Say ‘Kanchanaburi’, and inevitably the first thing to come to your mind is the bridge over the River Kwai. There are WWII memorable places all over the province, true, but Kanchanaburi is not at all just about the horrors of the war. It is arguably the greenest province of Thailand with lush jungles covering the greater part of it. Kanchanaburi is home to one of the most beautiful – though extremely touristy – waterfalls in the country, the Erawan waterfall, and Prasat Mueang Singh, now a historical park and an important monument of Khmer architecture in Thailand, is found there, too. The idyllic area along the River Kwai banks is dotted with luxury and boutique resorts but the budget digs do not lack, either. And if you venture further west to the little town of Sangkhlaburi sitting by the Thai-Myanmar border, you will be rewarded with unspoiled natural beauty, authentic Mon curries and that special otherworldly feeling which is getting a rare bird nowadays.
How to get from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi lies only 150 km to the west of Bangkok, but expect that your trip – by bus, by van, by taxi or by train – would take no less than 2½ hours. Private taxis offer the fastest and the most convenient ride; vans are great as far as a price-vs-quality ratio is concerned; and trains are cheap and not traffic-dependent.
From Bangkok to Kanchanaburi by bus or van
The overwhelming majority of Kanchanaburi bound buses leave from the Southern bus terminal in Bangkok, Sai Tai Mai. Some private companies, including Kwan Chee Vee Tour, operate vans from the Northern bus terminal, Morchit. The trip from Morchit is a bit longer and can take about three hours. Van tickets cost THB150, but note that the luggage space is rather limited – consider buying a separate ticket for your luggage unless you are travelling with a 20l backpack. There are hourly vans from Morchit to Kanchanaburi with the first one leaving Bangkok at 4am and arriving to Kanchanaburi at 7am and the last one departing at 6pm and reaching its destination at 9pm.
Morchit bus terminal is located in the northern part of the city and is an ideal starting point if you arrive to Don Mueang airport and intend to proceed immediately to Kanchanaburi (and vice versa – if you leave Kanchanaburi and are going to the airport next). To get there from the centre, get off at Morchit BTS stop and then take a taxi for a short ride to the bus terminal.
In Kanchanaburi, Kwan Chee Vee Tour vans bring passengers to Kanchanaburi bus terminal located between U-Thong Soi 4 and Soi 6 in the southern part of the city, about 2.5 km from the main guesthouse area. To get to your accommodation, take a songthaew (THB10 per person), or opt for a motorbike taxi (THB40).
Vans of Hanuman Tour Siam pick up passengers at Victory Monument in Bangkok. It is very handy if you stay in the central parts of Bangkok, in Sukhumvit Road, close to any of the BTS stations, or just arriving to Bangkok by van from any of the many destinations served by vans based in the Victory Monument area. Hanuman Tour Siam sells tickets at THB180 and goes to Kanchanaburi North at the intersection of Route 3199 (Lad Ya–Bo Ploy) and 3086 (Thanon Phra Kru Son) but pass through Kanchanaburi – tell the driver where you would like to get off. Vans leave every 40 minutes from 5am till 6.20pm.
There is direct service to Kanchanaburi from Khao San Road area in Bangkok, too, which is a sensible choice if you stay anywhere in the area as it saves you a trip to the bus station. Thai Sriram have four vans a day leaving from their office off Chakrabongse Road, close to Mayom junction, one block to the southwest of Khao San Road. In Kanchanaburi, vans disembark at Kanchanaburi bus station U-Thong Soi 4 and Soi 6. Tickets cost THB250.
Tip: If you have not booked your accommodation in Kanchanaburi in advance, try to arrive around noon the latest: rooms fill up quickly even in the low season, and during weekend it is always a full house. That said, you are unlikely to stay in the street for the night, but you may end up paying more than you expected to.
From Bangkok to Kanchanaburi by train
The Nam Tok branch of the Southern line of Thai railways (aka Western line) runs through Kanchanaburi, so technically you can get from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi by train. The line starts in Thonburi (you cannot catch a direct train to Kanchanaburi in Hua Lamphong!) and terminates in Nam Tok. The advantage of a train journey is that the train station in Kanchanaburi is located within walking distance (about 500 m) from the guesthouse area. The disadvantage is the third class fan only seats. Buy tickets on the spot.
