Our resident Thailand expert Kiri Bowers guides us through how to survive one of the most debauched places on earth, Bangkok’s Khao San Road. How to survive the scams, eat great and have a wild night while you’re at it? She’s got you covered.
Could there be a more popular street on the backpacking trail? I think not. A huge proportion of backpackers begin their trip in Bangkok and always end up on Khao San Road. This street has become a bit of theme park, it’s not an example of real Thai culture, the rest of the country is very different but this place is more like a great way to celebrate starting a new adventure.
I’ve loved Khao San Road since my first experience five years ago and every time I’ve been back I love it more. It is bright, loud, mad and a wee bit smelly but it’s always brilliant.
I’ve met the odd traveller who loathes the place but honestly, if you can’t find joy down this action packed road then there’s got to be something wrong with you.
I wonder whether the people who don’t enjoy this hub within Bangkok are those unfortunate folk who fall for one of the many traps that this city has hiding up its sleeve?
The biggest complaint is falling foul of a scam. Scammers are rife on this road so you do have to practice caution. Everyone wants to make money so watch out for being overcharged for something you buy. The popular scam is tuk tuk drivers taking you to every destination apart from the one you are after, all because they make a commission from overpriced stores you might be forced to shop in. You need to be aware that these things do go on. Find out in advance from your hostel roughly how much a journey should cost/take and scout around for prices rather than going for the first price you’re offered. Being conscious to this sort of thing will prevent any annoying scam spoiling your trip.
Thankfully, I’ve never had anything bad happen to me other than a hangover of stupendous proportions. I’ve never ended up with a tattoo on my face either. Maybe I’ve woken up with the remnants of 4am Pad Thai on my face but now who’s complaining about that?
Without declaring the painfully obvious and tell you to watch your drink in case it gets spiked, I thought I’d offer you a short list of things that will make your time down Khao San a little easier…
Where to stay
Why oh why do guidebooks tell you to visit Khao San but stay elsewhere within the city? I mean honestly. If you are 84 and wake up to the whistle of a mouse fart then yes, by all means stay a million miles away from this road. I’ve met many backpackers who said they thought it was a good idea to visit then rest their head elsewhere and they were the ones that then realized this was a pants idea.
Think about it. Bangkok is known for having one or two tuk tuk drivers that will literally take you for a ride and let’s take a wild guess about when they’ll be most likely to catch you unawares? It’s in the early hours of the morning isn’t it, when you have sixteen booze buckets in your belly and you are declaring love for the entire world.
The first time I set foot in Bangkok I stayed practically on the other side of the city and had a long-winded, traffic laden journey awaiting me after I’d spent an evening meeting new people and guzzling buckets. Who wants to bother with all that? Just off the strip are literally dozens of brilliant hotels, completely quiet as they are off the street and with security cameras everywhere and 24/7 night wardens. Staying on Khao San has always been safe for me and without incident. So stumbling back after a night of fun holds no concerns other than remembering the name of the hostel.
What to drink
Feel free to ignore me here as to be honest, I’ve ignored myself many times but try and steer clear of the Thai red bull buckets. Unless you specify otherwise any bucket you order will have a bottle of this sticky sweet (and totally evil) nectar in it.
I’ve had more buckets than you can wave a thousand hangovers at and this theory is well tested. Every bucket contains a half bottle of alcohol so just leave out the red bull and opt for any mixer you please. (Vodka and Manao Schweppes all the way for me). The chemicals in Thai red bull will keep you up for hours past when you actually want sleep and the hangover is ALWAYS worse.
What to eat
EVERYTHING! Oh sorry that’s just me and my gluttonous ways. Despite how much fresh street food there is on offer on Khao San, the queues outside McDonalds and KFC are never small. I guess there’s always a time when nothing else but a Big Mac will do. I won’t shame any of you and say don’t do this as I’ve been there but truthfully, the food around this area is too delicious for words.
It’s worth noting that any of the side streets around Khao San sell exactly the same sort of yummy street food for a cheaper price. As the road is so famous street sellers can get away with raising the price, so if you’re on a budget then wander around and save a baht or two.
Lastly, those with a weak constitution would be wise to stay away from any seafood very late at night too. Throwing up squid is never fun.
What do you guys think of Khao San Road? Are there any spots or key bits of information we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!