Khao San Road: ‘the centre of the backpacking universe.’ – Alex Garland (Author of The Beach).
Before leaving for Thailand, I had read much about Khao San Road, the backpackers sanctuary ‘where east meets west.’ Whilst pre-travel reading, I found that bloggers tended to have a strong reaction to Khao San, either loathing or loving it. We decided to head there as our first stop in Bangkok, believing the crowds of backpackers and western comforts (i.e McDonalds) would be a good way of easing us in – a toe in the water before throwing in our bodies.
It turned out that the water we were testing was murky. If Thailand were to be a lake, then I imagine Khao San Road to be the cloudy bottom, overcrowded with inhabitants and grime left from passers-by. The hostel we were staying in was a 10 minute walk away, a route decorated with one-legged homeless men, a few dodgy-looking locals and several pungent smells – an introduction that tarnished our idea of Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t come expecting the Champs-Élysées, but I was hoping at least for some of the mouth-watering Thai food that I had been dreaming about for weeks. The food we ate there was the worst that we tried in Thailand, and had us worrying that the next month would be the same. Luckily it wasn’t, and the food on the rest of our travels is some of the best I’ve ever eaten.
If you get past the murkiness of the surrounding area, and the constant badgering of whether you would like a suit or a tuk tuk, then the shopping on Khao San Road comes as something of a consolation. Your backpacker uniform can be found here; tons of elephant-print trousers, tie-dye dresses, Thai slogan t-shirts and hundreds of anklets and bracelets. You can even get your hair put in dreadlocks. There’s also a couple of good book stands selling numerous backpacking-inspired stories and spiritual narratives. Our backpacking lesson number one: don’t overpack. Anything you want can be found out there for far cheaper than you would pay here. We ended up throwing out some of our clothes after seeing what the markets had to offer, heading back several times to get more purchases. Our backpacking lesson number two? Learning how to haggle.