A Day in and around Kanchanaburi.

Finding a Gem in the Kwai

Nestled in the west of Thailand, not too far away from Bangkok, is the famous river town of Kanchanaburi. This quiet river town is often overlooked by busy weekend city hoppers and foodies visiting the country. Still, its solemnity draws the attention of history-loving backpackers and domestic visitors.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Seeking inspiration and wisdom

When we speak of River Kwai, our thoughts immediately race to the events of WWII. The Japanese ordered the indigenous people and British prisoners of war to construct the “Railway of Death.” Many lives were lost during its construction. Two parallel bridges were built spanning the river. Only the concrete and steel bridge still stands today as a painful reminder of the atrocities during the war. The other bridge was built as a temporary wooden one and is no longer visible.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
The famous bridge of Kwai

River Kwai, or Khwae No in Thai, is no stranger to Hollywood. She has been featured in numerous novels and movies, the most famous of which is the 1957 Oscar-winning movie, The Bridge over River Kwai, based on the fictional novel by Pierre Boulle. With seven Oscars under its belt, this movie is regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. If you haven’t heard or seen it, it’s time to add it to your Friday-night viewing list. Other movies featuring the 278-kilometre river include The Deer Hunter (1978) and Russian Roulette (1975). More recently, the hugely successful Indian movie Ponniyin Selvan used Kanchanaburi as one of its two main shooting locations.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Misty morning

Before the pandemic, my mom and dad often talked about visiting Anand, my cousin’s son, who lives in Bangkok with his family. Anand had suggested they visit Kanchanaburi then. But oh dear me, I have selected hearing, and I thought he lived in Kanchanaburi. It took me four years to realise I was wrong. Recently, my dad, older sister, brother-in-law, and I made that trip without my mom, who passed on just after the pandemic.

After a few weeks of back-and-forth detailed planning with Anand in January, we were on our way to Kanchanaburi.

Getting to Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is well connected by air and land. Here is how we got there:

1.  By flight. Don Muang International Airport is the closest airport to Kanchanaburi. We took a mid-morning flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok (Don Muang), which took just under two hours. Kanchanaburi is approximately 120 kilometres away from the airport.

2.  By road. I found this the fastest least-hassle way to get to the river town from Don Muang airport. Before our trip, Anand had arranged for us to travel with a trusted driver, Mr. Ning.  Mr. Ning understood but did not speak much English. On the other hand, I proudly travelled to Thailand equipped with three commonly used phrases: Sawasdee kha, Khop Khun Ka, and Ah Han Jei. Nevertheless, we became good friends and understood each other in no time.

“Hey, wait here a minute.” An airport authority stopped us at the exit. She asked for our passports and tickets to confirm our identities and told us to take a seat while she verified them.

After a few minutes, the officer returned and said, “Say cheese.” She instantly pulled out her mobile phone. Click!

A few minutes later, Anand texted us a welcome message and, along with it, the welcome-to-Thailand mugshots! We were pleasantly surprised at the airport authorities’ due-diligence check. Sawasdee kha! We hopped onto our comfortable eleven-seat van.

Travellers opting for road travel can also get to Kanchanaburi by bus, taxi, or minivan (the cheapest way, but it takes longer).

3.   By train. I find trains to be the most comfortable means of travel. However, we decided not to travel by rail to reduce waiting times. The train ride takes three to four hours. Be sure to purchase tickets ahead of time.


Local Delicacies in Kanchanburi

When we reached Kanchanaburi, we were starving, so we decided to have a quick lunch before checking into the hotel.

There is something delicious for everyone in Thailand. The vegan diet was the best bet for us since each travel group member had different vegetarian preferences. It’s not hard at all to get good vegan or vegetarian food in Kanchanaburi. The Happy Cow app will offer you many tummy-happy vegetarian suggestions.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Papaya salad with no peanuts and chillies and mixed vegetables

We ate two meals at On's Thai Issan Vegetarian Restaurant. The restaurant also offers Thai cooking classes. We would have gladly joined those if only we had stayed longer. Instead, we just savoured the scrumptious orders of papaya salad, mixed vegetables, and hot steamed rice for this trip.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
A popular restaurant in town

The popular Mango sticky rice is usually served with white glutinous rice. At On’s Thai Issan, however, they serve it with black rice. This rice, called khao niew dam in Thai, is delicious, nutritious, and full of antioxidants. It is black when uncooked but turns dark purple when cooked. I wished I stayed a few days extra to learn how they prepared this.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
We ate here twice

Coconut drinks and Thai iced tea are musts in Thailand. There is also a wide choice of desserts and snacks, but since I am not a foodie, I didn’t try much or don’t have pictures of desserts to show you.

