Category Archives: Kanchanaburi

The Tiger Cave Temple

Wat Tham Sua

Wat Tham Sua and Wat Tham Khao Noi with rice fields in the foreground

When we first set up, it was our intention on not only giving you an insight into Thai life and culture, but also showing you a bit of “Unseen Thailand”. After all, it has been the long-running mandate of Paknam Web to “Promote Thailand to the World”. If you already know Thailand, then we want you to love it more. If you have never been here before, then we would very much like it if you spend your next holiday here in Thailand. At Thai-Blogs, we would also like to help you plan your holidays by giving you some beautiful pictures of popular destinations around Thailand. Guidebooks are quite good at helping you, but they never give personal opinions. They are also limited on the number of pictures they can show you. The place I want to share with you today comes under the category “Relatively Unseen Thailand”.

Wat Tham Sua

The boy in the left of the picture has just put some coins onto a conveyor belt which is taking the money up towards the Buddha!

These pictures were taken this morning at Wat Tham Sua in Kanchanaburi. The name of the temple means “Tiger Cave Temple” in English. Many of the guidebooks devote only an inch or two of space to this location but they don’t really do it justice. They talk about the “gigantic” seated Buddha and the views that can be seen from the top. Joe Cummings in the Lonely Planet merely says ‘a climb to the top is rewarded with views…” Carl Parkes in his Thailand Handbook goes one step further and says “excellent views”. The Rough Guide comments that the temple makes a “fairly interesting…. trip out of town”. Most people reading that would just say, “Just another temple, not worth my effort”. And they would skip it. That would be a big mistake.

The scenery around this area is simply spectacular. We were there at the close of the rice growing season so the paddies were already brown. For sure, the lush, rich, green colour would have made everything look so much better. Even so, what we saw was definitely worth a trip out of town and I would do it again just to see it during a different season. If you can, rent a motorcycle or car and go by yourself. We went the back way and got completely lost, of course, but found some amazing places along the way that weren’t in any guidebooks. I will share these photos later. It wasn’t actually difficult to get lost for long as we soon saw Wat Tham Seua and neighbouring Wat Tham Khao Noi on a hilltop. The first picture at the top was taken from a road alongside a canal. This was behind the temple so you cannot see the giant Buddha image. The second building from the right is the pagoda where we took the picture at the bottom. The building on the far right belongs to Wat Tham Khao Noi.

Wat Tham Sua

A view from the top of the pagoda with rice fields to the left and the dam and river to the right

From the car park, the sight of the giant seated Buddha high above us encouraged us to climb the many steps to the top. This was a bit like the climb to Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai as the handrail was the back of the Naga snake. This seems to be quite a common feature. However, at a nearby temple, on another hilltop, you climb up the steps INSIDE the Naga snake. That is the first time I had seen one like that. Anyway, at the top of this temple we were presented with a fine view of the massive Buddha image. There were quite a few people around, both Thai and Chinese, but no Westerners. I know they come, but obviously not too often.

From the front of the platform we had some excellent views of Kanchanaburi, together with the river and the dam. Everything was very green. However, around the back it was a different story. As far as the eye could see there were brown rice fields with mountains in the background. Hardly any houses in sight. The picture above shows you that there is almost a dividing line which runs down the back of the temple. Very strange. I took this picture from the top of the nearby pagoda. It is from here that you get the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. It was definitely worth the long climb to the top.

If you are planning a trip to Kanchanaburi then put this temple on your list. And, if you have time, make sure you explore the area and try to visit some of the neighbouring temples. Many of them are built on top of caves like this one is. The temple which had the Naga snake, which you had to enter in order to reach the caves at the top, is called Wat Ban Tham. It is on the side of a hill. You probably can just see it in the distance in the picture above.

