Khao San Road – Where is the love?
Category : Thailand
Travelers, tourists, expats and travel writer types, we need a chat. I am not feeling the Khao San Road love and I don’t understand why. What is so wrong with big, bad Khao San Road?
Look, sure, there’s the taxi driver mafia and touts to navigate, and the occasional drunk snoozing in front of a 7/11. You’re likely to find the reason why your home country has the reputation it does there. You won’t be “seen” on the infamous backpacker party strip. There’s no denying that Khao San Road has a few less-than-desirable features. It’s not off the beaten track, it’s not sleek and it’s “touristy”. I, however, maintain that the gauntlet that is Khao San Road is a Bangkok rite of passage.
Everyone has a Khao San Road story.
We took a group of friends to Khao San Road on their first trip to Bangkok. Within minutes of arriving on the strip, a particularly shouty tout made a beeline for Georgette* with his palm card. “You want one!?!” He screamed at her, thrusting his list of services under her nose. Georgette, in all her sweet Bangkok naievity, stopped for a millisecond to read the explicit details – and promptly turned an attractive shade of lobster red. On a return lap of the street, the same shouty tout thrust the same seedy list in Georgette’s face. “Damnit dude, do I look like like I need one?!” she had shouted as the rest of us rolled around clutching our sides in laughter. The phrase ‘you want one!’ became the most shouted on that trip, to Georgette’s mild annoyance and our great amusement.
My first trip to Thailand was my first as a grown up, and I was terrified and naive. In my overly-anxious state, I convinced myself it was a dangerous place to visit (how wrong I was!). My first trip to Khao San Road came after several cheap Singhas beside the fish pond in Soi Rambuttri, waiting for some friends to finish work. We took up residence on the balcony of the Silk Bar (rest its soul) and as the night progressed, tequila appeared. My travel partner, Dylan*, got sufficiently sozzled, and needed assistance to make it back to hostel. The sight of myself and our two skinny Burmese friends trying to steer him was too much; we dissolved into hysterical giggling. Dylan is yet to live that night down. And while it might read like a drunken escapade, the many hours we spent drinking, eating, laughing and solving the world’s problems are some of my favourite spent in Bangkok.
Where do your local mates want to go for late night booze?
If your mates are anything like mine, they’ll be keen for post work brews once they knock off work at the suit shops. And where do they always want to meet? “Khao San Road, Cate! Let’s party!” Our group of four grew steadily larger as friends of friends finished work and joined us on the strip. We took up tables on balconies overlooking the street, watching the heaving mass of humanity below in its uninhibited glory, or we sprawled across tiny street bars with half warm beers. You might not finish the night on Khao San Road, but it makes for a great place to start.
Drinking and partying not your thing?
The loud party scene is not everyone’s thing; in fact, it can be an overwhelming wave of noise, lights and scents. Khao San’s quieter neighbour, Soi Rambuttri features plenty of relaxed dining, chilled out bars and beauty salons. Feet aching from pounding the pavement of Bangkok all day? Pull up a spot at a street side massage stall and get those tootsies taken care of for only a couple of bucks. If you can’t sit still that long, browse the shops and street side markets for the ubiquitous tourist trinkets of Singha singlets and Bangkok postcards. You don’t have to partake in the hectic party scene offered by Khao San Road; Rambuttri offers plenty of laid back options!
Location! Location! Location!
There can be no denying that the infamous party strip is perfectly located, with many of Bangkok’s historical and religious sites just a short tuk tuk ride away. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, as well as Wat Pho are about a half hour walk away if you’re looking to up your step count. Take in the Giant Swing, Democracy Monument and Phra Sumen fort. Make use of the proximity to the Chao Phraya by hopping on a boat and crossing to Siriraj Hospital, where you’ll find Wanglang market waiting to dish you the best BBQ pork and stuffed pancakes for lunch. Back on the other side of the river, you can see the Monk’s Bowl Village, Loha Prasat and the Golden Mount before stopping by the legendary Pad Thai Tip Samai for dinner too – all within a short distance of Khao San Road.
If you’re in the region prior to the end of November 2017, you can catch a glimpse of late king’s crematorium at Sanam Luang. Richard Barrow, a teacher-by-day and blogger-by-night, has written a great piece with all the information you’ll need if you’re planning to visit this site!
So, traveling types, I’m planting my flag. I’m digging my heels in for Khao San Road. I know it’s not hip, and I know its got its unsavoury side (so does Sukhumvit… Nana, anyone?). But truth be told, its that one guilty pleasure that we all have a secret soft spot for. We were all once drunken fools, daring each other to eat deep fried scorpions. We were all once financially challenged “twatpackers” looking for a cheap beer and cheap accommodation. Once, Khao San Road was the place to be.
* names have been changed to protect their identities.