Backpacker capital: Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road is the backpacker capital of South East Asia. It is a small one kilometre U shaped road located about a block from the Chao Phraya river at the northern side of Rattanakosin in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand.
It is historically the epicenter of tourist which has developed in the Banglamphu district. Originally catering to backpackers, from all over the world. It’s been the Mecca for backpackers since the the early 80s.
The word ‘Khao San’ itself means milled rice and is an attribution to the historical role of this street in the rice trade. Today, there are bars, food stalls, restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacies, internet cafes, money changing booths, ATMs, shoe stores, massage parlours, tailors, travel agencies, laundry, boxing gyms, optometrists, endless warrens of suspiciously discounted designer clothes and rooms for the night.
Khao San Road is very easy to get to from anywhere in Bangkok. Express boats, buses and taxis are your main options. While the sky train and the metro are convenient ways of getting to many places in Bangkok, there is no connection to Khao San Road. The local government bus is the cheapest and most convenient option of getting here.
Although there aren’t any famous historical sites or temples to speak of along the road itself, Khao San is a part of Rattanakosin which is actually one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Bangkok.
Around the street, there are a number of old shop houses and noteworthy temples. Aside from the interesting architecture, the area has a great mix of people from around the globe and heritage that is typical for Bangkok.
There are Buddhists, Chinese, Muslims, Mons, and of course a great number of foreigners in this small part of the city. All of this makes the area an interesting place for a glimpse of modern Thai life which is a blend of Western and Asian cultures.
A few things worth seeing which are walking distance from the road are, the first is the democracy monument which occupies a roundabout on a major thoroughfare. Its distinguishing features are the four ‘wings,’ which are located at four equally spaced points around a smaller central shrine. The wings are decorated with artworks of war and war-related events. Quite impressive when seen from a distance.
Phra Sumen Fort is one of two remaining towers of the historic city wall that once surrounded Rattanakosin Island completely (other being Mahakan Fort). The historic city wall that followed the Chao Phraya River and Khlong Rop Krung used to have 14 of these watchtowers, but 12 of them have not survived the test of time. Phra Sumen Fort was constructed in 1783 during the reign of King Rama I to protect the city from potential foreign naval invasions. The fort has an observation tower and two levels of battlements with its original canons still in place.
Wat Bowonniwet is one of the most important temples for Thais in Bangkok and was once a chief abbot for King Rama IV before he ascended the throne. King Rama IV and King Rama VII, as well as HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej resided here during their monkhood.
Wat Chana Songkhram was built centuries ago, following a war with the Burmese, the Thai government gave land in this area to people from the Mon minority who had fought beside the Thais in the war. The Mon people established a community here, including this temple, is is also known as the War Victory Temple. Today many backpackers use the temple premises as a shortcut between Khao San Road and Phra Athit Road where the ferry pier is located. The temple is worth a visit, with nice murals, crisp sounding temple bells hanging from the eves, Bougainvillea vines and beautiful trees.
Khao San Road itself is like paradise for shoppers with simple stores along the street selling dresses, shirts, skirts, various mobile gadgets, bluetooth speakers, shoes and bags, bargaining is a must. Many of these are in vintage style, as that’s popular with the Khao San crowd. There are also the usual souvenir and handicrafts stores.
To aid travellers with the shopping you’ll find ATMs and money exchange counters at every nook and corner of the road. It’s important to note that ATM’s here have a charge of around 150-200 Baht per transaction from a foreign Debit card. It’s always better to carry USD or Euro and exchange the same at one of the many counters.
Khao San Road offers some of the cheapest and most diverse food selections anywhere in Bangkok. Travellers from all over the globe eat and drink off the road, so there is a high demand for all kinds of ethnic food. Alongside the usual Thai dishes, Indian, Italian and Jewish cuisine are especially well-represented, as are restaurants specialising in vegetarian and vegan diet food.
A must try at Khao San Road is the shrimp or pork Phad Thai and Massaman beef curry. From the fusion food, shrimp wrapped in bacon and the street sausages is a must have.
Khao San Road is all about what happens post 23:00 HRS. It’s literally a party street Monday to Sunday. With most clubs open till the wee hours of the morning the entire street turns into a club with blaring music from various night clubs, restaurants and people dancing all over the street from hip hop to breakdance and the usual shimmy you can see people letting loose in every possible way.
Being Bangkok’s main backpacker drag there is always something available for a small budget. As hipsters and upper-class tourists have started to visit, it becoming an area that has accommodation for every price class.
Before checking in always ask to see a room first, and don’t forget to test the fan or the air-conditioning. Do note that there is loud music on the street at night, so if you want a quieter environment, find a guest house on the adjacent Soi Rambuttri or Rambuttri alley. It’s just a 3-4 minute walk from the chaos but a much better place to stay for some peaceful night sleep.
Khao San Road is a great place to just hang out, eat at a restaurant, buy all kinds of clothing and other items, get a massage, watch people, or have a few drinks and enjoy the nightlife. It’s the kind of place where many spend days if not weeks just chilling and meeting other travelers. A couple of nights stay here is highly recommended to soak in the vibe of the place.
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