Off to Kanchanaburi (Kan-San-Ah-Buri). And so begins our worst travel day of the trip. It was a sad day leaving Koh Samui. We debated taking the hit and cancelling our future reservations to stay on the island, but wasn’t actually an option, more a dream.
Our morning begins with an alarm going off at 5:40am to make our 7:50am flight to Bangkok. However, the island is sleepy in the morning, and it turns out that Grab–Southeast Asia’s ride hailing app–is tough to book that early, and we had to walk about 10-15 minutes to find some WiFi / find a taxi. We barely made our flight, leaving less than 10 minutes to check into our flight.
After a quick flight, we touched down in Bangkok. We (stupidly) assumed the bus station would be close to the airport, and were told to take a shuttle to Khao Son Road, then a taxi to the Southern Bus Station. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong.
First of all, we thought we could taxi to the bus station and cut out the shuttle. The taxi driver did not understand what we meant when we showed him the bus station, written in both English and Thai. He tried to take us to Koh Samui… So, we hopped on the shuttle, thinking hey a shuttle, should be a quick 20 or so minutes! Nope! An hour and a half later of hellish traffic, we pulled up to the crowded Khao San Road and jumped out. Okay, now taxi time. We found a taxi quickly, and he had no idea what the Southern Bus Terminal was. Finally, he said he got it, and an hour and a half and only 10 km later, we pulled up to the Eastern Bus Station. Starving, we gave up and stuffed our faces, and found some WiFi. We hailed a Grab, and another hour later, we made it to the Southern Bus Station!
We really underestimated the traffic and insanity of Bangkok. But, finally we were on our way in a sardine-packed mini bus toward Kanchanaburi. The bus was grime filled and SO HOT. Long story short, we felt like we rolled around in a puddle of grease by the time we pulled up to the station in Kanchanaburi about 6 or so hours later.
The best way to describe the town is… a sleepy Thai town, sans tourism. We might have been the only light-skinned people in a 50 mile radius. We met our Airbnb host at a 7-Eleven, and he guided us to his home in a Thai village. The place could not have been more of a local experience. Without much to do in the town other than eat street food, we took a bus up to Hellfire Pass in the morning.
The pass’ name originated from the railway cutting on the former Burma Railway–widely known as “Death Railway” due to the mass number of POW casualties during WWII. This is an absolutely horrific period in history. Prisoners were forced to work 18 hour days, enduring unimaginable and inhumane environments to build the railway. In this specific area, they were tasked with manually cutting through the mountainside without electric tools, earning the infamous name of Hellfire Pass because the flickering gas light, noise of the drilling rock, and guard’s shadows portraying the very image of hell. It was a chilling experience to witness, knowing the torture that drove the creation of the pass.
To come full circle, we wanted to take the Death Railway train back to town, but needed to travel about 20km. So, we put our thumbs in the air on the highway, and about three cars later a minivan pulls over with a lovely woman and her daughters. They didn’t speak any English, except for the 13-year-old daughter, but were so kind and went out of their way for us! After chatting with the girl for a while, talking about Santa Claus, snowmen, and various topics, we said goodbye to our new friends, and made our way to the train station.
Let me preface with this… Often, being American and/or light-skinned makes us obviously stand out, but usually we are not the only ones in a general area. On this train, we were the only caucasians, and were taken advantage of.
We couldn’t find a ticket station, so found a nice seat by the window, expecting to pay once the train took off like most public transportation in Thailand. After a while, a man comes up to us asking 120 Baht each, and makes us move to a seat with a tiny window. We move, noticing he never went up to anyone else asking for 120 Baht each. Accepting our fate, the train finally being to move. Then, a bratty woman who got on the train late points to our seat and the worker comes up to us and makes us move to the worst spot on the train.
We had no view. The smallest window. To say I was annoyed is an understatement, but nothing we could do. The train ride was okay. It was not as stunning as many reviews said, but we did cross the famous Bridge Over River Kwai, which was memorable.
Anyway, we were pretty pumped to leave the town. Not a town I would ever visit again, but hey, memories! We also had an exciting treat coming up, the reason we went to Kanchanaburi…
We were leaving for the Boutique Raft Resort–literally bungalow-style hotel rooms floating on the River Kwai–in the morning! I used to watch the movie, The Bridge Over The River Kwai, with my grandfather all the time, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Needless to say, we were pretty pumped for this. More to come on this beautiful place later!