We have officially been Bangkok residents for a month and a half…I still can’t believe it! During this time we have spent our weekends exploring the city and learning everything it has to offer. But last weekend RG and I were ready to get back on the road and explore somewhere new. After many Google searches, scouring Tripadvisor and reading our Lonely Planet travel guide we decided to head to Kanchanaburi. It is for the most part off the tourist/backpacker path but offers so much…from waterfalls and elephant treks to WWII historical sites to your typical Thai tourist traps of Ping Pong shows, massage parlors and overcharging tuk tuks.
It definitely delivered, we had such a fun time we thought about heading back this weekend, there is so much to do that we didn’t even break the ice. Technically Kanchanaburi is only two hours away and accessible via bus, train or minibus from Bangkok. Since we were heading out late Friday afternoon we opted for the easiest and most direct route there, minibus. We headed to Victory Monument, purchased our tickets (110THB or $3.50) and were on our way. If you plan to take a minibus anytime soon beware that these buses are tight! They pack 14 paid customers in and you literally purchase the seat you sit in and nothing else, if you have luggage it is on your lap for the duration of travel…so pack light. Fortunately I was able to secure some small aisle space for my bag, but next time I will not count on it!
Almost three hours later we arrived in Kanchanaburi, traffic was bad and we made a few stops along the way but overall it wasn’t too bad of a trip. We checked into our hotel, changed clothes, and headed out to wander the streets. I immediately fell in love with this city, everyone here is genuinely happy and welcoming. It was so refreshing to be out of the hustle and bustle of Bangkok for a couple of days. We wandered around and ended up at a coffee shop where a group of men were sitting around playing Johnny Cash’s ‘I walk the line’ over two guitars, a recorder and a harmonica. There was only one other table and we immediately grabbed it. Over a few large beers RG and I sat and listened to them for probably two hours. To be honest I’m not sure if this coffee shop even sells beers regularly or if we were crashing a party, but they were happy to have the company and we enjoyed listening and chatting. It turns out two of them are local teachers and one a policeman, the others belong to the coffee shop. Experiences like this are what make a trip for me, it wasn’t about being in a bar and getting wasted, but enjoying some true local flavor.
We considered booking an all-day tour for Saturday that included a waterfall hike, swimming in a hot spring, lunch in a local village and some WWII tour stops…but decided to sleep in and save it for our next trip here. Instead after a relaxing morning we rented a two person kayak and sailed down the city’s famous Mae Klong River. We were taken 12 kilometers up, about 7.5 miles, and kayaked down over a little more than two hours. We saw a couple of Buddha’s, locals working, houses fallen in water, a WWII museum, the famous bridge over Mae Klong River (an entire movie was made about this), and so much more through our trek. Along with everything we saw, we got a great workout and two horrible sunburns. Mine was so bad that when I got back to work on Monday students were pointing to my face and making glasses shape because my sunglass lines were so visible…even after applying caked on makeup!
After our day of kayaking we headed out to find some food. Along the way we were stopped by two police officers…we were walking down a deserted side street when they pulled over their car and got out…at first I thought we did something wrong, turns out they just wanted a picture with us! I guess we stood out!
That night we headed further into the strip of restaurants and bars to see what the nightlife had to offer. We ended up finding a street-side bar with drinks starting at $0.30…definitely had to stop for one…or four! Here we met a former Australian soldier who chatted us up and a group of 21-year-old University students from England. We ended up bar hopping with the English students, playing cards and consuming massive amounts of alcohol until 2am. Needless to say, RG and I are not 21 years old anymore and should not pretend like we are. Our hangovers are much worse in our 30’s than 20’s!
We did manage to get up early (or before checkout) and do some sightseeing on Sunday before heading back to Bangkok. While Thailand was not actively involved in WWII, Kanchanaburi’s story is centered around a Japanese POW camp held here during the war. It was in Kanchanaburi that the Japanese made their prisoners cut by hand through a mountain to build the Burma Railway, this railway included a bridge over the river built by the POWs. Almost half of all the prisoners held here died and the railway is now referred to as “Death Railway.” I really wanted to visit the cemetery where the prisoners were buried, but we didn’t have time. We did get to visit the bridge, walk over it, and tour one of the two WWII Museums.
It is incredible to see knowing its history, we definitely have to start planning a trip back soon to see the rest. For such a small town Kanchanaburi has so much to offer. It is a charming town, where the locals welcome you with open arms, and you want to stay for days.