The main draw to the area may undeniably be the River Kwai and the infamous railway line that dates back to Japanese occupation of Thailand during World War II, but as the largest of Thailand’s western provinces, Kanchanaburi has much more to offer, making it ideal for visitors seeking both a cultural and nature based experience.
The numerous national parks and conservation areas in the province ensure the protection of a wealth of indigenous plant and animal species, including tigers and elephants, while the surrounding hills are home to Buddhist temples hidden within the large and impressive limestone cave systems.
These are some of the top recommended attractions for the nature and animal enthusiast.
Erawan National Park
A waterfall oasis, the Erawan National Park is found about an hour outside the city. You can spend the whole day here exploring the seven levels of waterfalls, climbing from one to the next. There are hiking trails, caves and emerald coloured plunge pools to explore and enjoy along the way. One of the most famous parks in all of Thailand, the deciduous forest makes up 80% of the park, and the remainder is covered in evergreens. With the spectacular waterfalls that flow into each other and the heavily wooded land, the area is a fairy tale haven for nature lovers.
Srinakarin National Park
Srinakarin National Park is best known for the spectacular Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall that cascades down towards the Khwae Yai River and is arguably one of the most stunning in the country. Adventurous visitors can visit the caves that are found around the park, while art lovers will appreciate Tham Sawan and Tham Phra, where prehistoric paintings are found alongside imageries of Lord Buddha. Numerous animal species occur here, so keep your eyes open.
Another area of beautiful natural scenery is the Srinakarind Reservoir, which is located behind the Srinakarind Dam. This marks the beginning of the waterway that leads to the famous River Kwai. The hike there will take a few hours, and by boat it takes around 5 hours from the ferry pier at Srinakarind Dam. Other interesting sights in the area are the Phra That Cave, the Huay Mae Khamin Waterfalls and the Tham Than Lot Cave. The Srinakarind Dam has a nice cafe serving mostly Thai food and is open every day.
Cycle out to the Giant Tree
If big, wise, ancient trees warm your heart, head out into the gorgeous countryside surrounding Kanchanaburi by bicycle – or scooter, if you don’t feel like tackling the 30km round trip in the heat. As soon as you leave the city you’ll find yourself in peaceful green surrounds, with limestone peaks and plenty of temples to visit along the way. Out here you’ll find the giant monkey-pod (or rain tree) of Kanchanaburi. With a canopy height of 20m and a trunk large enough to be encircled by ten people, it stands understated grandness. Estimated to be over 100 years old, once arrived you may want to enjoy some time under the huge, shady branches, while you pay your respects.
Cruise the River Kwai
As famous for its history as for its natural form, the River Kwai is well known for its bridge and the namesake book and movie that detail its construction by Allied POWs under the command of the Japanese military. That said the river itself deserves to be explored. Take a boat tour to learn its history, and admire its extent and significance in the natural and social histories of the region. There is an educational and commercial developments centre near the bridge, should you wish to visit it. Or simply take a cruise along the water to a quieter section of the river and enjoy the plant and animal life found along the riverbanks.
Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park
This beautiful public park surround by limestone mountains is home to a garden of ornamental plants and flowers, and the statue of the King’s mother Somdech Phra Srinagarindra. There are two adjoining caves here called Tham Ruesi Sawan and Tham Luk Suea, in which a stream and formations of stalactites and stalagmites are found. Not far from the park is a historic cave, Tham Khao Ngoen. Here King Rama V’s initials are carved into the cave wall, left there by the King in 1889.
Elephant Conservation Network
The Elephant Conservation Network (ECN) is a small non-government organisation located in Kanchanaburi that works in partnership with local people as well as local and national government agencies tackling the challenges of elephant conservation and human-elephant conflict. ECN’s ultimate aim is to ensure a future for wild elephants in Thailand. The sanctuary is home to over 150 wild elephants whose forest habitat has been reduced by encroachment, as well as by dams and roads. The aim of the Elephant Conservation Network is to secure the future of the elephants and their forest ecosystem.
Elephant’s World is a sanctuary near Kanchanaburi that is home to over 30 elephants that are rescued and freed from inhumane treatment. Offering day and overnight programs that allow travellers to visit with the elephants in an ethical way while enjoying the picturesque scenery of the River Kwai. More at: https://www.elephantsworld.org/
If it’s a beach you’re after, get to Chuk Don Beach on the Mae Klong River just a few kilometers outside Kanchanaburi town. It offers a magical playground for children and a place where adults can relax inbetween their exploration of the area.