We spent a day and a half in this lovely province that is not far outside of Bangkok. The area is most visited for it’s World War II historical significance – it was the base for construction of the infamous Thailand-Burma “Death Railway” which was ordered by the Japanese as a strategic transportation line to supply their troops for a planned invasion of India. Many thousands of European POWs and local laborers alike died while attempting to build this railway, due to inhospitable living conditions, disease, and brutality from their Japanese commanders.
Besides the historic significance of Kanchanaburi, the surrounding area has a lot of natural beauty as well, including Erawan and Si Nakharin Dam National Parks, where we spent the night on in a raft house. Here a few highlights from my time Kanchanaburi.
Kanchanaburi Bike Tour
We did a half day bike tour of Kanchanaburi where we hit all the major World War II sites, including a couple of cemeteries where foreign POWs who died during the railway construction were buried, as well as the Death Railway museum, which was really well-organized and informative. It told the story of the railway and it’s victims with murals, plaques, artifacts, films and reconstructions.
The museum is definitely is worth a visit before seeing all the historic sites to give you a sense of what life really was like for the men that slaved away and died for a railway that took 16 months to complete and ultimately ran only about 4 years before shutting down
It’s said that one man died for every railway sleeper that was laid. The idea that so much meaningless death occurred in the name of constructing something meant to cause even more destruction is so shameful to me. I can’t help thinking what kind of amazing, wonderful things so many men could have constructed that may have helped humanity and created better lives for future generations instead.
After the museum, we rode around the town a bit, along rows of flowering Golden Shower trees, the official tree of Thailand (with a name that means something entirely different in the states!) I was finally getting comfortable on a bike, and thankfully the town of Kanchanaburi is incredibly tame compared to Bangkok. It was especially nice when we got out of the main town to some beautiful country roads that ran along the river.
At one point we reached a gorgeous overlook of the River Kwai and then visited a small cave nearby that was used to store gunpowder during the railway construction. There were several Buddha statues inside, but I think we all found the cave a bit of a let down – it had graffiti and colored lighting inside with too much signage and trash. Not a very authentic or interesting cave…
Afterwards we rode to the last stop, which was the infamous bridge over the River Kwai. You can actually climb up and walk across the bridge itself, and even though it was crowded with tourists, it was still pretty amazing. It definitely helped that it was a gorgeous day (sweltering heat aside) and I found a nice quiet spot away from the crowds under a tree along the riverbank.
After our bike tour, we hopped in our van that took us to Si Nakharin Dam National Park, where we boarded a raft house, our home for the night. As the speed boat towed us out onto the reservoir, we sat with our feet up, drinking beer and admiring the hazy hills surrounding the reservoir.
Once we were safely parked near a large rock outcropping, we all hopped in the water for a swim and we bobbed around for an hour or so chatting with each other about our lives back in our respective countries. We watched the sunset and enjoyed being the only people on the entire lake. It felt like we were on another planet, to be honest. It was wonderful, apart from the fact I couldn’t stop thinking about how my doctor told me not to swim in any freshwater rivers or lakes…..whoops. Oh well. Maybe if I get a parasite it will help get rid of the massive amount of Thai food I’ve been eating since I’ve been here.
Speaking of food, our guide Neung cooked us an amazing Thai meal on the raft house that we ate together under the stars. She made baked fish, panang curry, glass noodles and morning glory. Everything was incredible, and it was a fitting end to a fabulous day.
The next morning we headed to Erawan National Park, where we did a hike along a series of 7 waterfall, each level a bit harder to reach than the next. Technically we could swim in the pools beneath the falls at every level, but we decided to do the full 2.6 km hike to the top, where we would finally be rewarded with a swim in the 7th, top most tier. The trail was pretty busy with other tourists and families, but the crowds thinned a bit as we got higher. We passed monkeys on the second level that were trying to swipe food from some picnickers, and throughout the trek there were hundreds white and multicolored butterflies flying in seemingly linked chains.
When we finally made it to the top, we stripped down to our swim suits and submerged ourselves in the refreshingly cold water. There were spa fish in the water that nipped at the dead skin on our legs and feet and I found myself constantly moving to keep them at bay….I know that people pay a lot of money to get that treatment at spas but I don’t like the idea of fish nibbling on me!
After the waterfall hike we relaxed over some lunch and are now headed out to Ayutthaya, where tomorrow we have another bike tour of the former capital city. After several weeks of trekking, biking and being much more sporty than I have ever been at home, my legs are a bit achy but I’m actually excited to hop on a bike one more time. Maybe I’m getting the hang of it!