Kanchanaburi Travel Guide
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Welcome to Thailand Travel Hub's complete guide to Kanchanaburi, a wonderful, smaller city only two hours from Bangkok, located within arguably the country's most beautiful province. It is most famous for being home to the "Death Railway" and the bridge on the River Kwai, made famous in the movie of the same name from 1957, which are very popular attractions for tourists.
Here you can find the information you need about the best hotels and resorts, the best temples, the best activities and the best places to shop and eat in the city, along with our essential travel tips and advice, travel resources and booking information, all in one place. Kanchanaburi is an amazing destination whether you want to stay several nights or just do a day trip from Bangkok. In either case, the beautiful scenery and the slower pace of life will be a welcome break from the chaos and congestion of the capital, and a chance to get some fresh air and explore the outdoors.
Benefiting from a laid-back, riverside atmosphere, and a plethora of budget accommodation options, the city has traditionally been popular amongst backpackers, however, it is well worth a day or two for all visitors to Thailand for the scenery, history and culture, and a great chance to just kick back and relax in less chaotic surroundings.
Kanchanaburi Weather & When to Go
Kanchanaburi, like the rest of the country, has three seasons; cool, hot and monsoon. Even during the cool season, however, the midday sun can still be very overbearing so take extra care if you are walking around, and carry water with you. It's also worth bearing in mind that it's possible during the height of the hot season for some of the waterfalls to dry up, meaning that they become little more than some water dribbling down a rock face.
Kanchanaburi is generally hot and humid all year round, with average daily highs in the range of 27°C to 36°C. From July to October is the monsoon season, when it usually rains most days, and when it does it can be torrential. This puts some visitors off and therefore you may be able to negotiate discounts during this period. The hot season is March to June when you can see daily highs of over 40°C on occasion. This leaves the cool season, arguably the best time to visit, from November to February.
In reality, the weather doesn't vary a huge amount from season to season and you can visit at any time of the year and still have a great time.
How To Get To Kanchanaburi
Luckily, Kanchanaburi is only a couple of hours' drive from Bangkok so if you're willing to get up early the city can be covered as a day trip, although in reality, a 2-3 day trip would be better for most visitors. Even though the city is relatively small, there is plenty to see and do within the surrounding area.
Taxi - Getting a taxi to take you to Kanchanaburi for the day from Bangkok is probably the most hassle-free option. The hardest part will be finding a reliable taxi driver willing to undertake the trip. Your best option is to ask your hotel reception if they can help you to locate a driver. The cost will be around 2000 baht no matter how many people go, this includes the return trip and transport to all the key attractions whilst the driver sits and waits for you in the car.
Train - Taking a train in Thailand is an eye-opening experience if you come from Europe or the USA, where the trains are modern and comfortable. Thai trains are very old and slow by comparison. The trains depart from Bangkok's Thonburi station at 7:50 am, take around two and a half hours and cost about 100 baht ($3.33) each way. There are only third-class carriages available, which mean a wooden bench (no luxury seats here), and you could well end up sitting next to someone carrying a chicken.
Buses - Getting a bus to Kanchanaburi is fairly easy, especially if you have used public buses in Thailand before. Just head to the southern bus terminal in Thonburi, the first-class buses depart every 15 minutes between 5 am and 10:30 pm and cost 110 baht ($3.63) per person one way. There are also some second-class buses departing from the terminal for 95 baht ($3.14). A few buses are departing from the northern bus terminal, but these are much less frequent and you could be waiting for hours if you don't know which bus you want to take, so the Thonburi station would be best for most travelers.
Getting Around Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi is a fairly small city, but even so, it is too big to walk around comfortably, plus, as many of the attractions are located outside the city, you will need to use some form of transport.
Renting a motorcycle - Renting a motorcycle is cheap, easy and convenient, with prices starting at as a little as 150 baht ($5) for an older bike. The main caveat is safety; many rental places will neglect to maintain their bikes adequately so check the bike over before you sign. Also bear in mind that Thailand's roads are also not well maintained, and driving standards can be highly variable. So only drive a motorcycle if you are confident in your abilities, and have a bike license in your home country. In some parts of Thailand, the police are setting up checkpoints to check your license and they will want to see an international driving permit too. These are easily available in your home country.
Taxi / Motorbike Taxi - Taxis are a comfortable, convenient and affordable way to get around the city and to some of the attractions. The main bugbear is drivers who refuse to use their meter and try to agree a price in advance, invariably this price will be several times higher than the meter fare. Motorcycle taxis are very cheap and quick, although may be a bit too scary for some, weaving in and out of stationary traffic at high speed. They are very cheap though, with fares starting from as little as 30 baht ($1). The best way to use taxis is to download the Grab app for your smartphone, which enables you to agree the route and fare in advance and avoids the language barrier, which is an issue in Kanchanaburi as very few locals speak passable English.
Songtaews - Songtaews are like communal taxis which drive on fixed routes around the city. Flag one down to jump on then ring the bell to get off, most short trips start at 10 baht ($0.33). If the vehicle is empty the driver may be willing to take you directly to your destination for a fixed fee. Songtaews offer an excellent compromise between price and convenience, the drawback being that you may not understand the route unless you can speak Thai or have a map to look at.
