Sangkhlaburi Travel Guide

Sangkhlaburi is a beautiful small Thai town, surrounded by mountains and nature, which has an interesting mix of cultures thanks to its location next to the burmese border. The inhabitants of Sangkhlaburi are mainly Thai of the Mon ethnic group, who have its own language and customs and are found in several countries of Southeast Asia. Sangkhlaburi is an excellent destination for those looking to avoid Thailand’s top tourist destinations. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if one day the Bangkok to Sangkhlaburi route becomes popular as an adventurous alternative to the typical route north from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Although the most recognizable sight in Sangkhlaburi is its famous handmade wooden bridge, the true charm of this town lies in the atmosphere of its streets and its unique mix of people, with Thai, Burmese and Mon living on both banks of the river. The water levels of Khao Laem lake change drastically throughout the year, showing or hiding the structure of the Saphan Mon bridge and the old Buddhist temples that lie on the bottom of the lake, and this is yet another ingredient that make Sangkhlaburi such a special place. But Sangkhlaburi not only stands out for the town and its nearby attractions, since even the road that leads there from Kanchanaburi winds through areas of great beauty, and it is worth traveling slowly and making several stops to contemplate its landscapes of mountains, forests, rivers and lakes. The road becomes narrower and more winding, and once you get to the last section through Khao Laem National Park, the journey becomes slower but even more beautiful. Truth is getting to Sangkhlaburi is already part of the charm of this trip.

ℹ️ Top Things to Do in Sangkhlaburi

Saphan Mon Bridge

Saphan Mon Bridge, Sangkhlaburi450 metres long Saphan Mon is the longest handmade wooden bridge in Thailand, and the most famous sight in Sangkhlaburi. This huge bridge was built by local inhabitants in order to link the town with Wat Wang Wiwekaram temple, where a famous Buddhist monk of Mon origins resided. In the dry season most of the spectacularly tangled structure is visible, while in the rainy season the water level is almost as high as the walkway on top of the bridge, so it is no surprise that it has partially collapsed more than once. Saphan Mon is even more impressive during Thailand’s New Year Songkran festival, in April, when a long line of monks crosses the bridge at dawn to go collect alms in town, and cross it back on their return to the temple a couple hours later. Besides this, the bridge is one of the favourite spots where locals go to splash water on each other during the Songkran days.

Khao Laem Dam

Khao Laem Dam, Sangkhlaburi, ThailandOne of the most popular activities in Sangkhlaburi is taking a boat to explore Khao Laem lake. When this dam was created in 1968, a village in the valley was completely submerged, and three of its temples have become tourist attractions that can be visited when the water level is low. The experience is completely different depending on the time of the year, and while in the driest months the water doesn’t even reach the temple floor, in the rainy months you can only see the tips of their roofs and spires while sailing. The most famous of the three temples is Wat Saam Prasob. But temples submerged or not, sailing on the vast Khao Laem lake is recommended throughout the year, as you’ll enjoy the scenary and views such as countless houseboats scattered around the perimeter of the lake, boats that cross the water while transporting children to school or flocks of birds catching their fishy meals.

Three Pagoda Pass

Three Pagodas Pass, Sangkhlaburi, Thailand-Myanmar borderThe 3 Pagoda Pass is one of the most famous border crossings between Thailand and Myanmar, and has historically been an important point on the main route between India and Southeast Asia for many centuries. The Japanese also used it to build the famous Death Railway that linked Thailand and Myanmar during World War II, in which thousands of prisoners died as a result of forced labor. The three pagodas that give the place its name are actually three tiny buildings of mainly symbolic value, which are not even the original ones, and besides this the visitor won’t find much more than a small market where many Burmese handicrafts and products are sold, and some local restaurants. Although it’s not an impressive visit in itself, at only 22 km north of Sangkhlaburi it is quite easy to reach, not very time consuming and provides the opportunity to have a look at the burmese side of the border, making it a very popular short trip.

Buddhist Temples

Wat Wang Wiwekaram, SangkhlaburiFortunately, not every temple in Sangkhlaburi is submerged under water, and on top of a nearby hill there are two quite interesting and very different temples that can be accessed by boat or by walking from Saphan Mon bridge and across the town of Ban Wang Ka. Buddha Khaya chedi is an impressive towering golden stupa. The design of the chedi is a copy of that of the Indian city of Bodhgaya, where Buddha is believed to have reached enlightenment. Don’t forget to climb the white tower in front of it, which offers spectacular views of the area. Buddha Khaya’s location on the edge of the lake makes it common to get there by boat and then walk back to town. Wat Wang Wiwekaram is a much larger Thai-style temple, the most important in the area, and it houses a large number of monks, mainly of the Mon ethnic group. It was built in 1953 under the command of the famous monk Luang Phor Uttama, whose mummified body is kept inside the temple.

