World famous backpacker mecca Khao San Road in Bangkok is one of the most popular and notorious backpacker streets in Southeast Asia – a visit here is pretty much considered a rite of passage for first time travelers.
This street is buzzing pretty much 24 hours a day with non-stop fun and frolics – and all at rock bottom prices.
Let’s be clear though, it’s not for everyone. Although a lot of people like to poke their heads in on the frivolity of Khao San, only the most tolerant of loud music, hawking and drunken Western travellers are likely to want to spend any serious amount of time here.
What is Khao San Road?
Khao San Road’s reputation as a backpacker hub goes back decades.
It’s a great place to meet and mingle with other travelers, and it has been featured in many books and films — perhaps most famously in The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, part of which was shot on location here.
Although Khao San Road itself is small, its backpacker culture has spilled over into a few of the surrounding streets to create even more enjoyment.
Why is it so Popular?
The mood is electric and energizing. The street is lined with bars selling cheap booze to tempt travellers to party — and partying is what Khao San does best.
Live music, nightclubs, rooftop bars and mobile cocktail vendors selling bucket sized beverages offer plenty of options if you’re looking to make a wild night of it.
Khao San Road can get a little crazy, but it’s all part of the fun.
But it’s not all about the alcohol. A stroll down this street is a riot for the senses. Noisy, colorful and chaotic, you’re sure to see some entertaining sights here — it’s a fantastic place to people watch.
Amongst the hoards of other backpackers from all over the world, you’ll spot plenty of ladyboys, street performers, friendly locals, hookers, and street traders selling their wares.
Food here is reasonably decent and certainly very affordable for when you need to fuel up.
There’s a lot of choice too, the Thai specialities like Pad Thai are excellent, plus there are western dishes like pizza and burgers, or spicy Indian curries too. If you’re looking for a more gourmet or authentic culinary experience, you’re not going to find it here — although the rest of Bangkok will cater to you in that respect.
In recent years Khao San Road has added a little more glitz and glamour to the ghetto, and in addition to the usual market stalls selling carvings and other Thai handicrafts, and there are now some interesting little arty boutiques here selling clothes, jewelry, locally produced fairtrade crafts, and other items.
If that doesn’t take your fancy, how about going to a second hand bookstore, having your hair braided with colorful beads or getting a tattoo as a permanent reminder of your trip?
If at any point you need to take a break and relax there are plenty of massage parlors offering amazing, authentic massages at ridiculously cheap prices.
While Khao San may never really sleep, at some point you’re going to have to. Fortunately, due to Khao San’s popularity there are an abundance of low cost hotels and hostels nearby when you can get some decent shut-eye without breaking the bank.
Where is Khao San?
Situated in the circle of the Old City, Khao San Road Bangkok is a short, 1 kilometre-long street located near Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Banglamphu. It’s very nearby some of Bangkok’s best cultural attractions, including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, as well as Chinatown.
One of the best ways to get to this party hotspot is by the orange flagged Chao Phraya Express river boat. The closest pier (about 10 minutes walk away) is number 13 – Phra Arthit Pier. If you’re staying in downtown Bangkok, just take the BTS Silom line down to Saphan Taksin station, before picking up the boat at central Sathon pier.
Alternatively, you can hop on a tuk tuk which will get you there speedily and cheaply – just remember to agree to a price before you set off, or if you fancy taking an air conditioned taxi make sure the driver turns on the meter. It’s also possible to get a bus to Khok Wua intersection on Ratchadmanoen Road, after that it’s a short walk from the stop to Khao San.
Traffic is notoriously terrible in the Old City, so we’d always recommend the river boat as your preferred method of transport.
Attractions near Khao San Road
Khao San’s proximity to the Chao Phraya river makes it a great starting point for sightseeing by river boat — the orange flag boats are cheap, frequent, fast, and stop at all the major sights. It’s also a fun and refreshing way to travel.
(Tha Chang Pier – number 9. Distance from Khao San by road approx. 2km)
Built in 1782 and home to Thai royalty for 150 years, the complex of the dazzling Grand Palace is bursting with wonderful examples of the most extravagant Thai architecture and craftsmanship. Within the complex are several temples, including the hugely important Wat Phra Kaew – the shrine of the infamous Emerald Buddha.
(Tha Tien Pier – number 8. Distance from Khao San by road approx. 2km)
Wat Pho is otherwise known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and the celebrated golden Buddha statue measures an immense 46 meters long and 15 meters high. The Buddha’s 5 meter long feet are decorated with delicate mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious ‘laksanas’ – the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection.
(Tha Tien Pier – number 8, plus cross river ferry. Distance from Khao San by road approx. 3km)
Opposite Wat Pho on the other side of the river is the fabulous, glittering Wat Arun – or Temple of the Dawn. Considered one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand, the a-typical architecture and romantic riverside setting make this temple a must see when visiting Bangkok. It’s particularly stunning when lit up at night or when seen at first light.
(Tha Rachavongse Pier – number 5. Distance from Khao San by road approx. 3km)
Lose yourself among the sights, smells and sounds in the winding little alleyways of bustling Chinatown. A trip here is foodie heaven. The street food here is some of the best in Bangkok, and there are some highly acclaimed Chinese restaurants too. Hectic but fun, Chinatown’s Sampeng Lane Market is a great place to pick up some bargains, and there are a large number of gold dealers selling jewelry at very reasonable prices too.
Hotels on Khao San Road
Smart and modern, this 3 star hotel offers great value for money – and it sits right at the heart of Khao San road. Welcoming, richly colored rooms have a luxurious feel, and come equipped with flat screen TVs, air conditioning, and private en-suite bathrooms. There’s also a handy 7-11 right in the hotel entrance.
- Rooftop swimming pool with views
- Rooftop bar
- Free Wi-Fi
- Coffee shop and bakery
- Buffet breakfast restaurant
- ATM and currency exchange on site
Tucked away just around the corner from Khao San is Some Rest Hostel. While it is only a 1 minute walk away from the action at Khao San road, this highly rated hostel benefits from a more calm and peaceful setting. The staff at the 24 hour desk are friendly and happy to help you plan your stay in Bangkok. Dorms are mixed and sleep up to four guests.
- Convenient, quiet location
- Free Wi-Fi
- Communal kitchen area
- Mixed 4-bed dormitories
- Budget prices
This 3 star luxury budget hotel is right in the middle of the action on Khao San road. Each room is decorated in chic but cozy style, and features satellite TV, a personal safe, a fridge and en suite bathroom. Greens & Cheese, the hotel’s restaurant offers Italian and Thai cuisine. Head to the rooftop for a refreshing dip in the open air swimming pool, or chill at the rooftop bar and admire the city views.
- Rooftop bar
- Rooftop swimming pool
- On-site restaurant
- Free Wi-Fi and air conditioning
Nitan Hostel is excellent value for money. Situated on a side street off Khao San road, this clean and comfortable hostel has mixed dorm or female only dorm options. Bathrooms are shared, and free Wi-Fi is available in the lobby. Guests have the use of a personal locker to keep their belongings safe, and the excellent free breakfast is the perfect start to the day.
- Calm location very close to Khao San Road
- Free breakfast
- Curtains round beds for added privacy
- Clean and cozy
- Mixed and female-only dorms
Now that’s everything you need to know about Khao San Road, Bangkok!
Featured image is by Takeaway (CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)