That Time I Thought Khao San Road Was a Complete Hole

If there’s one particular place that springs to mind when you think of backpacking, there’s a good chance it could be Bangkok’s Khao San Road.

And it’s also a place that divides opinion – I’ve heard it described as both a “backpacking mecca” and a “backpacking ghetto”. Well, you’ve probably gathered by the title of this post which side I fall on…

Prepare for salesman bombardment... (Image Credit: The Wanderlust - Tumblr)

Prepare for salesman bombardment… (Image Credit: The Wanderlust – Tumblr)

We actually didn’t make it over to Banglamphu to check out the fabled street until our second stop in Bangkok, what with our accommodation in Silom being a fair trek across town. And truth be told I wasn’t particularly excited about heading over there, having seen friends’ photos and also having read many stories about the place. But we also figured that we had to experience it for ourselves, so jumped in a tuk-tuk, grabbed on tightly and sped off.

Being dropped at the bottom end of Thanon Khao San, the first noticeable thing was how we had suddenly gone from the fairly quiet surrounding streets to a bright, bustling, in-your-face stretch of concrete. The second most noticeable aspect was how the Thai population suddenly seemed rather outnumbered here…

Being a… I was going to say clear, warm night, but it’s Bangkok, so I guess it was just a standard day on the street! But it wasn’t at all a surprise to find Khao San seething with the backpacker population of Bangkok. Me and Chelcie were after all part of that too. However as we took the time to stroll up and down the length of the road, I quickly realised this wasn’t going to be a place I would have fond memories of.

Khao San Road 1

Let’s get re-westernised!

I lost count of how many items we were offered within the first 100 metres on the street. “You want suit?”, “tuk-tuk?”, “Yes sir good price for you!”… The standard offers. But having been in Thailand for nearly 2 weeks already what was noticeably different was the sheer amount of sellers chancing their arm with any “farang” in sight. This was relentless. And also – to my massive disliking – a fair few were quite happy to get rather hands-on and try to grab hold. It might have been a personal space issue of mine, but I was not a fan of that at all.

Incidentally why do they always think you’ll want a suit?! They live in Bangkok, and they’re wearing shorts…

When it came to the items on sale, there was A LOT of – let’s be honest – rubbish to buy. The standard cheap 7Eleven t-shirts, Chang vests and the like could be seen covering stands on both sides. But that’s nothing out of the ordinary there of course. However I tagged along as Chelcie checked out several dresses, and couldn’t help but notice the fact that prices seemed to be a fair bit pricier here than anywhere else we’d seen in Bangkok. Whilst I wasn’t impressed by this either, I guess they do have the masses to feed off…

Buy now, pay more!

Buy now, pay more!

And that label of course brings me to my next point. Khao San Road might well be backpacker central for Bangkok, but if that’s the case then I’ll keep out of the centre. Whether it was the hippy type stumbling around in a daze, who probably only came to Thailand to while away the days on this very street. Or the group of guys on their eighth bucket of the day, content in their little westernised bubble. Or maybe the WOO! girls who’ve just arrived, seen this street and kitted up in the trashy clothing available and decided this is backpacking. Well, it’s not…

Don’t get me wrong I love a good party and everything, and obviously love to meet other backpackers. But all I saw on this street was the exact kinds of people that I’d try to avoid back home. Add in the masses of bars all trying to outdo each other on the noise scale, attracting foreigners in with American or Aussie sports and promises of loads of drinks for little Baht, and it sounds just like the sort of place I wouldn’t go on holiday to. And definitely not what I wanted to see from Thailand.

Although this cat in a box did make me laugh!

Although this cat in a box did make me laugh!

On the plus side, checking out some of the streets just off of Khao San we found a much less hectic and slightly more relaxed scene. Whilst still pretty westernised, there was a lot less hassle to be found, and it was a far more comfortable scene to park up and chill out with a drink for a while. So I’d definitely recommended checking around the area, not just sticking to the sickly strip of Khao San Road itself.

I guess my problem with Khao San Road is that it seems to be a little bubble of the worst of everything about travelling in South East Asia. If you want pushy salesmen trying to sell you cheap tat, they’re here in greater numbers than anywhere. If you want to hang with the obnoxious, permanently drunk party crowd, they’re guaranteed to congregate here. And if you want to hang out in the loudest, most westernised bars you can find, there’s a world of choice here. Throw in the standard KFC, Subway, Burger King, McDonalds etc. You’ll feel right at home. But then again, you probably could have actually just stayed at home for all that…

One positive thing though – I never actually saw anyone buy one of those stupid wooden frogs! Maybe there’s hope yet…

Have you visited Khao San Road? Did you love it? Or did you hate it?


2 responses to “That Time I Thought Khao San Road Was a Complete Hole

  1. I’m with you. This doesn’t look like the Thailand I’d want to explore. I’m not big on crowds, noise for the sake of noise, and pushy salespeople pushing crap. I’ll mark this road as a place to miss.

    • Yeah it defo wasn’t my cup of tea! Whilst you’re gonna find the pushy salespeople everywhere, the sheer number of them on this street is insane! Once was more than enough for me…

      Thanks muchly for stopping by and commenting too 🙂

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