Visitors to Thailand may not have heard of Kanchanaburi, a town 75 mi/120 km northwest of Bangkok, but they're likely to know about the nearby bridge over the River Kwai built by Allied prisoners of war during World War II. Many prisoners died while working the infamous Death Railway; the bridge itself is unassuming and is now occasionally used by local trains.
The nearby museum chronicles life in the POW camps and the history of the railroad's construction. Take a walk through the immaculately maintained Allied War Cemetery, where you'll find the graves of more than 8,000 POWs who died working on the bridge and railway for the Japanese Army. It's a moving experience. Kanchanaburi can be a day trip from Bangkok but an overnight is well worth the effort, especially if it concludes with a side trip to the temple at Nakhon Pathom. Kanchanaburi is famous for its "floatels," which make an interesting place to stay for the night. There are also many floating restaurants in the area.
If you're spending a couple of nights in Kanchanaburi, consider taking a day trip to Erawan National Park. Easily reached by bus, the park sits in the middle of thick jungle and contains a series of small falls that descend a hill and flow into a series of pools. A hiking trail tracks the falls up the hillside. A swim in the cold, clear pools is a delightful antidote to the thick tropical heat. Boat trips up the River Kwai to see caves and teak forests are also available.
Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park is also worth a visit. The site marks the westernmost expanse of the Khmer Empire with the ruins of a Khmer Angkor period temple. Following its discovery and the subsequent realization of its cultural and historical importance, the Fine Arts Department of Thailand funded a considerable renovation project. Work began in 1974 and was completed almost 13 years later. The impressive monuments housed within the boundaries of this shady, well-maintained park are easily accessed by bicycle.
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