A Full Day DIY trip to Kanchanaburi

It was my annual Thailand trip two weeks ago. I didn’t want to stay within Bangkok because I will be there for ten days so I planned three out of town places: Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, and Hua Hin. We weren’t able to go to Hua Hin, but that’s okay.

I really wanted to go to Kanchanaburi though, mostly because I wanted to ride through the Death Railway and walk through Hellfire Pass. I read through different blogs and forums how to go to Kanchanaburi and it has always seemed quite tricky because there is no definite advice on how to get there. A lot of people do advise staying for more than a day in order to see everything it has to offer. I’m not particularly interested in going to the falls/cave or generally any nature stuff so I didn’t bother with that. I found day trip tours from Klook, but it doesn’t cover everything that I want to do in Kanchanaburi.

A DIY trip is the best and here is my guide on how to go to Kanchanaburi and Hellfire Pass including a train ride that passes through the death railway.

We woke up really early for our trip to Kanchanaburi. I think we set an alarm at 4:00, pretty much just for me because I take quite a bit to get ready. We stayed in Bang Na area and from there we took a Grabcar to Sai Tai Mai Bus Station (Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal) (THB 380).

We arrived in the bus terminal at around 5:30. It was about a 20-30 minute ride from where we were staying at.

When we got to the bus station, I was slightly expecting it to be busy like Mo Chit, but it was empty and really quiet, but maybe that was because of where we were dropped off. There are instructions on how to get to the ticket booths so despite it being empty, we were able to find our way easily.

When we got to the ticket booth, we were advised to go directly to Platform 10 to pay. I don’t know if this was just at that time or you can just go there directly but I advise heading to the ticket booth first to ask!

Platform 10 had a sign that says Kanchanaburi and there was a ticket counter. You have to pay before getting on the bus and the fare was THB 120* (I actually can’t remember if it was 100 or 120, but I fairly recall that it was less than 150 THB).

The bus wasn’t full at all. I think we left the bus terminal 10 minutes after sitting in. They don’t wait for the bus to be full, there were barely any passengers in when we left. It was a fairly comfortably bus ride even though the bus was old.

It was about a 2 hour bus ride, and we were dropped off in the Kanchanaburi bus station at around 8:00 AM. When we got off, there were a lot of taxi drivers asking if we wanted a ride. We politely declined every offer since our plan was just to go to the cemetery, have a quick breakfast and then wait for the train to Nam Tok. This was a huge mistake on our end because there was a bit of distance from the bus terminal to the train station and we could’ve done more things with the 2 hours we had if we rented a taxi to take us to places.

We walked first to Kanchanaburi Train Station. We read a blog advising to ride the train here as opposed to near the Bridge over River Kwai station. The Kanchanaburi Train Station is near the War Cemetery (almost across from it, give or take about 300 m. away). The walk from the bus terminal to there took us almost 30 minutes, and by then the sun had almost risen fully. When we got there, we looked at the schedule to plot out which train we will ride. Eventually we settled on the 10:25 train, and was told that we can only pay for the tickets 30 minutes before it arrives.

The train schedule in the Kanchanaburi train station. We could have taken train #909 or the Excursion train since it was Sunday, but we were told that we need to reserve three days earlier.

We left and had a quick breakfast in the 7/11 and walked to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

The cemetery is hard to miss. It stands out in the middle of the town.

The cemetery itself wasn’t that huge but it seems to be well maintained. It was very nice to see some graves having flowers, meaning they have been visited previously.

One portion of the cemetery. Graves were organized based on their nationality (or which place they served at) which made it easy to locate particular graves. There is also a list of names at the end of the cemetery.

We ended up spending a lot of time in the cemetery. I don’t have relatives in it, but some of the graves had messages which were heartbreaking. A lot of the men who served were also around my age (early 20’s). We never really learn this in History classes, as our WWII classes mostly focused on Japan’s rise to power (very briefly) and then emphasizes on the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. It makes you realize just exactly how wide the WWII was and how pretty much each and every place has something going for them every time.

It was starting to get really hot and we saw this center and decided to check it out. We were supposed to go to the Bridge over river kwai and the JEATH museum but we had under an hour left and didn’t want to rush ourselves too much. We still couldn’t find a taxi to take us there and there didn’t seem to be much public transportation around the area.

This was a small building just across the cemetery.

We went in and it was part souvenir shop and part museum. The museum entrance costs THB 150 but since we didn’t have much tine to be able to go around, we opted not to go around and stayed insted. They had a cafeteria and a pay bathroom which was THB 50 (refundable if you buy something the souvenir shop). We decided to go there as we didn’t know what the bathroom will be like on the train (or any other opportunity for us to go to the bathroom actually).

