Plenty of war cemeteries, museums, bridges and other tourist attractions - but is there any work for a teacher?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Kanchanaburi is one of the most beautiful provinces in Thailand, with a delightful landscape. It is already well known among war historians and archaeologists for its Neolithic burial grounds. But the past is not Kanchanaburi's only attraction, the province also has numerous other places of interest for nature-loving visitors.
Kanchanaburi offers a wide range of natural (and) man-made sites to visit, all within reasonable distance of the city province; you won't find the high-rise hustle and bustle of Bangkok here, more of the wonderful mountain and forest fresh air with lots of space and attractions.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
There are a few local government run schools, the main one being Daruna Kanchanaburi School, which usually has large classes, some with air-con; some without, teaching all grades to high school level it is a large and well respected school in this province. Salary is the standard 30,000 - 40,000 baht (degree and TEFL required). They often have vacancies throughout the year for teachers. Accommodation is provided on campus with use of their pool and gym.
Kanchanaburi University Rajabaht (now called university as all other Rajabahts in Thailand) about 10 kms outside of town, is a large and attractive campus built around peaceful bush surroundings, and has a reasonable workload for teachers of English five days a week with weekends off. The 12 month contract offering 30,000, work permit assistance and medical insurance.
Anuban Kanchanaburi School has an MEP program. Its NES teachers can expect a salary around 30,000 (degree) to 35,000 (education degree). Accommodation in the city can range from 3,000 to 7,000 baht, and good Thai meals can be found within walking distance of the school for 30 to 40 baht. There are plenty of tuk-tuks and songkaews found near the bus station, which is also walking distance to the school.
The upside of working here is the fresh air, the reasonable, rewarding workload and hassle free transport.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Kanchanaburi is located approx 130 km west and slightly north of Bangkok, you get there by either going from Kaosan Rd. via mini bus, cost: 100 - 150 bht, usually leaving first thing in the morning and arriving THREE hours later, why? Because this is a milk run for the private tour operators and you will have to put up with a cramped back-packer sardine can that takes the first hour to get OUT of Bangkok. (there are now more services provided at different times of the day, check with the tour operator)
The second and more palatable way is to go to the Southern Bus Terminal and catch an air-con coach that departs every 20 minutes between 6.00 am and 7.30 pm daily (you can choose between the VIP coach with a toilet on board or the normal bus without) The journey takes just under two hours and you can mingle with the local Thai passengers and feel more comfortable. The other way is by train from Bangkok Noi railway station (Thonburi station) - and these trains leave twice daily.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
Don't expect the delights of city style night-life here, but there a some great places to go for a great night out.
There's Discovery night club: free entry but generally for the local "well off" and trendy Thais, expensive drinks, great shows with live bands and DJ's, again, you can walk into Discovery at midnight and be the only falang in sight (open till 2.00am).
The other large night club is next to the River Kwai Hotel called Glitzy's, it is a spacious venue that pushes the latest dance music with great local bands and floor shows (open till 2.00am) no cover.
Otherwise you can go along to the local farang bars, the most famous being The "No Name Bar", it was one of the first to start up in Kanch and they serve reasonably priced drinks, have a pool table and even serve up ‘Western' style meals (pies, mash, English breakfast) like do a few other bars on the strip, most have a pool table and play a variety of Thai and Western music, which you will mainly find on the main road where the largest concentration of guest houses are, so better you just go and find out for yourself when you arrive.
*Kanchanburi is vastly growing to accommodate the influx of tourists and expats to the region so the number of bars and guest houses are also on the increase.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
Kanchanaburi has plenty of cheap houses and apartments to rent. You can get a huge house with three bedrooms, garden and lots of space for about 7,000 baht/month or an apartment, usually the two tier ‘Thai style' ones (bedroom, lounge unfurnished) for around 3,000 baht/month.
It also helps to know someone local who can negotiate for you and make sure you get something decent. While you're waiting, you can try staying in one of the guest houses which offer rooms for between 150-500 baht/night the average being 300 (air-con, hot shower, Western toilet) some of the most famous being: Sugar Cane (1 and 2), Blue Star, Apples, The Jolly Frog and Sams, which lie on the main road heading towards the "Bridge"
Shopping malls, department stores?
