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Bangkok/Khao San Road

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Khao San Road (ถนน ข้าวสาร Thanon Khao Saan; also spelled Khaosan, Kao Sarn, Koh Sarn and many other variations) is, technically speaking, a small street about three blocks long located about a block from the Chao Phraya River in the Banglamphu district northwest of downtown Bangkok. Backpackers and budget tourists are drawn by some of the cheapest accommodation and travel deals in Thailand.

Khao San Road Market

Understand

Pronunciation tip
The syllable "khao" is pronounced similarly to the English word "cow", but since the late 1990s backpackers have often been mispronouncing it as "coe" (perhaps confusing it with "koh", meaning "island"; perhaps influenced by the book/movie The Beach). Please help re-introduce the correct pronunciation into the backpacker community by pronouncing it properly.

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. It was followed by four similar businesses, and Khao San became known as a "religious road".

Word soon spread about the easy lifestyle and friendliness of the locals. Friends told friends, and before long, the owner of the house started to charge 20 baht for food and lodging. The first commercial guesthouse, called Bonny, opened with six small bedrooms.

Today, there's a lot more than six small bedrooms on offer: in the span of just a couple of blocks, there are bars, food stalls, restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacies, internet cafes, money changing booths, ATMs, shoe stores, massage parlors, tailors, travel agencies, laundry, boxing gyms, optometrists, endless warrens of suspiciously discounted designer clothes and, oh, rooms for the night.

Get in

Khao San Road is fairly easy to get to from anywhere in Bangkok. Taxis, buses, and river ferry are your main options. While the metro and the skytrain are convenient ways of getting to many places in Bangkok, there is unfortunately no train (yet) that will take you near Khao San Road (or anywhere else on Rattanakosin Island, for that matter).

By plane

The half hourly airport bus, A2, arrives and departs from the corner of Khao San Road, and now serves the new Suvarnabhumi Airport. Buy a ticket (150 baht) from the booth at the airport or on the bus. A meter taxi should cost no less than 300 baht, if using the toll roads (known to Thais as Toll way) which cost up to 65 baht. Traffic during the day can make the toll roads very worthwhile, as it will save time and money. The trip takes around an hour in good traffic, but allow considerable leeway during rush hour as the area around Khao San can get very congested.

See the Bangkok section for info on arriving in town.

By taxi

Even the metered taxis will try to charge you a flat rate of about 200-300 baht to take you to Khao San Road, rather than use the meter (which would mean no more than an 80 baht fare from the Silom district). The drivers will claim that Khao San Road is "too far away" for the meter, but that's not true; the fact is, they can get away with overcharging tourists, and if you don't take it, the next schmuck down the street will. You can refuse to pay that amount and try to find an honest taxi, or try to haggle (which may be just as difficult). There is certainly no shortage of taxi drivers anywhere in Bangkok. As a general rule, older drivers tend to be more amenable to the meters, while the younger ones tend to gun for big fares from tourists.

If for some reason there aren't many taxis around, one trick that appears to work is telling the driver to take you to a location near Khao San Road, such as Tanao Road. If you don't mind a short walk, memorize a few landmarks in the Banglamphu area and see if the driver will take you there using the meter and then hike the rest of the way to the road.

The majority of taxi drivers are reasonably honest. If they seek to 'quote' a fare, just smile and point at the meter. If they still don't want to use the meter, just hail another taxi. As a general rule, avoid the parked taxis (dishonest drivers prefer to wait for gullible tourists) and hail a moving taxi (red light on dash board indicates not available). The majority of taxis are new (less than two years old), and its best to avoid the older taxis as their air-conditioners function poorly, and these drivers tend to be less reliable.

By ferry

Boats on the Chao Phraya River are the cheapest and most scenic way of getting to Rattanakosin Island from the rest of the city. The Central Pier is just outside the BTS Saphan Taksin station; you can take a Chao Phraya Tourist Boat for 13 baht or the Chao Phraya River Express for 18 baht to Phra Arthit (pier number N.13). From there, it's a short but confusing walk to Khao San Road. A map, a good sense of direction, or help from a local is usually required.

The ferries stop running at around 5pm, or will run but stop at fewer locations (and Phra Arthit is not one of them).

By bus

From Moh Chit (the Northern Bus Terminal), catch bus 3 which will drop you right on Khao San Road. 7 Baht, approx. 30 minutes.

From Ekamai (the Eastern Bus Terminal), catch bus number 2 (non-ac, 7 baht) which will stop at the Ratchdamnoen Klang road where a short walk across the road will take you to Khao San Road.