I saw that they have a Prisoner of War database. My friend has a relative which was a PoW and I didn’t see his name in the cemetery. I tried my luck with them and provided them all the information I knew. It got two matches — one of which ended up to be his relative. It was pretty amazing.

After being there, we went to the train station and paid for our tickets which was THB 100. There was also a booth that sold tickets for THB 300 which includes a free drink and a certificate.

Our train tickets.

The Kanchanaburi train station.

The train is old and doesn’t have AC. We were scheduled to leave at 10:35, but I think we didn’t leave the train station until 11.

The blog advice was right. Our train was spacious but when we got to the Bridge over River Kwai station, there were so many people. I wouldn’t have enjoyed that as I absolutely dislike crowds.

Passing through the Bridge Over River Kwai.

The ride to Nam Tok was another 2 – 2.5 hours. The train was pretty slow and it was quite hot but it provided unmatched views of Thailand.

It was sad to imagine how much the people have trouble building the train tracks. Some of the places were plain grassy areas that would have been easy, but we also passed by a cave and a side of cliff. I think the cave was man made.

We reached Nam Tok at around 1 in the afternoon. We found a taxi that will bring us to Hellfire Pass for THB 400. Luckily we found another pair of tourists that wanted to do the same so we split the 400 among us. We asked the driver to stop us by the the Sai Yok waterfalls so we could see it also.

There was much anticipation as to what the falls look like, so this was a little disappointing. I was imagining more water and less people swimming in it, but the place reminds me very well of Majayjay falls back home wherein they made the falls accessible to people to enjoy.

After that quick stop, it was a 20 minute ride from there going to Hellfire Pass. We got dropped off the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Center which was a free museum dedicated to teaching people about what happened during the creation of the railway.

The center had a lookout/viewpoint deck. It was rainy.

The center was a little small but it was filled with informative information about the Hellfire Pass.

The entrance. The sides of the walls are filled with names of everyone involved in the creation of the railway.

The food rationed provided to the workers.

We spent about half an hour inside the center before heading out to the Hellfire Pass. Unfortunately the rain was so strong so we had to wait for it to subside so that we can go and walk around. Audio guides were also given to be used for free.

The start of the walk to Hellfire Pass.

That was pretty much the end, there was a way to walk more but it was raint and I didn’t want to walk further. They also had to close a certain portion of the hike due to landslides.

We left the Hellfire Pass around 3:30 and walked towards the exit to the bus stop. The bus going back to Kanchanaburi only comes every hour, and the bus stop was this yellow waiting shed on the other side of the road. It was a little nervewracking to cross the highway but luckily there isn’t that much cars passing by. There is a schedule and the last bus comes at around 5:10. Our bus arrived a little past 4:10 (beyond the schedule). The fare was THB 130.

I’m not sure how long the bus ride back to Kanchanaburi is, but it is definitely faster and more comfortable than the train ride. Please bring your ID or passport because there was a security checkpoint we went through and we got asked for our ID’s.

When we got back to Kanchanaburi, the food stalls were starting to open and we decided to try the street food pad thai. It was my first time try street food and it was good! Both of the pad thai was only THB 40 each.

Really good pad thai! Probably the best pad thai I ever had.

After that we decided to go home. The bus already drops you off at the Kanchanaburi bus station so you can quickly get into a bus back to Bangkok, but we decided to look at the streetfood first.

We took a different bus back to Bangkok. It was a smaller one, like a coaster and it costs THB 120 if you will be dropped off at the Mo chit BTS station. The bus was pretty cool because it had USB charging outlets per seat and free WiFi. It was a rainy drive back to Bangkok but Bangkok itself was dry. We left Kanchanaburi at around 6:30 PM and got back to our place around 10:00.

Kanchanaburi is beautiful. It was still pretty provincial in that everything is just written in Thai, and public transportation is hard to come by (or that we just don’t know how to hail one). It was a charming place and I was really happy to be able to finally visit. The only thing I regret was not being able to see the JEATH museum, but other than that I was very pleased with the whole trip. Even though it was DIY, it was easy to find the transportation as most places drop you off exactly where you need to be.

Here is a summary of how to go to Kanchanaburi and Hellfire Pass:

  1. GrabCar to Sai Tai Mai Bus terminal (Bangkok bus terminal) – THB 380 (price varies depending on your location).
  2. Bus to Kanchanaburi (Platform 10) – THB 120
  3. Kanchanaburi train to Nam Tok (Train No. 257) – THB 100
  4. Taxi to Hellfire Pass (best to split this with a group) – THB 400
  5. Bus to Kanchanaburi – THB 130
  6. Bus to Mo Chit – THB 120
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