The regions WWII history, when Japanese forces used Allied POWs to build a railway to Burma, became immortalised in the 1957 film ‘The Bridge Over the River Kwai’. The railway is known as The Death Railway due to the numbers that died to build it. Today Kanchanaburi is a lively tourist destination full of museums and experiences related to the Death Railway which is still in use. It’s also an ideal base for exploring some of Thailand's 'wild-west' in the surrounding area, considered by many Thais to be one of the most beautiful provinces in Thailand - with its accessible waterfalls and many areas of outstanding beauty.
If you have no interest in history or going to see waterfalls, Kanchanaburi is not for you.
The Death Railway, together with WWII memorials and museums are a constant reminder of those dark times, with roads on the east side of the present-day bridge named after countries involved in the conflict. Outside the town, as well as the waterfalls and breathtaking national parks, you can enjoy kayaking, rafting, camping, jet skiing down the river, a day caring for elephants and many more activities.
If you are interested in the war years, you should allow at least two days to visit the bridge, cemeteries and museums in town, with another full day to visit Hellfire Pass, 80km to the north-west.
The province of the same name borders Burma in the west and contains no less than seven National Parks. Kanchanaburi is also one of Thailand's largest provinces, so unless you have your own motorised transport, you may have little choice other than to see these out of town places on one of the many guided tours. Although single destinations are often on public bus routes (see our highlight on Organised Tours).