We didn’t know much about Kanchanaburi when we arrived – it was merely a stopover for the days before and after our trip to Elephant Haven.
We booked rooms at Tamarind Guest House, in the town itself but right on the River Kwai. And when I say right on, I mean it. Our rooms were literally floating on the river! The view we had from the seating area in front of our rooms was amazing and we were able to watch the sunrise and sunset, as well as monitor lizards swimming in the river all day. All this for just £7 a night. Bargain. The staff here were really helpful too, and it’s a good location for the many bars and restaurants you’ll find in town.
Things to do
Get drunk for 10 baht – No, really. Well, almost anyway. There’s a bar on the main road in town (just outside the entrance to Tamarind Guesthouse, conveniently) called Get Drunk for 10 baht. It serves shots of various alcohol for, you guessed it, the bargain price of 10 baht a pop – that’s around 25p. Our favourite shot was black cock, and you’ll see various punny signs around the bar referring to this. The jokes don’t ever get old, trust me.
Eat pad thai – We visited Crua Sea Rung Rueng restaurant on our first night and loved it so much we kept going back. Their money bags are a cross between a wonton and a spring roll and are totally delicious. Oh, and their pad thai is pretty good too…
Visit a night market – Our last night was spent stocking up on food at the night market for our impending bus journey to Chiang Mai. Everything we tried here was delicious – the freshly made salad boxes are great for eating on the go. It’s a nice, local market with prices to match.
Walk across the Bridge on the River Kwai – Ok, so there’s a white lie here. This river wasn’t originally called the River Kwai. The author, Pierre Boulle, had never actually been to the bridge described in the book. He knew that the Death Railway ran parallel to the River Kwai for many miles, and assumed that it was the Kwai which it crossed. It didn’t – the bridge actually crossed the Mae Klong river. It was this bridge, however, which inspired the book and has become famous thanks to its success. There’s scores of tourists here but the scenery is fascinating. Definitely a must do.
Getting from Kanchanaburi to Chiang Mai, our next destination, proved to be an adventure in itself. We forgot that it was just after New Year when we planned our travel, so the overnight train north from Bangkok was already fully booked by the time we got around to checking. Fully booked for the next seven days, in fact. Bummer.
We discovered that there was actually an overnight VIP bus from Kanchanaburi directly to Chiang Mai. Leaving at 7pm from the bus station, you’ll arrive in Chiang Mai just before 6am. We bought our tickets from the bus station directly – a steal at just 750 baht (around £18).
The VIP bus was actually the most fun mode of transport I’d used in a while. We were boarded very quickly and sat in our assigned seats – we’d been able to pick these at the time of booking which was very handy. The bus had some really funky disco-style lighing and the chairs reclined almost fully. We had built-in footrests, curtains, and blankets. We set off on time (actually on time, not “Asia time”) and had a brief outline of the journey given by the conductor.
During the journey, we were given a small sandwich, a snack, a bottle of water and a Pepsi. Later on, another snack was handed out too. Oh, and I haven’t even covered the toilet! Instead of the foul-smelling, overflowing chemical mess you’ll usually find on the buses in Asia, we had a proper porcelain toilet with its own room and a sink/dressing compartment too. The best part? It was clean and there was an endless supply of toilet paper.
You’ll arrive in Chiang Mai at around 5.30-6am, and the bus station is outside the city itself. My advice would be to do what we did – hot-foot it to the McDonald’s around five minutes’ walk from the bus station. They’ll be open already, they have free wifi and they serve a mean breakfast.
If you can’t get onto the overnight train, this is definitely a good alternative!