Volkswagen Vans, River Kayaking, and Food – Kanchanaburi Road Trip with Amazing Thailand

By Mark Wiens 31 Comments
Thong Pha Phum (ทองผาภูมิ)
Road trip to Thong Pha Phum (ทองผาภูมิ)

When I was going to University in the United States, I owned a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta.

I loved that car.

But when I graduated from university and decided to travel indefinitely with no plans, I sold it, and have never owned a vehicle, other than a Thai street food cart, since.

VW
Part of the VW fleet

Amazing Thailand road trip

The Tourism Authority of Thailand organized a road trip to Thong Pha Phum in Kanchanaburi and the plan was to take a fleet of retro Volkswagen vans, one of the ultimate classic vehicles the world has seen.

Road trip to Kanchanaburi in Volkswagen vans and Thai food along the way, sounded good to me.

At the TAT office, I met up with other Thailand based bloggers Richard Barrow, Jybby, and Mick Shipper.

Amazing Thailand
Our Amazing Thailand Volkswagen van

Leaving Bangkok

This was my VW ride, a beauty of a van, # 6 in the fleet of 11 others, I think?

Luckily, to deal with the heat of Thailand and the speeds we’d be driving on the highways, there was a nice cold AC installed into our van.

Ying and I had the whole van to ourselves, so we had lots of space to stretch out on the bucket seats for the road trip.

VW van
Riding in a VW Van

The hardest part about going on a road trip out of Bangkok is actually getting out of Bangkok….

Traffic is always a hassle, but as soon as you get out of the central areas of Bangkok, the roads usually flow pretty fast – especially since we traveled as a retro VW caravan with a few motorcycle leads.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

Kanchanaburi Town

It’s about a 2.5 hour drive to Kanchanaburi Town (กาญจนบุรี) from Bangkok. Since it’s relatively close to Bangkok, I had actually been to Kanchanaburi a number of times.

Right in the middle of town is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, where 6,982 POWs were buried during the construction of the Thailand Burma Railway.

สะพานข้ามแม่น้ำแคว
Bridge Over River Kwai (สะพานข้ามแม่น้ำแคว)

Bridge Over River Kwai (สะพานข้ามแม่น้ำแคว)

One of the must visit places in Kanchanaburi is the bridge over the River Kwai.

I’ve visited the bridge a number of times now, and it’s definitely worth it to see it if it’s your first time. There are a couple of different restaurants along the river as well.

Keeree Tara Restaurant (ร้าน คีรีธารา)
Meal at Keeree Tara Restaurant (ร้าน คีรีธารา) in Kanchanaburi

Keeree Tara Restaurant (ร้าน คีรีธารา)

If you go down the road to the right side of the bridge (when facing the bridge) you’ll come to Keeree Tara restaurant.

We had a set meal already ordered for us, but there was a fried fish, tom yum goong, yam tua plu (winged bean salad), nam prik with vegetables, and my favorite dish of the meal, fried sweet pork.

The food at Keeree Tara was quite good, I can say MUCH better than the first couple of touristy restaurants closest to the bridge.

Thailand road trip
Road trip in Thailand

After lunch we got back on the road, this time, the road much more beautiful than the stretch between Bangkok and Kanchanaburi.

There were beautiful views of the mountains and rivers every so often.

Tham Kra Sae (ถ้ำกระแซ)
View at Tham Kra Sae (ถ้ำกระแซ)

Tham Kra Sae (ถ้ำกระแซ)

Another spot on the touristy trail in Kanchanaburi, but worth a visit, for both the historical importance and the natural beauty, is Tham Kra Sae (ถ้ำกระแซ).

There’s a cave to the left hand side, and the railroad which hovers above the river, alongside the cliff edges. The scenic view was beautiful.

เขื่อนวชิราลงกรณ์
Vajiralongkorn Dam (เขื่อนวชิราลงกรณ์)

Vajiralongkorn Dam (เขื่อนวชิราลงกรณ์)

Our fleet of Volkswagen vans continued north towards Thong Pha Phum and we made another stop at the Vajiralongkorn Dam.

Kanchanaburi Thailand
Trees growing on the cliffs

The dam is rock filled and has three 100 MW hydropower generators.

At the top of the dam there’s a nice view of the lake on one side and the beautiful cliffs and surrounding lush greenery.

Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Phu Iyara Resert (ภูไอยรา รีสอร์ท)

After a long day of driving and site-seeing through Kanchanaburi, we arrived at our “camping style” resort, Phu Iyara.

The rooms were Thai style bamboo cabins, outfitted with en-suite bathrooms, AC’s, and hot water – so it wasn’t exactly camping, but the rooms were basic, but functional.

Thai food
Dinner at the resort

Dinner

Unfortunately, we arrived to our hotel just as the final rays of sunshine had gone down.

By the time we ate dinner, the light was hardly worth it for taking photos of the food. A few dim yellow light bulbs provided just a hint of orange light, so I wasn’t able to get too many food photos.

Anyway, dinner was good, including lots of fresh vegetables, a fish grilled in foil, and an excellent gaeng hua pli (แกงหัวปลี banana flower curry).

Morning market at Thong Pha Phum
Almsgiving at the morning market

Thong Pha Phum morning market (ตลาดทองผาภูมิ)

One of the greatest ways to experience Thailand is by going to an early morning market. In any city, town, or village throughout Thailand, I love to wake up and go to the morning market.

We left at 6 am, and arrived at Thong Pha Phum market just in time to see some of the morning Buddhist alms giving.

ตลาดทองผาภูมิ
Morning snack at Thong Pha Phum market

The market itself was actually quite small, and not very busy at all.

But the natural beauty of the surrounding mountain cliffs, and the addition of the morning fog, made the scenery impressive.

Snacking on a few pieces of patongo (Chinese donuts), kept me going as we walked around and took photos, before getting a chance to eat breakfast.

พริกพาน
Prik pan (พริกพาน)

One thing I came across that I had never seen before, and that looked very tempting to me was called prik pan (พริกพาน).

It looked like some kind of a peppercorn or berry (and from the Thai word, that’s what it would suggest).

Anybody seen this spice before?

I wanted to sample some right there.

Gac fruit
Nice pile of fuk khao (ฟักข้าว gac fruit)

Another thing I love is called fuk khao (ฟักข้าว gac fruit).

It’s available in Bangkok, normally made into juice at places like floating markets, but I’ve rarely seen it at real mainstream fresh markets in Bangkok.

They look a bit like little miniature yellow and red durians, but the fruit sort of tastes in-between a a tomato and a papaya.

catfish
Some type of catfish?

There were a couple fish vendors selling their locally caught catch, a number a different types of catfish.

Traveling in Thailand
Sashimi anyone?

These hunks of fish were huge, and looked like they were full of yellow fish fat, almost like whale blubber.

They reminded me a bit of the fish market in Tokyo, those massive cross sections of tuna. This fish, I don’t think I’d want to eat as sashimi, but in a curry, I think it would be fantastic.

Wat Thakanun (วัดท่าขนุน)
View of Wat Thakanun (วัดท่าขนุน) across the river

Wat Thakanun (วัดท่าขนุน)

Right across a river from the market and center of the village was the picturesque Wat Thakanun temple (วัดท่าขนุน), famous in Kanchanaburi.

We enjoyed a great morning view of the temple (which is actually on ground level hidden in the trees), and the chedi on the top of the cliff (I didn’t have time to climb to the top, but would have loved to).

dogs in Thailand
Dogs on their way from the market to the temple

The temple was just a short walk from town, a route the dogs knew well.

Monks in Thailand
A monk feeding some of the dogs rice

Just like at all temples in Thailand, and scattered through all villages and towns, there were plenty of dogs.

This monk had a bit of extra rice and he was feeding them, to their delight.

Wat Thakanun (วัดท่าขนุน)
Wat Thakanun (วัดท่าขนุน) Temple, Thong Pha Phum

The temple itself was very calm and pleasant, and we couldn’t really go anywhere inside the temple, but just enjoyed the views from the outside.

Kayaking in Thailand
Getting ready to kayak down the river

River kayak adventure

After returning to the hotel and eating a quick breakfast, it was time to get started with the adventure activities.

The plan was to first kayak for about 30 minutes, then do some zip-lining through the trees, and finally cruise on ATV’s, before starting the trip back to Bangkok.

Ready to kayak
Ready to go

Lifejacket and helmet strapped in, we were ready to hit the river.

