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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.

Partying on Khao San Road
Khao San Road – the backpackers’ mecca

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…

Khao San road party
Khao San road party

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.

Khao San Road prostitution

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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+).
  5. Bus. Cheap, complicated, confusing. Not recommended!

How to get to Khao San Road from Don Mueng Airport:

  1. Taxi is far and away the best choice from Don Mueng (about $15)
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Alternatively, take the airport train and then connect to the BTS and follow the steps above.
  3. I always take a taxi personally ($15).

How to get to Khao San road from Mo Chit:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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

Coming soon….

What to See and Things to Do in Khao San Road

Democracy Monument:

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.

Wat Bowonniwet:

Golden Mount:

The coolest thing to see and do around Khao San Road is undoubtedly The Golden Mount (50THB). 15 minute walk from Khao San

Boat Trip: 

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.

 

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50 thoughts on “The good, the bad and the ugly of Khao San road, Bangkok

  1. I first stayed on Khao San in 1986. It’s changed a wee bit to say the least. The Buddy Bar was at the other end of the street (Temple side) and it was 30 baht per night. Prostitution wasn’t allowed on Khao San – imagine that. The odd girl would sneak around in the early morning hours offering a ‘massage” but it was just a cool fun cheap SAFE place to hang, meet people, get yourself oriented and plan your next trip. All the guest houses had big black ledgers we backpackers would write info and stories in…man they were gold!! Over the years I’ve watched it change and the whole backpacker scene change as does most things in life. Drugs were rampant for a while and a lot of people were OD’ing regularly. Then came the Nigerians and their “business offers”! The Japanese took it by storm for a few years…they basically set up house and lived there for months on end. The Israelis had a big presence for a long time. Still have some great restaurants in the area.The old coffee shops playing Merry Melody Cartoons until 6:00 a.m. are long gone but they were a big gathering place to sober up before heading back to the guest house. The hair braiding and Rasta movement snuck in for awhile…still there somewhat. Oh – it became trendy for upscale Thais to hang out for a time also. I really pissed of a film crew because I didn’t want to be a farang in a bar for the movie they were filming. I looked the part – long hair – beads – hippie kinda guy…lol. They couldn’t believe I’d turn down 1500 baht just to sit next to the famous movie star! I just said no to see their reaction – it almost turned nasty!! But I ended up drinking with the crew after. Ahhh too funny.
    I’m amazed that a few of the travel agents are still there! Just looking a little worse for the time spent dealing with drunk farangs. Prices have escalated way out of control…600 – 1400 baht a night for some of the places. They are nice but come on – it’s Khao San after all. The friendly Thai service isn’t what it used to be and who can blame them for what they put up with? I still pop in once or twice every year just for old time sake. In fact I’ll be there this coming October. But for me – the charm and fun side of Khao San disappeared about 15 years ago. I got tired of stepping of drunk farangs passed out on the side walk in their own puke. I even have a little video of a dog pissing on one. Hey I tried to get him up but he told me to fk off! So – piss on him! Too many memories. Long story short – it is what it is…a spectacle. Still fun and it will be memories for those there now. If you go have fun – keep an open mind and just be careful. Also, shop wisely, stuff is much cheaper in other places. Chok Dee from the old guy!

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  3. Actually I’m on Khaosan once every 3-4 weeks. Used to go more often. I never saw an abundance of street girls there. The author makes it sound like Nana..it isn’t..cheap drinks and loud music, great for people watching, and some solid street food. I’ve lived in BKK for 6 years. Khaosan is tame…AND…it’s about to get much tamer..as of August 1, 2018, they’ve cleared the vendors expect from 6 pm to midnight..it’s no longer a walking street, and bars may no longer seat people on the sidewalk and street…it’s boring..negotiations are ongoing to find middle ground, but I doubt it’ll ever be the same.Google before going there to see what the current set up is

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  5. Totally agree with all you’ve written here, definitely made loads of fast friends while I was here. But had to get outta there after 2 days at risk of developing a migraine lol.

