Houseboats, Khwae Yai River, Kanchanaburi, Thailand by David McKelvey

In a nutshell

130 km west of Bangkok, close to the border with Myanmar, Kanchanaburi is a perfect few days’ escape from the traffic and chaos of Bangkok.

Why go to Kanchanaburi

Set on the banks of the river Khwae and surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and natural parks, Kanchanburi is the place to be if you want to explore the wonderful nature of Thailand.

It’s also an important historic district: tourist from all over the Word come here all year round to visit the infamous river Khwae Bridge. Built during the WWII, the bridge is part of the Burma – Siam railway that caused the death of approximately 100000 people during the construction.

Kanchanaburi has also become a backpackers’ Mecca in the last 10 years, especially for those who are willing to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere that you would normally expect in a river town.

Travellers come to Kanchanaburi attracted by the natural beauties, the cheap and tasty food, the sightseeing opportunities, the authentic atmosphere and the chilled out nightlife. Many of them come here planning just a short visit but end up staying for weeks, months or even more. Immerge yourself in the Kanchanaburi vibes for a couple of days and you’ll easily understand why.

When to go to Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is worth a visit any time of the year. During the rainy season (late May to October) heavy storms might hit the town, usually at night time, but as result of that the natural beauties will be at their best.

December and January might be quite cold at night and there’s no need of air-con to have a comfortable sleep. If you’re planning a visit at this time, don’t forget a jumper for the night.

April is the hottest time of the year but it’s also Songkran time. Thai people here know how to celebrate the Thai New Year and you’ll never forget being part of it.

Where to stay in Kanchanburi

Kanchanburi has a wide range of accommodation that will fit any possible budget. You can find the majority of the guesthouses and hotels in the tourist area of Mae Nam Kwae Road.

The most characteristic option is the floating raft houses on the river Khwae where you can find a double room for as low as THB250. For a mid-range room with air-con and private bathroom expect to pay THB600. Plenty of options also for the higher budgets with some of the best resorts being out of the tourists’ area in more peaceful and quite parts of the city.

What to eat in Kanchanaburi

Generally speaking the food in Kanchanaburi is exactly what you would expect before visiting Thailand: tasty, cheap and…spicy!! You can find all the most classic Thai dishes, the superb Isaan cuisine and also Burmese specialties (the Myanmar border is just 50 km away).

The local night markets are the first place to go and try the tasty and authentic Thai food. In Mae Nam Kwae Road you will find many stalls offering simple food for as low as 20 baht and cheap restaurants serving Thai or western food. Close to the bridge some upscale restaurants will serve delicious freshwater fish and seafood right on river.

Getting around in Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is quite a big city but the main tourist area can be easily covered on foot. Motorbike taxis are always available and will take you anywhere in town for THB50/THB100.

Songthaews are also found everywhere and are usually quite cheap.

Motorbikes can be rented for THB200 per day. Remember to wear a helmet: riding a motorbike is quite dangerous in Thailand and the police will target foreigners without the helmet. The fine is usually THB300.

If the day is not too hot renting a bicycle is also a good option: they come for THB50 a day.

Getting to and from Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi doesn’t have an airport. The vast majority of tourists will get here coming from Bangkok.

From and to Bangkok

The easier but more expensive way is to get a taxi. Expect to pay from THB2000 for a one-way ride from anywhere in Bangkok and a little more (THB2200) from Suwarnabhumi airport. Same prices for the way back. The journey will take just a little more than 2 hours if the traffic is not crazy.

Many buses leave every day from the two main bus terminals in Bangkok. From Southern Bus Station (Sai Tai Mai) there’s a bus every half an hour from 4am to 10pm. From Northern Bus Station (Mo Chit) buses leave every hour from 5am until 4pm. The ride will last from 3 to 4 hours. The ticket is THB80 for a second class bus or THB110 for a first class one. The same tariffs are applied for the Kanchanaburi–Bangkok route with the only difference being the last bus leaving Kanchanaburi at 7pm.

