Khao San road Bangkok - backpacker guide
Khao San Road - Asia's bohemian central
Popular with backpackers and free-spirited budget travellers, Khao San Road serves as an excellent introduction to Thailand. Featuring a vibrant night scene and a broad spectrum of businesses, Khao San Road is one of the most popular and intriguing parts of Bangkok; a tourist attraction in its own right that attracts both foreigners and Thais. This is many people’s first port of call after stepping off the plane at Suvarnabhumi Airport, and this area serves as a decompression chamber between East and West and where just about everything under the sun can be found or arranged.
The opening scene of the now legendary backpacker movie The Beach, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, is set on Khao San Road and while the swallowing of snake’s blood by locals has been largely embellished, it touches on the area’s seedy and mysterious side. Mostly, though, this is simply a convenient starting point for arranging your trip around Thailand and dozens of tour agents, internet cafés, guesthouses and bars can be found here, along with nightclubs and shopping opportunities, where visitors can find everything from pirated CDs to luggage, clothing and tattoos.
While Khao San Road is a rather dizzying frenetic place today, its roots go back to 1982, when it was a quiet residential street with houses owned by the city’s elite. Some started opening guesthouses but it was not until Lonely Planet author Joe Cummings highlighted the place as an excellent budget area that it really caught on, and within 10 years Khao San Road had become legendary among world travellers.
Today Khao San Road has come full circle as upmarket pubs and guesthouses, and even hotel chains, have moved in, but the essence of the place is still wonderfully bohemian and this is the perfect for people-watching. Even if you do find it a bit ‘full-on’, there are always plenty of quiet lanes to disappear down. Khao San Road has now become a whole district where the quieter adjacent lanes offer laid-back accommodation away from the busy main commercial street.
Khao San Road: Backpacker central
Khao San Road is also conveniently located close to the Chao Phraya River, which offers access to most of the city’s main tourist attractions. The historic districts of Banglamphu and Rattanokosin Isle are also a short walk away and among the attractions that can be found here are Sanam Luang, the Grand Palace, Temple Mount, Wat Po and the Dusit area with the enchanting Vimanmek teak palace. Visitors can also take a riverboat from Banglamphu pier to Saphan Taksin, which links with the Skytrain.
A popular spot for backpackers and regular tourists
Khao San Road entertainment
Khao San Road attracts everyone, from laidback backpackers to female Thai university students, and all come out to shake their booties at popular discos, such as The Club and Gulliver’s. Step into the latter of these and you’ll wonder if you ever left the West - that is until a six-foot tall transvestite in a tight dress tries his/her luck with you!
Khao San Road shopping
Given that almost all of the vendors on Khao San Road speak at least a little English, this is an excellent area to do a spot of shopping and pick up supplies. As with other markets in Thailand, prices are rarely fixed and experienced barterers will be able to pick up some great deals and score massive discounts.
Khao San Road is an excellent place to shop for a wide range of items, including clothes, hats, shoes, Thai handicrafts, beachwear, video games and CDs. This section of the city also boasts the best selection of second-hand bookstores in Thailand, often featuring English-speaking staff to help you track down a particular title.
Khao San Road eating
Those who are looking for a taste of home will be able to satisfy their food cravings on Khao San Road as a large number of restaurants and guesthouses offer Western fare. While some dishes may fail to live up to expectations, vendors offer tasty treats such as falafels and kebabs at street stalls, while fresh fruit, pad thai and spring rolls make cheap and tasty snacks. Although dining in Khao San Road may not be the most authentic experience, there's plenty of choice to satsify all tastes. More on restaurants.
Khao San Road travel
All roads lead to Khao San Road, or at least cheap tourist transport does. Those who touch down at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport can take a taxi straight to Khao San Road for around 400 baht, or take the airport bus. Khao San Road also offers a large number of travel agencies, which can arrange trips to practically any destination in the country, as well to surrounding nations Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. Combo train/minibus/ferry tickets to Koh Pha Ngan are popular and do pickups from Khao San Road, which saves visitors the time and trouble of finding their way around, while nearby buses and boats take travellers to other parts of the city.
Traveller tale: Bangkok's bohemian zone
Khao San Road in Bangkok, the city's world-famous backpacker's haven...more
Khao San Road accommodation
There are dozens of places to stay, both on and near Khao San Road, ranging from 150 baht a night dives to boutique hotels at 1,500 baht a room. A good tip is to seek out a place off the road, located down one of the many lanes that lead off the main drag. As well as offering a peaceful retreat from the full mayhem of Khao San Road, many places also have pleasant atmospheres with peaceful outdoor restaurants, while others are simply charmless cheap digs.
Located off Chakrabongse Road, beside Wat Songkram, Soi Rambuttri is an extension of Khao San Road that is a little less chaotic and often a better choice. It continues parallel to Khao San Road and has many guesthouses. Although it is possible to simply show up and look around, in the busy season we strongly advise pre-booking online. You can also choose from our recommended Bangkok guesthouses page.
Updated and correct: January 2013