Exploring 5 Iconic Temples in Kanchanaburi

Like in other parts of Thailand, temples in Kanchanaburi are not in short supply. While most people visit Kanchanaburi to see the famous River Kwai Bridge or Erawan Falls, there are several temples in Kanchanaburi that are spectacular. I visit these temples regularly with my family for special blessings like a recent trip for my birthday blessing. I think you should add at least one or two of these temples to your list of Kanchanaburi sights.

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Most people head to Kanchanaburi because of its important world war II sites that were part of the death railway, especially to see the Bridge over the Kwai River. Visiting the nearby Erawan Falls is also very popular, as is staying in one of the floating hotels along the river.

So while there are plenty of things to do in Kanchanaburi we think you really should add some of the city’s more unique temples religious sites to your itinerary.

We could list at least 10 Buddhist temples in Kanchanaburi, but it makes more sense to share with you our top picks. Choose a couple of these amazing temples below, each with their own unique architectural style, to add to your Kanchanaburi itinerary.

Wat Tham Suea – Tiger Cave Temple

One of the most visited temples in Kanchanaburi is Wat Tham Seua. It’s nicknamed the ‘Tiger Cave Temple’ and has a really cool history. Legend has it that a giant tiger lived on the mountain and terrorised the village. One day, a monk accidentally walked into the tiger’s den, but the tiger didn’t harm him. Other monks chose the den as a place to meditate and eventually built a temple on top of it. 

Wat Tham Seua’s 18m Buddha

Wat Tham Seua contains Kanchanaburi’s largest seated golden Buddha statue, which is 18 metres high. To get to the top, you need to climb 157 rather steep stairs. There is a venicular to take people to the top. It’s been out of service for a while, though, with no indication of when it’ll be operational again.

Tip: The view across Kanchanaburi is spectacular and one of the main reasons to climb to the top. The tiger cave is at the base of the temple and remains a shrine. 

Bonus: Wat Tham Khao Noi

Occupying the same mountain at Wat Tham Seua is the Chinese-style temple Wat Tham Khao Noi. It was built by a Chinese abbot in 1883 and is a multi-tier pagoda. Being a Chinese temple, you’ll find many statues of the Happy Buddha inside.

How to get there: Wat Tham Seua and Wat Tham Khao Noi are 15 km from Kanchanaburi town; there is no public transport from there. The best options are to catch a taxi or join a river tour that includes the temples in the itinerary.

Location: Muang Chum, Tha Muang District, Kanchanaburi
Open: Daily from 8am to 6pm l Entry: Free

Wat Ban Tham – Dragon head cave temple

For centuries, Wat Ban Tham, sometimes referred to as ‘The Dragon Temple’, has played an essential role in local spiritual life. Its distinctive dragon-head entrance has been an enduring attraction to both worshippers and tourists alike.

While the exact year of its establishment remains a mystery, it’s believed to have been constructed during both the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya eras 1238–1767. 

Wat Ban Tham temple

Similar to Wat Tham Pu Wa, the temple is the entrance to a cave, but in this case, the cave is at the top of the mountain, not underneath it. Getting to the top requires some effort; there are 700 steps.

I advise you to take it slow, stopping at each level and looking around before taking the next set. Because you’re higher in the mountain, oxygen is thinner, and you’ll tire faster. This is not a time to practise what you learned in step class!

There’s a famous stalactite just inside the cave entrance that looks like a woman’s body. According to Thai folklore, it’s believed to honour the image of the wife of Khun Paen, the legendary warrior who fought off the Burmese army.

How to get there: Wat Ban Tham is 10 km from the heart of Kanchanaburi, and no public transport goes there. If you have the experience, hire a motorcycle to head out there. Alternatively, you can get a taxi or catch one of the red songtaew buses from in front of the railway station. It’s open daily from 7 am to 5 pm, and admission is free.

Location: Khao Noi, Tha Muang District, Kanchanaburi 71110, Thailand
Open: Daily from 7am to 5pm

Wat Tham Khao Pun – Cave Temple

Picture a temple built inside a limestone cave, decorated with Buddha statues and paintings. This is Wat Tham Khao Pun. Believed to originate from the Ayutthaya period, the temple is rich with intriguing history. The cave is divided into nine chambers and is an adventure to explore, with twisted tunnels, uneven stairs and narrow passages.

