Today the town is busy and alive but the WWII memorials and museums are a reminder of darker times. Japanese forces used Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and conscripted Southeast Asian labourers to build a rail route to Myanmar. The harrowing story was told in Pierre Boulle's book The Bridge Over the River Kwai and the 1957 movie is based on the book. The bridge is one of the main attractions in Kanchanaburi. Roads in the guesthouse area are named after countries that were involved in the conflict.
Sitting in the slightly elevated valley of Mae Nam Mae Klong, the town is surrounded by fields filled with tapioca, sugar cane and corn. Being just 130km from Bangkok, many city folk come here for the weekend, though they prefer to board booming karaoke boats than enjoy the serenity.
Travellers congregate around Th Mae Nam Khwae. The street is centrally located and a 10-minute walk from the train station. Most accommodation is built beside or floating on the river, although it now also has some midrange options. In-town attractions are best covered with the help of a bicycle or motorbike.