or the cheapest local food, head into the centre of town. Across from the River Kwai Hotel, the outdoor restaurant called Day/Night Market serves some very delicious and inexpensive Thai food — come here for their spicy stir-fries or papaya salads if the tourist fare at your guesthouse is too bland for you. A number of food stands operate around the bus station throughout the day and early evening, selling grilled chicken, cheap snacks and fresh tropical fruit. Also near the bus station, you’ll find Srifa Bakery, one of the best places in town for real coffee. They don’t have an English sign, but it’s a massive place — look out for the blue banners and the giant billboard advertising their baked goods, including delicious pandan buns and young coconut pies. Closer to the traveller strip, a great Isaan restaurant is found across from Nirvana Guesthouse. It’s always packed with locals — a testament to the tasty and spicy laap and som tam salads served here.
Along Maenam Kwai, you’ll find a decent selection of restaurants catering to tourists, some with unexpectedly good food. Our favourite for its diverse menu and consistently good food is Mangosteen, which opened in 2011 and is run by the former operators of the Jolly Frog’s restaurant. Aside from fresh coffee and outstanding smoothies, Mangosteen serves up a range of authentic Thai food, including unexpected choices like an Isaan sausage grazing plate. They also churn out very good breakfasts and Western fare like a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich and homemade chicken cordon bleu. A couple of Indian dishes are even available. Mangosteen also serves beer and cocktails to go with free WiFi, though you might not need it owing to the great selection of secondhand books, mainly in English.
Just up the street, Tai Thai Restaurant always seems to have a crowd gathering for its stir-fries and steamed fish in a casual, lively set-up. Nearby On’s is a friendly spot that serves cheap and hearty vegetarian Thai in a cute, intimate setup. On also runs a cooking school, and when we dropped by her students were happily helping her to cook and take orders from guests — we thought it was brilliant that they were paying to essentially work as her staff for the night! Another option for a tasty vegetarian lunch is the small traditional Thai-Chinese style vegan shop around the corner from Maenam Kwai Road near Nirvana Guesthouse (look for the yellow flags and a sign that says “vegetarian food”), where you can sample as many types of stir-fries, curries and meat substitutes as you like, all piled high on a mound of rice for dirt cheap prices.
The star of Kanchanaburi’s Thai food scene is still Apple and Noi’s Blue Rice Restaurant, although it’s now located in a spacious veranda overlooking the river at Apple’s Retreat on the other side of the river. It’s a 10-minute walk from the heart of the traveller strip, but worth it. With bright pictures of each dish and Thai names translated to English and transliterated into Roman characters, reading the menu is like taking a journey through Thai cuisine. All of the standards are done well, but you might try something different like som tam with fresh fruit, laab muu tod (deep fried balls of spicy minced pork), jungle curry and one of several house-made coconut-based desserts. It’s not cheap, but prices are reasonable for the quality and you can almost taste the love cooked into each bite.
Next to Apple’s, Sut Jai Restaurant has also received good reports for its whole fishes and wide range of spicy Thai soups and salads in a similarly tranquil riverside setting. A string of floating restaurants are found near the JEATH musem south of Rongheabaoy Road. They seem to be mainly geared to weekender Thais, but they’re a fine bet for an extensive seafood meal and cold beers next to the river. A number of massive restaurants that cater mainly to tourists are also found near the Death Railway Bridge, where you can dine while gazing at Kanchanaburi’s signature landmark. Although the nearby market is mainly devoted to T-shirts and souvenirs, a string of fresh fruit vendors selling tasty durian, pomelo, mango, rose apple and more can also be found there.
For something with more of an upscale vibe, The Resort (strangely a restaurant only — no rooms here) is a swish and popular spot midway up Maenam Kwai Road that’s popular with weekenders from Bangkok and serves delicious Thai food, including some upcountry favourites like deer and wild boar. Tables are set around a colonial-style house in a garden of white lanterns and traveller palms. An upscale air-con coffee shop is run by the same management nearby. Another good bet for a more refined atmosphere is either Keeree Tara or The Loft, both of which look more like resorts from the front and have stylish riverside decks just north of the bridge.