We visited quite a few places during our four day holiday and I will tell you more about them here at over the following days. In total we drove about 800 kilometres and took just over 1000 pictures. I love doing road trip and I wish I could do them more often. Maybe one day I can retire from my teaching job and just travel around Thailand writing travel blogs as I go! That will be quite something. Anyway, at some point I will do a  summary of the whole trip with tips on how we planned everything and our experiences on the road. Hopefully this will be useful for people planning to drive in Thailand.

The Floating Nun


It is very difficult now for me to conjure up mental images of what I thought Thailand would like like before I first arrived here. It was back in 1992 when I first started thinking about Thailand. I was in Australia at the time and coming to the end of my one year work visa. (I say “work visa” but I don’t really want to give you the misconception that I was actually working. I had bought myself a station wagon and had spent the year on the road.) It was now time to fly home. I cannot remember exactly why, but I started playing with the idea of stopping over in Bangkok on the way home. I remember going to the local travel agents and flipping through brochures for Thailand. Some of the pictures that caught my attention weren’t of beaches. They were the green rice paddies. The picture above, that I took in Kanchanaburi, brought that memory flooding back today.

Something else that made me pick Thailand was the mention of a tour to the Bridge on the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi. As a youth I had watched many old war movies and had especially liked this prisoner of war movie starring Alec Guiness. It seemed like a good idea to do a pilgrimage to the actual place where the story was conceived. I would have gone but the time and place turned out not to be right. It was May 1992 and a coup was at that time taking place in Bangkok. I decided to fly straight home to the UK.

Kanchanaburi - floating nun

I have now been to Kanchanaburi about four or five times. It might be true that the bridge itself doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but I always recommend people to go there for a long weekend. It is only about 2–3 hours away from Bangkok and the area is quite diversified. Anyway, another incentive to go there soon is that between November 24th and December 7th, Kanchanaburi will be hosting the annual light and sound show for the River Kwai Week. I remember going to see that years ago. If you are in Thailand during that period then I would recommend that you go to Kanchanaburi. To help make your trip a bit more worthwhile, I will give you some tips for places to see.

One of the more unusual attractions to be seen is the “floating nun” at Wat Tham Mongkon Thong. I was quite intrigued when I first heard about this lady. I couldn’t quite understand the attraction. But, it was worth a trip out to the temple just for the novelty. Inside the temple grounds there is an enclosure with a pool of water. The nun gets into the water wearing her white clothes and then proceeds to strike numerous poses of the Buddha. All the time she is spinning around so that everyone can get a good look. I guess the water is heavily salted in order for her to keep her balance, but I am not going to tell you it is an easy thing to do. The show was only about ten baht if I remember right and was certainly worth the effort. Inside the temple they also keep some elephants.

Kanchanaburi - floating nun

Holidaying in Kanchanaburi…

Tourists walking over the famous “Bridge of the River Kwai”

Well, just a short time back feeling rather bored with the repititiousness of my weekend holidays here in Suphanburi I decided to head out of the province and go relax elsewhere for a couple of days.

Suphanburi’s location for onward travel isn’t exactly the most ideal as apart from getting to Bangkok the only other means of inter-provincial travel is by the dreaded ‘rot wan yen’ or ‘non air-conditioned big red looking buses’ as we say in English. Just having had a shower before you got on you’ll be completely covered however in dust from head-to-toe by the time you get off.

Well, not having too much choice, i yet again chose Kanchanaburi as me destination for a few days. Asking me why i still like it, i can only say that most of the tourist areas there haven’t really changed over the years and some of the guesthouses are still looking exactly the same as they did when i first went there back in ’91’. There’s just one strip down by the river that has begun to blossom into the Khao Sarn Road of ‘Kan’ with a steady influx of travellers and ex-pats but certainly nothing to the likes of other busy touristy destinations in the country.

Living in Suphanburi, your blogger friend here ‘Steve’ has to make the unenviable voyage to the immigration authorites of Kanchanaburi every three months to sign a form that reads to the likes of “I Stevesuphan, as an alien in Thailand, declare forthwith that i am not dead but in fact still alive and residing at that same darned-address as before and shall continue to do so for the next three months”.

