Kanchanaburi is the provincial capital and location of the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai. Many feel that the town would not be what it is were it not for the bridge and the tragic history behind its construction.
Sitting close to the Myanmar (Burmese) border Kanchanaburi was initially established as a defensive outpost by Thai King Rama I in the mid 1800s. It is located on a mountain range, which makes it much cooler than many other Thai regions. This adds to its attraction for European tourists.
The main attractions at Kanchanaburi itself are the Bridge over the River Kwai (pronounced as in air); the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum; the JEATH (acronym for Japanese, English, Australian, American, Thai and Holland – the nationalities of those involved in the building) Museum and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. The dreaded Hellfire Pass is some distance away though. All these are related to or inspired by the history of the Death Railway.
There is an annual River Kwai Bridge Festival to mark the Allied bombing on November 28, 1944. A spectacular light and sound show is the highlight of the festival with some fireworks thrown in.
Kanchanaburi is situated at the confluence of the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers that flow into the River Mae Klong. Most of the town sits on the northern banks and is rather easy to navigate, though a little too large to comfortably walk around. The town runs north-south with the main Saeng Chuto Road running its length, connecting the Bridge on the River Kwai, the bus station and the railway station.
Close to the river is a thriving and rather hedonistic community that has become an increasingly attractive destination for the backpacking species.
Kanchanaburi, today however, is much more than a World War II pilgrimage and a remembrance place. For a start, the region has an abundance of natural wonders all soul satisfying, visually stunning and a paradise for nature lovers. There are mountains, rivers, caves, waterfalls, streams, lush jungles and temples, which make it one of the most beautiful provinces in Thailand. All the attractions are in fairly close proximity and a day excursion of the town. Every one of them is worth a visit and exploration.
There are several notable and beautiful temples such as the Don Chedi (an archaeological site), Giant Tree temple, Kuan Yum, Wat Ban Tham, Wat Tham Sua, Wat Tham Mungkornthong and Wat Tham Khao Noi. The Wat Tham Khaopoon is a cave complex, 5 km outside the town (past Chongkai War Cemetery), with Buddha images.
One of the most popular and interesting temples is Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua or Tiger Temple, which is the biggest tourist attraction of the region. Here you can see tigers lounging around a canyon, surrounded by minders. There are also water buffaloes and deer roaming around the place.
There is no dearth of dazzling and incredibly beautiful waterfalls around Kanchanaburi. There are the spectacular seven-tiered Erawan Falls. All the tiers are great for swimming and extremely beautiful. You need to watch out for the monkeys scavenging for food that oft times make off with tourists’ possessions. Erawan can become very crowded with package and group tourists.
The Sai Yok National Park includes the Sai Yok Noi Falls, the Phra That Falls and Hin Dat Hot Springs. There are also numerous limestone caves and hot springs as well. It is relatively quiet as not many tourists come here.
Another great attraction of Kanchanaburi is the elephant camps, the largest of which is Taweechai Elephant Camp. It houses about 30 elephants and you can ride, bathe and take training courses with them. Another camp is the Elephant's World, a charity based elephant camp, situated 32Km from Kanchanaburi town. The camp cares for abused and retired elephants and offers visitors the chance to help the staff in caring for the giant creatures with one day visits and overnight stays.
Transportation to and from local attractions is fitful, often slow and erratic. Within Kanchanaburi, songthaews (orange pickups) act as local shuttle services and connect the train and bus stations with the bridge. Motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks are also available.