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  • 186 - the logo again.jpg

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

  
  - darkometer rating:  2 -
 
A provincial capital city in the western region of Thailand of the same name. It wouldn't be on the tourist map (dark or otherwise) if it wasn't for the famed Bridge over the River Kwai, which at Kanchanaburi takes the Death Railway across the river. There has been a museum related to the railway for decades and in the wake of increased tourist interest more have appeared. These augment two war cemeteries from the days of the construction of the Death Railway. 

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

 
What there is to see: apart from the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and the outdoor display of locomotives etc. near it, there are three museums of varying quality that are devoted to the Death Railway (and more). All these are given separate entries here, see:
 
 
- JEATH museum (the oldest)
 
- World War II Museum (the weirdest)
  
 
Opposite the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre lies the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in which nearly 7000 Allied POWs and servicemen are buried, mostly they perished during the construction of the Death Railway. Here you can see row upon row of small headstones in a field shaded by large trees.
 
A bit out of town, the smaller Chungkai War Cemetery, near the site of a former POW camp, is worth the detour ca. 2 miles (3 km) out to the west across the river. Some 1750 victims of the Death Railway are buried here. With its monument and headstones, some of which carry interesting inscriptions, this Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintained cemetery is even more evocative than the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
 
 
Location: about 80 miles (130 km) west of Thailand's capital Bangkok.
 
Google maps locator: [14.02,99.53]
 
 
Access and costs: easy and potentially cheap.
 
Details: you can get to Kanchanaburi by train, riding on the actual Death Railway. There are usually two trains a day from Bangkok Thonburi station (also called Bangkok Noi). Fares have gone up a little but are still dead cheap by western standards (the equivalent of a couple of euros).
 
If you want to make the most of all the sites in Kanchanaburi, then you'll need at least one night's accommodation. There's the full range from hostel to resort hotel in Kanchanaburi. The top pick apparently is the Felix River Resort right near the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. Further out are other interesting options, such as the River Kwai Jungle Rafts Floatel – indeed a kind of hotel floating on chained-together rafts, accessed by long-tail boat, which in itself is a little adventure. It's a bit up the river and you'd need a car transfer to the pier from which the boats depart. It can all be put together as a package with guide and driver from Bangkok, e.g. by the UK/Thailand-based operator ExperienceTravel. This makes sense esp. if you want to also include Hellfire Pass.
 
Roaming Kanchanaburi is obviously free, including the walk across the Bridge over the River Kwai, but the museums charge admission fees (see the individual entries).
 
 
Time required: at a push half a day may suffice, especially if you don't linger long at the WWII museum. But a full day does the place more justice. The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre in particular may take longer than you'd expect.  
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: riding the Death Railway, including the fantastic Wang Pho viaduct, is almost a must! You can buy tickets right at the station on the Kanchanaburi end of the Bridge over the River Kwai. You can even ride the full length of the railway if you come by train from Bangkok, but the stretch to Kanchanaburi is not particularly interesting.
 
To get the full package out of the Death Railway you should also carry on further north to Hellfire Pass. As you'll almost inevitably be travelling to/from Bangkok that city's dark sites are worth taking in too.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Kanchanaburi has become quite a touristy place, not just a specialist niche dark tourism destination. More or less the full tourist infrastructure is now to be found here. As regards sights, there are various temples in town and beautiful nature and scenery in the area around, esp. to the north – see under Hellfire Pass.
 
Near Kanchanaburi there's a "monkey school" you could visit if that's your cup of tea. When I went I was slightly disappointed. Online descriptions had me believe that it was more sound from a point of view of animal welfare. They do look after their monkeys, including regular check-ups by vets, and they do train them to harvest coconuts (a long tradition that has been utilizing the cleverness and agility of the monkeys for a long time), but for tourists it's rather an old-fashioned circus performance, even including the obligatory monkey riding a kiddie bicycle. I couldn't help but feeling a little sorry for the monkeys.
 
Also in the area is the infamous Tiger Temple, a heavily marketed attraction that however must not be supported! It's a totally un-Buddhist Buddhist temple where tigers are held and allegedly roam freely and peacefully, simply due to the monks' serene spiritual influence on them. That's bollocks! It's exploitation to grab money from tourists who pose with the tigers. Yes, hugging a real tiger may have its appeal, but:
  
A) it's not safe: it's only a question of time until a tiger loses it and takes a deadly swipe at a tourist.
 
B) it's extremely questionable from an ethical and animal welfare point of view – the tigers are clearly not treated well and almost certainly drugged to make them handle-able at all.
 
See the report about the Tiger Temple by careforthewild.com (external link); and you may also want to see, and sign, at this petition site (another external link; both open in new windows).
 

 

  • Kanchanaburi 1Kanchanaburi 1
  • Kanchanaburi 2 - central WWII cemeteryKanchanaburi 2 - central WWII cemetery
  • Kanchanaburi 3 - Chunkai war cemeteryKanchanaburi 3 - Chunkai war cemetery
  • Kanchanaburi 4 - Chunkai war cemeteryKanchanaburi 4 - Chunkai war cemetery
  • Kanchanaburi 5 - Chunkai war cemeteryKanchanaburi 5 - Chunkai war cemetery
  • Kanchanaburi with Kwai BridgeKanchanaburi with Kwai Bridge

 

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