Located in western Thailand, the Khwae Noi and Khwai Yae rivers converge at Kanchanaburi; It is a picturesque place with many charming natural areas located in and around the city. While the nearby mountains, waterfalls, and national parks draw many visitors to the area, many more flock to see the Death Railway and the many historic tourist attractions in the area.
During World War II, Kanchanaburi was under Japanese control and many of the city’s museums, monuments and memorials are dedicated to this part of its history. Kanchanaburi, a fascinating place to visit, will delight nature lovers and history buffs with all it has to offer.
1. Bridge over the River Kwai
Immortalized in books and movies, this bridge is known around the world and is the most famous section of the Thailand-Burma railway. Very difficult to build due to the surrounding terrain, prisoners of war and slaves were forced to work on its construction; more than half of them died as a result of the appalling conditions.
Although the bridge’s terrible past is still present in war memorials, museums and monuments in Kanchanaburi, its location remains magnificent: it spans the scenic Mae Klong River.
The bridge can be crossed on foot via the central steel walkway, although it is still in use; You only have to stand at a security point if a train appears. A must see in Kanchanaburi, see “The Bridge over the River Kwai” before setting off to really understand why it is such an important historical site.
2. Thai-Burmese Railway
Although the Thai-Burmese Railway witnessed brutal and tragic scenes during WWII, today it is an absolutely delightful section of railway to walk and worth a visit in Kanchanaburi.
Hugging the side of the mountain, the train crosses rivers and forests and rice paddies and small villages can be seen as it passes on rickety rails to Nam Tok. A memorable two-hour train journey, where you can download an audio guide that tells the story of the Death Railway and watch the world go by while learning the history of the place.
3. Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Established in 1956, this cemetery houses the graves of countless prisoners of war captured by the Japanese and forced to build the Burmese railway during World War II. The brutality and cruelty with which those who built the railroad were treated was such that it quickly became known as the “Railroad of Death”, as many people died while building it.
The moving place Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is very well preserved and it is shocking to see the row of graves stretching out in front of you. While not everyone plans to spend a day in a cemetery, it is one of the top tourist attractions in Kanchanaburi and will help you understand the scale of the atrocities that have been committed here.
4. Erawan National Park
Founded in 1975, this beautiful national park is an hour’s drive from Kanchanaburi and is full of enchanting waterfalls, shady caves and breathtaking scenery. Named after the three-headed white elephant which is an important figure in Hindu mythology, Erawan’s main attraction is its seven incredible waterfalls, each with its own unique look.
The falls, which tumble over limestone cliffs, are absolutely stunning, and the turquoise ponds surrounding them stand out delightfully against the dense forest that lines their shores. With so much nature and wildlife, exploring the sites of Erawan is a great day trip.
5. Tham Kra Sae Bridge
This wooden trestle, which seems to be on the verge of collapsing at any moment, is part of the railway line between Thailand and Burma and is located in one of the most scenic parts of the line . Although it is as old as it sounds, it is very well maintained and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kanchanaburi.
The train stop of the same name is a perfect place to get off and enjoy the wonderful view of the river and the surrounding landscape. After stopping for a bite to eat and take in the views, head to Amphoe Sai Yok Cave, which is very atmospheric and houses a charming Buddha statue.
6. Chungkai War Cemetery
The Chungkai War Cemetery, once one of the largest POW camps in the region, is today where many of these victims are buried. A touching place to visit, well-kept graves are spread out in front of you and it is a sobering experience to witness the final resting place of so many victims of war.
The War Cemetery is a quiet place to stroll, and the rows of graves reveal the rubbish and tragedy of war.
7. Safari park open zoo
With a wide variety of exotic animals, the Safari Park Open Zoo is a great place to visit with the family; It is both fun and educational. Located in what was once a mining shaft, the zoo is absolutely huge, with eight different areas featuring animals that live in natural-style habitats.
The entertaining crocodile show stands out and you may even have close encounters with giraffes, tigers and the like. If you are an animal lover, the Safari Park Open Zoo is worth a visit.
8. Hellfire Pass
Built with hard labor during WWII, Hellfire Pass is so named because it was the most difficult part of the railway line to build; It went through solid rock and many slaves and prisoners lost their lives in the process.
Located in the Tenasserim Hills, it is about an hour from Kanchanaburi. It is a good idea to take a day trip as there is a large museum documenting the history and tragedies surrounding the pass.
After visiting the museum, there is a beautiful path that leads to the Hellfire Pass itself, and a monument to fallen workers offers spectacular views up the hill.
9. JEATH War Museum
Dedicated to telling the story of the prisoners of war who suffered so much during the construction of the Death Railway, the JEATH War Museum exhibits the harrowing stories of the workers themselves and also features former detention barracks , memories and photos of the time.
The abbreviation “JEATH”, which stands for Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and the Netherlands, highlights the countries which participated in the construction of the railway. While it’s generally a bit seedy and amateurish, there are enough interesting items to warrant a visit, and the entrance fee won’t cost you a lot.
10. Thailand-Burma Railway Center
Dedicated to the victims who helped build the ‘Railroad of Death’, this fantastic interactive museum will help you understand what happened in Kanchanaburi during WWII.
The exhibits are very well done and will take you from the conception of the railway to the post-war era. Filled with facts and figures, gripping exhibits, and moving letters from the prisoners themselves, the Thailand-Burma Railway Center is an informative and educational, but sobering place.
11. Sai Yok National Park
Located about 100 kilometers from Kanchanaburi, Sai Yok National Park is an enchanting place teeming with waterfalls, caves and wildlife. This is a great day trip option if you are staying in the city. The park is very mountainous and much of it is covered with dense forest, which hides a wide variety of flora and fauna.
A very popular place to visit, the River Kwai runs through it and there are many great trails winding through the forest. With the Sai Yok Yai waterfall and the huge Tham Lawa cave, this national park will delight nature lovers with its incredible landscapes.
12. Wat Tham Sua
Also known as the “Tiger Cave Temple”, this magnificent monastery is located on top of a hill and the views from its top are awe-inspiring. Although the vistas it offers make the climb interesting, the highlight is the huge golden statue of Buddha.
The statue and chedi that protect its tower, as well as the adjacent monastery that gives the place its name, are equally beautiful for their fantastic architecture. A very impressive place, the temple is located about 14 kilometers from Kanchanaburi and is definitely worth a visit.