Set at the confluence of two rivers, the Kwai Noi and the Kwai Yai, the provincial capital of KANCHANABURI makes the perfect getaway from Bangkok, a two- to three-hour bus ride away. With its rich wartime history, plentiful supply of traveller-oriented accommodation and countless possibilities for easy forays into the surrounding countryside, there are plenty of reasons to linger here, and many visitors end up staying longer than planned. The big appeal is the river: that it’s the famous River Kwai is a bonus, but the more immediate attractions are the guesthouses whose rooms overlook the waterway, many of them offering fine views of the jagged limestone peaks beyond.
The heart of Kanchanaburi’s ever-expanding travellers’ scene dominates the southern end of Thanon Maenam Kwai (also spelt Kwae) and is within easy reach of the train station, but the real town centre is some distance away, running north from the bus station up the town’s main drag, Thanon Saeng Chuto. Between this road and the river you’ll find most of the town’s war sights, with the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai marking the northern limit. Every day, tour groups and day-trippers descend on the Bridge, a symbol of Japanese atrocities in the region, though the town’s main war museums and cemeteries are actually much more moving. Many veterans returning to visit the graves of their wartime comrades are understandably resentful that others have in some cases insensitively exploited the POW experience – the commercial buzz around the Bridge is a case in point. On the other hand, the Thailand–Burma Railway Centre provides shockingly instructive accounts of a period not publicly documented outside this region.
The Chungkai war cemetery and a handful of moderately interesting temples – including cave temples at Wat Tham Khao Poon and Wat Ban Tham, the hilltop twins of Wat Tham Sua and Wat Tham Khao Noi, and a wat featuring a rather bizarre floating nun – provide the focus for pleasurable trips west of the town centre.
It’s worth noting that Kanchanaburi gets packed during its annual son et lumière
River Kwai Bridge Festival, held over ten nights from the end of November to commemorate the first Allied bombing of the Bridge on November 28, 1944, so book accommodation well ahead if you’re planning a visit then.