to charge you outrageous rates, and walking involves crossing two bridges and looping back a ways. The best way is probably to take the passenger boat from Phra Arthit Pier and connect to a cross-river ferry that reaches the Thonburi Railway pier, then walk or take the open minibus from there.
The other way to reach Thonburi (Bangkok Noi) Station is walk little bit south from Thammasat university (next to Sanam Luang), take river ferry (3THB) from Wat Mahathat to Wanglong, on the other side of river walk west until you reach main north-south road, here walk north until you reach big bridge where you will go under it and then just walk west to train station, all this from Khao San Road to train station takes only about 30-40mins easy walk + river ferry. You can also walk a bit away from Khao San Road and find a metered taxi that will not rip you off. The fare should be about 70-80 baht from Khao San on the meter. If you miss the train taxi from Thonburi train station to Sai Tai Mai bus terminal for buses to Kanchanaburi.
For shorter travel, day trips from Bangkok are commonly sold at Bangkok travel agencies. Typically these include Toyota minibus transport from one’s hotel to Kanchanaburi and back (visiting the famous bridge, Erawan National Park, etc., depending on the package), and perhaps lunch and entrance fees. One example, circa early 2011: approximately 1,100 baht for transport, lunch, and entrance fees to Erawan National Park & the famous bridge.
There are lots of guest houses, resorts and hotels available. The density increases the nearer you get to the bridge. As usual if you book in advance they will arrange a free pick up service for you. If you haven’t done so yet, you should try one night in a raft room floating on the river.
The FloatHouse River Kwai (Float House), 55 Moo 5 Tambol Wangkrajae, Amphur Saiyoke, Kanchanaburi 71150 (Take a Boat from RESOTEL pier. GPS: N 14.281035, E 99.000796), ☎ +66 2 642 5497. 5 Star Floating Houses, Private separate FloatHouse for each rooms. Luxury Floating Hotel with all the facilities available. The Floathouse is furnished with Teak Wood and offering private transfer from Bangkok to the Hotel. Free WIFI, Floating sun deck and Private Terrace. The best view resort in Kanchanaburi.
All pictures by the author
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