Only a few hours before we had been amongst the frenetic activity of Bangkok. Roads full of mopeds and buses, and streets lined with vendors who had assumed their usual spot in the city. Now, we were watching the sun set, its pink glow reflected in the tranquil River Kwai. We had arrived in the riverside town of Kanchanaburi, a few hours North of Thailand’s capital.
Our guesthouse was perfectly perched on floating pontoons on the river. As days passed, we came to realise that this guesthouse was to be the gastronomic highlight of our stay in Thailand so far. We spent long dusky evenings there, anticipating the spectacular offerings of the kitchen below. From ordering, it usually took an hour and a half for the food to appear, comfortingly cooked from scratch and heavily invested with both time and love. Honestly, we would have waited for days if we had to – the food was truly that good. The thatched bamboo dining platform above the water offered wonderful views of the river Kwai and made passing the time a pleasure. We endeavoured to try everything on the menu-from the most aromatic massaman curry we’ve ever come across, to a fiery Burmese curry that put politely, blew our British socks off.
Kanchanaburi’s well-documented history during WW2 is the predominant draw for visitors to the town. The infamous bridge over the river Kwai, originally part of the Death Railway, features as a focal point. Sadly, Allied bombing destroyed parts of the original bridge and in its place now stands an iron replica. For a small sum, one can cross the bridge on a carriage that travels at a sloth’s pace, brimming with camera wielding tourists. Alternatively, you can simply cross the bridge by foot and admire the river from all angles.
Keen to learn more about the history of Kanchanaburi, we visited The World War II Museum and Art Gallery. A small stroll from the town, it transpired to be a never ending chaotic jumble. Display cupboards full of collections ranging from typewriters to fridges- it all became a bit bizarre. It felt as if we had stumbled down the rabbit hole and landed in an unkempt Wonderland. Incoherent but strangely intriguing at the same time, the museum did at least offer rather wonderful views of the river. We spent the good part of an afternoon there, and when we made our exit we were quite lost for words.
Fortunately, Kanchanaburi did deliver a more informative and sensitive museum that described Thailand’s involvement in WW2. The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre overlooks the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, creating an appropriately sombre backdrop to the museum. Row upon row, small stone plaques mark the British, Dutch and Australia POWs lost during the construction of the Death Railway to Burma. The beautifully maintained cemetery is the burial ground for almost 7000 POWs and serves as a poignant reminder of the many lives that were lost in this seemingly peaceful town.
A following visit to the Hellfire Pass, the site of the harrowing labour that occurred during the construction of the railway, proved to be a truly memorable and deeply affecting part of our stay in Kanchanaburi. Post to follow.
We stayed at VN Guesthouse and highly recommend it-be sure to try the food. All of it.