As you could well have imagined, our Immigration buddies in the provinces aren’t exactly the most over-worked of folk and enjoy passing the days playing match-a-card on their computers and should any Farang appear at the door for some visa regularities he or she will be delayed as long as possible so that the officers in charge will actually feel like they are doing some work. While enjoying your company of course. Should you feel perplexed to why the immigration officials need to ask you so many questions to the likes of ‘Why you come Thailand?’, ‘When you go home your country?’ or ‘You can eat spicy food?’ they are in fact just being amiable, getting a freebie English lesson and are totally oblivious to any kind of proper answer you may give!

Kanchanaburi has more than its fair share of tourist attractions including a few museums, a couple of wartime graveyards, a few shady rickshaw drivers and a bridge. There are also a few more attractions with absolutely nothing to do with the second world war and one of them is the ‘Terrifying Tiger Temple’.

Just a few years back, one of the province’s temples decided to look after a sick tiger and when it was seen that this feline was bringing the temple some attraction a few more tigers were brought in to boost tourist arrivals. Only after a few Farangs were seriously maimed and almost killed by a couple of the temple’s hungry tigers was the temple forced to implement safety procedures and hang up a sign outside which read something like ‘Enter at your own risk. The temple takes no responsibility if one of the tigers has an attitude problem and springs for your throat’.

Then, until a few years back, if tigers weren’t your taste and you prefered a more tranquil sight, Kanchanaburi had its own ‘Floating Nun’. For an entrance fee of just 20 baht the tourist could view one of the temple’s nuns who spent her afternoons miraculously floating while meditiating on the temple’s lake or whatever you want to call it. She passed away a while ago but a disciple of hers is apparantly keeping the ‘foating fad going’. Once upon a time Kanchanaburi was also home to Thailand’s most popular monk a handsome ‘Phra Yintra’ or something like that. But after it was discovered by the country’s media that he had fathered a couple of children and spent his guest-trips to Australia boggying away in Sydney’s discos rather than meditating at the temples he fled the scene for his own safety and now resides in cozy California.

When you are tired of visiting the sights of ‘Kan’ or anywhere else one can just do what i did a while back and get into some conversation with a few of the frivolous Farang ex-pats. I have to disclose a little secret of mine and that is i enjoy playing the ‘Dumb Farang’ at times ie. i can’t be bothered telling any of the expats or local Thais working with the tourists that i’ve been living here for goodness knows how long and able to speak the Thai lingo. So, this time in Kanchanaburi i got chatting away to a couple of the expats there who proudly afforded me an insight into their triumphant business ventures in the province. Of course, they thought i had just arrived in Thailand as an ignorant traveller and so they enjoyed completely exaggerating their knowledge of the Thai language, people, culture and ways. I couldn’t help but laugh under my breath at one of them who was sure his idea for a ‘Turkey Farm’ was great business in the province. “All the Thais will be eating my turkeys within three years”. Sure, man!

I then asked their well thought-over opinions on this question “Since i just come to Thailand but you’ve been here for a year now, please tell me all about Thai women as you must know everything” My questions were answered with such wally wisdom that i almost fell off the seat in disbelief and dismayed to think how many ‘real travellers’ had been on the receiving end of such nonsense.

After these couple of ex-pats had downed a few too many beers and returned home drunk at the fine time of 6 in the evening I had the pleasure of next diguising myself as a ‘English teacher wanna-be’. I was soon in conversation with this English teacher teaching in Samut Prakarn province which is co-incidently Richard’s province. I asked him ‘What do think of Samut Prakarn?’ to which i had to listen to a barage of comments along the lines of ‘Samut Prakarn is the most boring place in Thailand. The food is disgusting, the people are all unfriendly and that school of mine is like a prison’. Sounded like the guy hated the place, couldn’t help but ask ‘Don’t you feel your comments are rather self-opinionated?’.
Bored of having to listen to such bar-stool Farang ex-pat talk i soon asked for the bill. And darned, they over-charged me! the cashier on listening to me for the past couple of hours had really believed me a ‘Dumb Farang’. Could have seen the look on her face when i gave her a ‘telling off’ (in Thai) when i left.