If you’re tired of Thai, Bell’s Pizzeria is an Italian food operation that serves outstanding pasta dishes and pizza to go with several German beers and great coffee. Service is excellent, and this spacious restaurant right in the heart of the action on Maenam Kwai Road is usually packed with expat regulars. Another great choice is the Peace Cafe further north up Maenam Kwai Road. With Pink Floyd playing in the messy dining area, the atmosphere isn’t exactly refined, but the spirited staff serve up Italian coffee along with outstanding baguette sandwiches with generous hunks of real cheddar cheese as well as several tasty pasta dishes and giant salads — try the calamari. Peace Cafe also has a full bar and is a fun spot to meet travellers and expats after dark.
Kanchanaburi’s nightlife scene continues to get bigger and louder, with most foreigner-oriented bars clustered around the southern side of Maenam Kwai Road. Many have billiards tables and flatscreen TVs showing the latest football matches. The majority seem to cater to backpackers looking to get hammered on as few baht as possible. Expect to see signs like “Drink Drunk Dance” and “Get Shit Faced”. There are even hole-in-the-wall bars that offer small shots for 10 baht a piece.
Long-running No Name bar offers an English pub menu right down to fish and chips and bangers and mash. In a similar vein is the Snooker Bar, which seems to be the centre of the universe for a lot of Kanchanaburi expats. A few doors down from No Name is the Rasta Bar. This is the meeting place for the Kanchanaburi expat biker gang and a fairly cool hangout, with live reggae bands performing often and dreadlocked Thai “rastas” working the bar. Newer editions include Baa Bar (baa means “crazy” in Thai), which tends to get rowdy the later it gets, and Aussie Bar, a spot that’s not surprisingly full day and night of Australians, both expats and tourists having a yarn with them.
If you prefer something a bit more Thai, the floating discos and loud, brash bars on Song Kwai Road are the places to head. Every night rafts set off up the river stacked to the roof with as many loud speakers as they can manage without sinking.
Well like I said, don’t expect the delights of city style night-life here, but there a some great places to go for a great night out.
There’s Discovery night club: free entry but generally for the local “well off” and trendy Thais, expensive drinks, great shows with live bands and DJ’s, again, you can walk into Discovery at midnight and be the ONLY falang in sight (open till 2.00am).
The other large night club is next to the River Kwai Hotel called Glitzy’s, it has a spacious venue that pushes the latest dance music with great local bands and floor shows (open till 2.00am) no cover.
Otherwise you can go along to the local farang bars, the most famous being The “No Name Bar”, it was one of the first to start up in Kanch and they serve reasonably priced drinks, have a pool table and even serve up ‘Western’ style meals (pies, mash, English breakfast) like do a few other bars on the strip, most have a pool table and play a variety of Thai and Western music, which you will mainly find on the main road where the largest concentration of guest houses are, so better you just go and find out for yourself when you arrive.
*Kanchanburi is vastly growing to accommodate the influx of tourists and expats to the region so the number of bars and guest houses are also on the increase.
For cheap street eats, the evening market in front of the train station will fulfill all your 10 baht pad thai needs, you can find here 5 baht sushi, plastic boxes with chicken rice from 10-20 baht, one curry topping with rice for 20 baht, 3 mangoes (500g) for 25 baht, delicious som tum (spicy papaya) salad for 30 baht, different kinds of meat (squid for example) on sticks for 10 baht, many kinds of candies and most of the food sellers are honest. Don’t forget to be always careful and check how much locals are paying, don’t support cheaters and don’t accept their prices.
There is also a string of street eats on the main road just out from the bus station. All sorts of meals available and buy your beer at the nearby Family Mart/7-Eleven.
Street vendors parade up and down River Kwai Rd all day & night. Approximately 20 baht per serving. Many stop outside of 7-Eleven by Jolly Frog selling sausages, roti, and other small snacks. Ice cream and pastries during the day. For a more local experience, try Mae Nam Kwai Rd. Street vendors there sell snacks (freshly fried crisps, iced coffee), flocking to the school grounds behind the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
Ahaan Fine, Maenam Kwai Rd (about 75 m up from Apple Guest House on the left). Daily 11:00-23:00. A small, tastefully laid out restaurant offering a wide selection of Thai dishes at prices between food stall prices and guest house prices. 30-70 baht.
Jok Isaan Food This small entirely Thai-run place doesn’t actually have a name but all the locals know Jok makes some of the best food. Her location changed in early 2011 to a small, clean, building right near the reggae bar Land Pole. She specialises in Isaan dishes such as laab, som tom, gai yang, and khao niew.