Another option is taking a shared minivan (THB130) leaving from Mo Chit Bus Terminal that will stop in Kanchanaburi at the bus station. They leave as soon as they have enough passengers, usually every 15 minutes. They’re quicker than the bus but they might be quite uncomfortable especially if you’re sitting at the very back and you have to carry your bag on your knees. On the way back some of the guesthouses and all the major hotels will organize for them to pick you up in front of the entrance for 150THB.

The last option is catching the train that leaves twice a day from Thonburi train station. The ticket is THB100 and it takes three and a half hours. The train station in Kanchanaburi is 5 minutes walking from the area where all the guesthouses are.

From and to other destinations.

Direct buses to/from Chiang Mai run three times every day. The journey is approximately 11 hours and the ticket is THB600.

If you’re next stop is Laos, an overnight bus to Vientiane is also available every day at 7pm for THB490. It will take 12 hours and will stop In Nong Khai on the Thai side of the border. Vientiane is 20 km away and once crossed the border public buses are available.

Shared minivan to Hua Hin departing from the bus station are available multiple time every day.

Safe travel in Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is a safe place to travel. Just use common sense and don’t leave valuables in your room if you stay in one of cheap guesthouses. Few thefts occurred in the last years. A tourist police office can be found close to the bridge.

For any medical problem a public hospital and some private clinic are available.

Kanchanaburi station guide

Kanchanaburi - Bus

The west-central Thailand city of Kanchanaburi is popular for its hilly location and cooler weather, and is known for its proximity to the infamous WWII Death Railway, immortalised in the 1957 movie Bridge over the River Kwai. The city is just 128kms from Bangkok, and is easily and inexpensively reached by VIP bus from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal, terminating at one of the two neighbouring local bus stations on Saeng Chuto Road.

The smaller bus terminal just off the main street deals with VIP bus services, and the larger bus station serves ordinary buses on short or longer-haul routes. The best way to get to Kanchanaburi is by bus, as there’s no airport and the train service is third-class only. Air-conditioned buses leave from the capital’s Southern Bus Terminal every half hour from early morning to 22:30, taking under two hours and costing just 106 baht.

Saeng Chuto Road is Kanchanaburi’s main street, running through the southern district from the River Kwai bridge past the rail and bus stations and giving arrivals at either terminal a central location with easy access to guesthouses and hotels. Another option to or from Bangkok is the VIP bus service from the capital’s Morchit Bus Terminal to Kanchanaburi’s smaller, first-class bus terminal. Buses run every hour from 06:30 to 18:00, take three hours and cost between 108 and 139.

Nakhom Pathom is just two hours away, with the service provided every 15 minutes between 04:00 and 18:00 and costing 50 baht. Kanchanaburi’s two bus stations are conveniently positioned just a 30 baht songthaew ride from the town’s guesthouse district. Even cheaper are the motorcycle taxis, costing just 20 baht and perfect for travellers without heavy luggage. Getting around town and exploring the region’s WWII history is straightforward and cheap by means of tuk-tuks, songthaews and motorcycle taxis.

Kanchanaburi - train

For passengers who would like to go travel Kanchanaburi by rail, Thonburi railway station is the only station that has train units off to Kanchanaburi. Be informed that there are only two departs from Thonburi Train Station (west of Chao Phraya river) to Kanchanburi and the average travel time from Thonburi to Kanchanaburi would be at least 3 hours.

The main Kanchanaburi Station is located at Sangchuto Road, a short walking distance from Maenam Kwai Road. You should visit the bridge over the River Kwai, which was re-built about 20 meters away from its original place. The remains of the original bridge are still visible if you search for them. The war museum is a few meters down the river and has some pictures, old uniforms and old weapons on display. On the southern side of the river you can find a temple on top and inside a cave. Wear solid shoes if you plan to go there.

