Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The hug Guide to Kanchanaburi, Thailand

By: Lisa Jackson
When planning a trip to Thailand, people typically gravitate towards Bangkok and the beaches. But the best of Thailand lies outside of the city and sand.  

Getting There
I realize the word “public bus” may not conjure the warmest of feelings. But really, the three-hour first class bus from Bangkok is reliable, relaxing and offers stunning views of the countryside. For $3, you get a comfy reclining seat, a shared toilet, air conditioning, and a bus attendant who serves refreshments. However, if you’re really adverse to buses, the more expensive options include the train or taxi.

Getting Around
I paid for a private tour with a local operator in order to maximize my two short days in Kanchanaburi. Since the main attractions are spaced out across the countryside, it can be very difficult to get around unless you have more than 2 days or a car rental.

My sister Diana, Mickey of Good Times Travel and I
Good Times Travel is a highly professional local travel agency that custom-built my itinerary through email. For $200, GTT provided me with an English-speaking guide and a driver, all meals, hotel, attractions and a private three-hour ride to Ayutthaya at the end of the trip.  It was worth every cent. We were chauffeured around in an air conditioned van and provided with drinks and cool towels (a necessity in 40-degree heat!). 
Bridge Over the River Kwai
What to See
This area is infamous for the POW camp that existed under the Japanese occupation of Thailand during World War II. There are a plethora of sites to commemorate the building of the railway and the deaths of 100,000 Asian and POWs labourers during its completion.  
If you have a few hours, it’s worth a visit to the Hellfire Pass Museum and trail. It really brings to life the history and the hellish conditions of prisoners and low-paid labourers who were forced to cut rocks out of the mountain by hand.
The main tourist attraction is the Bridge over the River Kwai.  Walking across the bridge left us feeling “wiggly” due to the large gaps of track below our feet. The highlight – a two hour train ride across the Death Railway.
Diana on the train
Enjoying delicious roasted taro root

What to Eat
Make sure to sample the delicious food roasted on skewers while waiting for the train to arrive. Various roasted meats and seafood are cooked right before you and is typical street food in the area. Don't miss the roasted corn and taro root.

What to Do
Hike in Erawan National Park
Arguabley the most beautiful waterfall in Thailand and a must-see!  Bring a bathing suit, a towel, water, snacks and hiking sandals to hike up the 7-tier waterfall that resembles the erawan, the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. You can swim at every level, and even slide down the rocks! You will need at least a half day to fully appreciate the beauty of this park. Warning: watch out at the entrance for the seemingly cute monkeys with huge fangs! They will bite.
Where to stay 
We stayed at the Kasem Island Resort – a quirky hotel only accessible by boat, and with cabins overlooking the stunning mountains. Best part of staying at this hotel – watching the sunrise and set over the mountains from the balcony. Also, the cashew nut chicken dish at the restaurant was delicious!  
Kasem Island Resort:  http://www.kasemisland.com

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