Where to Stay in Kanchanaburi

There are so many upscale and budget hotels in this town. We booked at a midrange hotel,  U Inchantree Kanchanaburi, which is just by the river, overlooking the bridge. This was the perfect place to listen to the chirpy birds and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee to welcome the day. It is a very clean and comfortable hotel with lots of walking space. The breakfast and coffee here, by the way, are fabulous.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
I wish I had a garden like this

We bought a small basket offering called Chalomboon in the hotel. Inside it were fruits, rice, soup, and a drink for monks who visited on their boat in the early mornings. We didn't know we had to preorder them, but the hotel staff prepared a pack for us just in time. 

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Thoughtfully packed

When the monk arrived at the hotel’s pier, he took our offerings, recited a few mantras, and offered us his blessings in return. The hotel staff on duty guided us through the rituals.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Dad and me offering Chalomboon 

Things to Do around Kanchanaburi

After receiving the monk’s blessings, we explored more of the town. Given our limited time in Kanchanaburi, we explored only some of the highlights.

Drive (or Cycle) around Town

With just a few hours to spare, Mr. Ning drove us around the town, passing by the War Cemetery, a memorial to some six thousand Allied prisoners of war, the Death Railway Museum, the JEATH War Museum, and the giant raintree.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Come on mate, get on your bike

Visit the River Kwai Bridge

One cannot leave Kanchanaburi without seeing the iconic bridge over the river. 

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
All are welcome here


Like many other visitors, we anxiously waited for the train to cross at approximately 5:30 p.m. After that, we treated ourselves to a nice cold coconut milk drink.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
There's the 5.30pm. On time!

Visit a Night Market

All towns in Thailand are famous for their night markets, and we visited one here too. We indulged in local fruits at the market and bought some of the famous black rice to take home.

Kanchanaburi Skywalk

When we reached the skywalk, it was already closed. Nevertheless, it is a hugely popular place for locals to hang out and chill at night. The skywalk is a new addition to the town. It officially opened in September 2022. The Skywalk was built along the Kwae Yaï River, where the three rivers of Kanchanaburi—Mae Klong, Phachi, and Kwae Yaï—meet, offering a panoramic view of the river and the mountains nearby.

Visit Buddhist Temples

The more famous temples in Kanchanaburi include Wat Tham Suea (The Tiger Cave Temple), Tham Khao Noi (Vietnamese Pagoda), and Wat Ban Tham (Dragon's Head Cave Temple). We skipped these and decided to visit another wat on our way to Sai Yok National Park.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Is this a Nona? Es is checking her out

Visit Lord Vishnu Narai Tirumala Balaji Temple

This breathtaking Hindu temple is about an hour from Kanchanaburi town. It is in the Sai Yok district of Kanchanaburi province. The locals refer to this temple as the Buddhist Balaji Temple. Inside the temple stands a huge Balaji deity.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Narai Tirumala Balaji Temple

Visit a National Park

The most famous national parks in this district are Erawan National Park and Sai Yok National Park. Sai Yok National Park is around a hundred kilometres northwest of Kanchanaburi. The main attractions here include the Khwae Noi River and the Sai Yok Lek Waterfall.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
At the foot of the falls

We went to the waterfalls at Sai Yok National Park. Anand and his family (his wife Abhi, their little twins Valli and Adhiti, and son Sentil) arrived from Bangkok to join us on the second day, which included the national park and temple visits. Over at the falls, there were moments of shall-we or shall-we-not get into the water, and alas, everyone surrendered to the call with clothes on! Seeing them resist the initial temptation was hilarious, but it all worked well. Plus, it was good that we all brought a change of clothes.

Look, the twins even meditated under the cooling flow of water.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
 Excuse me, we are taking a break right now

We were at the park on a busy weekend and were not alone. Many other local families and their friends were there, and like us, they were enjoying a relaxing day off. Abhi had prepared a scrumptious lunch feast, which we enjoyed by the serene falls. 

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
At Sai Yok Noi National Park


After lunch, Natraj and I also got a good foot massage while Anand prepared hot smoked corn! 

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Who wants hot roasted corn?

After satisfyingly soaking in the serenity and calmness of Kanchanaburi and eating delicious, spiced corn, it was time to head back to the bustling city of Bangkok. 

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Natraj's having a go with reflexology

Grab  Some Coffee

I saw plenty of cafes and coffee shops on my way to Kanchanaburi and in the town. I wish I had space to try them, but I met my caffeine quota relatively early at the hotel.  

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Coffee with a view

Kanchanaburi is a mysterious and hidden town, near but yet so far away from the bustling capital. Leaving behind the pain of its past, the town is a stopping point for nature and adventure seekers today. Kanchanaburi had once seen sadness and grief for the many lives lost at the river but is not letting that hinder it from drawing in more positive people and energy. It is a valuable lesson for those of us, too, who have lost loved ones near and far, and we must make the best of what we have now.

Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi. I am glad we finally visited Kanchanaburi and met our families there. It was a perfect start to the holiday season. Kanchanaburi, the gem of Kwai.

Kanchanaburi, Reaching Delphi, coffee, Thailand
Till we meet again, Kanchanaburi 💖

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