See

Although there aren't any famous historical sites to speak of on the road itself, Khao San is on the Rattanakosin island. Around the street, there are a number of old buildings and temples, some of which have been transformed into restaurants and even tattoo parlours, although you will still find quiet family homes if you look deep enough. Aside from some interesting architecture, Banglampoo shows the mix of peoples and heritages that is the character of Bangkok. There are Muslims, Buddhists, Mons, and of course a great number of foreigners in this small area. All of this makes the area an interesting place for a glimpse of Thai life. Thais also appreciate the area for the many types of traditional kanom or Thai snacks and desserts available and the cheap clothing available in the Banglampoo Market (see below).

At the bottom of Khao San is Wat Chana Songkram, which translates as "War Victory Temple". This area was formally given to the Mon peoples who helped the Thai fight off the Burmese centuries ago. The Mon set up a community here and built this temple as well. Many travelers use the temple grounds to connect between Khao San and Phra Athit Rd where the ferry pier is located. The temple is worth a visit, though, with nice murals, crisp sounding temple bells hanging from the eves, Bougainvillea vines and beautiful trees. There is no charge for admission and you are welcome to pay respect to the Buddha images or just find a little tranquility away from the throngs of backpackers on Khao San proper.

Famous sites within walking distance from Khao San Road include The Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), Wat Pho, Sanam Luang Park, Chao Phraya river, Democracy Monument and The Golden Mount (Phu Khao Thong). See Rattanakosin for details.

Do

  • Sor. Vorapin Gym (13 Trok Kasap, Jakapong Rd., Panakorn, Bangkok 10200; tel. 662 282-3551) [1] offers morning (7:30am-9:30am) and afternoon (3:00-5:00pm) training in Muay Thai (Thai boxing) for 400 baht. Beginners and walk-ins are welcome. Shorts and gloves are provided. The English instruction may not be detailed, but key phrases like "punch", "kick", and "one-two" are in place. It's at the end of a dusty alley off Soi Rambuttri.
  • Suan Santichaiprakarn Park, just beyond Khao San Road, has a great view of the Chao Phraya river and the ultra-modern Rama VIII suspension bridge. In the evening, there are many activities going on in the park such as free aerobic exercise, the performing of Thai classical music, juggling, etc. The park has become a gathering place for new breakdancers to exchange their techniques. The park has one of the towers of the historical city wall of Rattanakosin. The canal on the otherside was part of the city moat. The park is on Pra Athit Rd, which has many old town houses that are now restaurants and cafes and near the river are a number of old smaller palaces now used by the likes of the FAO and Unicef.

Buy

The Banglamphu market is a good place to pick up cheap Thai knock-offs of everything from jeans to Italian sneakers, as well as a few posh Thai silk stores. (Not on Khao San but nearby, you can go to the bottom of Khao San, turn right and walk about 50 meters.) Food stalls also abound in this area. Khao San road is also home to many wholesale silver jewelry stores.

  • Aporia Books, 131 Tanao Road (road that runs at 'T' junction with Kao San Road - opposite end to the road with the stop for airport bus). Tel:+66-3-6292919. Has a good selection of both new and second-hand English titles, and offers a much more pleasant and organized environment for browsing than the other second-hand book shops on Khao San Road.

Eat

Khao San Road offers one of the most diverse food selections anywhere in Bangkok. Since the street sees such a varied nationality of travelers, several ethnic foods can be found here. Street carts that line Khao San Road sell decent phat thai (fried noodles), quail eggs, roti (like a pancake), falafel, hummus, various bugs and some sell just cocktails.

However, it's worth noting that much of it is specifically geared for backpackers — even the local phat thai, especially the 10 baht variety, economizes on the ingredients and uses soy instead of the traditional tamarind sauce. Those looking for truly good food would be advised to head elsewhere, such as to Sukhumvit.

As Khao San leaves its backpacker roots, standards (and prices) are rising. International outlets Burger King and Starbucks moved in during 2004.