On’s Thai/Isaan Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant & Cooking School New in 2012. Between Living Room and Tesco Lotus Express on opposite side of road (Mae Nam Kwai). Large menu with a great variety of classic Thai and also Issan dishes. All mains 40 baht + 10 baht for brown rice. Dishes can be made with or without tofu and Ms On can customize most entrées to include or remove vegetables based on your preferences. She also offers a two hour cooking school for 600 baht/person anytime between 10:00 and 18:00.
BBQ-all you can eat, Sang Chuto Rd. (200 m before Tesco on LHS heading from the town). 90 baht for all you can eat. Represents great value if you are hungry. You cook the food at the table (no burgers/sausages). They also supply you with rice/noodles etc. Good selection of seafood, chicken, liver, pork etc. Very popular with local residents of the town. 19:00-23:00.
Tara Bed & Breakfast, Maenam Kwai Rd (about 100m from Tescos towards bridge). Excellent value for Thai and European food.
The Hut Restaurant, Maenam Kwai Rd (about 80m from Tescos towards bridge). Excellent chicken Cordon Bleu.
Bell’s Pizzeria, 24/5 Maenamkwai Rd. ☎ +66 81 0106614 . Italian and Thai food. Bar during the afternoon. 170-220 baht for a pizza. Daily 16:00-23:00.
By de River Restaurant and Massage, On the Mae Nam Kwai Rd about 700 m from the River Kwai Bridge, serve home-made Thai foods with views. Open 17:00-23:00.
Floating restaurants, (next to the River Kwai bridge). These seem to uphold the fine traditions of their brethren worldwide by serving mediocre food at inflated prices although some travellers find the food good and the price reasonable. Nice views and great atmosphere though. However, the main problem is transport back into town if you are staying there – the river and bridge are a little distant unless you are really into walking (there are songthaews though).
Friend Bar & Restaurant, 44 Maenamkwai Rd. ☎ +66 81 8581326. Full English breakfast, classic Thai food, Western menu and Japanese food. Drinks, cocktails and free pool. Daily 09:00-23:00.
By de River restaurant, the spirit of The River Kwai.
Mangosteen Cafe and Books, Thai and Western food with good service. Great coffees, apple pie, cocktails and fresh fruit drinks. One of the cleanest and best run places on the strip. Also 1,000 English language books for sale and small reference library for cafe guests. Daily 08:30-17:00.
Schluck, Western and Thai food. Pizza and steak are home-made. Euro-oriental décor and jazz music. Price from 40 baht for Thai food, 90 baht for European style food. Daily 17:00-23:00.
There are numerous locations where you’ll be able to enjoy your drinks, but most of the bars are close to the guest houses along Mae Nam Kwai Road. Most of the bars are noisy karaoke bars popular among the locals or the usual British pubs with football on show. Some bars have young Thai ladies on the hunt for rich foreigners, and as a result there are a number of middle-aged foreigners in these areas.
Crackers Bar, 232/5 River Kwai Rd, ☎ +66 34 624119. Run by an Australian expat (crackers) or Mr Phillips, great bloke who will give you the rundown of Kanchanaburi. Good prices, great atmosphere. edit
Four 9’s Bar/Red Kangaroo, (situated on the main road in Kanchanaburi opposite the River Kwai Hotel). This is a ‘British/Australian’ style pub run by a Scotsman named Don and a Thai lady called Mem. Mem will also organise tours and taxis if required. The bar stays open the longest as it only shuts when the last person leaves. Premiership football shown here also. edit
I Baa Bar, Mae Nam Kwai Road. Great music and atmosphere is present, but now there’s a pool table added to the scene. Ek, the Thai owner, is very friendly and a good source of local information. They also serve good Western and Thai food. edit
My Corner, Soi Pakistan (on the way to Sugar Cane 1 Guest house). Quiet nice place away from the dust of the main road. Chill spot with free Wi-fi, cold beer, and real coffee. You can play your own music over the speakers or pluck at a guitar. August 2013 update: the bar was sold out to new owners; now plays loud Thai heavy pop and seems to double as a girly hang-out place. Often closed. edit
No Name Bar, Mae Nam Kwai Rd. Good food and a good place. edit
Sugar Members Bar, Mae Nam Kwai Road. This thriving bar is usually packed with foreigners and backpackers, and stays open until the last person stops buying drinks. The music is loud and usually Western based. Sugar, the owner, is a very friendly Thai woman with a taste for amusing innuendos. Shisha is available.