This day trip focuses more on the Thai-Burma train journey, ending at Erawan Waterfalls. 

From 1942-1943, during World War II, 60,000 American, Australian, British and Dutch Allied Prisoners of War and an estimated 100,000 Asian civilians were subjected to slave labour in constructing the Thai-Burma Railway by the Japanese forces who occupied Thailand. It was a 415-kilometre rail line between Thailand and Burma, at the neck of the shared peninsula, whose tracks were torturously gouged through jungle terrain and rock cuttings by hand, to procure a transport route for weapons, troops and supplies.

A white and blue train passes a river in a green jungle valley in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
The best way to get from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi is by train or minibus. The currency code for Baht is THB. 100 Thai Baht at the time of writing was 2.75 Euros / 3.30 USD.
Beige and blue roof huts and two boats in front of the Bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand
The Erawan Waterfalls of Kanchanaburi. Image: © Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The Hell Fire Pass is the largest rock cutting excavation site on the Death Railway, named because of the scene of flickering torchlight and the fires that burned as prisoners worked long into the night during the ‘Speedo’ construction period.

History of the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

On the other side of Nam Tok Train Station from Erawan is Sai Yok National Park – another scenic waterfall spot. Here the Sai Yok Noi Waterfall (Khao Phang Waterfall) cascades over golden limestone rock, reaching 15m high into the jungle foliage.
The bus between Kanchanaburi and Erawan National Park is hourly.
The Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand – A Scenic Journey Into a Dark Past
Those who died in the toil of the railway build were buried in unmarked graves alongside it, and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery was one of three final resting places established after the war in honour of those who lost their lives. The two other war cemeteries are located in Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar (the final terminus) and Chong Kai, close to Kanchanaburi.

Kanchanaburi Death Railway Today

This park, filled with hiking trails and caves beyond the star water attraction, is named after the three-headed elephant Hindu god, Erawan, with the highest waterfall said to resemble the deity.
You’ll find tiered chlorine blue and neon turquoise pools within the verdant jungle green of the Erawan National Park. It’s the typical last stop on this journey that invites you to get within the depths of Kanchanaburi’s pristine nature after joyously passing its fringes from the rail carriage.

Scenic and Historic Things to See in Kanchanaburi

The first bridge, constructed in 1943, was wooden and later replaced by the steel bridge that stands today. Walkways on either side of the rails have viewing platforms overlooking the river. It is a poignant reminder of how and why it came into being as visitors wander its tracks between the two daily train journeys that cross it.
Travelling from Bangkok, many visitors are unknowingly already on the railway’s path before they reach Kanchanaburi, where the lesson of the region’s dark history poignantly begins.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery 

A woman in a blue vest leans on the window ledge of a train carriage window, looking out to the green countryside scenery in Kanchanaburi.
In the last third of the journey, you will pass Tham Krasae Station, another outpost of the Death Railway, whose wooden viaduct trestle bridge that curves around the rock wall and stretches over the river embankment was also built by the Prisoners of War.
Museum exhibit showing the Prisoners of War constructing the Thai-Burma Death Railway A red and black rusty Japanese train used during WWII on display at the JEATH Museum in Thailand. A wooden railway carriage used during the construction of the Death Railway in Thailand, on display in a museum. Wording is inscribed in white on red paint.

  • Open every day 08:30 am to 4 pm.

JEATH Museum

The area is also the 400 metres long and 27 metres high Hintock Bridge site, whose collapse and subsequent rebuild three times came to be known as The Pack of Cards Bridge.
Disclaimer: This post was created in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) when we can travel again. For further Thailand travel advice, find insider guides and features on the Fan Club Thailand website – the official online tourism portal.
Hell Fire Pass memorial site. Image: © Tourism Authority of Thailand.

  • Open every day from 08:30 am to 6 pm.
  • The entrance fee is 50 THB per person.