  • Siam Oriental Restaurant, lively atmosphere, serve international and Thai foods. "Chicken satay" is recommended to try.
  • Tom Yum Gung, the restaurant, is highly rated and great place to try some tom yum gung (spicy shrimp soup).
  • Gulliver’s, on the west end of the road, is a decent sports bar with mid range pricing a good offering of Western food.
  • Sidewalk Cafe, a great outdoor people watching spot with a large menu.
  • May Kaidee's [2] is one of the best vegetarian restaurant, serving many foreigners and hippie-types since 1988, on the road behind Aporia Books on Tanao Road (There are two 'T' junction roads at either end of Khao San Road; Tanao Road is the one at the other end to the road where the stop for the airport bus is located). May also runs a cooking class for 1200 baht/day; those interested need to give at least a day or so advance notice.
  • No.One is another vegetarian restaurant located behind Aporia Books on Tanao Road.
  • Popiang House A "classic Khao San Road" Restaurant, which isnt really on Khao San Road, But on Soi Rambuttri, which is on the northern side of the Chana Songhkram Temple. You will find it by looking for the red plastic chairs and the yellow cheap tables. Its a great place to sip cheap beer too. Can be very busy in the night time. Good place to meet other backpackers. A good selection of thai food, and wonderful staff. Say hello to Nok.
  • Wild Orchid is a clean option that offers great green and red curries and delicious tom yum soups at low prices.
  • Oh My Cod!, A British Cafe cum Fish and Chips Shop just around the corner on Soi Rambuttri ( In Rambuttri Village - A great location and the best breakfasts in the area.Excellent Thai Food too!
  • Prakorb's House, 52 Khao San Road (right side when walking from airport bus stop) - excellent food in this very friendly, family run hotel and restaurant - especially recommended are the vegetarian noodles.
  • Mr Yim's 2 Soi Chanasongkram. A small restaurant up a flight of stairs overlooking the wat. A wide selection of good quality food at good prices, including veggie options. The big baguettes are excellent value. 30B-70B.
  • 147, 147 Tanao Road (next to the Burger King), is an old standby serving excellent, cheap Thai dishes including vegetarian.

Drink

Khao San Road has some of the cheapest bars in town, and these days even some Thais head down to knock back a few. A can of Beer Chang is 25 baht at 7-11. Worth a look are a few street side VW vans converted to mobile bars, serving cocktails made from cheap liquor.

  • Lava, Middle of Khao San. Go down the steps to one of the more modern and western own bars on the Road. Sunday nights are good.
  • Bangkok Bar,
  • Susies Pub, The pub that started it all. Owners of the is pub have branched out to owning Austin Pub, Tom Yung Gung, and The Club. Usually packed playing top 40s tunes.
  • Gullivers, A sports pub.
  • The Club, With a huge neon sign, you can't miss it. Interesting open design.

Coffee:

Most restaurants on Khao San serve freshly brewed coffee.

  • There is a branch of the chain Coffee World (great brownies!) across from the Mc Donald's in Buddy's shopping center.
  • There is a very nice Starbucks in a converted house around the middle of the street.
  • Prakorb's House, 52 Khao San Road (see eat section) has good coffee, a selection of herbal drinks and a peaceful atmosphere in which to enjoy them

Iced drinks:

  • Coconut milk, iced and drunk directly from a fresh coconut is a cheap and good way to cool the body. Coconuts are available at all the restaurants on Khao San Road.

Sleep

Khao San Road is Bangkok's main backpacker guesthouse centre. Since places spring up and disappear on a monthly basis, accommodation and restaurants are hard to recommend. Before checking into an unfamiliar place, always ask to see a room first, and don't be afraid to test the fan or the a/c if you think you'll need it.

Note that some Khao San Road guesthouses don't accept Thai guests.

Budget

Keep in mind that anything on the main drag will be loud, and anything with exterior windows will get hot. Try walking a block or two off Khao San proper to find something a little quieter. The street past the police station end of the block (Soi Rambuttri) has reasonable little bars and restaurants that are starting to spill out onto the sidewalk. The road gets darker and quieter as it wraps around the wat (temple) grounds. The post office end also has a few original spots - including a great veggie restaurant and cooking school; the area just beyond the park has a number of small river-front guesthouses which can be an escape from the noise and chaos.

  • My House Guest House has clean rooms and good food; singles from around 180 baht.
  • New Merry V is a good low budget option; clean rooms with window from 180 baht, left luggage 10 baht/item/day.
  • New Siam Guest House 21 Soi Chanasongkram, +66 281 7461 [3] is just enough off the main drag to be quiet. They advertise having the largest rooms for the price, and they do seem that way. Clean and well maintained with friendly staff and safe boxes in some rooms and lockers downstairs. The restaurant menu is basic and the food none too exciting. 220-570 baht.
  • Prakorb's House, 52 Khao San Road. Tel: +66 2 281-1345 - an old guest house with simple but clean rooms.
  • Rambuttri Village Inn (95 Soi Ram Buttri, Chakkra Phong Road, Phra Nakorn, Bangkok; tel. 66 2-282-9162) [4]. Five compact buildings of squeaky-clean rooms - and yes, it is true that they clean between the tiles with a toothbrush. In theory, the most basic fan rooms are only 290 baht, but these never seem to be available; 400-590 baht deluxe fan or a/c rooms are more common, with 1000 baht refundable deposit. Left luggage is 20 baht per day. The two rooftop pools are a great bonus. (If you can choose, the pool on top of building 'E' is the better of the two.) The only drawback is having to walk through a gauntlet of two irritating tailor shops to reach reception.
  • Siam Oriental Inn, +66 2 629-0312 [5] has nice, clean and quiet rooms (both fan and air-con), all with private bathroom, plus a lively restaurant and a quiet Internet café and photo-processing facilities. From 280 baht.
  • Wally's House is very basic with little facilities that are shared, but for the traveler on a very tight budget, it's ideal. Twin rooms for just 180 baht, and Internet access for 30 baht/hour.

