Road Trip to the Kanchanaburi region February 2022
The visit to a charity project sponsored by my Rotary Club inspired a road trip to the Kanchanaburi region to not only re-visit the city but also to explore this region to the west of Thailand. Living in Pattaya we had no choice but to pass through the Bangkok expressway system to cross the Chao Phraya river. The road is busy and not at all scenic so we started cross country to visit the Niagara N Garden café. This is an interesting spot for a coffee but don’t make the same mistake and take your coffee in the main café, proceed directly into the converted Tristar passenger jet. This impressed us so much that we corrected our mistake on our return.
Taking detours is our way to travel in Thailand and on leaving the Niagara N Garden the GPS had us start to follow rural roads through beautiful farming scenery. In fact, we only joined the 323 just as we entered Kanchanaburi.
With no prior booking a quick search on Booking.com revealed the VN Guesthouse offering a ‘floating’ room on a raft for a very sensible price. Easy to find the VN resort is naturally directly on the river. The restaurant and reception is on street level and then steps down to the river and to the barge. The resort has a range of small chalets on the river-bank in addition to the raft. The raft is a sturdy yet simple construction. The room was simply furnished with a bed, air conditioning, bathroom and balcony directly on the river. We paid just THB.650 (Euro.18/US$.20) and I find this incredible value for money. The room was simple and the bathroom Thai basic, but the a/c was new, effective and quiet. The small balcony with 2 plastic chars was again totally adequate and amazing to watch the river rushing past.
We chose to eat at the Restaurant which was an excellent choice. It is again simple with wonderful views over the river. We could enjoy the soft music from the resort opposite. The food was tasty, the beer cold and the cost under THB for two. VN Guesthouse, highly recommended.
Sightseeing commenced the next day with a visit to the famous “Bridge over the River Kwai’ which is a moving site considering it’s tragic history. Local passenger trains still cross but for most of the day it is just for tourists. Traditional longtail boats are available for a boat trip which I highly recommend. For THB.1,000 the boat takes you along the river to the Jeath Museum, to the Chong Kai War Cemetery (river access currently closed) and to the Khao Poon Cave.
The boat rip is highly recommended as you obtain a very different view of the area from the river. The Khao Boon Cave stop requires you to walk up some very uneven steps to a point where you can take a local pickup or Tuk Tuk to the cave. Whilst the cave is impressive it is narrow and not easy to navigate. However, the reclining Buddha just inside ethe entrance is worth a look and the atmosphere is quite special.
On the return to the river do stop at the elaborate Barme Café. It is an Instagram paradise but the espresso is excellent and the views of the river are quite spectacular.
As we were meeting our Rotary colleagues for a 2 day action with the Bamboo School (full report to follow) we returned to Kanchanaburi to stay at the River Kwai Hotel booked through Agoda. In its glory it must have been a very comfortable hotel, but is now showing its age. Clean and comfortable at THB.822 per night including a reasonable breakfast.
Once our Rotary duties were complete it was first time to pay our respects to the 6,858 British, Australian and Dutch POWs buried here. It is a sobering experience especially seeing the very young who gave their lives so early. The Death Railway Museum next door is also well worth visiting to provide a history on why it was being build and the conditions endured. We then continued to the second War Cemetery at Chong kai to the 1,739 POWs interred here. I will make a full article on the Death Railway shortly.
It was time to move on and our next port of call was the Giant Rain Tree which is quite impressive at over 100 years old, 20 meters tall, has a diameter of 51.75 meters and covering an area of 2,416 square meters. Returning towards Kanchanaburi we took the opportunity to visit the impressive Mullberry Mellow Café with its amazing parkland garden with chairs spread out for all to enjoy.
The plan was now to hear North towards Hellfire Pass which, by the time we arrived, it was closed! No problem as Booking.com quickly found us the BaanRai KhunYa Resort located very close. One of the joys of travelling with no fixed plan is making an unanticipated discovery. We did not know what to expect as we arrived, and we were soon embracing one of those very special finds. The resort is very isolated on the banks of the Kwai Noi.
It has just 5 substantial chalets and none were occupied during our stay. The grounds are beautiful and one can notice that they are starting to re-open again. Our wooden built chalet was beautiful. Large terrace with views to the river, a large main room with 2 futon beds, small kitchen shower and WC. One of the greatest features were the window screens enabling us to have the windows open all night and to be woken by the dawn chorus. There was no restaurant operating when we visited, and our dinner was brought to the chalet. Breakfast was served in an open area and was substantial despite the fact that we were the only guests.
If you are looking for peace and quiet with amazing hospitality, then I cannot recommend the Baan Rai KhunYai Resort too highly. Our stay costs just THB.1,183 including breakfast.
Reluctantly leaving the lovely Baan Rai KhinYai we dutifully followed the GPS to find the Hellfire Pass. It took us down a very narrow road and eventually announced that we had arrived at our destination! We will in the middle of the woods but on closer inspection we could see a straight outline of what was once, the railway track. This is not the main entrance, you need to enter Hellfire Pass Visitor Centre! This brought us back to a military checkpoint where we were met my Hellfire Pass staff who needed to see our vaccination certificates! This was the only time on the trip.
I will be writing more about the Hellfire Pass as this had long been on my bucket list and a visit is highly recommended.
