2 Days in Kanchanaburi
Before I get started with my guide of things to do in Kanchanaburi let’s talk about location. So, you will find Kanchanaburi in the west of Thailand, north-west of Bangkok. It’s easy enough to get to as you can either fly, take a train or bus or even a taxi if you don’t mind the cost. We opted to travel by train and of course, you can read all about that on my blog post about Bangkok to Kanchanaburi by train.
If you haven’t heard of Kanchanaburi then don’t worry. I hadn’t either but I had heard of the Bridge over the River Kwai. And of course, it is this famous bridge that draws tourists to Kanchanaburi. It’s a must-see tourist attraction in its own right when visiting Thailand but it’s also a good stopover on the way to Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai. Many visitors come for the day from Bangkok, however, I think it needs at least 2 days.
So here’s my guide for things to do in Kanchanaburi. As always, I’ve based it on what we did so it’s all very doable within the time scales. We even managed a bit of time lazing by the pool. Remember to pace yourself when planning a trip to anywhere in Thailand. It’s hot all year round and you really do need a bit of relaxation time.
River Kwai Bridge
WWII & Jeath War Museum
Chinese Buddhist Temple
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Where to stay in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
We wanted to stay near the famous bridge during our stay in Kanchanaburi but we found accommodation options rather limited. Most of the hotels seem to be in the main town area. However, we found a great little hotel called the Kanchanaburi City Hotel. It’s just a few minutes walk from the bridge and right opposite the war museum. You can read my review of the hotel by clicking on this link.
Things to do in Kanchanaburi Thailand: Day 1
For day one of things to do in Kanchanaburi, I’ve concentrated on sights which are near the Kwai River Bridge. So, you can visit them all on foot. Our hotel was right near the bridge so this was ideal for us as we could walk to all these places. However, if you stay in town you can easily get one of the local taxis to drop you near the bridge to start your tour.
River Kwai Railway Bridge
We arrived at Kwai Bridge Railway station on our train from Bangkok so we saw the famous bridge straightaway. Of course, it’s one of the main reasons tourists flock to the area.
The bridge was immortalised by the David Lean film in the 1950s. It forms part of the Thai/Burma railway which is also known as the Death Railway. This is because it was built by POWs during the Second World War. They suffered horrendously and many of them died during its construction.
The railway was originally destined for Burma. Today you can ride the train as far as Nom Tom which is just short of the border.
You can walk across the bridge and of course, many people do. There aren’t many trains so you’re not likely to get run but if one does approach there are passing places where you can stand to the side. They approach very slowly when they cross the bridge so you’re not in any real danger if you stay alert.
As you can see in the photo, the trains pass quite close so you get an excellent view. It’s quite cool actually, watching them cross this famous bridge.
Chinese Buddhist Temple
Of course, you will want to walk across the bridge so look out for this temple. It’s on your right-hand side as you cross the bridge but really you can’t miss it. This colourful temple was very quiet when we visited and it’s quite different from the Thai temples you usually see in Thailand.
You can walk around the grounds for free and admire the many statues and structures. A great free thing to do in Kanchanaburi.
WWII & Jeath War Museum
Right opposite our hotel and just a short walk from the Kwai River Bridge is the WWI & Jeath War Museum. There are several other war museums and even another Jeath War Museum in Kanchanaburi so if you’ve got time you can visit more. With just 2 days to explore it really depend if you want to spend all day in museums and at tourist sites or whether you want to spend some time by the pool as well.
We enjoyed a morning exploring this museum and I think it’s a good addition to a Kanchanaburi itinerary. It’s packed full of exhibits about the war and Thai history and the building itself is pretty impressive also. I’ve written a separate blog post just on the WWII & Jeath War Museum which you can read here.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Afterwards, we took a break at our hotel and enjoyed some sun by the pool. Then we took one of the local songhtao taxis to the war cemetery. This is just on the edge of the main town area near the town railway station on Saeng Chuto Road.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission and is the main cemetery for those who died during the construction of the notorious Death Railway. In addition to the many graves which stretch before you in the cemetery, you will see plaques to commemorate those who were cremated. Altogether 5,085 Commonwealth personnel who died during the Second World War are either buried or commemorated here.
As you can see in the photos, we visited in the early evening and the cemetery is always open. If you want to view the registers then just ask one of the gardeners. Be aware that if you need wheelchair access you need to enter through the service entrance not the main entrance. Unfortunately, this entrance is not always open so you should check ahead.
Where to eat in Kanchanaburi
We walked back to our hotel near the Kwai Bridge from here so that we could look at all the restaurants and pick one for dinner. There’s lots of choice and of course, I can’t comment on most of them. However, we did have an excellent and very cheap meal in this little vegetarian restaurant.
The food is freshly cooked when you order it and you can watch as they cook it. They also have some great juice drinks to wash it down. The food was delicious and cost hardly anything at all.
Things to do in Kanchanaburi Thailand: Day 2
For our second day, we took a day trip to Hellfire Pass. Of course, by now you know that this area is most famously associated with the Thai/Burma Death Railway. Hellfire Pass is an important part of this railway so it’s well worth a trip outside the city to see it.
At Hellfire Pass, Allied POWs were forced to work day and night to create a cutting through solid rock. It was hard and painful work and the conditions they worked in were appalling. Today, the site is preserved as a museum and memorial by the Australian government.
Since the site is outside Kanchanaburi you will need to get transport. We took the bus which is a cheap and easy way to get there although you can take a tour or a taxi instead.
I suggest leaving fairly early in the morning as it gets very hot. Alternatively, visit in the late afternoon. As well as seeing this important historical site you can view some of the Northern Thai countryside as you make your way there.
Things to do in Kanchanaburi Thailand: Summary
In this blog post, I’ve shown you what we did during our two days in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. I think we fitted in quite a bit of sightseeing without overdoing it. I always like time to absorb the atmosphere of a place especially when it’s my first visit. So in between the main sights, we spend time wandering quietly and looking around us.
Although it’s a small place, there’s plenty of things to do in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. In fact, you could stay longer and still find plenty to keep you occupied. This is a good first-visit itinerary though because it covers the main attractions and gives you a good taste of what Kanchanaburi has to offer.