Kanchanburi is a popular destination just outside Bangkok known for its World War II sites (Bridge on the River Kwai), natural scenery, and floating raft guesthouses. Travel agencies will happily book overpriced tours from Bangkok, but we prefer to take local transport which is cheaper and usually not that complicated. Usually…
We were meeting Rand’s students in Kanchanburi on Friday morning for a field trip to the World War II sites, but we planned to head there on Thursday afternoon. One of the student couples decided to come with us.
There are two trains daily to Kanchanburi from the Thonburi station in Bangkok. We planned to take the afternoon train leaving at 1:55pm that cost 100 baht per person.
Since we were staying on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya river, the station would only be a short taxi ride away. We figured if we caught a taxi at 1 pm, we would have time to grab some lunch near the station before the train left. But… at 10 minutes ‘til 1 it started poring down rain.
We waited a few minutes to see if the rain would stop, then threw on ponchos and headed out to find a taxi. Since my daughters’ friend was visiting, we wouldn’t all fit in one taxi, so we split up. Arwen and I went with the student couple. Rand, Sierra, Kali, and Megan caught another cab.
Dripping wet and covered in plastic, I squeezed in the front seat of the taxi and told the driver where we wanted to go.
“Thonburi train station,” I said.
He didn’t understand.
“Train to Kanchanburi,” I tried.
Still the driver looked confused. I looked in the back seat for help, but neither of the students knew the Thai word for train.
We tried to pantomine. Chugga, chugga, choo choo.
I peeled off my poncho and got my phone out of my bag. I searched for the station on google maps and showed the driver.
“OK,” he said.
I followed our route on google maps to make sure we were going the right direction. It seemed like we were. Traffic was bad, probably because of the rain. So I turned around to talk to the students. It seemed to be taking a long time to get to the train station, so I checked map. The marker showed us still between our place and the station. I guessed that the traffic was really bad, but then the marker jumped (thanks to my slow phone). We were totally in the wrong place going away from the train station.
I showed the driver the map.
“Ok, ok,” he said. He turned at the next street.
I thought he was turning around. I was starting to worry that we were going to miss the train. I watched the gps. The location marker would stay in one place for 30 seconds and then jump to our curgent location. We were going farther away from our destination.
Finally we just got out of the cab. Clearly this driver had no idea where he was going.
During all of this Rand was texting me: “Where are you?” “The train is about to leave.” “I guess we will see you there…”
I texted him back that our taxi had taken us the wrong way and we weren’t going to make it. We would have to figure out how to get there by minibus.
After getting out of the cab, we got our bearings. It turned out we were across the street from a different train station. We hurried over to see if we could catch the train there, but we couldn’t.
I thought we would have to go back to our place to get wifi and figure out when and where to get the minibus, but the students just suggested we head over to Victory Monument and figure it out there. That was the better idea.
We thought about taking a cab, but the traffic was terrible. We discovered we weren’t far from a sky train station.
At this point I had run out of data and felt like I was running blind, but the students just kept asking people for help and we got to the sky train just fine. I had forgotten it was possible to get around without technology…
Victory Monument is a statue enclosed by a roundabout with roads coming out of it like spokes. On every corner is a minibus station. Elevated sidewalks circle around the monument making it easier to get around on foot, but I thought we might have to walk around the entire thing to find the right corner for the minibusses to Kanchanaburi. Luckily, one of the students spotted a sign labeled “Kanchanburi” just as we left the sky train station.
We found out the minibus to Kanchanburi would be leaving 30 minutes from the time we arrived at the bus station and would cost 120 baht .
Since Arwen and I still hadn’t eaten lunch, this gave us time to find something to eat.
While we were waiting for the minibus to leave, Rand texted me that the train had been stopped for 30 minutes and locals were starting to get off. He was worried the train had broken down.
“You might get there before we do,” he texted.
The minibus left on time, but it took us an hour to get out of Bangkok because of the traffic. At 5pm, we crossed the bridge next to our apartment. It had taken us 4 hours to get back where we had started earlier that afternoon!!
The train Rand and the girls were on eventually started again and they made it to Kanchanburi about an hour before we did. At 8pm, we met up with them at the guesthouse restaurant and laughed about our crazy travel adventures.
Read more about our crazy transportation adventures here: