For many travellers Sangkhlaburi is the end of the line, but for many residents it represents the start of a new journey. Few places in Thailand have such a melange of ethnic identities, with Karen and Mon plus a few Lao and Burmese outnumbering Thai. Most were born here, but many came across the Myanmar border looking for a safer, more stable life.
The major attractions around Kanchanaburi could all be squeezed into a rushed day trip if you have your own transport, but it takes at least two days to do them properly. If you plan to spend a night at a national park on a weekend, it's best to book rooms in advance. All but Muang Sing are easily reached by public transport.
Thong Pha Phum
Overlooked by mountains – and most tourists – Thong Pha Phum is a small but busy junction town that people exploring the national parks of northern Kanchanaburi will probably pass through. About the only things to do in town are stroll through the municipal market, where many of the vendors are ethnically Burmese, and walk out on the suspension bridge over the river.
Sai Yok National Park
The 958-sq-km Sai Yok National Park is home to limestone mountains, waterfalls, caves and some extremely rare animals. Because there are numerous sights right around the visitor centre, along well-marked and maintained trails (most open to bikes), it's easy to explore independently. And it never gets nearly as crowded as Erawan.
Thong Pha Phum National Park
Thong Pha Phum National Park, near the end of ear-popping Hwy 3272, crosses a serrated mountain range along the Myanmar border and is one of the most beautiful but least-known places in Thailand. It bills itself as the 'Land of Fog and Freezing Rainforest', which in travellers terms means waking up early to see the cold-season fog filling the valleys and bringing warm clothes.
Khao Laem National Park
With the mighty Khao Laem Reservoir at its heart and limestone mountains all around, the 1497-sq-km Khao Laem National Park is a particularly beautiful place. But despite the park's size and potential, Kroeng Krawia waterfall, a wide, gentle cascade flowing through a small patch of forest, is pretty much all anybody ever visits.
Hellfire Pass Memorial
The poignant Hellfire Pass Memorial is a beautiful tribute to those who died while building the Burma-Thailand Railway in WWII. Start your visit at the museum and get the free audio guide, which has detailed descriptions of the area and fascinating anecdotes from survivors. Then walk down (via a long staircase) to the trail that follows the original rail bed.
Erawan National Park
Famed for its seven-tiered waterfall, Erawan National Park is an extremely popular (ie crowded) place for locals and visitors alike. Erawan waterfall (trail open 8am to 5pm) gets its name as some people think the top level resembles Erawan, the three-headed elephant of Hindu mythology.
Daen Maha Mongkol Meditation Centre
If you have ever wondered what your world would be like without an iPad or smartphone, step right up. This meditation retreat is so keen on promoting serenity that a charming old chap runs a metal detector over visitors at the entrance to ensure they haven’t got an i-something tucked away. Women may stay within the main compound; there are rooms for men outside.
Nam Tok is the final railway station. This fact, more than the attractions here, is what brings most travellers. But there is plenty to see and do if you'd rather not just turn around and head straight back. Though the trains stop at the station, the track continues for another 1.5km and you can follow it to Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi waterfall.
Three Pagodas Pass
Though the name evokes vivid images, the reality is nothing like what you imagine. The pagodas, originally just piles of rock put up in the Ayuthaya era, are petite and surrounded by a market selling mostly gems, jade and cigarettes. They mark the pass used by both Thailand and Myanmar when they've invaded each others' territory.