A town full of history
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A town full of history

A trip to Kanchanaburi is the perfect getaway for lovers of nature, culture and good food

A town full of history
The River Kwai Bridge in Kanchanaburi.

It felt as if my eyes and skin were on fire while walking down the new 150m-long skywalk in the sweltering midday sun. It was due to my late arrival in Kanchanaburi, but I decided to stick to my original plan. At least I was rewarded with stunning views of the confluence of the Khwae Yai, Khwae Noi and Mae Klong rivers, set against a backdrop of lush hilly environment and old city walls.

Located in the Old Town zone, it began welcoming visitors late last year in an effort to increase tourism. The surrounding landscapes along the riverbanks have also been renovated to serve as a leisure area for local residents. However, this steel and glass footbridge has drawn criticism for having a modern aesthetic that clashes with the nearby old buildings.

With a budget of more than 100 million baht and standing at a height of 12m, it is one of the best vantage points to see the enormous white Buddha statue at Wat Tham Khao Laem, the Hall of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera, and learn about the waterside community where tourists can visit for fun rafting excursions.

Since the iconic River Kwai Bridge is only 5km away, I couldn't resist going there to recall the history of World War II when the Japanese army built the so-called Death Railway to transport supplies from Thailand to Myanmar in 1943.

In the late afternoon, it was a calm stroll as there weren't as many tourists, but this old bridge was still a wonderful place to get pictures of the Thon Buri-Nam Tok train No.257 as it wound along the narrow railroad track.

Continuing the journey a little further, I went on my way to the end of the bridge and down to the Guan Yin Shrine, which is situated on the opposite bank of the Khwae Yai River. Back in 2010, the Kuang Im Soonthorntham Foundation and Chinese-Thai followers donated 200 million baht to construct this revered Chinese monastery on a 12 rai plot of land as an homage to the Goddess of Mercy.

The new skywalk offers breathtaking views of the confluence of the Khwae Yai, Khwae Noi and Mae Klong rivers.

"At first, my friends had planned to construct a resort on this property, but their idea failed. Many prisoners of war and labourers perished nearby during the construction of the Death Railway, so a Buddhist monk suggested we build a Chinese temple instead of conducting other activities in order to grant merit to their souls," said Suda Tidaratsakul, a president of the Kuang Im Soonthorntham Foundation.

"We recently reopened to welcome pilgrims after a two-year closure due to Covid-19. We are now improving the surroundings and creating new picturesque backdrops so that people may snap selfies. We aim to promote this temple as a new landmark on the banks of the Khwae Yai River where visitors can come and participate in various Chinese rituals throughout the year."

Following Feng Shui theory, the shrine is situated such that it leans against a mountain and faces the river to bring good luck to devotees, while a soaring 18m-tall Guan Yin statue stands on the riverfront, serving as a guardian to preserve the neighbourhood.

To celebrate top-notch craftsmanship, it is artistically carved from white granite from Fujian and visitors are allowed to sit in front and pray for fortune, good health and success.

The main hall draws inspiration from Beijing's Forbidden City and is devoted to the Three Buddhas: Gautama Buddha, Bhaisajyagura Buddha and Amitabha Buddha. Murals depicting the Journey To The West adorn the ceiling and a large room on the 2nd floor allows visitors to donate to thousands of miniature Buddha statues on the walls.

A Guan Yin shrine celebrates Chinese craftsmanship.

When you gaze out the windows, you will find a collection of vibrant stucco artwork on the exterior walls that shows Guan Yin's 84 avatars assisting and preaching to people in various settings. Along with these deities, the temple also houses the protection deity Nezha, Cai Shen Ye (God of Wealth), Tai Sui, and a beautiful white jade statue of Guan Yin with 1,000 hands.

The following morning, I traversed the serene meadows in tambon Ko Samrong to take in the splendour of nature. After a 30-minute drive from downtown Kanchanaburi, I made my first pit stop at the Veterinary and Remount Department which is home to a century-old chamchuri (rain tree).

A wooden path was built to make it easier for visitors and to discourage trespassing around the tree. In the scorching heat, many people choose to stay beneath its shade, which spanned an area of 1,600m², instead of browsing a nearby market. With its gigantic 10m trunk and wide 25m-long branches on all sides, it creates a fantastic shield on bright and rainy days.

Just a few metres away, the camping-themed Vanaheim cafe serves a wide range of coffee, teas and fruity beverages allowing customers to unwind on a bench and imagine themselves joining an Indiana Jones adventure.