Wat Tham Khao Pun cave temple Kanchanaburi
Wat Tham Khao Pun Kanchanaburi

The temple mostly draws local visitors because of religious importance. Wat Tham Khao Pun is conveniently located just a kilometre away from Kanchanaburi Railway Station.

Location: Nong Ya, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi
Open: Monday–Saturday from 9am to 5.30pm, Sunday from 7.30 am to midnight

Wat Tham Mangkorn Thong – Temple of the floating nun

My fifth temple worth visiting in Kanchanaburi is Wat Tham Mangkorn Thong, the temple of the floating nun. Built during the reign of King Rama V, the temple was inside a cave. To get to the top, you need to climb 95 steps. They’re decorated on each side like the spine of a golden dragon. At the entrance to the cave is a rock carving, like a lion.

The major attraction here is the floating nun. Be warned, it’s a bit tourist-trappy. There is a statue of the original nun who, legend has it could levitate above the water.

For a fee of 200 baht, a nun will come and sit and float on the pool for you in various Buddha poses. 

How to get to Wat Tham Mangkorn Thong: The temple of the floating nun is only 7km from Kanchanaburi, so it is the easiest to get to by car, motorcycle or songtaew.

Location: Nong Ya, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi
Open: 8 am to 6 pm daily, with free admission.

Birthday Blessing in Kanchanaburi temple
my recent birthday blessing

Wat Tham Pu Wa

Hands down, my favourite temple in Kanchanaburi is Wat Tham Phu Wa. I’ve nicknamed this one the ‘chocolate temple’ as it looks like it’s been carved out of chocolate. The first time I visited it, I had to touch the wall outside to be sure it wasn’t. 

Wat Tham Pu Wa

The chocolate-looking entrance building and Buddha statue aren’t even the main reasons to visit. Wat Tham Phu Wa is built on top of a two-story cave. I love hearing the gasp of astonishment from first-time visitors. You don’t expect such an intricate cave system to be beneath the temple.

This temple is in a Khmer style and similar to Banteay Srei, Cambodia

There are quite a few stairs to walk down, but they’re large, flat, and not too steep. It’s well worth it, as the lower level is something to behold.

Kanchanaburi temple

How to get there: Wat Tham Phu Wa is around 20 km from the heart of Kanchanaburi; once again, there are no public transport options. Hire a car or catch a taxi to enjoy your day there. Admission is free, and it’s open from 8 am to 6 pm every day.

Location: Nong Ya, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi 71000
Open: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

Tham Lawa Cave – the Oldest cave in Kanchanaburi, is a bat cave and while not a temple cave, features stalactites and stalagmites

Buddhism is very important to Thai people, and some guidelines exist when visiting a Buddhist temple. I request that everyone be respectful of these. 

  • First, dress appropriately. No singlets or tank tops. Shoulders should be covered, as should be your knees, so if you must wear shorts, be sure they’re long ones.
  • Please remove your shoes whenever you enter any temple or shrine; you can still wear socks. 
  • If you’re in one shrine and there is a monk giving blessings, you’re welcome to get one. Purchase an offering, usually 100 baht, and perhaps place some extra cash into one of the pink envelopes provided. Sit cross-legged or on your knees; never point your feet or toes toward him.
Temple Etiquette in Thailand sign outside temple showing appropriate clothing
Some places are more relaxed than others, but we encourage you to be conservative
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol is not permitted inside a temple complex. However, you can eat or drink inside, just not inside a chamber with a monk.
  • Do not touch any of the religious artefacts and do not take selfies with buddha images.

There you have it. Next time you’re in Kanchanaburi, be sure to visit at least one of these temples.

About the author: Stephen left Australia in 2016 with a one-way ticket to Thailand
and hasn’t been back since. Seven years later, he’s “living the ex-pat dream”, married and settled down; he and his partner travel across Thailand competing in half-marathon running events and sampling coffee at cafes.