Kanchanaburi has a reasonable shopping centre in the town heart, with many of the local markets surrounding it. In recent times, a Tesco-Lotus was built and this has enhanced Kan's shopping credibility a lot.
There is a small mall in the town centre close to the bus station. Just outside is a Robinsons with all the usual stores and eateries, it is very popular at the weekend.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Excellent, just as you would expect in a town the size of Kanchanaburi
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
As Kanchanaburi is a very popular tourist destination you can feel quite safe any time of the day. Folks here are very friendly and used to seeing lots of farang.
Nobody I know of has been harassed by the locals unless THEY of course are the cause of the trouble i.e.: drunks and yobs (yes we have our fair share) wandering around with a chip on their shoulder, but that goes for anywhere in Thailand. There is a good tourist police presence and they are very helpful and courteous so there is feeling of security and well being all around town.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
There are not many meter taxis in Kan, but a few rickshaws around the touristy areas and songthaews wait at the bus terminals, mainly motorcycle taxis.
All charge about half the price of what you would pay in Bangkok. (50 baht to most guest houses in Kan) Buses run frequently round town and you can travel to the popular attractions easily for 50-60 baht.
Main advantages of living there?
The big advantage of living in Kanchanaburi is obviously the clean air and less traffic pollution along with the natural environment which is abundant throughout this province. Also, the locals are very friendly and it's much cheaper than Bangkok.
And what are the downsides?
Well, every place has its negative distractions, Kan probably suffers what like most other provincial towns suffer i.e.: a lack of the big department stores, movie theatres and it gets damn hot in the hot season, so if you can't hack the heat, Kan can be brutal, especially in April where it can reach 40-50 degrees.
Life is slow, laid-back and easy going, well, I'd call it more an up-side but generally depends on what you are used to. Just don't come and expect life to be like you would experience in the big city.
Any local attractions?
If you've never been to Kan then you haven't experienced Thailand, I can happily say this and I've seen most of Thailand with its beautiful beaches to its wonderful village-forest communities. Kanchanaburi offers both natural and historic wonders that you can't find anywhere else in Thailand, here are some of the major attractions:
Kao Pun Wat and its cave, run by the local monks. You can also visit the large golden Buddha above this Wat that overlooks the Kwai Noi river, about 5 km from town.
Erawan National Park is probably the most famous of natural sights in this area. It has a seven tier magically beautiful waterfall running through it, 80 km out, 400 baht entry. The climb is steep and so is the price, considering the locals only pay 20, but TiT. (Goes for all national parks in Thailand)
Sai Yok Waterfall: This place is one of the most beautiful places I have been in Thailand so far, if you like waterfalls, rivers and forest this is a must visit, especially O/N with a full moon and the constant waterfall serenading you, here King Rama V visited, blessed and bathed in the local stream, magical.
Hell Fire Pass: Construction of the cutting commenced 25th April 1943 (ANZAC day). The excavation of soil and rock was carried out using 8lb hammers, steel tap drills, shovels, picks and dynamite. Air compressor drills and jack hammers were used for a short time, the bulk of the waste rock was removed by hand, using cane baskets and rice sacks slung on poles. In an attempt to complete the section on schedule, for the six weeks leading up to its completion in mid August, the POW's were forced to work 12 to 18 hour shifts around the clock, without a rest day. The Hellfire pass section of the Thai-Burma railway cost the lives of at least 700 of the 1000 POW's allocated there, including 1 (not 69) beaten to death by the guards. To walk this pass and its adjoining track can change your view on human kind, I for one cannot for the life of me comprehend the hardships and mentality of the men who worked lived and died building this railway.
Don - Rak War Cemetery : The main Cemetery situated in the heart of town, walk through and count the graves..6,982 Australian, Dutch and British POW's buried here from building the Thai-Burma railway.
Chonk - Kai War Cemetery : 1,740 POW's buried here from building the same railway for the Japs, situated about 10 minutes out of town.
