Things to Do in Kanchanaburi
The town was famously portrayed in the film Bridge on the River Kwai, which showed the building of the Burma Railway and the River Kwai Bridge by forced laborers in World War II. The area, under Japanese control at the time, was the site of an allied POW camp. The Bridge over the River Kwai is the beginning of what became known as the Death Railway to Burma. The surrounding area is home to a number of museums dedicated to World War II history.
Kanchanaburi is surrounded by picturesque countryside with waterfalls, bike trails, caves, and national parks. It has recently become popular with backpackers and visitors to the country due to its relaxed ambiance. The city makes for an excellent side trip, and can be reached by rail from Bagkok's Hua Lamphong Station or by bus from the Southern Bus Terminal.
During the height of World War II in 1943, the Japanese Imperial Army used forced labor — both Allied prisoners of war and Asian laborers — to construct a rail line between Thailand and Burma to aid in the transport of troops and supplies. The railway stretched for 258 miles (415 kilometers) between Bangkok and Rangoon. Conditions for the workers were abhorrent, with long hours and sweltering heat. By the time it was finished 12,621 Allied POWs had died, as well as tens of thousands of Asian civilian laborers.
In 1947, after the war had ended, the Death Railway closed. A decade later the portion running between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok reopened, and today visitors can learn about this dark period in history by traveling the very same rail from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. The portion of the original Death Railway that passes along the Wampo Viaduct offers spectacular views.
Also known as the Don-Rak War Cemetery, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery commemorates victims of the building of the Burma Railway during World War II.
Located on Saeng Chuto Road, the main road of the city of Kanchanaburi, the cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and contains the graves of Australian, British and Dutch POWs who were forced into labor by the Japanese, who controlled the area at the time of the Burma Railway construction. A nearby privately funded museum, the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum, contains interactive displays describing the history of the railway and the prisoners who died building it. The city of Kanchanaburi is easily accessed by rail and bus from Bangkok, and the war cemetery is located about a 5 minutes walk from the city's main station. The central Bangkok railway station has trips to the Burma Railway and stops to let visitors view the cemetery.
Located in the Kanchanaburi Province, the Erawan National Park it is one of the most famous in Thailand. Famed for its impressive seven-tiered waterfall, the park is a popular weekend spot for international visitors, as well as locals from Bangkok and nearby Kanchanaburi.
Just over 80% of the Erawan National Park is covered in verdant rainforest, with winding nature trails allowing visitors to marvel at the giant trees and spot the diverse wildlife that call the park home. Deep in the forest, tigers, wild elephants, cobras, and gibbons all live here, while avid bird-watchers should look out for hornbills, woodpeckers, and parakeets. The major attraction at the Erawan National Park, however, is Erawan Falls. Named after the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology, these falls have seven levels cascading down over 1,500 meters and are widely regarded as among the more beautiful falls in Thailand.
The Hellfire Pass segment of the Burma-Thailand railway cuts through the Tenasserim Hills in western Thailand and became infamous during the World War II construction of the railway by Allied POWS, who suffered high casualty rates. The laborers had particular difficulty due to to isolation of the hills, the amount of rock that needed to be carved out and the lack of proper equipment.
The nearby Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum was dedicated in 1998 to those who died constructing the railway. It discusses the hardships of the prisoners and contains a walking trail following the original pass accompanied by an audio guided tour and informative panels along the way. Although the rail has stopped running to this particular area, it can be accessed from the Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi railway station, and most visitors take a day trip to see the Hellfire Pass from the nearby town of Kanchanaburi.