Khao Laem National Park

Khao Laem National Park, ThailandKhao Laem National Park covers an area of about 1500 km2 around the huge Vajiralongkorn Dam, which is surrounded by many waterfalls and limestone mountains. The park is inhabited by more than 260 species of wildlife, including gibbons, deer and an amazingly wide scope of birdlife, mainly around the Kroeng Kravia swamp. The park headquarters are located 30 km southeast of Sangkhlaburi, and 1 km north from there you can hire long-tail boats to sail across the reservoir or return to Ban Wang Ka (just across the bridge from Sangkhlaburi). In case you wish to overnight there is a campsite and bungalows next to the park main entrance. If you only want to make a short visit and take a dip in a beautiful natural environment, one of the most recommended and accessible bathing spots is the Kroeng Kravia Waterfall, 40 km southeast of Sangkhlaburi and next to road number 323.

🏨 Where to stay in Sangkhlaburi

Sangkhlaburi is not an established tourist destination, and the few international tourists that do arrive are mainly backpackers, so it is not surprising that the accommodation offer is basically cheap guesthouses and hostels, and the more sophisticated options only manage to scratch the 3* mark. Although there are some hotels in town, most of the accommodation is located in a range of 2 km between there to the south, near or next to the north shore of the lake.

Between Town and Khao Laem Lake

Best for: All kinds of travelers

Accommodation available: Hostels, guest houses, hotels and resorts, ranging from basic and cheap up to midrange 3*.

Advantages:
βœ”οΈ Overall quiet location.
βœ”οΈ Only about 2 km separate downtown from the lake’s north bank.
βœ”οΈ Choose accommodation next to the lake for the most scenic location.

🧭 Itinerary to visit Sangkhlaburi

One full day is enough to explore the most interesting sites in Sangkhlaburi and its surrounding area:

1

Saphan Mon Bridge

Let's start the day with the visit of Saphan Mon, the most iconic sight in town and longest handmade wooden bridge in Thailand, built by local inhabitants in order to link Sangkhlaburi town with the Buddhist temples across the lake. You can cross the bridge by walking or riding a bicycle, but not a motorcycle. The best hour of the day to enjoy the views is early morning, when many locals cross the bridge on their way to work or do their daily chores.
2

Khao Laem Dam

After enjoying the views over the bridge, take a boat to explore Khao Laem lake and its submerged temples, boathouses, boats and surrounding landscape. Boats can be hired right next to the Saphan Mon bridge for 300-500 THB. Ask the boatman to finish the trip at the banks next to Chedi Buddha Khaya stupa, the next stop of this itinerary.
3

Wat Wang Wiwekaram and Buddha Khaya Chedi

The boat will leave you next to the impressive Buddha Khaya chedi, a golden stupa that you can admire from the top of the white tower in front of it. After that, a short walk north will get you to Wat Wang Wiwekaran, a Mon Thai-style temple that is the most important in the area. From there, walk back to Sangkhlaburi town, crossing the town of Ban Wang Ka and the Saphan Mon bridge.
4

Three Pagoda Pass

After having lunch by the Khao Laem lake, drive 22 km north of town on road number 323 until the 3 Pagoda Pass, a very popular border crossings between Thailand and Myanmar, where you can see the three small chedis that give the place its name (even though they are not the original ones), explore the handicrafts of the small Burmese market, experience the border town atmosphere and have a look at the burmese side of the border.
5

Saphan Songkalia

To finish the day, on the way back 10 km before reaching Sangkhlaburi you can make a stop on the banks of Songkaria River, a very popular picnic spot amongst locals, where you can relax with a snack or a drink in one of the floating cabins by the river, and even take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear waters. You can't miss it: it's just found next to the bridge you'll ride across on road number 323.

✈️ Arriving to Sangkhlaburi

You can only get to Sangkhlaburi by road, and almost all travelers do either from Bangkok or Kanchanaburi:

🚌 By bus

A full day road trip

πŸ“Β  From Bangkok

➑️ From Bangkok’s Mo Chit (Northern Bus Terminal) there are only 3 daily direct buses departing in the morning (7-8 hours, 250 THB).

➑️ To reach Mo Chit bus terminal you can take the Skytrain until Mo Chit stop, and then a motorcycle taxi to the bus terminal (60-80 THB).

➑️ Since the direct options are so scarce, many opt to take a bus from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, and there connect with one of the many buses and minibuses bound for Sangkhlaburi that depart throughout the day.

➑️ Buses from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi depart from Sai Tai Mai –the Southern terminal–, with bus departures every 20 minutes and vans every 30 minutes, between 04:00 and 20:00 (3 hours, 110/120 THB).

🚌 By bus or minibus

If you split the trip from Bangkok

πŸ“Β  From Kanchanaburi

➑️ From the main bus station in central Kanchanaburi there are hourly bus departures to Sangkhlaburi between 07:30 and 16:30.

➑️ There are 2 kinds of buses: air-con buses (4 hours, 180 THB) and non air-con buses (5 hours, 100 THB).

➑️ Minibuses are the fastest option (3-4 hours, 150 THB), but you’re likely to travel tightly packed as in a sardine can. Hourly departures from 07:30 to 16:30 from the same Kanchanaburi bus station.

πŸŽ’ Do you like off the beaten track destinations?

Check out: Ranong or Doi Mae Salong.

πŸš‡ Where to go next?

Most common destinations after Sangkhlaburi:

Kanchanaburi, the city of the River Kwai

3-4h bus

Bangkok, capital of Thailand

6-7h bus