Erica and Matt Chua: The Experience that is Khao San Road

Khao San Road is the gateway to Southeast Asia, which means this is the first stop for many young and often inexperienced travelers planning a trip to the region.  It has almost a spring break type atmosphere and just about anything goes, before I go into detail about “anything” lets take a quick look at history. According to wikitravel  the word khao san itself means milled rice and is an attribution to the historical role of this street in the rice trade. The first business to open on Khao San Road was a small hotel aimed at serving civil servants from the provinces who came to Bangkok on business. The hotel was followed by Sor Thambhakdi, a shop selling monks’ accessories. Four similar businesses moved in after, and Khao San became known as a “religious road”.  Let me tell you that the only religious thing about Khao San Road anymore is how people drink religiously when they visit.  Nonetheless, Khao San Road is a must-see in Bangkok.  You might not choose to stay at one of the  cheap guesthouses in the middle of the action, but you may want to do one of the following:

Top Ten Things to do on Khao San Road

1. Drink, I’m not condoning binge drinking here, but this is definitely the place to grab a local Chang beer or a bucket.   A bucket is just that a sand-pale style bucket filled with liquor it’s typically whiskey (the local Sang Som) and Coke,  but you can pick your poison.

2. Stay awake, Khao San Road never sleeps so you can visit anytime day or night.  The morning is the quietest and at night everything comes alive.  Once the bars close by 2:00 am or so, the patrons will flood the street moving the party outside.

3. People Watch, this goes hand-in hand with staying awake as night offers the best people watching.  Herds of young backpackers roam the streets intermingled with street vendors, lady boys and tuk tuk drivers.  It’s hard not to stare at all the crazy characters hanging out.

4. Buy Art, there are some very talented artists that sell their paintings and photographs on the side of the street, it is definitely worth checking out.  Remember to bargain and you could take home a fantastic painting for under $20.

5. Shop, Khao San Road is the bohemian capital of Bangkok, so if you are looking for patchwork skirts, a buddha t-shirt or want to get a singing bowl you will find it on Khao San. Make sure you bargain because all the vendors are willing to “make good price for you.”

6. Get a Tattoo, Bangkok in general and Khao San Road specifically is known for the talented tattoo artists and there are several shops on Khao San.  You can choose to have a machine tattoo or a bamboo tattoo, where they painstakingly push the ink into your skin with a piece of sharp bamboo.  Sounds like torture to me, but if you want the real deal Khao San is the place to get it.

7. Eat Pad Thai, you can’t walk five feet without running into a pad thai street vendor on Khao San and for 20 baht (about 75 cents) it’s the best meal in town.

8. Ride a Tuk-Tuk, the drivers are aggressive and they won’t be hard to find as they all line up down Khao San Road.  The prices are cheap, but be sure you are clear with the driver where you are going because they will inevitably try to take you to a tailor or jewelry shop where they get commission or gas coupons for every customer they bring in.  On the other hand if you want something tailored they will happily bring you to the best place in town- and probably the most expensive.

9. Sing-Along, every bar on Khao San Road has a cover band of varying quality where you can have a beer and sing along to Johnny Cash, The Eagles and Bob Dylan among others.  It seems that every band has the same soundtrack, but they’re all your favorites.

10. Meet New Friends, being that Khao San Road is the mecca of cheap guesthouses any traveler on a budget will be staying there, which makes it easy to meet new friends.  We met a fantastic couple from Spain, a professional photographer and pilot from Canada and even got an invitation to stay with a friend in Bali, Indonesia.

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