From Bangkok to Kanchanaburi by taxi
PGS company offers private door-to-door transfer from any location in Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. Transit time is two and a half hours only, and you can choose between Toyota Camry for 3 passengers maximum (THB3,000) or Toyota Commuter which accommodates up to 9 travellers (THB3,400). The rates are ill-inclusive meaning no extra toll charges or additional fees for pickup or drop-off at specific locations.
There is a VIP transfer from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi offered by Bell Transport. Go to the River Kwai in style in a Mercedes S-Class (THB8,800 per vehicle) or Mercedes Vito Van (THB11,000 per vehicle). Well... There are people who appreciate German comfort and safety, right?
All the main attractions of Kanchanaburi are located out of town, so the best way to explore them independently is to rent a bicycle, a motorbike or a car. Tour agencies along Mae Man Kwae Street offer a wide choice of tours at reasonable prices, so it may prove easier to go on a package. To cross Mae Khlong, board a river ferry which costs THB5.
Where to stay
The best choice of budget accommodation is found along Mae Nam Kwai Street, from Rong Hee Baoy 3 Road in the south to France Street in the north. The majority of riverfront options are raft houses right over the water. The setting in unbeatable, but be ready to fight with mosquitoes which are plentiful there. There are many services geared towards travellers in Mae Nam Kwai Street – from rent-a-bike shops (from about THB200 per day) and tour agencies to ATMs and 7/Eleven. If you are looking for a more up class choices, consider resorts in the Death Railway Bridge area.
Kanchanaburi province has something to offer to every traveller, and it is not an exaggeration. WWII related sights including Hellfire Pass or the notorious Death Railway are a must-see for history buffs; elephant trekking and bamboo rafting will appeal to adventurous types; astonishing waterfalls with crystal clear pools for swimming and hiking trails in Erawan national park are a great pastime for a whole family. Visit a floating market or meditate in a tranquil retreat; go fishing or canoeing; explore caves inhabited by rare animals in Sai Yok National Park or opt for bird-watching in Kroeng Kravia Swamp – whether you spend a couple of days or a month in Kanchanaburi, you are sure not to get bored.
Onward travel from Kanchanaburi: Find your Thai Myanmar in Sangkhlaburi
An elegant silhouette of a wooden Mon bridge is hardly visible behind a transparent veil of the morning mist. Young barefooted girls hurry from Wang Kha to the other side of the Khuean Khao Laem with piles of metal bowls balancing on their heads. The rattle of longtail boats over the water ushers the day in, and a golden chedi of Wat Mon glitters in the distance, surrounded by the sea of lush greenery.
The two things any visitor to Sangkhlaburi should do is to walk along the Mon bridge to Wang Khla to experience ‘Thai little Burma’ with men wearing traditional longyies, women and children with tanaka powder on their cheeks, flavoursome Mon curries in street cafes and a postcard perfect view of the bridge which will inevitably make you think of Amarapura – well, if you have ever ventured up there.
The second thing is a boat trip to the sunken temple which used to be the main wat of the Mon settlement before the dam was constructed in 1982. Even though the most part of the year you can walk inside the temple as the water level in Khao Laem reservoir remains relatively low, the whole place oozes tons of atmosphere. It is even more fun in summer when it often rains the whole day through, as both the bridge and the temple look especially mysterious. The boats are wonderfully affordable, too, and cost THB300 for the trip up to the temple.
For even a greater experience invest in a suit room at P Guesthouse on the Thai side of the bridge (THB900). Their suits are located on the second floor of the main building, are perfectly appointed and have balconies with jaw-dropping view over the bridge and Chedi Buddakhaya in Wang Khla. If you choose to stay on the Mon side, come to the restaurant in P Guesthouse for an affordable and tasty dinner at sunset.
Tip: There are local buses travelling between Kanchanaburi and Sangkhlaburi, but the route 323 which leads to the border town is best done on your own wheels. If you go by bus, you miss half the charm of your journey: you will be unable to make a stop at Thong Pha Phum and to go up the hill to Wat Tha Kha Nun for a picturesque view; you will not enjoy a cup of the best Thai coffee grown locally in one of those no-name coffee shops along the way; and you will not detour to Hin Tat hot springs, either.