As most people’s starting point in South East Asia, it’s common for tourists to spend at least a few days there, and I’d say it’s worthwhile doing that. The first place most people head to is the infamous Khao San road. In my opinion, it should be experienced (even if you decide you hate it) but should not be your only experience of Bangkok – it is not Thailand at it’s best and really is not the best representation of the country. It makes me sad when people stop off in Thailand (usually on their way to somewhere else such as Australia) and only visit Bangkok.
If you’re looking for a hotel try and find one that’s not on the main stretch (too noisy) but on one of the back streets surrounding the road or the ones parallel such as Rambuttri road. You’ll also find that they’re slightly cheaper when you walk just 5 minutes away from Khao San. A taxi from the airport should set you back around 450 baht but they can only drop you either side of Khao San, you will have to walk to your hotel yourself if you’re staying on that stretch (it takes about 5-10 minutes to walk the length of it). In my few times in Bangkok I’ve stayed at the D&D inn (more expensive than others but decent rooms if you pay a bit extra not to be at the front), a few cheaper and more dodgy options (for when I was feeling particularly skint) and Nappark Hostel (quite expensive but excellent if you’re looking for somewhere clean, friendly and sociable). You can usually just turn up and find somewhere with rooms so I wouldn’t worry too much about booking, although I usually do just to have minimal backpack carrying time.
So what should you expect when you get there?
More Westerners than locals
Hundreds of westerners (or ‘falangs’ as we’re called here) drinking and dancing until the sun comes up, paired with confused looking tourists lugging their backpacks down the main stretch and looking for somewhere to stay. As a result most people on the stretch speak English which makes it a good starting point if you find travelling in a foreign country an intimidating prospect.
Khao San road is all about music, dancing and drinking – think Magaluf or Kavos but with a more laid back, traveller vibe. If you’re staying on Khao San road expect to be tempted out of your hotel room and into a bar within an hour of being there. Be careful though as the drinks are extremely strong and cheap and the alcohol effects you differently than back in the UK (faster and in a different way). A large bottle of Chang, the local beer, will be a lot stronger than you’d think it would be. They have no regulations in terms of how strong each bottle is so you could find yourself with a weak drink one time and one double the strength the next. So I know it seems obvious, but drink with caution, especially if it’s your first time in Thailand.
Travellers and a casual dress code
This seems obvious, but remember most people on Khao San road are travellers. This means people don’t tend to dress up smart or care that much what they look like. Denim shorts, flip flops and a vest are pretty common outfits on the road. If you’re worrying about what to wear then my best advice is to stop – no one cares – it’s part of the joy of travelling.
Crowds and chaos
The road is pretty narrow considering it’s filled with street stalls, food vendors and bar seats and so it’s pretty difficult to navigate your way through the masses of people. No one will move out of your way – even when you’re carrying a heavy backpack, you look like you’re going to cry and it’s about 100 degrees. We even almost got run over by a kart of flip flops the other day. This can get extremely annoying, especially if you’re in a rush.
Bangkok is pretty humid wherever you go, but expect it to be at it’s worst on Khao San road. It’s so built up and full of people, hot food stalls and tuk tuk exhausts that it can be pretty unbearable at times. Wearing your hair down is not an option and you will find yourself sticking to the seats (lovely). You only have to walk five minutes from the road to feel the difference in heat. The good thing is that you can find a 7/11 every couple of paces with freezing cold air con – a welcome rescue from the warm temperatures.
Constantly being sold everything and anything
This is the worst thing about Khao San. You will find that everywhere in Asia you will have to deal with locals trying to scam you out of their money but Khao San road is by far the worst spot for it. You can’t sit down for a drink without being pestered every 5 minutes to buy a scorpion, a novelty hat, bracelets that say things such as ‘rape me please’ (?) or a wooden frog. Walk down the stretch once and you’ll be offered about 10 tuk tuks, 5 tailored suits and 18 ping pong shows. You start off being polite and after a few days politeness turns into rage. It gets extremely annoying. I’ve found the best way to get rid of them is to speak their own language. A polite ‘Miaow Ka’ (spelt phonetically) which means ‘I don’t want thank you’ will usually get rid of them pretty fast. Make sure you have a good idea of how much everything costs before you get there and always ask for less than they suggest – they expect you to haggle and they will try their luck with ridiculous prices, especially if they can tell you’re new to Thailand. If you’re looking for cheap t shirts, fake havianas, ray bans or casio watches however, you’ll be in luck.
Cheap street food (but not that cheap)
Your best option for cheap food is the street stalls where you can pick up a plate of Pad Thai for around 40 baht (80p) or a large slice of pizza for the same. It’s brilliant when you first get there but you soon realise it’s a lot cheaper in the less touristy areas. You can also find the usual western joints such as Burger King and McDonalds if that’s what you’re looking for, along with masses of Thai restaurants serving the usual dishes.
Making friends anywhere and everywhere
Khao San Road is by far one of the easiest places to meet people. You can go and sit by a group of people at a bar without them thinking anything of it, get talking to someone at the pool, or if you’re particularly worried about making friends, stay in a hostel. I even met a girl in a 7/11 once who went on to travel with the other friend I’d made that evening for weeks afterwards. It helps that people are usually a little drunk but also that since it’s the starting point for a lot of people, many of them are seeking travel buddies. It’s the easiest place to start your travels in Thailand.
Cheesy dance music and sound clashes
Most of the road plays the same kind of music, usually of the David Guetta variety (you will hear a hell of a lot of his songs so you should probably get used to them before you leave!). You will find that a lot of bars compete with each other for who can play their music louder, which gets very annoying and can give you a headache when you’re sat in the middle. If you’re like me and enjoy a bit of indie or live music – head straight to the rooftop bar. It’s right in the middle of the stretch and is by far my favourite place. It is quite expensive but has a really relaxed, friendly vibe. You can enjoy a few drinks there to some chilled music or find yourself dancing for hours to the likes of the Killers and Razorlight. We were there for about an hour the other night and we made a whole new group of friends on the dance floor.
It’s tacky and it’s loud and for that reason a lot of people hate it, but Khao San road has become my comfort zone in South East Asia and I’ll always have a soft spot for it. I’ve had so many good times there but I also know that if you stay there too long and it can drive you a bit crazy. So don’t overlook it but don’t let it suck you in for too long either. Stay for long enough to have a few drinks, give yourself time to recover and buy a few items at the stalls but then move on, probably with a few new friends in tow. I’ll be back in a few weeks hopefully feeling refreshed and ready to deal with the chaos again!