*Out of the 60 000 odd POW's that were sent to Thailand to build the railway, 12 299 died either from starvation, disease, exhaustion and cruelty. But from what we know, the Japanese pressed into slavery a further 90 - 120 000 coolie (we may never know the real number) made up of Thais, Tamils and Burmese of which at least 2/3rds died, most have not being recovered and still lie beside the railway.
The Bridge War Museum: Situated right next to the Bridge over the Kwai River, this museum is large, dusty and confusing, gives some good representation of war relics from WW2 Thailand but mixes in other continents, leaders, history that doesn't really belong here. 30bht entry.
JEATH Museum: Stands for all the countries involved in building the Thai-Burma railway, Japan, England, Australia, Thailand, Holland. Another failure to represent the accommodation and conditions of the POW's in their camps during WW2, dusty, scruffy and ill kept by the local monks, 30bht entry, better to avoid both of these and go to :
The Thai-Burma Railway Museum: This Museum is the ONLY museum in Thailand that truly represents the history of the Thai-Burma railway, because it is professionally run, set out logically and faithfully by a few dedicated and hard working ex-pats and Thais. Situated opposite Don-Rak Cemetery, it is definitely under-rated presently as not enough tour guides, agencies, and media sources can be bothered to promote it. 60bht entry.
The Bridge on the river Kwai : Of course, the main reason most tourists come to Kanch to see, some expect a 200ft high wooden masterpiece, stretched across a deep chasm, others expect a totally rebuilt replica, some, know better. Little did Pierre Boule realize the impact his novel "The Bridge on the River Kwai" would have for generations to come, and especially the impact on the country of Thailand for its economy and tourism opportunities, The book, written in 1954 tells the account of a group of allied POW's interment and building of a rail-way bridge for the occupying Japanese in WW2 Thailand. It became a best seller and in 1957 Hollywood decided to make a movie of it and picked David Lean (later to film epics like "Laurence of Arabia") to direct. The script written, the cast picked and all that was needed was location, and where did they go...Ceylon of all places, that's right because their WAS NO bridge over the Kwai river then or ever, the fascination and romantism with Boule's original novel pressed Hollywood to copy his description and actually built a 150ft high bamboo and wood structure over a chasm somewhere in the jungles of Ceylon, at the end they really blew it up while a real train crossed it, a Hollywood spectacular if ever there was one, and once released into the cinemas became a hit world-wide. Meanwhile back in Thailand the Government were starting to get more and more enquiring visitors who wanted to SEE this magnificent bridge, in 1957 of course the closest thing they had that fitted the movie's description was in Kanchanburi being the Tamarkan Bridge over the Mae Klong river so in 1960 they...renamed and extended this from the existing Kwai-Noi river, there you are, NOW we have a bridge over the Kwai, of course the bridge was built by POW's not as spectacularly as in the movie, but who cares...money talks and Thailand and especially Kanchanaburi was about to became a very famous and must tourist destination.
The Bridge in Kanchanaburi: This bridge has its own story to tell, albeit not like the movie portrays, as a matter of fact only two things are correct in the movie: one, the bridge was built by POW's and two, the camp commandant in charge at the time was actually named Colonel Saito, the rest is fiction from Boule's pen. This bridge as you see it today, contrary to what the tour guides, or any history books say IS the actual bridge they built in WW2, the only thing that has being rebuilt since is the middle rectangular steel spans which were bombed and destroyed by allied aircraft in 1944-45. The railway by the way was pulled up after the war between Namtok and Thanbyuzayat and sold back to the then Thai Government by the British, (most of the rail and bridge parts were stolen from the Brits in Borneo and transported to Thailand by the Jap Army).
*If you look closely at all the telegraph poles along most of Thailand's railway, you will see they are made using rail tracks, these are what remains of the real death railway today, believe it or not.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
The best place is along the main road leading to the bridge. Here they will gather at local bars like ‘Berne's Blue's Bar', ‘No-Name Bar', Friends bar, Jungle Bar (to name a few) to drink, play pool and chat - but it's easy to avoid all westerners by going to the numerous Thai establishments.
In other words, Kan is big enough to be enjoyed by all without stepping on anyone's toes.