Tuk-tuks - in Kanchanaburi are much like everywhere else in Thailand; an expensive novelty that only seems to appeal to tourists. The drivers will quote steep prices hoping that you won't bother to haggle, and are therefore best avoided. Also in Kanchanaburi, the drivers speak noticeably less English than in Bangkok.
Best things To See & Do In Kanchanaburi
Tour the Amazing Temples of Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi has several spectacular temples, as you might expect. However, a few are particularly magnificent and should be on your to-do list. Wat Tham Sua is about 12 km outside of the city perched atop a hill, it is situated right next to another temple complex called Wat Tham Khao Noi. There are many beautifully gilded Thai-style buildings, a huge golden Buddha, and an interesting old funicular cable car that takes you up to the top of the hill along a 45° incline. Wat Ban Tham has a huge dragon’s head which you walk through towards the top of the steep hill where there is a fascinating shrine within a small cave.
Learn About the History of Kanchanaburi during WW2
The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre is a great place to start if you are interested in the historic railway which was built by POWs during WW2. The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is also a fascinating place to visit, being the final resting place of the 7000 POWs who died during the construction of the railway itself. Also, there is a WW2 museum and art gallery, plus the famous JEATH War Museum where you can see how the prisoners were kept and treated during the railway's construction. You may also be interested in visiting the Chongkai War Cemetery, which is located about 2 km outside the city and is where the fallen Dutch and British POWs were buried.
Visit Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park
Prasat Muang Singh is an ancient historical site dating back to the 13th century and contains the remains of two beautiful Khmer temples. They were built in the Bayon-style which some may recognise from Angkor Wat, with beautiful hand-carved faces and statues dotted around the complex. The site is about 30 minutes drive west of Kanchanaburi and you should allow around an hour to view everything. The grounds themselves are really beautiful and well-kept, there are plenty of excellent photo opportunities. There are also a few small food vendors selling cheap local foods and drinks, in particular, the grilled chicken ("gai yang") is excellent and perfect for lunch at just 60 baht ($2).
Go Jungle Trekking at a National Park
Kanchanaburi is an excellent place to go jungle trekking, there are thousands of acres of beautiful untouched countryside within the province, ideal for enjoying a bit of the outdoors. There are several National parks within the vicinity, with plenty to see and do including camping, cave-exploring, bamboo rafting and monkey feeding. There are many routes and itineraries, but Kanchanaburi is special in that much of the local forest and jungle still have an untouched feel which gives an incredible sense of exploration. Combine that with some of the most picturesque waterfalls in the country and jungle trekking could easily become one of the most memorable things that you did in Thailand.
Try the Local Cuisine
Kanchanaburi itself does not have any regional specialities, but there are some exceptional local restaurants and places for cheap eats. The cheapest place to fill up is almost certainly the night market close to the train station where you can buy BBQ kebabs for 10 baht ($0.33), basic Pad Thai for 20 baht ($0.66) and sushi from 5 baht ($0.16) per piece. On's Thai Isaan is one of the best local restaurants, situated on the Maenam Kwai Road. It receives rave reviews online and serves up perfectly cooked Thai foods at incredible prices. Or, if you’ve got a hankering for some Thai-style burgers, try the Bicycle Cafe on Chao Khun Nen Road, you won’t regret it!
Grab a Bargain at the Markets
Kanchanaburi has some excellent local markets where you can pick up some bargains, especially if you are prepared to haggle, though beware that the residents of Kanchanaburi generally don’t speak much English if at all. The markets in the city are generally aimed at the locals, which means that they are cheap. There is the night market known as JJ’s, the River Kwai Park Market, and the Kanokarn food market. You can pick up some seriously cheap clothes, souvenirs, arts and crafts and have a delicious dinner without spending much at all. You'll find the prices here much lower than the tourist-oriented markets in places such as Chiang Mai or Phuket.
Relax with a Massage and Spa Visit
If you're on holiday in Thailand and you still haven't experienced a Thai massage, then Kanchanaburi is a great place to give it a go. There are many massage salons and spas located across the city, with a huge range of services on offer. Massages generally start from as little as 150 baht ($5) for an hour for the most basic type and increase if you choose to add aromatherapy oils, hot stone massages and so forth. Ficus Spa is very well-known and professional and worth paying that little bit extra for. The cheaper places are seemingly everywhere and will have the prices posted outside for you to compare, but be aware that the prices are fixed and haggling generally won't work.
Kanchanaburi is not a nightlife destination, and as a result, what is on offer is fairly subdued compared to other Thai tourist destinations. There are numerous karaoke bars, but these are generally aimed at the locals with not much English being spoken. However, there are several British/Australian style bars around the Mae Nam Kwai Road with a few places to drink until the early hours or listen to some live music, and a few hostess type bars. Pattaya this is not, but there is enough to keep you entertained for a few nights; try the Aussie Rules Bar and the Jahmaikarn Reggae Bar for a few cold beers and some excellent local food.
