Located west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi draws visitors to see the famous Bridge on the River Kwai. During World War II, Japanese forces used Allied prisoners of war and Asian labourers to build a rail route between Thailand and Myanmar.
Many died during the railway’s construction, leading to it being known as ‘Death Railway’. Their harrowing story was bought to mass attention in the novel and film named after the bridge. Today, the Bridge on the River Kwai stands as a reminder of this town’s dark history.
Yet you’d be mistaken in thinking this was the only site bringing visitors to Kanchanaburi. Whether you want to learn more about the events that happened here or are looking to experience a little more Thai culture, here’s our guide on what to see in Kanchanaburi.
Located around a 90-minute drive from Kanchanaburi, Hellfire Pass was the largest cutting along the railway’s length. It was also the most deadly, with shifts of 500 prisoners chiselling through solid rock for up to 18 hours each day.
A museum now educates visitors about the site, with a memorial trail following the original rail bend for four kilometres. A free audio guide also provides first-person accounts from survivors and we recommend allowing a few hours to visit both the museum and trail.
Allied War Cemetery
The largest and most visited of Kanchanaburi’s war cemeteries, the Allied War Cemetery holds the graves of close to 7,000 prisoners of war from Australia, the UK and the Netherlands who died during the construction of the railway.
Visitors can come to pay their respects and, although it’s a sobering experience, it’s also an essential part of any tour of Kanchanaburi’s war history. Admission is free and the cemetery is located on or near the main intake camp where prisoners of war were taken when they arrived in Kanchanaburi.
Wat Tham Seua
When you need a break from Kanchanaburi’s more traumatic history, a visit to Wat Tham Seua temple is a must. A striking 18-metre high golden Buddha sits at its centre, surrounded by several different stupas with murals depicting Kanchanaburi’s history.
With no public transport to Wat Tham Seua, visitors can reach the temple either by bicycle, taxi or motorbike. As it’s set on a hill, you’ll also enjoy great views from the top.
Wat Ban Tham
The second of Kanchanaburi’s must-see temples, Wat Ban Tham is particularly known for its impressive entrance. A red staircase leads through a colourfully-painted dragon’s mouth, taking you into the large main cave of the temple.
Once inside the dragon’s mouth, you’ll find murals depicting scenes from a classic Thai novel called ‘Khun Chang Khun Phaen’. An iron staircase then continues to a mountaintop chedi, offering fantastic views over the river below.
An easy day trip from Kanchanaburi, Erawan Falls is the undisputed highlight of Erawan National Park. Thought to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand, its waters cascade down seven tiers with a two-kilometre walk taking you from the first to the top tier.
Enjoy a swim in the natural emerald pools created by the falls and cool off from the Thai heat. Word of this beautiful spot has spread, so time your visit early in the day to avoid the crowds.
Kanchanaburi Night Markets
Although not as exciting as the night markets of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi’s two open-air night markets are well worth a visit if you have the time. Located by the train and bus stations, they’re perfect for visiting on your way back from Erawan Falls or other day trips.
Known for their delicious cheap eats and clothing, you can enjoy sampling local cuisine and practice your haggling skills. Although open from 6-10pm, the best time to go is after sunset until 9pm to soak up the markets’ atmosphere.