Thailand-Burma Railway Centre

Two people stand next to a large tree within row upon row of square bronze grave stones in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Neat rows of inscribed bronze gravestones at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

  • Open every dayfrom 9:00am to 4:00pm.
  • The entrance fee is 150 THB per person (70 THB for children).

Visit the Bridge On the River Kwai 

I’ve travelled extensively in Thailand, and you can find more stories on taking a Bangkok bike tour to see a different side to the urban city, riding the 762 road curves from Chiang Mai to Pai, or find out what it’s like to try Muay Thai Training in Thailand.
The higher tier waterfalls require more stamina and time since it’s a bit of a hike on worn trails with wooden ladders. A 1.5km marked trail gets you to the highest waterfall in around 30 minutes and is one of the best for bathing, but the first three waterfalls are the most accessible.
Today, a 130km stretch of the railway track remains only in Thailand, re-opened by The State Railway of Thailand in 1957. It’s a route that keeps its origins in Ban Pong’s town, wedged almost centrally between Bangkok in the east and Kanchanaburi to the northwest, and ends at Nam Tok – the present-day terminus of the Death Railway on the fringes of Erawan National Park.

Death Railway Trip

A man in a blue t-shirt and shorts, holding a pink basket on the yellow wooden interior of the Death Railway carriage.
You can visit Kanchanaburi on a day trip from Bangkok, whether self-planned or on a small group tour. However, the rise of eco-lodges and floating river cabins draws in those looking to stay overnight and enjoy the town’s nature reserves.
The historic Bridge on the River Kwai

  • Only three trains run this route between Kanchanaburi station and Nam Dok daily – a journey across 19 stops.
  • Foreigners are charged 100 THB for a one way, single ticket. Tours include the train ticket.
  • If not being picked up at the final stop – the Erawan waterfalls – you will need to purchase your return ticket at Nam Dok, leaving yourself plenty of time (at least 30 minutes) to purchase and board.
  • The left side of the train is the most scenic for the riverside views.

The black iron railings of the Bridge over the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, backed by forest green Tourists visiting the Bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand, walking on the Death Railway track and standing on the viewpoint ledges. A woman leans on black rails on a platform on the Bridge over the River Kwai looking out towards the Thai river, greenery and orange roofed buildings. A person taking a picture on a train station platform, next to a red and white station sign that reads in black lettering "River Kwai Bridge" in Thailand

Hell Fire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail

A tour booking includes transportation to and from Kanchanaburi, and pick up from Bangkok can start as early as 7 or 8 am. All tours typically include a local lunch, museum and Erawan entrance fees. Your driver will meet you at the Erawan Waterfalls (your last stop) to travel back to Bangkok.
The 1943 ‘Speedo’ period saw a rapid acceleration in demand for completion that increased the torturous conditions. In its overall construction, around 13,000 POW’s and 90,000 civilians from Thailand, Burma and Malaysia died from brutality, disease and malnutrition, giving it the name of the Death Railway.

The remains of a rail track on a rocky path between two high cliffs - part of the Death Railway track in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
Swimming in Erawan National Park. Image: © Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The limestone rock passage is a 2.5km memorial walking path, honouring those who suffered here, drilling holes by hand for explosives used to blast the rocks, then cleared by hand. An interpretive centre is a place for reflection and learning before entering the cutting below.

  • Open every day from 09:00 am to 4 pm.
  • It would help if you had proper footwear when visiting the sites due to rocky climbs and stairways.

Erawan Waterfalls

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From the River Kwai Bridge station in Kanchanaburi, a scenic 17-stop drift cuts through mountains cliffs and bamboo forests and past evergreen riverbed valleys towards the serenity of the seven-tier waterfalls.

Tiered waterfalls with turquoise water pools within a dense forest - part of the Erawan Waterfalls in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
Here’s how to take this journey and what sites to see that focus on the Death Railway history.
A person swims by one of many waterfalls in Kanchanaburi that flow into bright blue waters in Erawan National Park.
Trains depart from Bangkok‘s Thonburi Train Station at 07:50 am and arrive at Kanchanaburi at 10:25. There is a second train that leaves at 1:55 pm, arriving at 4:24 pm. You can purchase a ticket that continues from Kanchanaburi to the River Kwai Bridge Station or beyond – these two trains being of the service that crosses the bridge and continue to Nam Tok. A one-way ticket costs 110 THB per person.

