Because of its magnificent landscape and charming beauty, Kanchanaburi has become a major tourist destination, with attractions including several well-known waterfalls, caves that were once inhabited by Neolithic man, pristine national parks, tranquil rivers, virgin forests, and several large reservoirs. Together, these attractions offer an intriguing experience for both first-time and repeat visitors. Whether it’s fishing, rafting, canoeing, mountain biking, bird-watching, star-gazing, golfing, elephant and jungle trekking, or even living in a bamboo raft, Kanchanaburi takes pride in offering them all.
In north and west Kanchanaburi, the terrain is comprised mainly of mountains and high plains, with the Thanon Thongchai Range acts as a natural border between Thailand and Myanmar. The range is the source of Kanchanaburi’s two most important rivers Maenam Khwae Noi (Little Kwai River) and Maenam Khwae Yai (Big Kwai River), which form the famous Maenam Mae Klong. As a result of these major rivers and three of Thailand’s largest reservoirs, Kanchanaburi features several of Thailand’s largest Namtok (waterfalls) as well as a number of wildlife sanctuaries.
The most defining natural attractions in Kanchanaburi is arguably the Three Pagodas Pass, a break in the Thanon Thongchai Mountain Range that divides Thailand and Myanmar. Along an overland trade route from India, it is through this pass that Buddhism was thought to first to arrive in Thailand around the 3rd century. The province and its pass were later controlled by the Khmer of Angkor in the 13th century, who built a fort there ( a Khmer temple from the time has been restored as a tourist attraction). The kingdom of Ayutthaya also built a military garrison in the area, though it was through the pass that the Burmese frequently swept into Siam and eventually razed the capital of Ayutthaya. In World War II, the Japanese built a railway through the pass using forced labor, including western POWs. Later known as the Death Railway, the line included an infamous bridge crossing the Kwai River that was the subject of a historically inaccurate academy award winning film. The Three Pagodas Pass area is also home to numerous hill tribes and other minority groups who reside in the area as nation-less refugees without citizenship in either land. For visitors, it is possible to get temporary one-day visas to cross the border for a sneak peak at Myanmar and do some shopping for exotic souvenirs.
The city of Kanchanaburi is located at the point where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai Rivers meet and form the Maenam Mae Klong. The notorious Death Railway passed through the town, near which stands the site of the Bridge on the River Kwai. Nearby the reconstructed bridge are monuments including an Allied War Cemetery and a war museum.
In economic terms, Kanchanaburi has been prospering for a number of years. Important industries include sugar, agricultural products, and jewelry. Tourism is also a main source of income for the locals, though most are engaged in agricultural activities. The province’s population is made up of Thai, Mon, and Karen peoples, most of whom are rural dwellers who enjoy living simply and respecting nature. Moreover, folk music and dances dating back at least 500 years are still performed to this day.
Only two hours from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is accessible by road or rail, the latter of which includes sightseeing day trips that run on weekends and public holidays; these weekend special trains are reasonably priced and make hassle free and enjoyable adventures. Even the climate of Kanchanaburi, cooled by the altitude, forests, and rivers, is a welcome respite from the heat and congestion of the nearby capital city.
Kanchanaburi city, the capital of Kanchanaburi Province, is a popular resort town; picturesque and worthy of a visit in its own right, it is frequently visited as base of operations for exploring the many cultural, natural, and historical attractions in the surrounding countryside. Located at the confluence of the Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai Rivers, Kanchanaburi lies at the source of the Mae Klong River, and these majestic bodies of water are defining characteristics of the town.
The original town of Kanchanaburi was established by King Rama I as a first line of defense against the Burmese, whom he believed might use the old invasion route through the Three Pagodas Pass at the Siam-Myanmar border. According to most historians, the old town of Kanchanaburi was located near Ban Lat Ya, a small village situated approximately 16 kilometers north of the present town. The present provincial capital is a relatively newer town built by King Rama III in 1833.
The town itself is a place to relax, watching the water from the banks of the river, inside a raft house, or from a riverside restaurant. Many visitors like to rest along the river with a cold drink and a good book. Many of them come here just for a couple days but stay for weeks in order to explore all of the attractions in the surrounding countryside. Along with visiting spectacular waterfalls, lush forests, and three of Thailand’s largest reservoirs, white water rafting, elephant trekking, and golfing are popular activities for visitors. Kanchanaburi is an excellent tourist destination for nature lovers.
Kanchanaburi and its surrounding attractions can be reached via private car, public bus, or train from Bangkok. Once there, it may be easier to get around with your own car, but there are standard forms of local transport available for visitors: i.e. songtaews, motorbike taxis, tuk tuks, and public busses.
Getting to and from Kanchanaburi
Ordinary trains leave Bangkok’s Thonburi Railway Station (Bangkok Noi Station) daily. Only 3rd class seats are available. The journey takes approximately 3 hours. For more information, call Thon Buri Railway Station at tel. 02 411 3102 or Kanchanaburi Railway Station at tel. 034 511285.
The weekend special train leaves Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Railway Station (MRT Hua Lamphong) at 6.30 a.m., returning at 7.55 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The trip usually includes several stop-overs at Phra Pathom Chedi (Nakhon Pathom), the Death Railway Bridge, and a transfer (by minibus) to Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park, among other points of interest.
There are also special steam trains operating between Kanchanaburi and Wang Pho.
For more information, call the State Railway of Thailand at tel. 1690, or 02 223 7010, 02 223 7020 or visit http://www.railway.co.th/English/Travel.asp
Route 1: A two hour drive along Highway No. 4 (Petchakasem Rd.) via Nakhon Chaisi Province, Nakhon Pathom Province, Ban Pong, Tha Maka and Tha Muang (of Ratchaburi Province) to Kanchanaburi.
Route 2: Drive along Highway No. 338 from Bangkok to Nakhon Chaisi Province then switch to Highway No. 4 to Kanchanaburi.
Non air-conditioned daily busses leave Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal every 15 minutes from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. The trip takes about 3 hours. Call 02 434 5557-8 for more information.
First-class air-conditioned busses (blue color) leave Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal depart every 25 minutes daily. Call 02 435 5012, 0 2435 1199 or 02 884 6249 or visit www.transport.co.th for more information.
There are also busses leaving frequently daily for Kanchanaburi from Nakhon Pathom. The journey takes up to 1.5 hours. From Ratchaburi and Suphan Buri Bus Stations there are several busses leaving directly to Kanchanaburi. The trip takes some 2.5 - 3 hours.
Getting Around Kanchanaburi
Traveling around Kanchanaburi
Although the city of Kanchanaburi is accessible on foot, the town is quite spread out and thus requires strenuous effort. Normally, bicycles, motorcycles and cars are common means of transportation. Bicycles and motorcycles can be rented from shops, guesthouses and hotels located along Maenam Khwae Road. Visitors can capture the city’s atmosphere along their way to see the Bridge over the River Khwae, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, the Song Khwae Road waterfront, and the JEATH War Museum. For visitors who enjoy driving themselves, cars can be rented on a daily or weekly basis at several outlets on Saeng Chuto Road and around the Song Khwae Road area.
The two major routes used to explore Kanchanaburi’s attractions are Highway No. 323 and Highway No. 3199. Highway No. 323 runs parallel to Maenam Khwae Noi to Sangkhla Buri District (approximately 230 kilometers from the city) via Sai Yok, Thong Pha Phum, and Vajiralongkorn Dam, while Highway No. 3199 follows the Khwae Yai River to Sri Nakharin Dam (69 kilometers away from the city).
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