William Putnam

A brief adventure in Kanchanburi

A welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok

With the chaotic traffic, cacophony, political turmoil, and Americanization in Bangkok, it is often easy to forget that Thailand is actually a pretty charming place. Do not misunderstand me. I love Bangkok. The constant rush, lack of self-awareness, cosmopolitanism, and mix of East and West constantly excite and challenge me. However, sometimes it can be pleasant to get away.

Living in such a hectic town can really zap one's energy. Despite its unique charm, Bangkok often feels like the capital in The Hunger Games, except all of the natural beauty has been shipped off to the other provinces. Bangkok, at least in certain parts, has the opulence and the elitism of the capital in that film, but it is missing the beauty of the Thai landscape. With all of the islands, mountains, waterfalls, and pastoral farmland only a short distance away, there are really no good excuses not to see some of the "real" Thailand from time to time.

Last week, I went to nearby Kanchanaburi province for three days with my girlfriend. Initially, we planned on visiting the Death Railway after seeing the film The Railway Man. However, we were sidetracked from our initial plans after we learned of all the things to do in this large province.  Allow me to share a brief synopsis of our trip.

We spent the first night a few kilometers out of town, at Xanadu Resort. It's a great, relaxing place with a pool and river view. There was also a small Thai village nearby. It was a bit of a trek, but we were able to hike over there and enjoy some fresh fried rice and conversation (well, what we could manage to get across) with the locals.

We decided to move into the town itself for our second night, so we moved to PY Guesthouse near the JEATH War Museum. It was a small place run by some of the nicest Thai people I have met. They picked us up from nearby the War Cemetery and drove us to the bus station when we later went to Erawan Waterfalls. The guesthouse also had free bicycles and a couple of surprisingly good motorbikes for rent. All of this was only 600 baht per night.

During our second day, we got up early and went to the JEATH War Museum, which was an informative yet poignant experience. We decided early on that we would visit Erawan Waterfalls and the Tiger Temple. However, the motorbike at our guesthouse was taken, so getting to the Tiger Temple proved to be too difficult. Luckily, there was a bus service to Erawan Waterfalls. Erawan Falls is a seven-level waterfall and national park. It costs 200 baht for foreigners to enter, but if you show your work permit, then they will charge you the Thai rate of 40 baht. We stayed at Erawan until 4 pm. We were unable to make it to the seventh level due to lack of time and thirst, as we had forgotten to pack water for the trip. We turned around at the fifth step. Next time, I will make sure to bring water and not get so sidetracked at each level of the waterfall.

We arrived back in Kanchanaburi Town at around 5:30 pm and visited the War Cemetery. There was another museum nearby, but it was already closed. After the cemetery, we took a motorbike out to the famous Bridge on the River Kwai. The train passed us while we were on the bridge. It was both nerve-wracking and humorous to see so many Thai people taking selfies on the train tracks in front of the moving train. The train chugged along languidly, so it was not as dangerous as it sounds. Still, it did make me wonder whether most Thais have any conception of their mortality.

We took the train back to Bangkok, which was an experience I have ambivalent feelings about. The views were great; the speed and allergies were not. In addition, with all the protests, the traffic in Bangkok was horrific, so getting from the Thonburi train station to the BTS was quite difficult. Still, I think it was worth it just to hear some old Thai women telling the security guard to Jai yen yen when he told them to hurry up as they were getting off the train.

After living abroad for a long period of time, it is easy to get jaded. Everything starts to feel the same and it seems as if all locals see westerners as walking ATMs. Getting out of the major cities and certain tourist areas (Samui, Pattaya, etc.) allows you to rediscover the Thai capacity for extraordinary kindness and generosity. If anyone is looking to get away for a few days, or even longer, then I would highly recommend Kanchanaburi. I realize that I may have failed to capture its charm in this essay, but that is not the province's fault: it is the fault of my writing and the ineffability of raw experience. If you do not believe me, check it out for yourself. I know I will be back.


This would be a great article if it had photos to accompany it!

By John Johnson, Bangkok (25th May 2014)

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