Bangkok Khao San Road
Khao San Road is the backpacker area of Bangkok and is located in the northern part of Rattanakosin. The Khao San Road area and surrounding district is home to a large concentration of hostels, guesthouses, bars, cheap open-air restaurants, market stalls, travel agents and a vibe all of its own. Soi Rambuttri is a road that runs alongside Khao San Road is also home to many restaurants, guesthouses and has a less intense more chilled out vibe than that of Khao San Road.
Khao San Road has been a backpacking staple since the 70s when people talked about the three Ks of Asia, Kuta Beach (Bali), Kabul & Khao San Road.
How to Get to Khao San Road
A taxi to Khao San Road from any area of the city is the most straightforward means of transport to the area. All drivers, even if they speak little English, will understand when you tell them you want to go to Khao San Road. It is important to ensure before you begin the journey that the driver is using the meter (if not when you arrive they may tell you a highly inflated price).
A tuk-tuk is great for getting to Khao San Road if you are nearby and only needed to travel a short distance. Tuk-tuks from the Hualampong Station to Khao San Road can be bartered down to around 80 baht, although drivers will suggest prices that are a lot higher when you first approach them. It’s a fun experience darting around the city traffic in a tuk-tuk.
Public buses do not reach Khao San Road, although stop a short walking distance away. Buses 2, 15, 44, 47, 70, 159 and 511 stop at the Democracy Monument Avenue bus stop. Taking the bus is the cheapest means of transport other than walking in Bangkok, and tickets are purchased on board.
The Pros of Staying at Khao San Road
Khao San Road is a great starting place when backpacking around Thailand and South East Asia, as you can find inexpensive accommodation, market stalls and shops aimed at backpackers needs, second-hand book stores where you can purchase guide books (and can also return and swap books that you have read) as well as access to information and tours available.
There are many relatively inexpensive travel agents that can book transport to all parts of Thailand and other countries in South East Asia easily, as well as organising pick up for other services and tours all from Khao San Road. Travel agents in the area can also arrange visas for other countries and assist with all general travel enquiries.
Because of the large number of inexpensive hostels and guesthouses in the area, there is no need to worry about booking in advance, it is quite easy to arrive in the area and walk around and enquire at a few hostels or guesthouses and choose the one that suits you best. This is a great alternative to booking a room in advance and then finding out it is in a really noisy area and not getting any sleep.
Food on Khao San Road
Travellers can also find inexpensive street food stalls, open-air restaurants as well as inexpensive drinks, whereas in other areas of Bangkok the same meals and drinks can be a lot more expensive. Every cuisine is catered to, inexpensive, Western, fast food, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, vegetarian and bakery foods can all be found in the area.
Khao San Road is close to some great attractions such as the Palace, Wat Saket, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and the Chao Phraya River, which are all within walking distance from the area. The area is also a great place to meet other backpackers and hear from them about where they have travelled to, where was good, and you can often get great recommendations for hostels and guesthouses in other parts of the country from them also.
Another positive about staying around Khao San Road is that if you are tired or just exhausted from the heat, it is quite appropriate to just sit along with the gutter or plastic seats set up along the sidewalk and just chill or relax. Everyone is friendly, and relaxing in your yoga pants or drinking beer in the morning is has become quite acceptable and common behaviour. If you were to do similar in other areas of Bangkok, you would most likely be looked upon as a lazy hippy traveller or even asked to move or leave.
The many mini-marts and general stores in the area sell everything you might need, from food and drinks to first aid supplies, travel items, earplugs, insect repellants, pain killers, disinfectants, hand washes, body care, sunblock and prices are fairly inexpensive.
The Negatives of Khao San Road
Khao San Road is out of the main CBD area of Bangkok, and therefore the subway metro trains and the sky train services do not access the area. To get to Khao San Road you will need to seek other means of transport, such as bus, taxi or tuk-tuk, and if you plan to visit the city each day then this can be a hassle and maybe staying in the city near a metro or sky train station may be better suited to you.