Where To Stay In Kanchanaburi
Mae Nam Kwai Road - By far the best place to stay for most visitors, with many cheap accommodation options, bars, restaurants and shopping. It has plenty of amenities, public transport options and a bit of nightlife.
Wang Dong -. Wang Dong is located northwest of the city, it is fairly rural, but has a few high-end (for the area) resorts, and beautiful scenery. It is also home to the Elephant World so would be a good choice for families.
Sai Yok - Located a little further northwest of the city, this region includes the famous Hellfire Pass and the Khmer temple complex of Prasat Muang Singh. It is also fairly rural so you'd need to hire some transport. Accommodation is generally cheaper than in the city itself.
Prices, Expenses & Typical Costs
Accommodation - Think cheap. A bed in a dorm room starts at 150 baht ($5) per night, a room in a good boutique-style guesthouse will go from around 600 baht ($20) a night. 5-star accommodation starts at around 3000 baht ($100) per night (although there are only two 5-star resorts). Guesthouses in the city generally offer a good standard of accommodation.
Transportation - A 10-minute taxi ride should be 40-60 baht ($1.33-$2), motorcycle taxis considerably less. Songtaews start at 10 baht ($0.33) for a short hop. Motorcycle rental starts at 150 baht ($5) per day, a small car can be rented from 800 baht ($26.50) a day. Some of the national parks and attractions are quite a way out of the city so hiring a car would be a great option if you're planning to do a lot of travelling, or you could share a taxi between several people. A good budget for transportation would be $15-$20 per day, considerably less if you are not visiting the national parks.
Food & Drink - Street food starts at 30 baht ($1) per bowl, which usually includes free water in a jug on the table. Pad Thai may be even less. A Thai green curry with rice in a small restaurant will set you back 60-120 baht ($2-$4), a bottle of local beer at 7-Eleven will be around 60 baht ($2) and in a restaurant around 90-120 baht ($3-$4). You can eat very well with a couple of alcoholic drinks (except wine) for around 600 baht ($20) per day.
Recommended Budget - Backpacker travelling solo with no alcohol or partying, and staying within the city: $20-$30 per day per person.
Average traveler, staying at a decent guesthouse/hotel, exploring some attractions and a few drinks in the evenings: $50-$70 per day per person.
Note: A traveler wanting to visit the further away surrounding areas including Erawan National Park and the waterfalls would need to consider adding an extra $15 for transportation, or a bit less if travelling as a group.
Family staying in a family room in a nice hotel, with attractions, taxi/tuk-tuk transport and restaurant meals, plus shopping budget: $120-$180 per day per family.
Luxury traveler, 5-star resort, taxis to attractions, cocktails and nightlife: $200 and up per day, per person.
Kanchanaburi Money Saving Tips
Kanchanaburi is an excellent value destination, you'll find that you can get by on a much smaller budget than in Bangkok or the islands, for example. However, given that the baht is currently one of the strongest currencies in the world, it still pays to follow some common-sense advice to help you enjoy your holiday for less.
Kanchanaburi has excellent street food options and these should be your go-to if you're looking to save money but still eat delicious food. Most street food vendors will just have a couple of plastic tables and chairs, usually comically small, but they serve up some of the most delicious foods in the city starting from around 30 baht ($1) a dish.
Although ATMs are everywhere in Kanchanaburi, avoid using them at all costs. The fees for using a foreign bank card in a Thai ATM are scandalous; there is an unavoidable 220 baht ($7.29) fee at the machine, which is on top of what your home bank will charge you. Using a standard American bank card in a Thai ATM could end up costing you $25-$30 per transaction at the time of going to press. Bring your home currency with you and change it in Thailand where the rates will be 10-15% better than at home.
Thailand has seen something of a downturn in tourism of late, possibly as a result of the continued strength of the currency and the tightening of immigration policies. With most tourists opting for places like Phuket or Koh Samui, Kanchanaburi has seen a significant drop in the number of visitors arriving, as such you should be able to haggle for a discount on your accommodation, particularly if you stay for several nights and pay upfront. In general, guesthouse and hotel prices are flexible in Thailand and the manager would almost certainly prefer to give you a room for half price than to leave it empty. Don't feel pressured to take the first deal that you are offered.
Is it Safe To Travel Around Kanchanaburi
Like most destinations in Thailand, Kanchanaburi is very safe, but don't be lulled into a false sense of security because petty and opportunistic crimes can still happen. As it is more rural, some parts of the city are poorly light at night, if you're unsure of where you're going just take a taxi.
Petty theft from hotel rooms and restaurant tables can take place if the criminal is offered a golden opportunity, so take care of your belongings at all times. Although exceedingly rare, bag snatching from motorcycles does still occur in Kanchanaburi, if walking on the pavement keep your bag on the side away from the road.
The biggest danger is the traffic, whether you are driving yourself, a passenger in a taxi, or a pedestrian. Be extremely cautious if you choose to drive, and take extra care when crossing the road. You will probably see Thai drivers driving the wrong way down the street, pulling out without looking, and people riding motorcycles on the pavement, all everyday, normal occurrences in Thailand.