The good, the bad and the ugly of Khao San Road, Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand’s fabled capital, is frequently the first stop for round-the-world (RTW) trippers and certainly features heavily in many long term travelers histories but what is it that draws in the hordes exactly? And what’s all this fuss about Khao San Road (not Koh San Road as many think it’s pronounced – Koh means Island in Thai, so Khao San is different to ‘Koh Samui’ for example).
NOTE: If you’re looking for WHERE Khao San Road is, and how to get there, what to see & do etc, scroll to the bottom!
Well, first off Thailand is cheap (not as cheap as it once was but you can still eat a 3-course meal in a snazzy restaurant for under $10), then there’s the culture, the cuisine, the climate and of course there’s Khao San road. Khao San road, which now represents a series of streets, is a place in downtown Bangkok where backpackers and tourists are immediately drawn to from when they first touch down in the airport. It’s actually kinda far from Bangkok’s city centers of Sukhumvit & Silom but that doesn’t stop the movement.
Like any self-respecting backpacking hub, Khao San road (pronounced Cow San road but more often referred to as Ko San road) caters to every tourist’s need and unfortunately, that can be half the problem! Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve been roughing it in India, or grinding out the corporate hours in your home city – Khao San Road is a welcome respite and your sure to have a memorable time. When I refer to the good, the bad and the ugly – Khao San Road has all it all. In abundance.
So what’s so good about Khao San Road, Bangkok?
Well, it’s a great place to meet people especially if you’re a solo traveler, there is an endless supply of new friends to meet and greet and people are very open to random conversations. You’ll also easily find people to continue your travels with – North to Chiang Mai, South to Malayasia or East towards Cambdoia or Vietnam so if you’re looking for travel buddies, you’ve come to the right place.
Also, it’s cheap – cheap food and cheap booze, a huge drawcard for the thousands of backpackers who descend upon Khao San weekly. The party atmosphere is great and every night there’s something going on so if you’re ready to cut loose, Khao San is waiting for you. Furthermore, if your backpacking attire is looking a little rough around the edges from too long on the road this is one of the greatest places in the world to replenish your struggling wardrobe. Diesel jeans, Havaianas, quirky t-shirts – Khao San has everything, and for a snip of the normal retail price just don’t ask about the authenticity of your new goods.
It’s fun to party. You can grab a beer from 7/11 for $1 or so and soak up the atmosphere for peanuts, or drink some dodgy buckets of cocktails for $5 and sit on plastic chairs. Once you’ve had your fill, you can enter the various clubs there, open late, or hop in a tuk-tuk and head into Bangkok city center. Either way, every night is a party on Khao San Road.
So that’s the good, sounding pretty cool right?! Yeah and it is, even more so if it’s your first time but it’s not all cheap whisky and $2 Raybans…
Let’s look at the not so good of Khao San Road…
The downright bad and the ‘in-your-face’ ugly side of Khao San. Sure it’s cheap, but with the cheap booze and dark lighting comes a different kind of bargain so if seeing scantily clad ladies propositioning you (or your boyfriend) each evening then steer clear.
Prostitution. I’m trying to stay off my high-horse here because I love Thailand with all my heart (hence me ‘settling’ here and buying an apartment in Bangkok) but the sheer volume of sex tourists who blatantly flaunt their newfound catch for the evening is overwhelming. Admittedly Patpong, in downtown Bangkok, is worse for this but Khao San Road isn’t far behind. I don’t want to get into the discussion about legalized prostitution but what I will say is that I find something wrong (offensive?) with an overweight, shirtless 50-something stumbling around like he’s never tasted alcohol before clutching his teen ‘girlfriend’. Leave that for the hotel please mate – no-one wants/needs to see it.
Getting Hassled. Hearing another Thai hawker approach me with “Alright mate, you from London?” in a thick cockney accent does my soul no good either. Thai culture is a precious thing and one that we should appreciate with their good natured hospitality, warm hearts and endearing smiles – why then people insist on adopting an accent and a personality from another country is beyond me, but as anyone who has traveled through Thailand I’m sure can testify it’s not cool, but then that’s Khao San for you – love it or leave it.
Ok, that’s my rant over (almost). Maybe I have been in Thailand too many times and the tourist scene has jaded me but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on Khao San Road, Bangkok. By all means, check it out, party hard, meet some cool peeps but don’t stay too long guys – remember it for the good times, not the bad or ugly ones.
But where is Khao San Road in Thailand?!
