Kanchan (as it’s known so lovingly on the Thai backpacking circuit) is seen as something of a breather from the metropolitan sprawl of heady Bangkok.
Just a short bus ride from the seething, sleepless capital, this laid-back river town is a place of waterside beer bars and bamboo eateries perched over the Kwai; a city set in the shadow of the sun-baked hills on the border with Burma, surrounded by pockets of wild jungle, beautiful waterfalls and packed with smiling locals. If you’re coming in from the party islands of the Andaman – just as we do on our bucket-list-cracking Treasures of Thailand itinerary - that all adds up to a fine spot to recover from the hangovers and get back into the swing of the north. That’s right folks, there are countless reasons to hit Kanchanaburi – check em’ out…
For the Erawan Falls
Cascading through the jungle-covered ridges less than an hour’s drive from the center of Kanchanburi, the impossibly beautiful Erawan National Park is one of the real highlights of our Treasures of Thailand and Taste of Thailand trips. Formed from seven separate tiers of waterfalls, the spot is a paradise in the Tenasserim Hills. Visitors wander deep into the forests, crossing rickety bamboo bridges and scaling mountain paths where cheeky macaques swing overhead. Tier one of the falls – a shimmering pool of turquoise waters – soon gives way to tier three, four and five, where little fish nibble at the skin and natural rock slides descend into deep plunge pools.
For the WWII History
Remnants of Kanchanaburi’s place at the heart of the WWII conflicts in Southeast Asia still dot the hinterlands of the province and the town center alike. Visitors get to see the famous black steel bridge that was built at such cost, giving rise to iconic silver screen classic The Bridge on the River Kwai and oozing harrowing and sobering tales of captive POWs and the so-called Death Railway. Then there’s the haunting gorge of the Hellfire Pass to see, blasted into the Tenasserim Hills to make way for the railway tracks. Finally, there’s the fascinating JEATH War Museum and cemetery, working to chronicle the sacrifices made by allied soldiers in these far-flung parts of Asia.
For the elephants
With its wild swathes of forest, the winding rivers of the Khwae Noi, the Khwae Yai and the Mae Klong, and endless riparian habitats, it’s hardly a surprising that elephants love Kanchanburi province – there are plenty of places to escape the heat of the sun, wander the jungle paths and cool down with a trunkful of water! That’s why we opt to head here for LBW’s Ethical Elephant Experience, which sees travelers take to the riverbanks and meet Thailand’s great galumphing beasts. There’ll be bathing, riding and plenty of feeding along the way (elephants love a bowl of sticky rice with local fruits!).
For the laid-back vibes
The town of Kanchanaburi is cut-through right at the center by the winding meanders of the Kwai River, its various hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and marketplaces all clinging to the banks. That means the whole place is strewn out and spacious, not to mention imbued with all the lazy vibes of a bona fide river town. There are bamboo decks to sip mango lassis on, opportunities for midday dips in the Kwai itself, earthy little eateries abutting the shore, and plenty, plenty more. In short, it’s the perfect spot to unwind after hitting it hard on the Kohs of the south!
For the local parties at Sugar Member Bar
What would a stop-off in old Thailand be without at least the chance of sipping potent buckets, letting loose with some off-tune karaoke and meeting other backpackers? Not worth it – that’s what! Kanchanaburi has all that and more though, with plenty of low-key drinkeries lining its main drag. These come alive after dark with Rasta-Buddha folk bands and bucket deals, and none more than Sugar Member Bar. This magnet for ex-pats and Kanchan locals throbs with life from the early evening, rarely closing and pulsing with backpacker chatter and Chang beers. If you’re lucky, Sugar Member and her rambunctious partying attitude might just be present!
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"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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