The best things to do in Kanchanaburi are highly varied, with activities covering nature, local and World War II history, water sports, and of course a good night market. It's a small city that feels more like a town. Being set on the River Kwai Yai, it's gotten a sleepy atmosphere where you can’t help but feel relaxed throughout your visit.

    The Erawan National Park and the Tenasserim Hills, which stretch almost the whole length of Thailand, provide stunning scenery all around Kanchanaburi. Due to the region’s importance during World War II, there are several museums and historical sites that are unique in Thailand.

    What are the best things to do in Kanchanaburi?

    1

    Erawan Falls

    Swim in emerald-green pools

    • Families
    • Couples
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    • Adventure

    Erawan Falls is a major attraction of the Erawan National Park, located around 52 km northwest of Kanchanaburi. It’s named after a white, 3-headed Hindu elephant god, due to the white spray from the falls. There are 7 tiers of emerald-green pools, all easily accessed via stone steps. You can rent a buoyancy vest to swim in the pools. Small fish might nibble at your feet, but it’s a painless experience.

    The Erawan Falls are worth visiting even if you aren’t planning to swim, thanks to the majestic cascades and surrounding greenery. It’s a good idea to bring some drinking water as the trek to the upper falls can be challenging.

    Location: Erawan National Park, Tha Kradan, Si Sawat District, Kanchanaburi 71250, Thailand

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    2

    River Kwai Bridge

    A World War II train bridge that still functions today

    • History
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    • Budget

    The River Kwai Bridge is right in the heart of Kanchanaburi. Its name comes from a mispronunciation of “Khwae”, thanks to the Hollywood epic The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). While the movie is fictional, history buffs will love the bridge, which was twice damaged by the Allies in World War II.

    You can walk across the bridge, with trains still crossing multiple times daily. There are alcoves to stand in while the train passes, which can feel quite exhilarating. There are plenty of restaurants and bars on the northern side of the bridge as well, from where you can admire the architecture as the river flows by.

    Location: Tha Ma Kham, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Chang Wat Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand

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    3

    Hellfire Pass

    A reminder of Thailand's World War II history

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    Hellfire Pass is a section of the Thailand-Burma Railroad, around 80 km northwest of Kanchanaburi. The entire railroad has a gruesome past as thousands of local laborers and Allied POWs were killed during its construction in World War II. The name of this particularly lethal section comes from paintings of the workers working by firelight at night, with witnesses claiming it looked like Hell.

    Although much less threatening today, Hellfire Pass isn’t for the faint-hearted. There’s a museum and a hiking trail along the railroad, with an audio guide including interviews of soldiers from the war. The views over the Khwae Noi valley are incredible, bringing an eerie tranquillity to the place. Just make sure you buy enough water because it gets rather hot.

    Location: 207 Moo 11 Tha Sao, Sai Yok District, Kanchanaburi 71150, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

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    4

    Paddleboard river tour

    See Kanchanaburi from the river at a paddleboarding school

    • Adventure

    A paddleboard river tour is an exciting way to spend a few hours in Kanchanaburi. You get the opportunity to see the city from the River Kwai Yai itself. There are a couple of well-known places that offer tours, so ask your hotel for the best one.

    Instructors are happy to teach beginners – they even provide buoyancy vests and a waterproof bag to keep your valuables safe (and dry). It doesn’t take long to get used to the technique, and once you do it becomes almost effortless. It’s a great way to see Kanchanaburi and the bridge from another viewpoint.

    5

    Kanchanaburi temples and shrines

    Discover Kanchanaburi's most important temples and wats

    • History
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    Kanchanaburi’s temples and shrines are well worth a visit during your stay, and they’ve taken full advantage of the area's amazing geography. Some stand high above sea level, giving you unparalleled views of the Terraserim Mountains and surrounding plains, while others are built in underground caves.

    Wat Tham Sua (Tiger Temple) is named after giant felines that used to live in the caves. There are stairs to the top, where an 18-metre-tall golden Buddha watches over you. Wat Ban Tham (Dragon Head Cave) is accessible via 900 steps, and you can enjoy breathtaking vistas as a reward once you reach the top. You can then head down to Tham Phu Wa (Temple in a Cave) to see a full underground complex.

    6

    Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

    Pay respects to fallen soldiers

    • History

    The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery lies in the center of Kanchanaburi. Hosting 6,982 graves, it’s one of the largest military cemeteries in Thailand. The site provides a tranquil resting place for the mainly British, Australian and Dutch POWs who were sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railroad. A second cemetery – the Chong Kai War Cemetery – is located about 4 km south and contains a further 1,740 graves.

    You can’t help but feel the significance of the place while walking around the graves. There are even a few dozen unidentified graves. It will only take less than 1 hour to explore the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Doing so helps to give a somber context to the museums and other World War II sites in the region.

    Location: 284/66 Sangchuto Rd, Ban Tai, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

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    7

    Death Railroad Museum

    Learn about the history of the Death Railroad

    • History

    The Death Railroad Museum is a hub of information on the construction of the Death Railroad. Located right next to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, the museum is highly informative, tasteful, and really helps you to understand the history behind the railroad.

    The exhibitions are a mix of tools, belongings, maps and reconstructions of the railroad sites. History buffs will love the wealth of information available on both the building of the railroad and the Japanese invasion. An onsite coffee shop overlooks the cemetery – proceeds go toward funding the privately-run museum.

    Location: 73 Chao Khun Nen Rd, Ban Nuea, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)34 512 721

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    photo by shankar s. (CC BY 2.0) modified

    8

    JJ Night Market Kanchanaburi

    Eat local food at local prices

    JJ Night Market Kanchanaburi opens daily at around 6 pm, serving a wide range of local cuisine at affordable prices. Located close to Kanchanaburi Railroad Station, it's a great market that mainly caters for locals and tourists looking to sample authentic Thai dishes.

    Dozens of food stalls sell noodles, skewers of meat, fruit smoothies, and of course lots of papaya salads. After you’ve eaten, you can unwind and enjoy views of the Kwai Yai River.

    Location: Ban Tai, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 6 pm to midnight

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    9

    JEATH War Museum

    Discover a range of trinkets near the bridge

    • History

    The JEATH War Museum is just a short walk from the River Kwai Bridge. Built in 1977, the museum is a little eclectic, but focuses mainly on the construction of the Death Railroad, with smaller sections about local history.

    There are various dioramas and recreations of the living conditions suffered by POWs throughout the museum, as well as displays of basic tools used to construct the railroad. Other prominent artifacts include an old Japanese steam train, numerous historical vehicles, and even a disused helicopter.

    Location: Ban Tai, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)34 515 203

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    10

    Wat Tham Khao Pun

    Delve deep underground to 9 different Buddhas in caves

    • History
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    Wat Tham Khao Pun is a Buddhist temple inside an underground cave system. It’s accessible by road or water, though we recommend renting a bicycle or taking a boat to these limestone caverns.

    A reclining Buddha is found in the entrance hall, with 8 further rooms deeper inside the complex. There's a bit of history about how the cave was used for storage by the Japanese during World War II as well. Wat Tham Khao Pun is around 5.5 km southwest of central Kanchanaburi.

    Location: 8 Wat Tham 8 Nong Ya Road, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand

    Phone: +66 (0)82 549 7752

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    John Frodsham | Contributing Writer

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