To keep up with demand, Kanchanaburi offers a wide range of restaurants. You’ll find everything from night market stands to massive tourist restaurants.
For the cheapest local food, head into the centre of town. Across from the River Kwai Hotel, the outdoor restaurant called Day/Night Market serves some very delicious and inexpensive Thai food — come here for their spicy stir-fries or papaya salads if the tourist fare at your guesthouse is too bland for you. A number of food stands operate around the bus station throughout the day, selling grilled chicken, cheap snacks and fresh tropical fruit. Also near the bus station, you’ll find Srifa Bakery, one of the best places in town for real coffee. They don’t have an English sign, but it’s a massive place — look out for the blue banners and the giant billboard advertising their baked goods. Along with hot lattes and iced coffee, they sell Thai pastries, including pandanus buns and young coconut pies.
Along Maenam Kwai, you’ll find a decent selection of restaurants catering to tourists, some with unexpectedly good food. Likely the best is Fine.. Despite it’s somewhat humble name, this sunny little cafe serves delicious and inexpensive Thai food. The friendly owner is welcoming, as are the pastel colours and Thai royalist kitsch that decorates his restaurant. There’s usually a crowd at Tai Thai, which serves tempting stir-fries and steamed fish in a friendly, casual atmosphere. If you’ve had your share of som tam and tom yum, head to Ali Bongo’s, opposite the Blue Star Guest House. The English owner and Nepalese chef offer authentic Indian cuisine at very reasonable prices in a funky restaurant decorated with trippy paintings. Rather than putting up with the Nescafe served at most guesthouses, head to Famous Coffee for real coffee, yummy flavoured lattes and icy frappes.
Most guesthouses have restaurants, so if you’re feeling too chilled out to head far, don’t worry. While most serve similar menus of Thai standards, a few stand out. One of the most popular is Jolly Frog, which has one of the cheapest, most wide-ranging menus in town – though note that there are frequent complaints about their service. V.N. Guesthouse has one of the most attractive guesthouse restaurants in Kanchanaburi. They serve tasty Thai meals and delicious breakfasts in a long wooden dining hall that extends out above the river. However, the most famous guesthouse restaurant in town is at Apple’s. Their long and creative Thai menu includes papaya phat thai, spicy pomelo salad, and steamed fish with lemongrass and chilli. Meals are served in a relaxed outdoor setting, under a thatched awning among tropical plants.
Near the railway bridge are a number of restaurants catering to Thai tourists, including some floating on the river itself. Midway between the bridge and the main backpacker’s centre, The Resort offers one of the most upscale atmospheres in town. Popular with weekenders from Bangkok, it serves delicious Thai food, including some upcountry favourites, like deer and wild boar. Tables are set around a colonial-style house, in a garden of white lanterns and traveller palms. Nearby, Ya Jai has a similarly elegant atmosphere and menu.
Kanchanaburi might not be able to compete with Bangkok or some islands fornightlife, but there are still a handful of bars where you can enjoy a drink and get to know some very colourful locals. Along Maenam Kwai, most bars seem designed to cater to backpackers looking to get hammered on as few baht as possible. The most famous such place is the No Name bar, which offers an English pub menu right down to fish and chips and bangers and mash. In a similar vein is the Snooker Bar, which shows several movies every evening. A few doors down from No Name is the Rasta Bar which is the meeting place for the Kanchanaburi biker gang and a fairly cool hangout. If you prefer something a bit more Thai, then the floating discos and loud, brash bars on Song Kwai Rd are the places to head for. Every night rafts set off up the river stacked to the roof with as many loud speakers as they can manage without sinking – don’t forget your earplugs.
Ali Bongo 232 Maenam Kwai Rd, Kanchanaburi. Tel: (01) 194 4858
Fine…, Maenam Kwai Rd, opposite Chitanun Guest House, Kanchanaburi.
The Resort 318/2 Maenam Kwai Rd, Kanchanaburi. Tel: (01) 847 9227 Daily 18:00-01:00
Ya Jai Cuisine 301/1 Maenam Kwai Rd – Kanchanaburi. Tel: (034) 624 848