A rather hot and dusty 2 and half hours on a train was enough for us with no expectations of Kanchanaburi. We arrived to see the Orient Express running from Singapore to Bangkok. We weren’t jealous of their luxurious soft furnishings and air conditioning. Honest!
A short walk from the station and we were in the heart of he backpackers area if town away from the centre of the city. The Jolly Frog Backpackers was our final destination and we instantly felt chilled out an at home. A feeling we’d longed for since Cambodia. A gorgeous riverside setting with lush green grass, hammocks and very cheap rooms for all ranging from around £1.40 to £5 a night. A large hostel with ample space for a decent and very cheap restaurant too which saved us a fortune!
We made sure our first full day was action packed by booking a full day tour. The Ewaran falls are a series of increasingly breathtaking waterfalls just an hour from Kanchanaburi. It’s 7 levels easily accessible with just a little trekking and each one is stunning. Swimming in the comparatively cold water is a must. Level 4 even has a slide consisting of one giant rock that part of the waterfalls cascades over leaving a slippery ride to the deep pool below. It was fantastic fun! You caneven climb behind the wall of water at level 2 once you’ve made it past the overly friendly fish who invite themselves over to clean you.
After a lunch at a nearby cafe we headed to Hellfire Pass. This is the sight of one of world war two’s many atrocities. Over 60,000 allied POWs were forced to build a railway linking Ban Pong in Thailand with Thanbyuzayat in Burma. Creating a 415km long supply route for the Japanese empire. Hellfire Pass was so called by the POWs as the shadows of emaciated workers created by flickering lanterns at night resembled the fires of hell.
Part of the track is still in use today and is known as ‘Death Railway’. A 4k stretch of disused railway is now a walking trail with a memorial museum at the start near Hellfire Pass. Unfortunately due to recent rock falls only Hellfire Pass was walkable so if you’re looking to trek further it may be worth checking to see if the full trail is open again.
The memorial museum at Hellfire Pass is very well presented thanks to the efforts of allied nations especially in Australia. It’s a fitting tribute to the 12,399 allied soldiers and 90,000 asian laborers who died building the line in appalling living conditions.
There’s a very good museum in Kanchanaburi next to the cemetery where thousands are buried. It’s worth a visit to understand more about what happened in this area.
A rather fleeting visit to the famous “Bridge Over the River Kwai”. To be fair you only really need 10 minutes here. It’s a bridge still in use today although only 3 or 4 times a day and is usually covered in tourists gingerly walking across the bridge.
The Jolly Frog was such a welcome return to cheap backpacking, meeting random people and having great nights out together. Make that 3 great nights out in a row! The gardens of the hostel are so inviting it’s hard not to end up there of an evening. We soon found out, as many have before us, that it’s all too easy to while away your days by the river, relaxing, chatting and drinking.
I’d highly recommend Kanchanaburi. It’s easy going friendly people and cheap living make it a great place to spend a few days.