Get out of your bubble and off the beaten path with our 3-day travel guide on what to do and see in Kanchanaburi.
Located a mere three hours west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a small town that’s quickly gaining traction due to its rich culture, wonderful sights and a haunting past. There’s plenty to see, including museums, war memorials, waterfalls, temples, bridge over River Kwai and the popular 415-kilometre Thai-Burma railway (nicknamed the death railway) where close to 16,000 prisoners of war lost their lives during its construction.
My recent trip to Kanchanaburi had me venturing beyond tourist-swarmed streets and postcard-perfect beaches and boy, was I in for a surprise. Here’s a three-day itinerary on the town’s best sights and things to do.
Day 1: Scrumptious cafe grub, Thai fare and Thai massage
Get your coffee (and beer) fix with a book in hand
After you’ve transitioned from the cityscapes of Bangkok to the lush greenery of Kanchanaburi, get your coffee (and lunch) fix at The Library Cafe. Decked in contemporary decor along with disco balls and a fauna wall, it’s a great spot to enjoy an espresso with artfully plated nibbles and craft beers. Opt for the classic fish and chips to share and cool down with a bingsu. Oh, and you have to check out the curated library.
The Library Cafe, 268/1 Maenamkwai Rd, Tambon Ban Tai, Amphoe Mueang
Get rid of muscle knots with a damn good shoulder massage
Dying for a massage? Trust me, you’ll come out feeling brand new after an ah-mazing shoulder massage at Kenta Spa. It was so good, I even opted for an additional facial massage after. Bliss.
Kenta Spa, Thamakham, Muang Kanchanaburi
Seafood at Zeb Zeb
Have your first tom yum soup of the trip (remember to ask for spicy!) and dirt cheap seafood at Zeb Zeb Seafood. Service was a tad slow but rest assured you’ll be rewarded with a hearty meal. The lip-smacking deep-fried grouper with three-flavoured sauce, crispy pork and plump BBQ prawns were big hits. Pro tip: Always, I repeat, always ask for nam jim. This tangy and spicy Thai dipping sauce took us right to flavour town.
Zeb Zeb Seafood, 16/27 Donruk Road, Tambon Ban Tai, Amphoe Mueang Kanchanaburi
Day 2: Trekking at Erawan Falls and the adrenaline-pumping Tham Krasae railway
Breakfast at Black Coffee Cafe
Start your day bright and early at Black Coffee Cafe and fuel up (you’re going to need it for later) with some sandwiches and authentic Thai milk tea. The owners of this quaint cafe have to be fans of Great Britain as you’ll find union jacks splashed all over cushions and walls – you can’t miss that large one planted across the ceiling.
Black Coffee Cafe, Tambon Pak Phraek, Amphoe Mueang Kanchanaburi
Seven tiers of emerald green waterfalls
Bring your swimwear, strap on your trek shoes and climb seven tiers of waterfalls at the Erawan National park. The first four tiers are relatively easy to manoeuvre but you’ll have to work out a sweat to conquer the other levels (it’s a distance of 1500 meters, after all). The path gets really steep as you head to the top – or worse, slippery and muddy if it rains in the morning – so be cautious and follow the pathways. Treat yourself to a dip, Tarzan style, in the refreshing emerald pools, slide down rocks and get a free fish spa after slogging it up to the top. To be honest, the fifth tier is probably the most beautiful so don’t trouble yourself to climb all seven levels if you’re not up for the challenge.
The Erawan National Park, is just over an hour away from Kanchanaburi town so best to travel by car. A ticket to the park costs 300 baht ($12 SGD) for adults and 200 baht ($8 SGD) for children.
Erawan National Park, Tha Kradan, Si Sawat District, Kanchanaburi 71250
Tham Krasae Overlook and railway station
One of the highlights of this trip was exploring the Thai-Burma Railway – also known as the death railway where many POWs lost their lives during its construction in World War II. The Tham Krasae overlook (Lum Sum, Sai Yok District) holds scenic views of the River Kwai with tracks cutting along the mountainside and suspended above the river on a wooden bridge.
Take a stroll on the tracks if you dare and keep a lookout for trains! I only managed to walk for five minutes as my legs were turning to jelly as I approached the edge.
Tham Krasae Overlook and railway station, Lum Sum, Sai Yok District, Kanchanaburi
Just So Coffee Bar & Bistro
After defying death, pay a visit to Just So Bar & Bistro for a bevy of craft beers from Thailand, India and New Zealand. Pair your beverages with the spicy tofu and shrimp salad that will have you going in for seconds even though your numbing lips (from the sea of chili padi) tells you not to.
Just So Coffee Bar & Bistro, Pak Phraek, Mueang Kanchanaburi District
Day 3: Get educated at the Death Railway
A War Museum and the bridge over River Kwai
Spend the last day getting cultured on the Death Railway’s past. The Jeath War Museum provides a look into World War II and the Japanese occupation. Inside you’ll find a plethora of WWII artefacts like a real train engine, photographs of POWs, handguns, typewriters, vintage radios, cameras and cars, helmets, uniforms and currencies. Culture vultures can visit the Thai museum on the right but feel free to spend some time on the deck that overlooks the bridge over River Kwai. A ticket to the museum costs a mere 30 baht ($1.20 SGD).
Jeath War Museum, Ban Tai, Mueang Kanchanaburi District
I found even more respect for the POWs when I finally made it to the bridge, which is less than five minutes away from the museum. After all these years, the bridge is as sturdy as ever – a testament to their hard work and the extreme sacrifices made. Take your time to walk on the tracks and take in the tranquil views, this railway has ample space on both sides should you need to make way for an oncoming train.
The giant Buddha at Wat Tham Sua
The 158 steps at Wat Tham Sua and Wat Tham Khao Noi will look like child’s play if you managed to climb all seven levels of the Erawan Waterfalls. Perched atop a limestone hill, a Chinese-style pagoda stands 69 metres tall along with a giant gold Buddha where you can pay your respects and make an offering.
You’ll have to climb seven levels of spiral stairs to get to the top of Wat Tham Khao Noi but it’s well worth the trip as you’ll get the best views of Wat Tham Sua and the octagonal pagoda with rice paddies fields sitting at the back. Marvel in the harmony of Thai and Chinese architecture, the amazing details and grandeur. I could not stop taking pictures.
Wat Tham Sua, Muang Chum, Tha Muang District
Booming pub scene at Maenamkwai Street
Believe it or not, the temple-filled Kanchanaburi also holds a booming nightlife scene. I was surprised to see Maenamkwai street come alive with pubs and bars – though I wasn’t a fan of how they were competing on who could blast the loudest club music. We opted for supper at Triple B Bar, an Aussie-owned pub where you can get everything from an American breakfast to authentic Thai food. I spent hours playing pool and listening to the live band. Brownie points for whipping out the best margaritas in K town.
Triple B Bar, 33/1 Maenamkwai Road, Tambon Ban Tai, Amphoe Mueang Kanchanaburi
Getting to Kanchanaburi
Most airlines offer direct flights from Singapore to Bangkok, and the trip is two and a half hours. Kanchanaburi is a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive from Bangkok depending on traffic conditions – which you’ll know, can reach gridlock during peak hours. Alternatively, you could take a bus or train to this Thailand province if time is in your hands (many tourists swear by the scenic train ride).