Further discussion points on responsible tourism in Thailand:

  • The Erawan National Park is open from 8 am to 4:30 pm.
  • The entrance fee is 300 THB / 100 THB for locals.
  • If you plan on hiking to all the waterfalls, bring appropriate footwear to walk on the rocks, ladders and jungle trails and swimwear to enjoy the pools.

Sai Yok Noi Waterfalls

A minibus service runs daily every 20-30 minutes, between 5 am and 11 pm and leaves from Mochit station in Bangkok.
Overlooking the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre is a recent curation similar to JEATH. It includes film achieves and interactive displays chronicling the railway’s construction.

Death Railway Tours and Tickets

Blue, white and pink train carriages curve around a bend through the jungle green of Kanchanaburi, Thailand The brown river with floating huts and jungle green valley in Kanchanaburi Province in Thailand. People hanging out of train carriages on the Death Railway in Thailand, that passes jungle scenery. The Death Railway train in Thailand, passing golden cliffs on the right and jungle green to the left. Rows of rice paddy fields backed by green forest and an elevated golden Buddha in Kanchanaburi, Thailand A woman leans out of a white and blue train carriage window as it journeys through rural Thai countryside
The railway was in operation until June 1945; the border tracks destroyed in 1946 on the British Empire’s orders, protecting their interests in occupied Burma.
Alongside artefacts donated by survivors, a Japanese transportation train, and photographic displays, the museum presents reconstructions to bring to light the horrific circumstances that the POWs faced. From Bamboo huts where prisoners lived, train carriages where they were held prisoner, to models of the crippling working conditions, JEATH aims to show the brutal realities of war. 
A group of young Thai men sit on a golden limestone rock mound in front of a large waterfall that flows from the forest above

How to Get to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok

The oldest of the Death Railway museums having opened in 1977, the JEATH War Museum is dedicated to the victims of the River Kwai Bridge and the Death railway construction. JEATH meaning: Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand, Holland.

By Train

The cast-iron bridge over the River Kwai and its accompanying two-hour cliff winding, countryside-strewn train journey are what remains of Thailand’s Death Railway. Stark reminders of a devastating history that soberly looms in the tropical jungle swaths of Kanchanaburi – considered by locals as one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

By Mini-Bus

This two-day, one night trip is a slow travel exploration of the sites and includes a stay at an eco-friendly bamboo hotel floating. With a private pickup and drop off from Bangkok, you’ll head to the River Kwai and Erawan National park tour with a licensed guide. This extended trip also allows time to take the railway journey at your leisure.

  • The journey to Kanchanaburi takes two hours.
  • A one-way ticket costs 110 THB per person.

Between Kanchanaburi to Erawan National Park

Often, the act of travel goes beyond seeking the beauty in your surroundings but taking an essential journey into a country’s history in recognising and understanding how to reconcile the present’s peace with a devastating past. 

  • The last bus from Nam Dok leaves at 4 pm or 5 pm but check the daily schedule.
  • A one-way bus ticket costs 50 THB.

Further Information

A full-day tour in Kanchanaburi includes stops at the River Kwai bridge, JEATH Museum, Tham Krasae Station, and Tiger Cave Temple. The tour starts in Kanchanaburi, so you will have to make your way there from Bangkok.
It wasn’t only the rail tracks built with slave labour. With a route crossing many valley rivers, bridges were also constructed by hand. The Bridge on the River Kwai is the most well known of them all, made famous by the 1957 film that dramatised the Thailand-Burma Railway history. As you stand within the manicured lawns lined with row upon row of graves with inscribed bronze plaques, it’s a sad realisation of the human cost of the railway you will soon travel.
People lean out of a blue and white train - the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi – as it curves past a jungle green river bank

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