Nam Tok Sai Yok - train

Nam Tok Station is the end of the infamous "Death Railway" that linked Thailand and Burma during the World War II. The historic railway now exist only partial of what was originally built. From the bridge over River Kwai to Nam Tok Station, the remaining rails run at about 50 kilometers or 30 miles.

Thonburi - Bangkok route by rail would consume up to 5 hours of travel. There is also a 3rd class train travelling to Nam Tok but is not air-conditioned.

Three Pagodas Pass - Bus

For several centuries, the Three Pagodas Pass served as western Thailand's main link between India and the rest of Southeast Asia. Today, this Tenasserim Hills pass connects the Thai community of Sangkhla Buri to Payathonzu in Myanmar. The three tiny stupas or chedis on the border's Thai side are said to have been constructed as peace symbols during the Ayutthaya period.

This largely rural part of northwest Thailand is about 370kms from its nearest air gateway, Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport, and 227kms from its nearest major city, Kanchanaburi. There is non-stop bus service between Bangkok's Mochit station and Sangkhla Buri, the closest community to the Three Pagodas Pass.

However, many passengers prefer changing buses at the larger Kanchanaburi bus station, which offers a greater variety of minibuses and buses travelling to Sangkhla Buri. The bus journey between Kanchanaburi and Sangkhla Buri takes between four and five hours. The more expensive air-conditioned buses and minibuses travel faster than lower budget buses without air-conditioning. The Sangkhla Buri bus station stands conveniently across from its lively market and green shuttle buses to Three Pagodas Pass depart frequently from the terminal.

As of 2012, only Thai citizens could cross the Three Pagoda Pass border, and passports will not be stamped at either side of the border. The Burmese Inn is located two kilometres outside of Sangkhla Buri city centre, while the Phornpailin Riverside Resort and Potanee Resort are both situated south of the post office. Other places to stay can also be found in town.

Sangkhla Buri - Bus

Thailand's northwesternmost district, Sangkhla Buri, is situated next to the Myanmar border in Kanchanaburi province. Floating house parties, Three Pagodas Path, and the Mon community at the opposite end of the country's longest handmade wooden bridge, Saphan Mon, are this idyllic region's main attractions. The bus journey between Sangkhla Buri town and Bangkok's Mochit station takes seven to eight hours.

Passengers may also stop at the Kanchanburi bus station, then board any of the several buses and minibuses making the four- to five-hour journey to Sangkhla Buri. The costlier minibuses and air-conditioned buses depart Sangkhla Buri from the main market road's east end, while cheaper buses without air conditioning leave from the Sangkhla Buri bus station. Most places to stay are situated either two kilometres outside the city centre, like the Burmese Inn, or south of the post office, like the Potanee and Phornpailin Riverside resorts.


Kanchanaburi launches 2017 Harmony World Puppet Festival

Today sees the start of the delayed Thailand Harmony World Puppet Festival in Kanchanaburi Province. The fest is a celebration of the art of puppetry and marionettes and features string puppets, shadow puppet shows, hand puppets, rod-driven puppets and even human puppets.

20 February 2017

Thai Immigration Bureau plans to upgrade Kanchanaburi checkpoint

The Immigration Bureau of Thailand has put forward a proposal that could see a Kanchanaburi province border crossing upgraded. On an official visit to the Three Pagodas Pass checkpoint over the weekend, immigration boss Nathathorn Prousoontorn explained that the border crossing with Myanmar was becoming strategically more important as a tourism and commerce link between the neighbouring nations.

02 May 2016

Thai PM tells Kanchanaburi disco rafts to turn down the volume

Responding to complaints of noise pollution, the Thai prime-minister has asked Kanchanaburi’s disco raft operators to turn down the volume. The activist group Rak Thammachart Muang Kan had lodged a formal complaint with the prime-minister’s office saying disco and karaoke rafts on the Kwai Noi River were far too loud.

20 November 2015