Our thoughts were to continue North to visit the Vajiralongkorn Dam which is quite impressive at 92 meters in height and 1,019 meters crest holding back 8,860 million cubic meters of water in a man-made lake covering 388 square kilometres. As we were to find EGAT, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand likes to build extensive and beautiful features near it’s projects including a Sky Walk. The reservoir is impressive but driving along the southern bank one only finds very isolated rafts to stay. With the exception of a cool ‘Coffee Bus’ we decided to return to the main 323 at Thong Pha Phum. Accommodation is limited so we chose the Keeree Loft Resort. It was adequate and clean but somewhat overpriced at THB.1,300 excluding breakfast.
Revived we first checked out the rather lovely suspension bridge that crosses the river to Wat Tha Khanun before enjoying a superb Pad Khra Pao breakfast at a street stand.
Rather than following the 323 south we chose to cross country towards the Srinagarind reservoir. GPS dutifully showed us the route through the Khuean Sinagarinda National Park. The views were amazing but then the paved road, occasional villages and farms – stopped! Having come so far, we could only continue through about 40 kms of jungle on an un-paved road. It was ok in the dry season ,but I would not suggest undertaking this if there is rain. It was quite an adventure and slightly un-nerving but our perseverance paid off as at the end of the ‘road’ we discovered the wonderful Huay Maekamin Waterfall that was to become another highlight!
The Huay Maekamin Waterfall is in a National Park and well organised, with the exception of directions to the falls themselves! There were no charges to enter when we visited! Once in the right direction, we were enthralled by the continuing unfolding vistas. These 7 tiers of cascading waterfalls are a hidden gem and for me, the most beautiful in Thailand. With fewer visitors that it’s more famous relative, it is possible to enjoy the pure splendour of these gradually descending falls without any crowds.
From Huay Maekamin it was a relaxing, though quite mountainous drive to Si Sawt below the mighty Srinagarind dam. Again, looking for the closest hotel we booked The Hub Erawan Resort. Described as a one-bedroom bungalow for THB.1,277 it was an extremely tired, un-loved and very dirty room in a resort that was also very run-down. Staying here was a horrible experience and I do not recommend anyone to use unless in an emergency. The A/C in the room did function and there was an attempt at a breakfast included in the price but otherwise not an enjoyable experience!
First stop the next morning was to the Srinagarind Dam. At 140 meters height with a crest length of 610 meters the reservoir area covers 419 square kilometress with a capacity of 17,745 million cubic meters. Again impressive facilities from EGAT, including a massive 23.80 meter sundial.
Supposedly one of the highlights of the trip was the Erawan Waterfalls. As you drive closer one can see that this is a massive tourist destination with hundreds of small stalls & restaurants in addition to a car park that can handle thousands of cars. Fortunately not busy when we visited, the Thai National Park dual pricing was a shock reminder of this practice. THB.300 for foreigners and THB.100 for Thais. Despite having lived here long enough, this blatant racism still annoys me and as you will find these falls are very commercial. It is a pleasant walk to the lowest falls (or you can take a golf cart for THB.30 pp).
To swim in the falls, you must wear a lifejacket, and these can be rented! The lower falls are picturesque, and the presence of many quite large fish is quite a surprise, however when you start to explore the higher stages you will find that the climb is steep with irregular and often high steps. I gave up at about half-way but my partner did make it to the top. She could hardly walk the next day!
Expectations can be the harbinger of disappointment and for me this was the case at Erawan, if you can, drive 1 hour further to Hua Maekamin for a highly superior experience!
Returning to Kanchanaburi we elected to stay one more night on the river and were extremely lucky to find the very lovely Good Times Resort. It appears that the resort has recently expanded and added many new rooms and also a large swimming pool. Thanks to my Booking.com status we were upgraded to a superior double with garden view for THB.1,530.
You feel welcome and comfortable from the minute that you enter the resort. The reception area is large, bright and with 3 wonderfully welcoming staff. The room was exceptional, large, fully equipped, quiet and comfortable. The new pool is large and good for a swim. The resort is built around gardens and water features with the restaurant located directly on the river. The menu is extensive with a comprehensive range of Thai and International foods at sensible prices. It is a wonderful pace to enjoy a sundowner and also, for their excellent breakfast. A most enjoyable stay at the Good Times Resort, highly recommended.
Before we left the Kanchanaburi region we wanted to visit Wat Tham Suea, aka The Tiger Cave Temple. It is an imposing complex of symbolic temples built on a rocky outcrop above the rice fields. Dominated by a massive 18 metre high ornate seated Buddha. It is quite a climb to the main temple area and then the 7 story chedi offers more vistas as you climb. Whilst a highly regarded religious centre it is slightly confusing to the Western mind trying to comprehend the vast size and relevance. Once known for a tiger family that was kept in the extensive caves this is no longer and the caves are closed to the public.
Finally, it was time to return home but first a visit that I had planned from day 1. We had to return to the Niagara N Café to experience a coffee in their converted Tristar 1011. The interior is futuristic and minimalistic but their coffee and cakes are excellent. Part of our experience during our drives is to discover a different café each day. This brings us off the main roads and we discover some exceptional coffee houses and of course excellent coffee!
Hope that you enjoyed our road trip to Kanchanaburi!
Kim Waddoup enjoyed a lifetime in the tourism business and is an active ‘Silver-Ager” living in Thailand. He writes for his age group with high varied articles covering subjects relevant to retirees living in, or visiting Thailand. Any questions or comments on this post? Please do feel free to contact me through our ‘Contact Form’ or directly [email protected]