If you’re wondering where Khao San Road is in Bangkok, here’s a google map to help. In Thai, ‘road’ is ‘Thanon’ is if you’re speaking with a Taxi Driver etc, you can say “Thanon Khao San” and they’ll take you here. Oh, and the best way to get to Khao San Road from Bangkok Airport is discussed here.
Here’s how to get to Khao San Road:
How to get to Khao San Road from Siam/Bangkok City Centre:
You have 3 main choices, and 2 not-so-hot choices:
- BTS. Take the BTS sky train to National Stadium, that’s the closest stop to Khao San Road. From there it’s a 4km/50 minute hot, sweaty walk. Or you can take a tuk-tuk/taxi from outside the station. A taxi should take 20-30 minutes and cost around 60THB ($2), a tuk-tuk will probably cost double that and take a similar time.
- Canal Boat. You can take the Saen Saep Express Boat from Panfa Leelard pier, (near the Golden Mount and Wat Ratchanadda, 15 minute walk from Khao San), this takes you right into the city centre stop of Pratunam, near ChitLom BTS. Takes 15 minutes or so and costs 11 baht. Cool views too.
- Chao Phraya Express Boat. Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin, then walk 2 minutes to Sathorn Pier and take the boat directly to Phra Arthit (35 mins/18THB – only take Oranage or Blue flag boats, not yellow). From Phra Athit pier, it’s a 10 minute walk to Khao San.
- Taxi/Tuk-Tuk directly. As a tourist, you’ll get ripped off here. Strictly speaking they should only go on the meter for a taxi ride, but as soon as they hear ‘Khao San’, they smell money. Also, traffic to Khao San is a nightmare, so this is the worst option really, expect to pay 300THB or more ($10+).
- Bus. Cheap, complicated, confusing. Not recommended!
How to get to Khao San Road from Don Mueng Airport:
- Taxi is far and away the best choice from Don Mueng (about $15)
- Bus A4 starts directly outside both Don Muang (DMK) terminals from 7am until 11pm nonstop via fast tollways to Khaosan area for 50 baht
How to get to Khao San road from Suvarnabhumi airport:
- Bus S1 starts from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) 1st Floor Gate 7 from 6am until 8pm for 60 baht nonstop via fast tollways to Khaosan area.
- Alternatively, take the airport train and then connect to the BTS and follow the steps above.
- I always take a taxi personally ($15).
How to get to Khao San road from Mo Chit:
- Ordinary bus 3 or air-conditioned bus 524 go to the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) and passes by Chakrabongse Road (at the western side of Khao San Road). This bus stops near Chatuchak Weekend Market. The trip costs 6.50 baht and takes approximately 30 minutes.
- It’s easier to take the BTS from Mo Chit to National Stadium and then follow the steps above.
How to get to Khao San road from Hua Lampong train station:
- 45 minute walk or 20 minute taxi ride to Khao San from here.
Where to Party in Khao San Road
BARS: The 410m strip of Khao San is FULL of bars. And there’s very little to differentiate between them, if you want to chill a little, head 5 minutes around the corner to Soi Rambuttri, a slightly less wild area of Khao San where you can drink without the madness!
But check out Mulligans irish bar is also a great bar on the main strip, but off it enough to avoid the crowds, and also Brick Bar – there are a host of regular bands playing here, but the house band – with a larger than life front singer – usually blows them all away. The drinks are a little on the pricier side of most others on Khao San, but it’s worth it. Entry is free on weekdays but it costs 300 baht to go in on weekends and it is usually rammed with a mostly Thai clientele, even though it is on the main drag, behind McDonald’s and The Buddy Lodge Hotel.
CLUBS: Both ‘The Club’ and ‘Lava’ are both open until 3am, then for a final after club, check out Gazebo until 6am. That’s you set.
Where to Sleep in Khao San Road
What to See and Things to Do in Khao San Road
Completely occupying a roundabout on a major thoroughfare is the Democracy Monument. Its distinguishing features are the four ‘wings,’ which are located at four equally spaced points around a smaller central shrine. It commemorates the June 1932 military coup d’etat that led to the country’s first democratic constitution in place of absolute rule. 10 minute walk from Khao San Road.
The coolest thing to see and do around Khao San Road is undoubtedly The Golden Mount (50THB). 15 minute walk from Khao San
Whether it’s up the main Chao Praya river, or a canal boat taking you to/from Khao San, traveling by boat is an absolute must-do when staying around Khao San Road.
Party and Shop on the Strip:
The main attraction. In the day time, insects for snacks are for sale, counterfeit goods, delicious Pad Thai and some sunglasses galore. As the sun sets, the debauchery begins. You’ve been warned.