A history-fueled, eye-opening trip from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok: A guest review

Constructed by Japanese’s world war II prisoners, Kanchanaburi’s 300m-long death railway bridge had appealed to me for quite a while. 

Once Thailand’s travel restrictions had finally been lifted, I booked an insightful trip from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and back to Bangkok online. This was a bargain and done hassle-free in just a few clicks.

Kanchanaburi is a convenient 2.5-hour minivan ride away from Bangkok and well worth visiting if you’re only vaguely into history. I’m not exactly a history buff myself but had an amazing time in this affordable city whose lures are also invigorating waterfalls, Chinese-style temples and 100-year old Chinese merchant buildings, aside from the World War II stuff. 

After reflecting at the death railway bridge and the Allied War Cemetery, where I’d walked along row upon row of small, perfectly aligned headstones with bronze plaques, I was ready to head back home from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok.

Speeding to the bus station

Since I don’t particularly like hanging around bus stations, I was riding a tuk-tuk to Kanchanaburi’s bus station only minutes before the scheduled departure time at 5:10 pm. 

Well, to be fair to myself, I’d factored in half an hour, but the tuk-tuk driver showed up rather late at The Nine Guesthouse where I’d stayed the night before.

I was nervously watching the traffic light’s countdown when fat drops of rain started battering down from thick, grey-black clouds. I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it to the bus station in time.

Thanks to my smattering of Thai, “bus pai haa na-tee” (the bus is leaving in five minutes), the guy showed mercy and hurried up.

As if the woman at check-in had expected me, she was standing between old coaches and beckoned me over with a faint smile on her face. Tour operator Happy’s check-in desk was secured with a piece of tarpaulin, but the attached smiley that was larger than a human head radiated a sense of welcomeness.

Happy’s employee shot me a baffled look after seeing the voucher on my cell phone, but I pointed at the booking reference to help mitigate her confusion. It worked! She took a picture of my voucher and showed me the minivan’s seat map on a tablet. “Nang tee nee, dai mai kap?” (Is it okay if I sit here?) I asked, pointing at the passenger seat.

She nodded, said “dai kaa” (okay), handed me my ticket and motioned for me to go to the minibus.

Setting off for Bangkok

The driver was walking to the minivan too when I was about to climb aboard the 21-seater. Unfortunately, there was no time for that barbecue chicken that had tickled my taste buds with its tantalizing aroma, but I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to eat on the bus anyway.

I was glad I’d relieved myself already as it likely would’ve been too late for that as well. I couldn’t check, but I’m sure there’s a restroom at the bus station, because it looks like an acceptable bus terminal with parked minivans galore, several snack shops, food stalls and the like.

There were only three other travelers, all of whom were Thai and wearing a mask. I was also wearing one; that was mandatory after all, just like the social distancing measures. There was a cross on every other of the comfy textile-/leather seats, keeping people from sitting too close to each other.

Happy’s driver turned on the ignition at 5:11 pm, looked left and right, honked twice and pulled out of the bus station.

It was eerily quiet on the minivan; I could hear every gear change. No music was playing on the radio; the guy hadn’t even turned it on. He did, however, give me a friendly smile time and again, radiating kind-heartedness.

The AC was working okay, but I didn’t need a hoodie. If it had been too cold, I could’ve easily adjusted the flap above me. 

Along the route, fancy golden fish streetlamps caught my eye, preventing me from nodding off at dusk. The driver was unperturbed by the fading light and didn’t show any signs of tiredness. He continued to drive at a steady pace but wasn’t in a rush. It had been a smooth ride so far. 

It was 5:50 pm when he stopped for a jiffy to get some drinks for himself. The break was too short for people to get off the bus, though. A few seconds later, he drove on.

Riding to Bangkok at twilight

The skies were darkening in an unforgiving way, making it more and more difficult for me to spot anything nice in the rain, not to mention shoot any decent photographs. On the outbound journey, I discovered lots of artifacts along the way, such as religious sculptures, spirit houses, human-sized plastic roosters and the like.

I managed to recognize some street art though on the median strip. Elephants, deer, horses, and even goat sculptures decorated the grassy strip of ground that separates opposing lanes of traffic. 

I also enjoyed white and golden temple sights as well as themed bridges that were adorned with triangle-shaped, golden symbols, Thai figures and photos of monks, affectionately and respectfully framed in gold.

The driver pulled over at a small Happy bus stop at 6:20 pm. I still had my ticket, and I knew from experience that I mustn’t throw it away, an insight that paid. Here, they collected passengers’ tickets. Just a moment later, the chauffeur continued to drive.

A little later, the driver stopped at a checkpoint to have his papers checked. The police were not there, however. On the way to Kanchanaburi, the cops had been taking travelers’ temperatures, not so this time. 

Then, the guy got back on the bus, rubbed a sanitizer gel all over his hands and drove on in a relaxed manner.

If it hadn’t been for the growling engine, squeaking wipers and the sound of the driver biting into a shiny green apple that, judging from the pleasant smell, must’ve been very fresh, I’d have drifted off. 

We were passing little villages and small towns, but apart from golden, 2m-Buddha statues on sale, a few fruit stalls and street markets as well as huge McDonald’s, KFC, Esso, Shell, and Mazda logos, there was nothing to see, or so I thought.

All of a sudden, a giant elephant statue and Indian-looking goddess standing some 20 meters tall were looking at me with mesmerizing eyes. And close to Bangkok, I spotted a golden, jewel-encrusted temple. There are more than 40,000 in Thailand, but this one was quite an attraction, sparkling even in the dark.

I was also grateful for the wonderful sight of a huge, red-green heart that was glowing from a building as if to say, “welcome back, Philipp.” 

The driver let people get off at Mochit New Van Terminal at 7:50 pm, but he was so kind to drop me off at the BTS station Mochit. 

After a 2h 40m-ride without any toilet stops, I had to dash and forgot to tip him. I remembered later that he hadn’t shot me an evil look in reply and felt guilty. 

Killing time on the skytrain, I googled Kanchanaburi’s graveyard and learned that there are snakes at the War Cemetery. I thanked Bangkok’s angels for making sure I’d arrive safely in their city and looked forward to getting close to them when dazzling rooftop bars open again.

Philipp Meier

Philipp Meier

I’m Philipp Meier – Freelance Travel and Content Writer, English / German Translator. I have a passion for Thai culture and traveling off the well-trodden tourist trail in the Land of Cheeky Smiles. You can find me at Writer Philipp Meier.
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