Bangkok’s Khao San Road might be the quintessential stop for backpackers in Thailand. It’s where hotels, hostels, bars and clubs congregate in a few fun pedestrian-friendly streets. And of course, there are carts selling street food and tuk tuks galore. But, this place does not represent Bangkok, not even close. It’s very westernised, which makes it an ideal place either for first time visitors to Bangkok, or people looking for a fun party vibe.
The vibe of Khao San Road
It has food, accommodation, and drinking, without the hassle of having to navigate the mighty urban labyrinth (and it is a labyrinth!) that is Bangkok. It’s a party street, without the red-light-district seediness of Soi Cowboy.
You’ll be surrounded by travellers just like you. Most locals don’t come here; just those who work in the tourist trade. From anywhere on Khao San Road, you could turn a corner and run into a street food cart (most famously Pad Thai whipped up on the spot, and sliced fruit served with a skewer).
Tuk-tuk drivers stalk passers-by with their eyes like vultures, asking to take you around, probing with that infuriating catch phrase of “hey you, where you go!?“
Hotels and cheap food on Khao San Road
There are plenty of hotels and restaurants, serving Thai food, as well as the classics that backpackers have defined (like banana pancakes or salty, greasy omelettes and toast for breakfast).
The green, red and orange branding of 7-11 is evident on every street as well, the very embodiment of convenience. Ice creams and cold drinks and sewing kits and Tiger Balm; perfect one stop shopping, especially for those just returned from neighbouring countries where such items could be hard to track down.
Yoda wearing headphones, Tiger beer logos, Mr T puns, black and white owls, and Che Guevara’s proud silhouette dominate the T-shirt stalls. There are bars that proudly announce that they’re turning a blind eye to underage drinkers, and if you don’t want to risk getting caught with that, stalls in the middle of the street can whip up a fake ID for you.
There are tattoos and bootleg DVDs and hair extensions and knockoff bags. You can get a visa processed or a suit made, both in 24 hours.
The crazy characters of Khao San Road
Travelers of all shapes and sizes inevitably bottleneck here.
There are groups of overloaded backpackers with Lonely Planets frantically trying to find hotel vacancies, tattooed guys with pecs who just spend the afternoons wandering up and down the street with a beer in each hand, funny old Gandalfs with white dreadlocks who seem to have moved in to Khao San Road and never left, first-timer teens in Chang beer singlets booking their buses to the full moon party.
And of course, you’re there.
Maybe you like it there, maybe you don’t, but somehow, you’re drawn to Khao San Road when passing through Bangkok, and you’ll probably be drawn back…