Backpackers sunning themselves at the Jolly Frog Guesthouse

Kanchanaburi is great for one thing and that has to be it’s dirt cheap worthy accommodation down by the river. Just before the main strip before you go up the hill(as mentioned above) there are lots of really quiet places where you can get a room with a view on the river for less than 300 baht a night if you want. You have to be careful though of the hellish disco boats that have plaqued the River Kwae for years on end. A few years back, having not listened to the warning of ‘Don’t stay too near the main bridge’ i was forced to put up with these incredibly loud ‘disco boats’ that sailed past my hut ’til 6 in the morning. Of course i was absolutely furious, on having had a sleepless night, that the guesthouse staff had failed to inform me of such noise-pollution before I had checked-in. But i guess that’s business.

Such discos boats still exist today but they’ve been banned from going up near the ‘main’ tourist accommodation area cause of the innumerable complaints received from elderly Farang visitors along the lines of “By jove, these owners have nay respect fir human life!” Probably even worse now has been the arrival of ‘Karaoke Boats’. So, if you are incredibly unfortunate in choosing your riverside hut for the night you may have to tolerate an entire night of loud Bangkokian tourists blaring away into their microphones singing the likes of “And… I… did it Myyy way”

*Since I wrote up this blog a couple of friends asked me for for my advice on places to stay. I stayed at the newly renovated VN Guesthouse on the river run by the friendly K. Natdina (all the rickshaw/motorbike-taxis know it). In fact everyone knows it as it’s been there for years and years. Great place and very clean and a bargain at just 250 baht a night (non air-con)

KanchanaBuri & SangklaBuri Trip – Day 3

Day 3 (29 August 2004) KanchanaBuri to SangklaBuri

As I am an early riser, I headed for the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery on the Saeng Chuto Road on a motorcycle. The cemetery contained the remains of 6,982 prisoners of war who perished during the construction of the “Death Railway”. During the Second World War, thousands of forced laborers and Allied prisoners of war suffered and died constructing and maintaining the Burma-Thailand railway.

An air of tranquility exudes in this sacred place

It is sad to note that so many young men gave their lives during the war that had no winners.

The tour van came late. The tour guide, Chan, obviously had more drinks than he could handle the night before. Unshaven and dressed shabbily, I now have doubts whether we would be in good hands for the next 36 hours.

The first stop was at the Hellfire Pass Memorial. The Australian Government constructed the memorial in cooperation with the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand in 1998. Hellfire Pass is a 500 meters long and 26 meters deep section of rock that was dug out by Prisoners of War intended to allow the ‘Death Railway’ to continue its route from Bangkok to Rangoon. Soldiers were forced to remove the rock using no more than picks, hammers and their bare hands. Of the 1,000 Australian and British soldiers who took 12 weeks to clear the stretch of mountain, 700 died.

Hell Fire Pass Memorial Museum

Here I quote the information on one of the plaques of the Hellfire Pass. “The name Hellfire Pass relates to the awesome scene presented at night by the lights from the torches and lamps in the cutting (of the pass)”

A section of the pass which claimed so many lives

The next stop was the Erawan Waterfall, followed by the Sri Nakharin Dam. I managed to climb all the way to the top tier of the waterfall with another teammate, while the rest swam in one of the pools at the lower section.

On arrival at SangklaBuri, we checked into a Guesthouse. Run by SY, a soft-spoken and extremely friendly person, the Guesthouse gave us a sense of staying with friends and family. SangklaBuri is really a nice place to relax

The Guesthouse overlook the lake. Here everything seems to stop

We were transferred to see the Mon village nearby. Taking a motorized boat, we surveyed the coast and the Mon village. There is a Wat that was submerged after the dam was built and the place flooded.

