Nature adventures are the main highlight of Kanchanaburi. Characterised by steep craggy mountains and a crisscrossing network of rivers, this verdant westernmost province retains the rugged wilderness feel that nature-starved urbanites and jungle explorers have long cherished.
With seven national parks, three picturesque water reservoirs as well as an abundance of primeval caves, waterfalls and hot springs, you are spoiled for choice. While bamboo rafting down the River Kwae is an all-time favourite activity, waterfall hikes and off-road expeditions into dense jungles ensure a rewarding experience. The trick is to plan your trip well beforehand as each national park could be an overnight destination in itself. While Sai Yok and Erawan National Parks can easily be a day trip, Thong Pha Phume and Sangklaburi further west definitely require an overnight stay.
Kanchanaburi’s craggy limestone mountains harbour some of the country’s most magnificent caves. To get to them, though, is no walk in the park. Carved into a hillside, buried deep in a jungle of overgrown trees, or hidden well off the beaten track, most caves require at least a light trek along a forested, uphill path. Don’t lose heart, though, as the reward is more than worth the effort. Of particular note are Phu Toei Cave, Chaloei Cave, Phra That Cave, Wang Badan Cave, Daowadeung Cave, Lawa Cave and Ang Hin Cave.
Housing one of the most famous waterfalls in the country, Erawan National Park boasts stunning scenery where over 80% is covered in mixed deciduous, dipterocarps and evergreen forests. The scenic hiking trails crisscross through to the park’s centre piece attraction: the seven-tiered Erawan Waterfall, which flows down 1,500 metres in a series of beautiful cascades, interspersed with emerald water pools.
The hike through the first three levels is fairly easy but from the fourth level onwards, it can be challenging without proper hiking gear. What awaits you beyond level four, though, is definitely worth the effort. Expect to spend three – four hours hiking to the seventh level and back down. With several caves and a diverse array of flora and fauna, you can easily spend an entire day here.
Location: On Highway 3199, about one hour northwest of Kanchanaburi City
How to get there: Buy an organised tour or rent a motorcycle from the city area
Relive a moment in time as you journey down the historic section of the Death Railway. Today, only the 77-km section from Tha Kilen (near Prasat Muang Singh) to Nam Tok (Sai Yok Noi Waterfall) is still in operation, and operates twice a day on weekends, A train brings visitors from Bangkok to the Bridge over the River Kwai as part of the State Railway of Thailand’s sightseeing tour. Ironically, despite its gruesome history, this rail route passes through the most beautiful section of the Death Railway – the wooden viaduct hugging the cave-ridden cliff – and some of the most picturesque countryside in the country. The journey takes two hours.
If there’s one must-do activity in Kanchanaburi, river rafting would be it. Cutting through craggy limestone mountains and dense evergreen forests dotted with cavernous grottoes, the River Kwae Noi sets the stage for an impressive river journey. Float down the picturesque gorge fringing Sai Yok National Park and immerse in the rhythm of its sleepy riverside scenery. Where the river current is mild, you will have an opportunity to plunge in for a swim. If you are short on time and would rather speed things up a bit, try a long-tail boat ride up the Rivers Kwae, Kwae Noi and Kwae Yai and hit as many sites as you’d like along the way.
This westernmost border town (359km from Bangkok) is well known for its picturesque jungle landscapes, rustic lakeside backdrops and the longest wooden bridge in the country. Historically, Sangklaburi was the border area where invading Burmese army penetrated into Thailand. Today, this old invading route is demarcated at the Three Pagodas Pass.
Untouched by modern development, the town exudes a serene, down-to-earth vibe, ideal for enjoying a lazy day out in the lush outdoors. Explore a charming Mon village on foot, trek through the jungle on elephant back, or embark on a kayak or canoe and take in the beauty of Khao Laem Reservoir as well as the surrounding countryside.
Location: End of Highway 323, about 229km from Kanchanaburi City
How to get there: The route from Thong Pha Phoom to Sangklaburi passes through an extremely steep and rugged terrain. It’s best to hire a car with driver or buy a packaged tour. It can take four-five hours from Bangkok.
Embraced by endless mountain ranges and a verdant expanse of evergreen and deciduous forests, this hidden natural gem offers a range of diversions, including waterfall hikes, hot springs visits, cave adventures and scenic boat trips. The park is home to the picturesque Huay Mae Kamin Waterfall, whose seven-tier cascades flow into Sri Nakharin Reservoir below. Plunge in for a swim in one of its emerald-coloured pools, or if you prefer to stay dry, hop on a boat and enjoy the unfolding scenery around the reservoir. You can also hire a bamboo raft, canoe or kayak and set off on your own. The hikes here are more difficult than Erawan, thus the park is less visited and retains a peaceful atmosphere throughout the year.
Location: On Highway 3199, about 105km from Kanchanaburi City
How to get there: It’s best to hire a car with driver or buy one of the organised tours from the city area
Off-road adventurers and foot explorers will find an ideal spot in Thong Pha Phume. Set between Sangklaburi and Sai Yok, this vast expanse of rolling mountain ranges and lush wilderness offers a range of fascinating experiences, from jungle treks and waterfall hikes to off-road camping, hot spring baths and whitewater or bamboo rafting. Popular attractions include Hin Dad Hot Springs and Waterfall, E-Tong Village, Pilok Mine Scenic Viewpoint, Khao Noi Cave, Dip Yai Waterfall. It is a good idea to stay at least two nights in Thong Pha Phume, to appreciate its diverse landscapes.
Location: On Highway 323, about 141km from Kanchanaburi City
How to get there: The best way is to rent a 4X4