As a previous resident, Khao San Road is not what Bangkok is all about
It is a backpacker ghetto
Spending a good chunk of my life living in Bangkok, Thailand has taught me a few things. The city is full of excellent value spots to eat, crazy hidden corridors, secret restaurants and smiling faces. You can step out your front door 24 hours a day and stumble on a new experience.
However, my heart still sinks when I hear about your visit to Bangkok. I’d like to not generalise here, I know a lot of expats and travellers who have drifted from the yellow brick road and stumbled into the heart of the city. However, most of what I hear is how much you preferred your island hopping and how Bangkok was okay, but if you’ve spent the majority of your time on Khao San Road you have not experienced the city and that breaks my heart.
Bangkok is about that corridor between the shops that leads you past the man playing guitar, selling fish from his moped only to find yourself at that outdoor bar. It is about walking through the underground car park and speaking Thai to the questionable woman who opens the door into a nightclub in full swing.
Historically, Khao San was nothing more than a residential street. About 20 years ago, the Thai government decided they wanted to encourage their tourist industry. They started to throw events in the city and soon the prices of accommodation were rising. The travellers realised that they could negotiate with the residents to let them stay in their homes. The residents quickly learnt that they could make good money this way, and so Khao San was born.
Unfortunately, Khao San is far from the modest friendly place of the past. For those who aren’t familiar with the road, I can paint a picture. The road is nicknamed the “backpacker ghetto”. When you walk down the road you’re transported from the welcoming, respectful and friendly traditional Thai culture into a booze fuelled hive.
I’ve visited the road a handful of times and probably 90 per cent of the time someone has had their drink spiked, or something gets stolen, or someone gets into an altercation. For the times when your evening goes swimmingly, you can expect to make friends with people from a similar background, who will probably drink too much and yell at that local guy serving you.
It’s difficult to get away from the talented salesmen and women who’ll follow you down the road offering a range of services at different prices, even though you politely said no – in Thai. You can’t really walk a direct route because you’re all squashed so tightly together to get down this ‘famous’ street. So at the end of the day, you’ve had multiple things thrown in your face, various strange English or Thai phrases shouted at you and a strange smell that you’re not sure is coming from you, or that warm puddle you stepped in earlier. You’ve also possibly lost 1000 Baht somewhere and you’re feeling a bit sick, but at least you bought that one of a kind Chang beer vest though.
There are some beautifully exciting places to visit throughout the city, sadly they’re becoming harder to find as the city builds condominium, after condominium, meaning some of the small business owners are getting pushed away. So, next time (or your first time!) find somewhere away from the yellow brick road, do a little research, walk down that back alley (if it doesn’t look too dodgy), catch the BTS and talk to the locals. Thailand is known as the land of smiles, go out and explore more than the last person did!