What is this place, the infamous Khao San Road? And more importantly, why did you end up here, even if you didn’t mean to?
Basically, it’s everything that a party-oriented backpacker loves about Thailand, distilled and westernised and easily accessible. 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-districtness 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!?“
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 explodes out of 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.
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, and you’ll probably be drawn back…