    Rohan
    50firststeps.com

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  8. I live here in Bangkok! Khaosan was good many chilling spaces and bar, but sometimes I don’t like those sellers who come in and attack for selling things!

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  10. Hey there my husband and I are going to Thailand in Feb of 2017 and I wanted to know if there are any places to get toiletries example:: hair products, personal hygiene??

    Thank you

    Zee

    1. Don’t worry I have seen visitors with children ages ranging from about 4 to a couple who had a pre teen boy and teen daughter in tow in Khoa San road today and every one seems very friendly. Let common sense prevail and you will be ok.
      I was here 15 years ago and it was friendly and fun then as it is now.

  11. Hi, we are going to Thailand for the first time in June, my husband, myself and 2 teenage kids. We will stay the first 2 nights in Bangkok and, without knowing much at all about the districts, have reserved a hotel in Khaosan Road. It’s a 3 star hotel and has decent reviews on Tripadvisor. Now I’m in a complete panic! Is it safe? Should I cancel and find somewhere else? Where?

    1. This author is not correct at all, you have nothing to worry about. Been there dozens of times and rarely do you see what he mentions. It’s simply not that kind of area. No idea what he’s basing this on..

      1. it’s safe, but i wouldn’t bring my kids there, especially after sunset, it’s a pretty debaucherous place

      2. Khao San Road is safe for tourist , if you stay in decent hotel then no problem . Food and communications are good. All tourist places are nearby beside the river. Try to visit floating market

        1. Floating market sucks… early wake up to go 1 1/2 hrs to there in order to getjammed with tourists to buythe exact same souvenirs u can find anywhere in Bangkok.. simply not worth the time especially if u over for short visit like us

  12. Hi. My friend and I will be in Bangkok in march. Ive read your blog about Khao san rd which really helpful. Thank you. Now my question,is there any floating market near the area?

  13. Yep, Khao San Road has it all… sleaze, booze and greasy food… something about it I loved though and I still find myself back there for at least one night everytime I visit… perhaps I need to expand my horizons a little! Where else do you like to party in Bangkok?

  14. “In that respect it’s no different to any wealthy (aesthetically challenged) european male with a comparatively beautiful girlfriend, in that she has chosen to offset his appearance for his wealth.”

    haha. come on! not all couples have to be equally attractive for it not to be some sort of farce.

    1. hey rob,

      you’re right mate, altho generally speaking (and of course there are exceptions) their attractiveness is generally in the same ballpark, right?

      My point was more of a case of getting westerners off their high horses when they criticise dudes for getting a gorgeous asian missus because of their money, when it’s happening in their own country. It just dosesn’t happen as much because the disparity of wealth is less. I don’t like it here, or at home but i want people to be aware of their context before they pass judgement. Thanks for pointing that out though mate, you’re completely right

      johnny

      1. completely agree with what you’ve just written there. it also sucks that there is an automatic assumption from travellers that a white guy with an asian woman is in a shammy relationship. even my friend who doesnt fit the mould of the fat old western man whatsoever (he is 27,speaks her language proficiently and a good lucking fucker to boot) gets stared at by travellers wearing smug “knowing” looks when he walks down the street with his thai girlfriend who is actually older than he is.

        I think that perhaps so many travellers feel they have an obligation to be more morally aware when they are away from home, to tippy toe around the places they visit for fear of causing offence. of course when visiting other peoples countries and experiencing their cultures you should absolutely do this. in all my visits to thailand i have learnt to accept (along with the thai people) that there is thailand and that there is khao san, had rin etc.
        I think because of this crazy mix that returning to khao san is always fun – but leaving can be just as much so. i never judge – thats just the way that it is.

        1. love love love this comment Rob, thanks for this. I hear ya with that first paragraph too – i’m not quick to judge, and having lived in Thailand for almost 2 years in total i relate all too well :S

  15. hello frds

    khao san road is the amazing place in this world
    please visit this place once in his life

    take care frdz

  16. Nice to see that you do have different opinions about Prostitution anywhere in this world. Unfortunately people don’t want to realise it.

