Set in a landscape of limestone hills just 120km from Bangkok, the provincial capital of Kanchanaburi occupies a scenic spot at the point where the River Kwai Noi merges with the River Kwai Yai to become the Mae Khlong. The town is most famous for its World War II role as a POW camp and base for construction work on the Thailand– Burma Railway, chiefly because of the notorious Bridge over the River Kwai, which spans the river here. But the more immediate attractions are the guest houses whose rooms overlook the river, the numerous nearby caves, temples and historical sites to explore, and the organized treks and rafting trips.
Nearly all Kanchanaburi's official attractions relate to World War II and the building of the Thailand– Burma Railway. Day-trippers and tour groups descend in their hundreds on the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai, the symbol of Japanese atrocities in the region, though the town's main war museums and cemeteries are much more moving.
The parallel valleys of the Kwai Noi and the Kwai Yai, northwest of Kanchanaburi, are stacked full of great day-tripping opportunities, from the exceptionally beautiful Erawan Falls to the drama of a ride on the Death Railway and the pathos of the World War II museum at Hellfire Pass. There are Stone Age artefacts at the Ban Kao Museum, twelfth-century Khmer temple ruins at Prasat Muang Singh and the (controversial) opportunity to get up close to a tiger at the Tiger Sanctuary Temple.
The Bridge forms the dramatic centrepiece of the annual son et lumièreRiver Kwai Bridge Festival, held over ten nights from the end of November to commemorate the first Allied bombing of the Bridge on November 28, 1944; Kanchanaburi gets packed out during this time, so book accommodation well ahead.