Thailand’s third largest province, Kanchanaburi is home to jungles and mountainous terrain dotted with plenty of historical treasures. From caves once inhabited by Neolithic man to virgin forests and tranquil rivers, it is a region ripe for outdoor adventure. Bordering Myanmar where the landmark Three Pagodas Pass lies, Kanchanaburi is also steeped in WWII history during which the Japanese built a railway and the infamous bridge over the River Kwai. Today, it is a popular base to explore nearby cultural, natural and historical sites, in addition to hiking, elephant trekking and rafting.
Recommended Number of Days: 4 Days
Principle Activity: Hiking, Rafting, Caving
THREE PAGODAS PASS
A border crossing to Myanmar, it was once a strategic military route during the Ayutthaya and early Ratanakosin eras. A line of 3 small white pagodas (chedis) gives this place its namesake, where Phaya Tong Su (an active market) showcases sought-after products from both countries, including woodcarvings, woven fabrics and forest products.
DEATH RAILWAY & WAR CEMETERY
During WWII, the Japanese built a 415km-long railway line through the Three Pagodas Pass between Thailand and Myanmar using forced labour, including western POWs. As many of them perished, the line was given the name Death Railway. The line included the infamous ‘Bridge of the River Kwai’, which was imported from Java. Today, the railway line is currently in use, and there is a special weekend train that runs from Bangkok to Namtok Station (77km).
The nearby Allied War Cemetery is where the remains of nearly 7,000 POWs who died during the construction of the Death Railway are buried.
HUAI MAE KHAMIN WATERFALL
A major attraction in Sri Nakarin National Park, this 7-tiered waterfall is accessible on foot near the park headquarters. The reservoir is ideal for trekking; its forests and bamboo groves offer opportunities to spot its rich variety of butterflies and birds.
Bordering Myanmar, Sangklaburi was built for Mon and Thai people whose villages were underwater due to the creation of the Khao Laem Dam. Founded in 1949 by a Mon monk from Myanmar, the village is home to Thailand’s longest handmade wooden bridge (Saphan Mon), as well as the impressive temples of Wat Wang Wiwekaram and Chedi Buddhakhaya. It is also home to Wat Saam Prasob (Sunken Temple), which you access by a boat or canoe when the water level of the lake is low (in rainy season you can only see the upper 1-2m of the building). It is the last remaining vestige of the old town that was flooded for the creation of the Khao Laem Reservoir.
SAI YOK NATIONAL PARK
Covering 300 sq.km., the park is home to dense forests that is a refuge for an abundance of wildlife including mammals like the Kittis Hog-nosed bat (weighing 2g) and slow loris. There’s also a network of springs and caves. While not as developed as other parks, river rafting, camping and hiking are popular activities here. You can also find the remains of a bridge on the Death Railway and Japanese cooking stoves.
Some of the best hiking trails are located in the 3 national parks of Saiyok, Erawan and Chalerm Rattanakosin. As the area is home to a large ethnic population (the Mon, Karen and Burmese), it is easy to combine a trekking excusing with a visit to their villages. These locals are rural dwellers who enjoy living simply, and still practice folk music and dances that date back 500 years. Ban Khao Lek, a small Karen village that survives by farming and collecting products from the forest, offers home stays in the valley of Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park.
Thanks to its mountainous terrain, the jungles are criss-crossed with a network of rivers that are ideal for rafting. Jungle rafting can be arranged from a mountain pass to the stunning Lawa Cave (a 2-hour journey), while traditional bamboo rafting is available for trips down the Songkalia.
The Sao Hin Cave, located in Lam Klong Ngu National Park, is accessible via a hiking trail, requiring a crossing over a brook. Once there, a 700m swim is required to get to the heart of the cave where the towering limestone column (the world’s tallest natural rock column at 61m) can be found, along with stalagmites, stalactites and patterned stones. The park is also home to several other caves, some featuring a series of picturesque waterfalls.
Kanchanaburi province is 2 hours from Bangkok, and is accessible by road or rail (which includes sightseeing day trips on weekends/holidays).