    1. it’s a contentious issue mate, that’s for sure. Ultimately you have to see where your beliefs lie and go with that, regardless of the consensus

  17. I’m reading this as I sit in the Coffee World cafe on Khao San Rd (good wi-fi at this cafe chain). KS road is good if you are just spending a couple of days in Bangkok. It’s close to the biggest cultural attractions of Bangkok, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, and it is by far the cheapest place to stay in Bangkok.

    1. yeah James you’re absolutely right, I’ll be there in 12 days or so too, it’s so convenient – I guess we just have to remember not to expect the real Thailand by spending a couple of days there!

  18. hoi Johnny,
    If i ever visit Thailand i think i might skip that part. Must be a beautiful country, and i don’t want to get the wrong impression. Like in the Netherlands, the red light district in Amsterdam is also famous, but happely it’s not all like that in the Netherlands where i live.
    B.t.w. just uploaded my site about my travelplans and so on..
    greets and have a good stay, Jaap

    1. hey jaap, good to hear from you again (and nice site btw). You know i guess it’s quite comparable to the red light district in the Netherlands actually, sort of place that a tourist ‘has’ to go! I wouldn’t recommend missing it altogether tho, ppl will always talk about so i guess it’s good to be able to have your own say on how u think about it 🙂

  19. Sleaze? I completely agree but in a way it totally adds to the culture of the place! I loved the hussle and bussle of it all. As you said Johnny – maybe don’t drink too much if you are female!

    1. Hey Gisele,

      Thats my point, the sleaze adds to the culture of the ‘place’, i.e Khao San area but that’s not a fair representation of Thailand. Unfortunately so many people only see that side and it can paint an unfair picture of true Thai culture :S

      1. This is very true, but I would think you would have to be pretty narrow minded to think ‘ping pong’ bars were all Thailand had to offer in the way of culture! Just being in Bangkok (or any other region) means you can’t help but experience the sites, the smells, the people etc. which make Thailand great. I would LOVE to go back and see more of the North actually, spend more time in Chiang Mai. 🙂

        1. you got me with the last part Gisele 😛 I used to live in Chiang Mai and it may well be my favourite place I have ever been – def go there if u get the chance!

          You’re right about needing to be narrow minded to think that’s all Thailand has to offer, yet anyone who comes to Thailand, visits Khao San and Koh Phangan and declares there love for the ‘best country in the world’ could maybe be labelled with that narrow minded tag! I know that’s far from you average backpacker but they still do exist :S

  20. Hi Johnny. Yeah … it’s gone from being an alternative-types backpacker road to a mega-tourist hub of sprawling streets over the past 20 years. I still stay there occasionally and enjoy it for a simple RnR break of shopping, eating, drinking, watching TV, etc (having passed thru Bangkok maybe 20 times) but usually I stay at one the other areas and visit on day trip, like recently on my way up here to China.

    Alias … these days every western pleb is discovering the joys of Asia (and beyond); the world is changing too fast. Can only go, with the flow (or hide).

    MRP – age 44 & “with his shirt on” – the candy trail … a nomad across teh planet, since 1988

    1. nice sign off Michael 😛

      ‘discovering asia’ is a great thing to do, unfortunately Khao San road and a full-moon party don’t hit the nail quite on the head! But you’re right, for the RnR is serves a welcomed service

  21. Hey Johnny,

    Khao San Road is like Kuta… if your a traveler (as opposed to a tourist) it’s generally best avoided if possible. It can make the seasoned traveler a little disheartened at the way the traditional cultures get lost and the awful traveler stereotypes get taken on by the hawkers… Like those in Kuta who yell out, ‘howsit goin mate? wanna buy some fags?’… makes me shudder every time.

    Sash.
    Barefootink
    http://www.barefootink.wordpress.com

    1. Hey Sash, Yeah kuta is a bit of a shocker too :S I made a beeline for Lombok as soon as i got to Kuta! It was an improvement for sure. That being said, Bali has a lot to offer – just gotta not let yourself get dragged to Kuta i guess

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