Uncover the Must-See Attractions in Kanchanaburi

Bluebird day at The Dead Railway – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Thinking about a visit to Kanchanaburi and looking for some must-see spots? This helpful guide is full of inspiring things to do. I love making the quick trip to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok and think it really has a lot to offer.

This province, just 120 km from Bangkok, offers touching war history lessons, beautiful waterfalls, and an intriguing local culture.

Below we’ll guide you through historical sites, natural attractions, impressive temples, and vibrant night markets and you will discover why locals rate this as one of the most popular spots for a short break.

War Sites in Kanchanaburi 

While not the only thing to do in Kanchanaburi Province, I think your visit should include at least one of these significant sites. 

The Death Railway & Bridge over the River Kwai

The thing that draws most people to Kanchanaburi is its involvement in World War 2 and the infamous Death Railway. The name itself gives hints at its disturbing past. Constructed during World War II, it was an attempt by the Imperial Japanese Army to create a direct line for supplies from Bangkok in Thailand and Burma (now Myanmar).

The construction of the 415km railway line was carried out by an estimated 240,000 war prisoners and Asian contingency laborers. The purpose of this deadly project was to keep their military mission moving, but at the cost of thousands of lives, due to the dreadfully poor working conditions and scarce resources. As a result, the Death Railway stands as a stark reminder of the human cost of war. 

Just as important is the Bridge over the River Kwai, an integral part of this railway line. The bridge, made famous in a book and movie, is not just a bare structure across the river. It stands as a symbol of the remarkable strength demonstrated by thousands of prisoners forced to build it under severe conditions. 

The Intriguing History of Hellfire Pass

There are several museums in Kanchanaburi, however Hellfire Pass Museum is the standout. Named for the largest cutting of rock that the POWs carved by hand, laboring away using crude picks and hammers. 

The Hellfire Pass Museum commemorates the harrowing experiences of the Allied Prisoners of War (POWs) and Asian laborers who worked alongside them. These brave souls were forced to build the infamous Death Railway under appalling conditions. 

You can walk along the original rail track’s remnants, and inside listen to an insightful audio guide narrating accounts from survivors. It paints a vivid image of the horrific experiences endured by the POWs. 

Beautiful temples in Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is not only a place of historical significance but it’s also a spiritual place with many unique and appealing temples. Two such temples that should be on your radar are Wat Tham Suea and Wat Ban Tham. 

Wat Tham Suea 

Perched atop a hill, Wat Tham Suea or the Tiger Cave Temple is famous for its enormous golden Buddha statue, 100 meters tall, visible even from afar

The ascent up the hill with nearly 157 steps might seem daunting, but the reward is well worth the effort. Once you scale the top, the views over the surrounding paddy fields are lovely. 

Tip: Pop into Meena Cafe after your visit. Not only do they make great coffee at this Instagram-worthy spot, there is an interesting view of the temple from afar. If you only have time for one temple in Kanchanaburi, I would choose this one. 

Wat Tham Phu Wa

Wat Tham Phu Wa is a bit of a surprise package. A beautifully carved temple reminiscent of those in Cambodia hides an elaborate network of caves beneath its surface.

I recommend descending the stairs to discover what lies beneath.

Immerse Yourself in the Beauty of Erawan National Park

One of Kanchanaburi’s must-see attractions is the enchanting Erawan Falls, part of Erawan National Park. This majestic 7-tiered waterfall, named after the three-headed elephant from Hindu mythology, is noted for its turquoise blue pools and diverse wildlife.

Set aside a full day if you’re keen on making the most of this natural paradise; you can swim in the ethereal emerald pools, picnic amidst lush scenery, or challenge yourself with a hike to the top tier.  If you are short of time, a half-day is fine, but plan to arrive as soon as the site opens. 

Elephant Haven 

For those who are excited about getting up close with these gentle jungle giants, Elephant Haven in Kanchanaburi is an ethical option and one of the closest to Bangkok. 

The sanctuary is committed to promoting ethical tourism and provides an opportunity to interact with elephants responsibly. You will be able to feed and walk with these incredible creatures, observing them in their natural, peaceful environment. It’s not only a fun experience, but also a learning one, showing visitors the importance of being nice and respectful to animals.

Exploring the Vibrant Kanchanaburi Night Market

There are three main night markets in Kanchanaburi offering a vibrant local experience; Kanchanaburi Night Market, JJ Night Market, and River Kwai Bridge Market. The ultimate favorite among tourists is the River Kwai Bridge Market. Not only does it offer a rich diversity of food, it also provides a stunning river’s edge location for a unique dining encounter.

Expect a range of delightful Thai street food, traditional handicrafts, and a buzz of authentic Thai atmosphere.

When One Day in Kanchanaburi is not enough

Most people don’t realize how much there is to do in Kanchanaburi but I think after you have read this list you may see why I strongly suggest you consider extending your stay in Kanchanaburi beyond a day.

The area offers lots of relaxing riverside accommodation and a chance to stay in a floating cabin no matter your budget. 

A longer stay here is perfect for nature lovers who will find the national parks offer plenty of hiking opportunities. History buffs can dig deeper into the WW2 sites. 

I think a long weekend is perfect. However, for those with just a day, it’s a challenge worth accepting. Just pick your top few sights and allow yourself to enjoy those rather than trying to see it all. 

Paula Morgan has been visiting Thailand for more than 20 years and along with the street food and wonderful landscapes she loves exploring the inner streets of Bangkok looking for new artwork. You can find more of her writing about Thailand on her website Thailand Awaits.