As the home of the notorious Bridge On The River Kwai – the sight of countless international deaths at the hands of the Japanese during a Second World War railway-building project – Kanchanaburi is hardly your typical Thai tourist destination. There are no beaches, the nightlife’s sedate (you won’t find many buckets, for example), and you’ll find elephants, monkeys and banana plantations all form part of the very heart of the city.
Kanchanaburi is different largely because it has to be. The main draw will always be the bridge (now a metal railway bridge), while the nearby museum features a case of skulls and a replica of the wooden original, as well as guns and vehicles from the era and a reproduction of the full gruesome tale. You can walk along the bridge itself, remembering to step onto the side platforms should a train appear, ride the railways out of town and along the hazardless cliff sides built all those years ago, or tuck into bowls of spicy fresh water river snails at the floating restaurant next door.
In fact, floating seems to be something of a theme in Kanchanaburi, with many of the hotels constructed on floating pontoons on the river, where you can watch colorful dragonflies flit across lily pads and lounge in gardens fronting the sedate waters of the Kwai. If you’re a sucker for punishment, you can get teary in front of the white headstones in the town centre, marking the graves of the dead with row upon row of flower-coated grass and delicate inscriptions.
This certainly isn’t the spot to party, but, for the more culturally inspired, Kanchanaburi is a great aside from the more typical images of Thailand, and – perhaps inevitably – there is a more light-hearted tourist edge creeping in, with elephant rides and hand made jewelry increasingly popular here. For nature lovers, there is Safari Park a natural open zoo for animals. It is located about 40 kilometers or 25 miles from Kanchanburi.
It might detract from your beach-loving, beer-swilling trip, but Kanchanaburi is a worthy stop if only for adding a bit of culture to a country that tourists often dismiss as simply an adult playground. Tune in, sober up and get a sense of history that truly blows the mind. And don’t forget to try those river snails.