The Travelettes Guide to Surviving Khao San Road
After returning from my recent trip to Thailand, people asked what my highlight was. It was definitely different from my first trip to the country of smiles and Pad Thai noodles, all three years ago (wow, time flies!). My new answer was Bangkok. The capital city it was this time! I know we’ve been going on about our love for Bangkok before, but Thailand gets a lot of love from us ladies for a reason: the laid-back people, the endless shopping, the amazing food, delicious drinks, cheap currency, affordable accommodation… what more could you want? But the ultimate good time is sure to be found in the backpackers’ mecca, which is Khao San Road.
It was made famous as Leo DiCaprio’s first port of call of his epic travels in the film, ‘The Beach’, and honestly it’s such a crazy street! Not so much of the snake blood drinking in which Leo partook in, but it’s something you HAVE to experience if you ever find yourself in Bangkok. It is mental and will spin you out as soon as you get out the taxi from the airport, so here’s a lovely little guide to ensure you have as fabulous of a time as I did.
The best place to stay would of course be on or around the road, and you’ll be blown away with choices. So many guesthouses and hotels line the street and go off into the allies and the adjacent roads. They all range in prices from the ridiculously expensive, to the dirt-cheap. My first experience on Khao San Road found me staying in Shambara Boutique Hotel; a sweet quiet guesthouse down a side alley which was incredibly affordable with shared bathrooms and breakfast was included … but this time I splashed out a bit and stayed at The D&D. Its selling point? It has a rooftop pool… and a bar. $25 per a double room gave you a beautifully decorated holiday space with an en suite, and that pool does come in handy due to Bangkok’s smoggy humid heat that is enough to make you want to cry. Oh wait, you’ve sweat out all your tears. Just make sure you get a room towards the back of the hotel, as Khao San can be a tad noisy at night!
I’m sure if you know anyone who has been to this area, they would feed you horror stories of eating the street food from stalls. But I have numerous times and have been fine… just steer clear of the raw meat on sticks that they cook in front of you. There ain’t no refrigeration going on there! They might mean you’ll be running for the loo come 6am.
Starved? Head straight to one of the little Thai ladies pushing her Pad Thai stall. They’ll whip you up a delicious noodle dish for a mere 40 Baht (roughly $1) and it’ll be hard to match its authentic taste! Look out for the crazy stall that sells deep-fried bugs. I kid thee not. Cockroaches, grasshoppers, scorpions, indescribably bug-like things have all been deep-fried and for 30 Baht you can crunch away to your hearts content. Not for me, thank you very much.
So many Thaïs stand between the clothes market stalls with giant coolers of ice crammed full with beer. It is so liberating to just grab a Singha for 60 Baht (roughly $2) and wander the street with your refreshing beverage. The 7-Eleven’s do sell them for half the price though.
Cocktail pop-up stands are everywhere as well, with buckets available. Buckets are literally a load of booze dumped in a bucket with ice and some straws hanging out for a classy cocktail. I don’t think I can even say the word ‘Mai Thai’ now without my stomach recoiling, but that cocktail must be tried if you’re in Thailand!
Fresh fruit and (my beloved) fruit shakes can be found at every street corner allowing you to get your much needed boost of recovery vitamins after a night out. This time, I actually found a man selling fresh vegetable and fruit juice smoothies with wheatgrass shots! He was my saviour.
And of course there are the numerous restaurants lining the street. Pull up a street seat and people watch to your hearts content with table service. The strange, weird, wonderful and disgusting (which is usually a drunk British tourist) will walk right on by, providing visual entertainment for all! Maybe invest in a Tower of Beer while you’re at it (contains about eight pints) to make it easier to deal with the constant street traffic of people trying to sell you beard trimmers or laser key rings. No, I quite like my beard how it is thank you.
Of course there are going to be scams. Foolish tourists who don’t know any better have fallen for a few ensuring some Thais in the area to try it out in the hope of scoring some extra Baht out of you. It’s nothing life threatening, just annoying and time consuming to get out of the situation!
First off, there will be plenty of Tuk Tuk drivers offering to take you places for stupidly small fares. These little motorised carriages can zip through traffic at a dangerous speed to get you from A to B, usually avoiding traffic jams if the driver knows the backstreets. But you have to be double sure that if they are offering to take you to your destination, they aren’t going to go via their mates suit shop/jewellery store/watch seller etc etc to get commission from anything you buy. Usually they offer a price, you insist that you want NO STOPS… then the price will rise as they bashfully promise that you’ll be taken directly there. We recommend to stay clear from Tuk Tuks parking around Khao San and instead hail one of ones driving by as they’re a lot less likely to try and ship you off to some fancy tailor or the like.
When wandering Khao San at night, you’ll be approached by men smacking their lips and saying ‘Ping Pong? Ping Pong?’. They’re not crazy. They’re trying to entice you to go to the notorious Ping Pong Shows of Bangkok. These shows are quite controversial due to it being part of the terrible sex trade that occurs in Thailand and it definitely doesn’t appeal to everyone. It involves ladies up on a stage pulling out weird and baffling things from their lady-parts, but these infamous acts have attracted tourists for years due to pure astonished curiosity or depravity. I have seen one, and I can safely say that I won’t be revisiting one again. If curiosity gets the better of you though, ignore these Khao San touts and grab a Tuk Tuk to the Patpong area (insist to pay no more than 80-90 Baht). There’s quite a large night market there, and numerous Ping Pong venues where once inside you will be harassed by the waitresses and made to pay large amounts when you’d been told all you have to do is pay for one drink. Settle on a price, have one drink, see a famous Thailand show, then get the hell out.
What kind of guide would this be if it didn’t contain anything about shopping? Well, take a big backpack with little in it. Anything, I mean anything, you may want/need/desire can be found in all the market stalls here. T-shirts, flip flops, sundresses, bikinis, harem pants (if you feel the desire to embrace your inner hippie), sandals, sarongs… jeez, anything means anything, people! Expect to pay around $5 to $8 for a T-shirt or Dress. My favourite thing to do is have a few beers and then go crazy shopping when all the stalls in full swing around 10pm!
Do ensure you haggle down their original price, but don’t get too cheeky and definitely do not get rude. You might be trying to get the seller down an extra 50 Baht, but how much is that really worth to you?? Try to settle on a price that’s good for you and good for them. Things maybe cheaper in other areas of Thailand but Khao San road market stalls have higher rent due to its infamous nature so bear that in mind. Bribes have to be paid to the police as well in order to continue business on this hectic road, and seeing the police come down the street means you get to see a load of stalls magical part like the Red Sea to let them through.
Make sure you wish them “Chock Di Muk” (Good Luck) and “Khop Khun Kah” (“Khop Khun Krap” if you’re a man) to thank them.
If you’ve exhausted the stalls on Khao San Road and are over the touristy singlets and t-shirts that many pick up, then grab a taxi during the days on the weekend to the amazing Chatuchak Weekend Markets. It should cost about 100 Baht ($3) in a metered taxi, shrug off any tuk tuk’s offering it to you at a suspiciously low price, and be prepared for the landmark sized market Thailand has! Everything is half the price or less than Khao San Road, and the things on offer are a lot better.
Calling all ladies who love their vintage: This market is the place to be!! I picked up three vintage dresses for about 900 Baht ($25), vintage shirts for 60 Baht ($2) each, Thai Quartz rings for 200 Baht ($6), blouses for 150 Baht ($5)… I spent a $100 and came home with a new wardrobe and on a giant high. It is the place to end your Thailand trip and buy a load of stuff to stuff your backpack with!