KhaoSan Road: Traveller Heaven or Hell?
You could be in a café in Quito or a rickety bus in Kenya but it is a small street in Thailand that bizarrely continues to strike a chord with travellers as the centre of the backpacking universe. It seems every other traveller you meet has been here and has formed their own opinion of it. For some it’s a vibrant international community with everything you could possibly need and more in the space of just a few blocks in the Thai Capital. For others it’s a busy sleazy street full of exactly the types of people you left home to escape from plus a few dodgy locals trying to exploit visitors.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle and after a few days it is pretty easy to make your mind up which end of the spectrum your opinion lies at. The road stretches for what can only be a few hundred metres but often it can seem like you are running a giant gauntlet. Everyone seems to want a piece of you and for the uninitiated it can be closer to being mildly traumatic than an exciting travel experience.
You want massage? You want t-shirt?
You get the impression that almost anything is on sale here. In and around the KhaoSan Road there are dozens of cheap Thai Massage joints, a popular daytime and early evening pastime for visitors to Bangkok. The street is lined with stores and street stalls selling various printed t-shirts and clothing items. They all seem to sell exactly the same crap but every other traveller seems to be wearing a T-shirt with ‘Chang Beer’ or another famous brand written on it. If you really look around you can actually find some imaginative original clothing for a few hundred baht.
If you’re not being hassled into buying clothes or getting a massage then there you’re probably being pestered into renting a room for a few nights. There is LOTS of basic budget accommodation in the area although the better and indeed cheaper places are off the main drag. Cheaper places still can be found a short tuk-tuk ride away by the train station (left).
How about some fake ID or even a degree?
If you’ve found a room and don’t want to get a massage or buy t-shirts then why not get a masters degree? There are a couple of guys who for a few dollars will issue with authentic looking forms of ID and even TEFL or degree certificates from your chosen university. Not sure how useful they are back home but the fake student ID at least is pretty good at securing discounts in shops and bars in the world you left behind.
The Khao San Road attracts all sorts of inventive sales ideas, most of which work pretty well but there also a few major oddities. For example, on a street full of scruffily dressed backpackers there are numerous smartly dressed seemingly Indian men who are very keen to sell you a suit. This makes little sense. Nobody wants to go backpacking around Thailand with a fake Armani suit. As you approach the end of the KhaoSan road and think you are about to escape the madness of it all you run into a bunch of tuk-tuk and moto drivers very eager to take you to see some ping-pong.
Anyone for Ping-Pong?
If you’ve never been to Bangkok, then you may not be aware of Thailand’s long ping-pong traditions. This ‘sport’ is very popular with visitors to the country. If you couldn’t fit your trusty table-tennis bat into your backpack then fear not as the rules are a bit different here. Put simply it involves ladies shooting ping-pong balls out of their vaginas and hitting targets with an impressively high success rate. This takes no little skill and presumably many years of practice. Eager to keep the show fresh it seems no two performances are the same and if stories are to be believed you may also see toads, frogs, rabbits and even darts popping out.
Moving swiftly onto the equally sex-orientated Bangkok nightlife. By night, the Khao San Road changes into the nightlife hub for travellers staying in the area. Despite this there is only really one club on the street (imaginatively named ‘The Club’). It is roughly midway down the street, has a couple of beefy Thai bouncers, blares out the latest club tracks and attracts a steady flow of people coming in and out. Inside it’s a mixture of Thai prostitutes, ladyboys (see above for token Thai ladyboy picture) and wasted foreigners but it’s a good crack. It’s open till 3am when everyone spills out onto the streets to be greeted by even more prostitutes and guys selling cheap beer.
Fill up my Bucket!!!
Just hanging out in the street here having a few drinks can be great fun and in many ways is the best way to soak up the KhaoSan Road experience. There are many street barbeques selling tasty and dirt cheap Thai snacks if you get hungry and you won’t have to move too far to get your hands on a cold Thai Beer or cocktail. Meeting people is incredibly easy but shaking off unwanted ‘new friends’ is harder as you keep constantly seeing the same people in what is a pretty small if crowded area.
The Khao San Road certainly couldn’t be classed as the real Thailand or even the real Bangkok but it is nonetheless an experience in its own right. While it’s not in the very heart of Bangkok, it is located centrally enough to explore one of the world’s most exciting cities. There’s always something happening on the Khao San Road and it isn’t hard to work out how it found its way into backpacking folklore.
This page was last updated in June 2013.