Heading 40km from the giant chamchuri to tambon Nong Ya, Wat Tham Phu Wa sports a combination of tasteful Thai and Khmer architectural design to blend in with the surroundings. Dating back 34 years, Abbot Supoj discovered a cave here and set up camp to practise meditation before he teamed up with local worshippers to build a tranquil dhamma retreat.

Thanks to its expansive canopy, this 100-year-old chamchuri tree has become a popular selfie backdrop.

He later broadened the area to 1,000 rai and turned a meditation centre into a temple by constructing an ubosot out of Nakhon Ratchasima sandstone modelled after a Khmer prasat. The walls are adorned with distinctive stucco murals, which show episodes from Lord Buddha's life, including scenes in which he is riding the Nalagiri elephant.

The towering stalagmite cave functions as a main hall and visitors can take a steep stone stairway down to a broad slope in order to venerate the statues of revered master monks like Luang Poh Sod and Somdej Toh or explore the mysterious naga cave. A magnificent 19m-tall statue of Buddha sits outside the ubosot to honour Gandharan-style Buddhist art while the temple spent five years building a new multipurpose dhamma retreat centre.

Leaving the sandstone monastery at Muang Sing Historical Park, visitors can go back in time to when Siam began to embrace Bayon-style architectural art during the 12th and 13th centuries. Legend has it that King Uthong erected this ancient city as a shelter from the threat posed by King Wetsuwanno. The location is perfect for agriculture since it is situated on a plain along the Khwae Noi River's bank and is surrounded by mountain ranges.

Emerging at the heart of the hoary town, this Bayon-style religious sanctuary complex with four buildings was fashioned out of laterite to house sacred statues of Mahayana Buddhist deities. Inside, there's a maze of lengthy balconies that connect with an entrance gateway as well as a network of consecrated water troughs for bath rituals.

Moving on, the main gallery displays a reproduction of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara statue, which has eight arms, a third eye and 10 toes decorated with miniature figures in meditation. There is also a replica of Goddess Prajnaparamita, the Goddess of Wisdom, holding the Prajnaparamita Veda and a lotus in her hands. The original ones that were found on this site are currently on display at the National Museum Bangkok.

Wat Tham Phu Wa showcases a combination of Thai and Khmer architectural art.

A short distance from the shrine, there is an exhibition hall with a variety of old pottery in the Sukhothai, Khmer, Vietnamese and Chinese styles, as well as metal artefacts like a bronze naga head that was used to adorn a royal chariot.

Another attraction is the Prehistoric Archaeological Site, where tourists will discover more about the 1,800-year-old settlement that was situated along the riverbank. It was formerly a cemetery where the bodies of four prehistoric female residents were buried among a variety of clay containers and accessories made of shell, stone and glass for use in the afterlife.

Just a 10-minute drive from the historical park, my journey came to an end at Mallika City, 1905 AD where traditional Thai cuisine is prepared according to royal recipes. All staff members dress in period costumes and took on the roles of farmers, vendors and craftsmen in this 60 rai replica city that recreates the vintage ambience during the reign of King Rama V.

It is home to a Chinese temple, Bank Siam Kammachon and more than 30 shophouses offering handicrafts, street food and sweets such as pad Thai, satay flavoured with yellow curry powder, khanom krok (Thai coconut pancakes) and khanom bueng (Thai crepe).

Additionally, there is a hamlet in a backyard where local villagers show how rice is milled, pounded and winnowed before being cooked using traditional methods.

Muang Sing Historical Park is home to an ancient Bayon-style sanctuary compound and prehistoric cemetery.

Travel info

The skywalk is in Muang Kanchanaburi. It is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Admission is 20 baht with shoes priced at 40 baht. For further details, call 034-520-335 or visit kanchanaburi.center.

Muang Sing Historical Park is in Sai Yok district, Kanchanaburi. It is open daily from 8am to 4.30pm. Admission is 20 baht for Thais and 100 baht for foreigners. For more details, call 034-670-264 or visit facebook.com/muangsinghp.

Mallika City, 1905 AD is at 168, Sai Yok district, Kanchanaburi. It is open daily from 9am to 6pm. Tickets range from 250 baht to 950 baht. For more details, call 034-540-884 or visit mallika124.com.

Visitors to Mallika City, 1905 AD can explore Bangkok's five old business districts during the reign of King Rama V.

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