More than a city break
A variety of new tourist attractions mean Kanchanaburi is now worthy of an extended stay
Kanchanaburi, one of Bangkok residents' favourite weekend destinations, has a lot of new attractions to explore.
On my arrival, it is a very hot and sunny day. The Sun blasts over a blue cloudless sky as if it wants to burn everything on Earth. But it cannot stop tourists from roaming the River Kwai Bridge, one of the most famous landmarks of Kanchanaburi.
Beautiful music from nearby coffee shops fills the air with a nostalgic atmosphere and entertains tourists while they look at the famous bridge.
For decades, the Death Railway and the bridge have remained classic attractions that keep drawing tourists to Kanchanaburi over and over again. Every day, the bridge is crowded with tourists who walk on it and take photos while witnessing the remains of war.
The Death Railway once stretched 415km, from Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar to Nong Pladuk in Bang Pong, Ratchaburi province. During World War II, the Japanese Army forced POWs to work on it. It was completed within a year, from October 1942 to October 1943.
Due to sickness, lack of food and extreme exhaustion from working up to 16 hours a day, more than 16,000 prisoners died during the construction, which works out at about 38 prisoners for every kilometre of railway.
Close to noon, a tourist train from Bangkok makes a stop right at the bridge, allowing passengers to buy snacks and visit the bridge before continuing the journey to Sai Yoke Noi Waterfall around 45km away.
"Yes, there are some seats available if you want to join the trip," a railway officer advises, while indicating where tourists can buy train tickets on board.
This is the best way to enjoy the scenic route of the Death Railway. You probably do not want to wake up before dawn to spend six hours onboard the tourist train all the way from Bangkok. Just get on at the River Kwai Bridge. From here, the train makes its way along the beautiful Kwai River, which is the highlight for the majority of passengers.
This is where my wife and sons get on board. I, instead, decide to make my way out of town to take in the scenic route through the vast grassland in the embrace of rugged mountains. I have two hours to enjoy my leisurely drive before I pick them up at Namtok Station.
Grief remains in the air when you pass by the military cemeteries. But, once you get out of town, you will find Kanchanaburi a more likely leisure destination. A number of stylish resorts, guesthouses and even farmstays have mushroomed by the peaceful Mae Klong River in recent times, attracting a variety of visitors, from backpackers to high-end travellers taking city breaks to relax amid the serene nature.
A good place to witness the amazing nature of Kanchanaburi is in the Veterinary and Remount Department where a huge chamjuree (rain tree) is well kept.
The tree's enormous trunk is around 10m in circumference. Its big branches span a little over 25m to all sides. Its shade covers roughly 1,600m². Indeed, Kanchanaburi has a number of big trees, but this one makes the others look like miniature plants. Every day, people visit this one particular big tree. They take pictures, hug it or walk around it. Some look amazed when they see a tree this huge, while others act like they're meeting an old friend and linger under its shade for a long time. There are enough visitors for those who live nearby to earn extra income from selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs.
Ban Kao National Museum and Prasart Muang Sing Khmer Ruins are also well worth a visit. Both attractions reflect how human civilisation set roots in this part of the country thousands of year ago.
The Kanchanaburi of today, however, offers more than nature, historical sites and museums. A new attraction you should visit is Prommitr Film Studio studio in the 9th Infantry Division, or Surasi Military Base.
Serving as the studio for The Legend Of King Naresuan films, it features magnificent replicas of old palaces, temples, ancient city walls and moats, gilded throne halls and villages of the ancient kingdom. In the evening, the studio and surrounding area becomes a vibrant attraction when locals and tourists emerge from the shade to enjoy exploring the adjacent themed market.
Before I know it, nearly two hours have passed and I see the train slowly make its way across the road before reaching Namtok Station. I pick up my family, who are still excited and talking about the moment the train rode along the cliff side. Rushing, we scoot out and continue our journey.
Yes, we had to rush. One weekend doesn't seem enough to explore all of the attractions in Kanchanaburi.
- Kanchanaburi is 129km from Bangkok, via highways 4 and 323. Buses and coaches leave Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal every 20 minutes and from the Northern Bus Terminal of Bangkok every hour. Call 02-434-5558 or 02-936-3659/60 for more information. Private cars are recommended for getting around.
- The rail line from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi will be closed for repairs for two months, until July 31, but the closure will not cover the Death Railway sector. There will be four daily trains that continue to operate.
- Prommitr Film Studio is 24km from town, via Highway 3199. The market starts from 10am, but the evening is the best time to visit. Call 034-532-057 for more information.
- Rai Khun Mon is 35km from town, via Highway 3086. Call 034-531-487 for more information.
- Big Chamjuree Tree is around 10km from town. Motorists can use Highway 3429 from the city hall then Highway 3209. Free admission.
- National Museum Ban Kao and Prasart Muang Sing are situated close to each other on Highway 3455. For more information about attractions, call TAT Kanchanaburi Office at 034-511-200.