If you enjoy staying at 4 or 5-star hotels and resort-style accommodation, then you will find this type of accommodation in the city centre itself as Khao San Road and the surrounding area really caters to the less expensive hostels and guesthouses, as well as a few less expensive hotels.
The area is noisy. There is music, crowds of people, drinking, dancing, shopping, singing. The traffic around the area is also quite busy. If you enjoy peaceful surroundings or have trouble sleeping when there is noise around you then you might find Khao San Road crazy noisy chaos.
What to do at Khao San Road, Besides Partying?
There is a ridiculously large amount of clothing market stalls and shops set up alongside the road taking up the sidewalk, where you can purchase inexpensive lightweight yoga style pants, boho skirts and dresses as well as many singlet/vest tops. Travellers choose to purchase clothes suitable for backpacking along Khao San Road to wear while backpacking. Clothes in this area are aimed at western travellers, therefore, come in a range of sizes and cater to larger body types, whereas in some areas of Bangkok the clothing sizes only cater to smaller framed people.
Get a Tattoo or Piercing
It’s quite popular to get a tattoo or new body piecing while staying or visiting Khao San Road. There are many tattoo parlours set up along both Khao San and Soi Rambuttri that have highly skilled and experienced tattooists. Some require you to book in the day before, although most shops have many tattooists working and can often take walk-ins. The tattoo shops that I have visited in the area have all been really well set up and clean, so you can relax about the safety regarding tattoo hygiene.
Eat Vegetarian Food
There are many inexpensive vegetarian food options for travellers around the Khao San Road area, from open-air restaurants that have many vegetarian options on their menus, to side carts that sell vegetarian dishes and snacks at very inexpensive prices. There is a large number of vendors selling vegetarian spring rolls, freshly sliced tropical fruit, natural coconut ice cream, pad thai (and you can ask for no egg or meat easily), pancakes filled with banana and chocolate, mango sticky rice as well as a range of Thai desserts and other quick eats.
There are also several restaurants in the area that are vegetarian only, and some great restaurants worth mentioning is Mai Kaidees which can be found in a small street behind burger king (on Tanao Road, just ask any locals if you can’t find it, they will point you in the right direction). Mai Kaidees menu is an extensive vegetarian Thai menu, where you can find all the flavours of Thailand and can be reassured that it is fully vegetarian.
Learn Thai Cooking
There are many cooking schools in Bangkok, often with large price tags although there are a few less expensive cooking schools set up near Khao San Road including a great vegetarian cooking school and restaurant called Mai Kaidees (Tanao Road). This vegetarian restaurant runs a well-known cooking school that runs usually twice daily and involves a market visit as well as the option for add on activities such as Thai massage, temple tours or a palace tour. There are several advanced cooking classes ranging from bunch cooking classes, how to make tofu, raw food classes, how to make chilli paste as well as fruit carving classes.
Get Your Hair Braided, Dreadlocked or Fake Dreadlocks Put In
There are several smaller stalls set up along Khao San Road that focus on hair braiding, hair beads and dreadlocks. The prices are inexpensive and you can choose from many styles or designs of braiding or even get your hair dreadlocked.
Getting your hair braided off your face (if you have long hair) is quite practical in Bangkok with the hot and humid weather turning even the straightest hair into a frizzy or sweaty mess.
Even if you do not want your own hair done, it is worth having a look while someone else is getting their hair done and seeing how fast the Thai hairdressers can braid hair, they are super fast and do a really good job.
If you decide that you would be more suited to staying elsewhere in the city, a visit to Khao San Road is still worth the journey. It’s a vibrant area at night when the street closes off to most traffic and vendors more their food carts and goods further onto the road.
It’s a great place to spend a late afternoon having an early dinner or walking around the area sampling the many street food options and buying some inexpensive souvenirs and then ending the night at one of the many bars or getting a massage along the sidewalk at one of the many massage shops.