Bangkok/Khao San Road
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 in Thailand - most guesthouses charge around 150 baht a night and a bowl of noodles is 20 baht or less - and great bargains on tour and transport.
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.
On a more practical level there are also pharmacies, internet cafes, money changing booths, ATMs, shoe stores, laundry, and optometrists.
Accommodations and restaurants are hard to recommend, since places spring up and disappear on a monthly basis.
Khao San Road is fairly easy to get to from anywhere in Bangkok. Taxis, buses, and river ferry are your main options. The hourly airport bus, A2, arrives and departs from the corner of Khao San Road. Buy a ticket from the booth at the airport, or on the bus. A meter taxi should cost no less than 200 baht, if using the toll roads (known to Thais as Toll way) which costs up to 60 baht. Traffic during the day can make the toll roads very worthwhile, as it will save time and money.
A tip for budget conscious travellers arriving at Bangkok airport is to band together with fellow back packers and catch a meter taxi from the departure terminal upstairs as this will save you from paying a 'airport waiting fee' (around 50 baht).
See the Bangkok section for info on arriving in town.
See & Do
There aren't any historical sights to speak of on the road itself — head south to Rattanakosin for that — but the Banglamphu area is just an interesting place to walk around for a glimpse of Thai life.
The Banglamphu park, just beyond Khao San Road, has a great view of the Chao Phraya river and the ultra-modern Rama VIII suspension bridge.
Sites walking distance from Khao San Road include: The Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), Wat Po, Sanam Luang Park, Chao Phraya river, Democracy Monument and The Golden Mount (Phu Khao Thong). See Rattanakosin for details.
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 have moved in during 2004.
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.
Khao San Road is Bangkok's backpacker guesthouse center.
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 with a little personality-- or at least a little quiet. 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 guest-houses which can be an escape from the noise and chaos of Khao San.
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.
Cheap tourist bus, mini-van, and airline tickets are available at any of the dozens of travel agents in the area. Visas for other Southeast Asian countries can also be obtained on your behalf. 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.