One of the best things about travelling is meeting people. A friend I made at a hostel in Koh Tao recommended visiting a place I had never heard of, and knew nothing about. The small (ish) town is called Kanchanaburri. It is about 2 hours out of Bangkok, and home to the River Kwai, Death Railway and associated history.
Now for those of you, who like me at this point, aren’t familiar with this – Kanchanaburi marks the place where during WW II (1942, for those avid historians) prisoners of war and asian slave labourers were forced by the Japanese, to build the “Death Railway” to Burma, (as seen in the films “Bridge On The River Kwai,” and the recent Collin Firth blockbuster, “Railway man”). Now before you stop reading because you’re “not in the mood for,” or “don’t really like” history, I’ll have you know that Kanchanaburi has a lot else to offer, and was one of the funnest and most authentic of my thai experiences.
The three of us (myself, my friend Kerryn, and another Australian we met in Koh Tao called Sam – previously referred to as Tarzan), jumped at the idea.
It took 2 tuk tuks to finally arrive at the bus station – which turned out to be only 2 streets over from our Bangkok hostel, (word of advice, don’t always trust the tuk tuk drivers). Darting and dodging through the maze of tuk tuks, motorbikes carrying 5 people (baby hanging off side), and perhaps 1 or 2 window tinted, gangster-looking black Cadillacs, we left Bangkok and ventured out into unknown territory.
Where to sleep
Rocking up to a new and foreign town with no knowledge of the place, where to stay or where to go, is often accompanied by a wave of exhilaration. This was our exact experience when we arrived in Kanchanaburi. Until we really could not find a place to stay due to the small issue of vacancies. Mae Nam Kwae road is the main street for accommodation, restaurants and bars in Kanchanaburi, so its always a good place to start. We ended up getting a single room on a floating hut on the river Kwai, with views of temples and lush green mountains in the background. I most certainly was not complaining.
What to do
Death Railway Museum and Research Centre:
There are a few different museums in Kanchanaburi, all surrounding the relevant events of WWII. We spent under 2 hours in the death railway museum, fixated on intricate dioramas, life-size models and old momentums (such as a heart wrenching letter written from a young girl to her father). Although I haven’t visited the other museums, this was the museum recommended to us above the others. It is a small museum, meaning that by the time we reached the end, there was no fatigue, boredom or distraction – all things commonly experienced by many museum goers.
Joining a few locals and school kids returning home for the day, we hopped onto a decrepit (yet vibrant) old bus (no really, the door couldn’t even close), and sweated for an hour until we reached Erawan national park. Famous for its dream-like 7 tiered waterfalls, aqua rock pools to swim in, and Gara Rufa (Doctor fish) that eat off your dead skin, the park is a popular spot amongst tourists. Being the absolute nature freak that I am, I was in my element by the 1st waterfall where we encountered an attention seeking and extremely photogenic wild monkey.
We hiked for an hour to reach the 7th and final waterfall – by far the most beautiful of them all. You could probably sit there for an eternity watching the almost mystical-looking water gently cascade – almost float, over the edge of the snow coloured rocks. Unfortunately however, we did have to run back down in order to make the last bus back to town.
Eat and drink:
Kanchanaburi is full of small, family owned eateries, characterised by a lack of english speaking persons, and presence of a middle aged thai woman cooking the most mouth watering, bona fide thai dishes. One of my favourite eating experiences was finding what appeared to be THE local feeding spot; a wooden shelter, full to the brim with every type of thai cuisine being devoured by locals of all ages. We happily, and ever so awkwardly, joined them for the evening.
We left our floating hut for our final night out, all wearing the “new” clothes we had bought (some costing 80c) from a spontaneously found second hand market earlier that day. To continue the trend of spontaneity, we stumbled upon a bar, which appeared to be a Bob Marley shrine. I think it must have been the Jamaican themed interiors, powerful beats of reggae and Bob Marley himself (it really was uncanny) that drew us in..
After only 3 days however, we had to say goodbye to a town that had given us such genuine, fun filled new experiences. Our sadness at this thought, is evidence enough that Kanchanaburi should be on everyones bucket list.