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Tuesday 23 August 2016

Exploring the real Thailand - and some Australian history

The small town of Kanchanaburi is well off the radar of most visitors to Thailand, yet offers a fascinating combination of rural charm and history. 

If your idea of a holiday is spending all day, every day on the beach in Phuket, Pattaya or Koh Samui, turn the page right now.

Kanchanaburi is a destination for those who want to add an element of exploration to their relaxation.

The perfect base from which to explore this fascinating region 130km west of Bangkok is the Felix River Kwai Resort - overlooking both the peaceful river and the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai.

Once a Sheraton and then a Novotel, this is resort with real allure; peaceful and authentic with a lot of Thai guests.

The Australians who do visit mainly come to see the bridge, to take a drive out to Hellfire Pass, to take in the several war cemeteries and museums, as well as many temples.

The town's location at the edge of a mountain range keeps it much cooler than the other provinces of central Thailand.

Other local attractions include taking rustic local trains through remote countryside; Wat Tham Phu Wa, a temple which features a series of grotto shrines within a large limestone cave system, and several elephant sanctuaries. Thankfully, a temple at which visitors could pose with drugged tigers was recently closed down.

Kanchanaburi was under Japanese control during World War II and Asian labourers and Allied Prisoners of War, many Australians, were forced into building the infamous Burma Railway, including the bridge and Hellfire Pass, around an hour's drive away. Almost half of the prisoners working on the project died from disease, maltreatment or accidents.

At Kanchanaburi, there are a memorial and two museums to commemorate the dead, as well as two immaculately-tended war cemeteries.

In both the hotel and the region, you get a sense of the real Thailand. The food is not dumbed down for visitors and many of the locals have barely a word of English. At the lively Kanchanaburi night markets, pointing can be a very effective means of communication.

The hotel, from which you can walk across the bridge into town, has 255 rooms and suites, all with private balconies, as well as a Log Cabin retreat for celebrity visitors. There are two large and very clean swimming pools, expansive gardens, and a walkway along the river, streams running through the gardens that are home to some huge carp and two tennis courts.

There are spa and fitness facilities, bicycles and canoes for hire and large rafts that serve dinner on the river at the weekend.

The more adventure-minded can pick up a long tail boat and cruise along the river to one of many floating restaurants.

With many of the Felix guests locals attending midweek conferences, the food is flavoursome and well-priced - and there is also an upmarket Chinese restaurant on-site, as well as a pool bar, karaoke bar and cocktail lounge.

It is a delightful, if a little dated, place in which to wind down for a few days and the friendliness of the staff is infectious. Very spacious rooms start on-line from around $90 a night - decent value.

Felix River Kwai Resort Kanchanaburi,  9/1, Thamakham 12 Alley, Tha Ma Kham, Muang, Kanchanaburi 71000, Thailand. +66 34 551 000. 

# The writer was a guest of Felix River Kwai Resort and was assisted by Qantas, which operates daily A330 services from Sydney to Bangkok with connections from all Australian capital cities.  



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