Mid-range

There are several better class hotels in the area, with swimming pools, minibars, etc. The better one is the Royal Hotel, while the Vieng Tai is also a popular choice.

  • Buddy Lodge, tel. +66-26294477 [6]. Right on The Road, prices 1600-2500 baht.
  • D&D Inn, tel. +66-62905268 [7]. A huge (by KSR standards) hotel with a roof-top swimming pool, massage facilities, and a very clean and efficient 24 hour internet cafe. All rooms have attached bathrooms, air-con and TV; rates include breakfast and use of the pool. Singles 550/450 baht (with/without window), doubles and twins 750 baht, triples (one double and one single) 1000 baht, family/VIP 1,350 baht.
  • Khao San Palace - a large new guest house - rooms overlooking Khao San are noisy at night.
  • Sawasdee Bangkok Inn [8] Unique colonial architecture and the charm of the old Siam. Rates From 520 Baht - 1,200 Baht
  • Sawasdee Banglumpoo Inn [9] Thai-Style accommodation and a carefully decorated lobby/restaurant area. Rates from 620 Baht - 750 Baht.
  • Thai cozy house +66-26295870-4 [10] - family run guesthouse with restaurant which also provides travel agent, tailor shop, Internet, massage & spa services.

Contact

Internet cafes are rivaled only by tuk-tuks for sheer ubiquity on Khao San Road. The standard rate is 10 baht / 15 minutes. Virtually all cafes are set up for Skype and plain old international phone calls.

Stay safe

Astounded at how delicious that 20 baht pad thai was? Keep an eye on the chef - you may see them shake a certain spice out of a canister before they hand it over. That's MSG, aka monosodium glutamate, the notorious flavor enhancer. While basically harmless for most people, some may have reactions, including swelling of the throat, chest pain and headaches.

As everywhere else in Bangkok, if someone offers you a great one-day-only sale on gems, smile faintly and keep on walking.

Get out

Cheap tourist bus, mini-van, and airline tickets are available at any of the dozens of travel agents in the area.

Popular day-trip destinations include Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi. The cost of the tour - usually 450-600 baht - will include transportation to and from the destinations and one meal. Shop around, because prices do vary, and are not necessarily connected to the quality of the service you'll receive. The travel agents are simply passing you on to another company that will conduct the tour, so you may be in a van with five other people who booked through five different travel agents at five different prices. Although these trips are cheap and require no planning on your part, they offer plenty of frustration as well. The other people in your van may all have booked slightly different itineraries, so you may find yourself spending the morning somewhere that's not of interest to you, only to be rushed along with half an hour in the afternoon at the one place you really wanted to see. Although the travel agent will show you a meticulously planned minute-by-minute itinerary, the day will inevitably feature at least one (long) stop at a commission-paying handicrafts shop, and the schedule will never recover. The day-trips are a decent way to pass some time, but if the destination is somewhere you've been looking forward to seeing, you're much, much better off doing it independently.

Visas for other Southeast Asian countries can also be obtained on your behalf from the Khao San travel agencies. Popular destinations include Chiang Mai in the north, Phuket in the south, Angkor Wat in the east (in Cambodia), and various islands off the coast. See also the One month in Southeast Asia itinerary.

Travel Warning WARNING: While convenient, honest to a certain extent (ie. if sold a ticket to Siem Reap, you eventually will probably get to Siem Reap) and seemingly cheap, many of the agencies operating here have turned scamming into an art form. The "VIP buses" you are promised turn into clapped-out minibuses, you are likely to be hit for extra charges for various dubious services along the way and many operators will intentionally slow down the journey so you arrive in the middle of the night and can be coaxed into choosing their guesthouse — invariably the crappiest place in town which just happens to pay the agency the highest commissions. Worst of all, since you have paid in advance, you have no recourse of any kind when this happens! It will generally be faster and cheaper to use regular public BKS buses from the main bus terminals.
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