Last Update: December 2019
In the know destinations – Thailand
I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve visited Thailand. Some visits were just short beach holidays or passing through on my way to other destinations. Several, longer visits involved extensive travel for months on my way to nowhere, just exploring this wonderful country.
Although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places like Sangkhla Buri that are not yet overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laidback riverine towns and spectacular nature reserves. Not exactly hidden gems, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.
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Without a doubt, Sangkhla Buri is one of the most picturesque areas in Thailand. For me, Sangkhla Buri resembles a Thailand as I had always imagined. Lake views, rural landscape with peeks into village life and a backdrop of green forest clad hills.
Nearby Thungyai wildlife reserve and Khao Laem National Park boast wildlife, jungle, caves and waterfalls. Mind you, even the road to get here from Kanchanaburi is gorgeous. And with the Myanmar border just 25 km down the road Sangkhla Buri really is the end of the line.
Originally a Karen town, nowadays it’s a mix of cultures. Karen, Thai, Mon and Burmese live side by side, although there is a large separate Mon settlement (Wang Kha) on the other side of the wooden bridge. Due to its close proximity to the Myanmar border there are a few large refugee camps in the area. Consequently, you will see many NGO expats in and around town.
How to get to Sangkhla Buri
Coming from any direction (except from the Myanmar border), Sangkhla Buri is best reachable through Kanchanaburi. From Bangkok to Kanchanaburi: Bus 3h30m, Minivan 3h20m, Train 2h30m.
Busses and taxi’s both leave from the Kanchanaburi bus station to Sangkhla Buri: Bus 4h, Taxi 3h25m, but you cannot buy this ticket online so you will have to purchase it straight at the Kanchanburi bus terminal instead. To get out of Sangkhla Buri purchase your ticket at the bus terminal in the center of town.
For bus/train schedules and tickets from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi I always use the transport planning tool below from 12Go.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
From town it’s an easy 1km walk to the wooden footbridge. Wang Kha is about 1.5km away and Wat Wang Wiwekaram almost 3.5km. To get to the Myanmar border hop on a green songtaew at the bus station for a 30-40 m trip (THB30). Alternatively charter a blue songtaew and bargain a good price for the day or a few hours.
For short trips in town you can make use of motorbike taxi’s, THB20-60 depending on the distance. There are usually a bunch of them hanging out around the market. The most fun way to go however, is to rent a motorbike. Either your guesthouse provides rentals themselves or they will know a place that does.
Things to see/do in Sangkhla Buri
Khao Laem Lake
The lake is actually a man made reservoir that was created in the 1980’s. A big part of the Kwai river valley was flooded and the original village of Sangkhla Buri with it. The old bell tower and the brick hall of Wat Samprasob are still visible taking a peek just above the waterline. It’s possible to see the sunken town up close by renting a boat at the wooden bridge pier for about THB300. My advice is to do this in the early morning or late afternoon as the sunrise/sunset on the water offers spectacular sights.
This 400m wooden bridge crossing a side arm of the lake is a must see. It’s the longest wooden bridge in Thailand and it connects the town with Wang Kha, the small Mon settlement on the other side. The bridge collapsed in 2013, but has since been repaired. As a result, it looks a lot better and more sturdy than before.
Naturally, the villagers are somewhat exploiting the bridge for tourism purposes. So, expect trinket sellers and children offering themselves as guides. It’s actually not that bad (yet) and the bridge remains an excellent location to watch the sunrise/sunset. Furthermore, the bridge offers lot’s of photo opportunities with traditionally dressed Mon going back and forth, carrying heavy loads on their head.
More things to do
Do visit the Three Pagodas Pass at the border with Myanmar. It’s nothing really spectacular and you cannot cross the border, but nevertheless it’s an interesting place and certainly worth the short journey. Maybe stop on the way for a peek at the Kaeo Sawanbandan cave.
Baan Unrak Children’s Home and Animal Care has Wednesday night dinners or you can just show up to give some love to the kids and animals. Certainly, donations are more than welcome.
Wat Wang Wiwekaram and Buddhakaya Chedi are two distinctive landmarks in the area. You can visit them in one go since they are just 100m apart.
Above all, you should hike the nearby Khao Laem national park (entrance fee THB200) to see waterfalls and caves. Several guesthouses in Sangkhla Buri can arrange transport or tours to the park for you.
No, no, no, do not skip this chapter even though you think travel insurance is boring. You should realize that outside of Bangkok, healthcare in Thailand is hopelessly underdeveloped. Sangkhla Buri is in the middle of nowhere and any serious injuries or ailments will almost certainly involve costly medical transport to Bangkok.
Make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. I use World Nomads, because they cover a range of adventure activities and even your motor bike rental escapades (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if you’re already on your trip.
Where to stay in Sangkhla Buri
Budget = from THB500 to THB1000
A new wave of accommodations opened their doors in Sangkhla Buri and Bansuansomboon is one of them. They have been popular since day one, because of their smart positioning and pricing. Basic rooms without any frills, but pleasant atmosphere, spotless rooms, service minded staff and a simple, but adequate breakfast. This is a good place for a short and uncomplicated stay, without breaking the bank. We haven’t actually stayed here, but the staff gave us a great tour and lot’s of information.
Budget = from THB500 to THB1000
OMG! Seldom have I felt so welcome as right here at Venita Resort. The staff here is so sweet and wonderful, even if most of them don’t speak English. The resort caters mainly to a Thai clientele, but we felt right at home. All amenities for a hotel in this price range are there, including a nice buffet breakfast. It’s located close to town where you can rent a bicycle to get you to the main attractions.
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
If you travel with kids then this resort is the one to go. It’s a bit remote, 6km from the Mon bridge, but it’s quiet, safe and has a swimming pool to cool down. Of course kids aren’t the only ones that need cooling down, so everyone is welcome to jump in. You can either stay in the main building or in one of the spacious villas. Be aware that during weekends the hotel often fills up with holidaying Thai, so book ahead!
Compare all Sangkhla Buri accommodation and read reviews on Agoda. The best prices, regular discounts and off season deals.
Where to eat in Sangkhla Buri
Baan Unrak Bakery (corner Soi Si Suwan Khiri and Soi Si Suwan Khiri 1). Support a good cause, work on your health and enjoy delicious food. That’s three birds with one stone. Pun intended since the bakery is all about vegan food. Coffee, bread, wonderful pastries, burgers, salads and pad Thai. It’s all vegan and the proceeds go to the Baan Unrak children’s home.
Kruakeangsuan Sangkhlaburi (Soi Si Suwan Khiri, just beyond the P-Guesthouse). Firstly, high quality Thai food with perfectly balanced flavors. Secondly, very creative presentation. Pricing is a bit higher than usual, but for this kind of creativity and top quality ingredients it should be. – Update, June 2019. The restaurant is permanently closed -.
Toy’s Restaurant (Soi Sankhla Buri, 27/1 Moo 3, South of Soi 6). Simple and tasty Thai food for a very friendly price. Also, they serve a few Isan dishes like papaya salad and grilled chicken with sticky rice. Can’t go wrong here.
Sri Daeng (Soi Sangkhla Buri, in town opposite the hospital). Popular restaurant in Sangkhla Buri and with good reason. Tasty Thai and Karen food, good service and friendly pricing.
Last, but not least, of course there’s always the market around Soi Thetsaban in town, that turns into a night market in the evening with ample food options at any time of day.