Historical Treasure gives ways to development

Later, we visited a Mon village and tried some of the local food there.

Food here is very much Thai

In the evening, we went to a local eating shop (Ran-Ahan) for dinner. SangklaBuri in the evening is a DEAD quiet place as the streets were dimly lit and the market deserted. We headed back to the Guesthouse after dinner for drinks and chit-chat.

SY is a Mon refugee and besides working in the guesthouse, she volunteered as an interpreter for foreign doctors working in the refugee camps along the Thai border. I was told that the two boy soldiers of God’s Army, a splinter group from the Karen Liberation Army (KNU) were staying near SangklaBuri. It would be interesting to visit them but it could be very dangerous.

Refugees staying near the Thai border are a source of cheap labor for the Thai company operating near the borders. They were not covered by insurance and when they met with an accident, their livelihood will be jeopardized. SY who had a degree from a Burmese University was trying hard to master her English with the only resource she had – an old, torn and heavy Burmese-English dictionary. While some of us, me included, complained how slow the broadband is in downloading, there are people out there without access to basic information. On my return to Malaysia, I subscribed, via Internet, a year of Reader Digest for SY to be sent to the guesthouse. A little kindness brings a lot of happiness, month after month.

While we sat in the nice comfort of the guesthouse coffee house and complained about how lousy the food were in the Ran-ahan in the town, there were people out there in the refugee camp, struggling to get even the basic meal.

More pictures can be seen on page 2…

KanchanaBuri & SangklaBuri Trip – Day 2

Kanchanaburi and Sangkhlaburi Trip – Day 2

Day 2 (28 August 2004) Around KanchanaBuri

At 8 AM sharp the tour van was already waiting at the lobby area. I have a lot of respect for most Thais whom I have met for their professionalism. No matter how small a job they do, they always do their best. The van then picked up a Dutch family at Sam Guesthouse and 2 Japanese ladies from a posh resort hotel.

The Dutch family consisted of a farang father, his Thai wife, a girl of about 12 and a boy about 9. They are from the Netherlands and were back here for the holidays. All spoke Dutch while the Mae Farang could speak Thai. The kids too have some command of mother tongue Thai. I am not too sure if the Farang is the kids’ biological father. They are a very loving, noisy and cheerful lot and it was fun travelling with them.

The Japanese were a reserved lot. One of them was studying Law in the U and another one in Business Administration. It was fun too to have them. I am still communicating with one of them occasionally after sending her their digital photos. I used to work part-time for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in the 80’s and could thus speak some Japanese.

And not forgetting the nice lady tour guide, Bee. Bee studied Tourism at the Maha Vithialai Songkhla Nakarin (Prince of Songkhla University – I hope I got the transliteration right). She also has a good command of English and a cheerful disposition. She’s good.

Our first itinery was an elephant ride in a village nearby.

Elephant Ride Station

The next stop was water rafting nearby. Everyone enjoyed themselves very much here.

Bamboo Rafting

The group was then transported to the NamTok Station, which was only one stop away from the famous River Kwai station. Here the view was spectacular.

Finally, the famous River Kwai was in sight.

Composite photo

The Train finally stopped at the River Kwai Station for the passengers, mostly tourists to get down. After the train had stopped, the station become chaotic with tourists walking on the tracks for photo sessions.

Bridge Over River Kwai

Before the end of the tour, we invited the group to join us for the SangklaBuri trip. We needed at least 8 persons for the tour company to agree to arrange the trip using the tour van. The Japanese had to go back due to work commitment. The Dutch, after some family discussions, accepted our offer to join us to SangklaBuri.

As Bee had done a good job, she deserved to be tipped. I could not remember how much we gave, but it was a generous one. Squeezed the boss on the tour fare and gave the savings to the tour guide as an act of social justice? Unfortunately, Bee could not take us to SangklaBuri.

The night was uneventful.

More pictures can be seen on page 2…