The river was moving pretty quickly, especially due to it being rainy season, so it was fueled from the runoff in the mountains. It looked like a lot of fun.

Kayaking in Kanchanaburi
Kayak adventure in Kanchanaburi…

There were about 8 boats of us that went kayaking.

We started paddling and made it through multiple, pretty decent rapids, along the way.

Kayaking was extremely fun…

We kept paddling and continuing down the river, and after 45 minutes or so, we started wondering where the end point was going to be – by this point we were in the thick of the jungle, rain was pouring down, but it was beautiful.

There were three boats of us, who got ahead of the rest of the group, so we thought we were altogether and kept enjoying the beauty of the river.

Where’s the finish line?

About 30 minutes later, one of the kayaking guides caught up with us, and told us that we had missed the finish point long ago upstream, and that there was no choice but to continue down the river for another 3 – 4 hours.

The river became faster with more rapid areas, and despite our kayak flipping and us being tossed around in the water a few times, it was an extremely fun adventure and we had some of the most amazing views of the river and wilderness (if only I had some photos).

Our 1 hour kayak ride turned into 5 hours, but it was a lot of fun.

ผัดเผ็ดหมูป่า
One of the best dishes pad ped moo pa (ผัดเผ็ดหมูป่า wild pig)

Lunch at Krua Pad Riew restaurant (ครัวแปดริ้ว)

Due to missing the exit from the river and taking much longer than expected, after getting back to the resort, we rushed to check out, and then headed straight to Krua Pad Riew restaurant (ครัวแปดริ้ว) for lunch.

The Volkswagen caravan actually had to take off before we returned, as most of the group didn’t go kayaking, and needed to keep schedule.

The food at Krua Pad Riew (ครัวแปดริ้ว) was excellent.

I especially enjoyed both the moo pla makua pra (หมูพล่ามะเขือเปราะ similar to jungle curry) and I think it was pad ped moo pa (ผัดเผ็ดหมูป่า wild pig). The jungle pig was so flavorful yet not too chewy, and it was nicely spiced with chilies, green peppercorns, and kaffir lime leaves.

Fried fish
Fried fish (ปลานิลทอดน้ำปลา)

The fish (ปลานิลทอดน้ำปลา) was fried to an absolute golden crisp, to the point where the eyes popped out.

I’m not huge on the syrupy sauce restaurants occasionally pour over fried fish, but the actual fish was good, crispy, and flavorful.

แกงส้มชะอมไข่
Gaeng som cha om kai (แกงส้มชะอมไข่)

The flaming pot of gaeng som cha om kai (แกงส้มชะอมไข่) was a little on the sweet side, but it was still delicious.

The soup base, different from southern Thai gaeng som, is more of a sweet and sour broth, filled with plenty of chilies, and slices of omelet made with cha om kai (omelet with climbing wattle).

Whenever you travel in Thailand, one things is for sure, you’ll eat well.

Thai omelet
Kai jeow (ไข่เจียว)

We were incredibly hungry after paddling the kayak for 5 hours, so we were ready to chow down on some serious food.

After eating round one, we ordered a few more dishes to regain our strength.

Their kai jeow (ไข่เจียว) was excellent, fluffy, and crispy at the same time.

Thong Pha Phum, Thailand
View from Krua Pad Riew restaurant, Thong Pha Phum, Thailand

Conclusion

Amazing Thailand (Tourism Authority of Thailand) organized a retro Volkswagen road trip to Thong Pha Phum in the Kanchanaburi province of Thailand.

I had been to Kanchanaburi before, but this was my first time to visit the Thong Pha Phum district.

Highlights for myself on the quick trip were kayaking down the river, visiting the morning market and temple, and the best meal of the trip, having lunch at Krua Pad Riew.

Disclaimer: This trip was organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and I was happy to join.

 

31 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Lindy

    6 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    Love this post!!! So educational and informative. One question. Where was the river u went kayaking at ???

    Thanks alot

    lots of love from australia =)

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hello Lindy, thank you very much, glad you enjoyed this. I’m honestly not sure what river or where exactly we were, but it was somewhere near Thong Pha Phum. Are you planning to visit Kanchanburi?

  • Danny

    7 years ago

    Awesome blogging with great journeys Mark, keep doin what you do, you are a huge inspiration!!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thank you very much Danny, I really appreciate it.

  • Lindsay

    7 years ago

    Next time you’re in Thong Pha Phum, check out this hilarious fruit retreat center I found when I was visiting. It’s a real orchard, where all the accommodations are shaped like fruit. They’ve also managed to save about 100 varieties of really old durians from Nonthaburi. Here you can eat durian, inside a durian, inside a durian orchard!

    Here’s the link to my post about visiting the resort: http://www.yearofthedurian.com/2013/06/the-fruit-hotel-kanchanaburi-thailand.html

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Lindsay, that’s hilarious. Will try to check it out on my next visit.

  • Suleman

    7 years ago

    Hey I saw the vlog for this trip on your youtube channel and the past two vlogs were amazing I think you should start a separate channel just for vlogs!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Suleman, thank you very much. I thought about a separate channel, but for now I will probably just be posting occasional vlogs when my time permits, so might just keep it on the same channel for now. Thank you for your support.

  • sulasno

    7 years ago

    and what did you missed at Kan ? one of the best pork / beef noodles in town (endorsed by McDang); located near BBL.

    I see you like the fried dough that sells out by 7.30 in the morning found at the market of Thong Pha Phum; I usually have breakfast of boiled eggs with coffee opposite the only hotel. You did missed the best restaurant though. Located near the intersection, it had found a new home. I usually stayed at the Dam; 800/1000 for a room though I get 50% off when booking via staff

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Sulasno, great to hear from you, ah too bad I missed the noodles – ok next time for sure. Do you visit Kanchanaburi often?

  • Rick Mcdonald

    7 years ago

    Ok I’m in. My son and I are traveling to Thailand in the end of November . I’ve downloaded your 101 book , bought plane tickets, and now looking for a cheap place to stay, so we can afford to eat like you.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Rick, great to hear that, I think you’re going to enjoy Thailand. Thank you for getting my guide.

  • Sigurdur Bjorgvinsson @redheadexplorer

    7 years ago

    WOW! Thailand is amazing, I can’t wait to see this place. I really enjoyed reading your post and the photos are great, especially those of the food. ( I love food).

  • Suvro

    7 years ago

    Looks like the catfish was full of roe (right side). However, the bloodlines on the right are yellow – that is a bit strange. Were these live when they were cut? In Kolkata wet markets most of the catfish are sold in a pan with a slight amount of water, so they are still flapping.

    • Suvro

      7 years ago

      I meant left side for the roe.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Suvro, the fish were already cut when I was there, so not sure about them exactly, but it looks like a lot of fat? Are you from Kolkata?

      • Suvro

        7 years ago

        Hi Mark, I am originally from Kolkata. I enjoyed your culinary adventure to Bhojohori Manna.

        When are you planning to eat at Gaggan in Bangkok? I would love to see a report with video. It got rated very high in some world’s best restaurant list.

        • Mark Wiens

          7 years ago

          Hi Suvro, thank you. So far haven’t eaten at Gaggan, but it is on my radar – I might try to ask if I can make a video there. Thanks.

  • Sacha @ The Beautiful Travel Hangover

    7 years ago

    I should stop reading your posts, I am hungry now…
    The dogs are so cute by the way!

  • Chris A Sharpe

    7 years ago

    Stunning images and some delicious food captured, I am literally salivating, great post!

  • James Schipper

    7 years ago

    Those Vans! My parents bought a new blue one with a white top when I was on the way in 1970, so all my first car memories involve one just like your #6.

    And I’ve made a note to only allow you to give me a food tour, but not a guided river tour 😀

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey James, glad to hear you have so many fond memories of the VW van. Haha, that’s a good idea!

  • ameer

    7 years ago

    Holy guacamoly,slap my ass,i am off to Bangkok!!

  • Audrey

    7 years ago

    Looks like so much fun, guys! I love the idea of a VW road trip in Thailand…though I’m not sure I could handle driving in Bangkok traffic, haha. And the kayaking sounds like a blast even if it turned into a 5 hour adventure. I bet everyone’s shoulders were sore after that. I went kayaking here in Canada last week and my arms were stiff for the rest of the day.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Audrey, yah that kayak adventure was a lot of fun, and we were able to get some amazing views of the mountains, haha, yes a bit sore still. Hope you’re having fun in Canada now.