Bangkok’s Khao San Road: Backpacker Heaven or Total Hell?

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Without a doubt, Bangkok’s Khao San Road district is the most popular choice for backpackers and other budget travelers visiting the city. It isn’t entirely surprising, given the large selection of cheap accommodation and dining, as well as plenty of Thai kitsch, including ladyboys and “Happy Ending” massage parlors. This being said, you should consider several potential disadvantages of staying at Khao San Road before booking accommodation there.


In spite of being close to iconic structures like the “Giant Swing,” Khao San Road’s location leaves something to be desired.

My main gripe with Khao San Road is its location. True, the district is close to Rattanakosin (Bangkok’s historical center) and the Chao Phraya River, affording you quick and easy access to tourist sites like Wat Arun and the Grand Palace. You’re also just a short site from other relics of the city’s “Golden Age,” including the Giant Swing, Golden Mount and Wat Suthat Temple.

This being said, you aren’t near any station of either Bangkok’s SkyTrain elevated rail or MRT underground, meaning that you need to take a taxi to get anywhere — and due to Khao San’s relatively remote location and the fact that Thais almost never stay there, cab drivers are reluctant to use their meters and charge you fair prices, in spite of it being in violation of the law not to do so.

Using a meter, a taxi from Khao San to the Hua Lamphong railway station would run you between ฿50 – ฿80, but most cab drivers would happily quote you ฿100 or more for the journey — and the majority of naive travelers accept this. Even worse are tuk-tuks which, in spite of their kitsch factor, provide slower, bumpier transport at even higher costs.


A visit to Bangkok isn’t truly complete until you’ve visited Khao San Road at least once, a veritable stampede of mobile Pad Thai and Thai Iced Tea carts,

Initially charming, Khao San’s perpetual hustle and bustle can become stifling.

whores that hustle as freely during the day as they do at night — and more white people than you’ve probably see in a similar London or New York street. Staying here for more than a few hours, however, can get stifling, particularly if you want to expose yourself to local Thais that work outside the service industry.

This isn’t to say Khao San isn’t without its charm. Indeed, the plastic Thai flags flying overhead, smiling suitmakers doing everything in their power to get you fitted and fruit sellers slinging fresh watermelon, papaya and mango for just ฿10 provide a sense of place that’s hard to mistake for anywhere but Thailand. The availability of accommodation, dining and drinking options don’t hurt Khao San’s case either.

And Khao San isn’t just a single road, in spite of the fact that most foreigners (foolishly) do try and stay on Khao San itself. The collection of small sois just to the north of the main drag actually provide a bit of tranquility when compared to what lies south — and even cheaper accommodation and food can be found on the two or three parallel streets that extend eastward.


Merchants on Khao San Road, such as tuk-tuk drivers, will take advantage of you if you allow them to.

Khao San is generally extremely cheap — I won’t deny that. Better, as is the case in much of the rest of Thailand and the developing world, it’s possible to bargain with most retailers (and even accommodation owners) to get the price you want. Unfortunately, many of the people who choose to stay here either don’t know how to bargain — or simply don’t care to — which has left many of the merchants who operate here unwilling to bargain with anyone who doesn’t draw an extremely hard line.

To make matters worse, Khao San’s popularity has also caused a general rise in prices, once which gets even higher outside of the summer monsoon season, Thailand’s tourism peak. If you do choose to stay in Khao San and feel the price someone’s quoting you is too high, visit a merchant which sells something similar and inquire there to get an idea of how good or bad your original price is.

For hotels, hostels or guest houses, ask to see an official price list if one isn’t post. Or, save yourself the trouble and stay at the badass Shambara Boutique Hostel, a charming spot near the entrance to the street with its own full-service restaurant and an extremely friendly staff.


If you’re on a budget but don’t want to stay in Khao San, plenty of options for you exist elsewhere in Bangkok, even in the city’s most happening districts.

Cosmopolitan Sukhumvit is one of many potential alternatives to Khao San.

Budget hotels, guest houses and hostels are plentiful in the popular Sukhumvit and Silom districts, which are far more international and interesting than Khao San in addition to being located on public transportation lines.

Alternatively, stay near the city’s main Rama IV Road and the MBK Shopping Center for easy access not only to discounted name brand shopping and the Bangkok SkyTrain, but also to the Phaya Thai financial district, which links you to Suvarnabhumi International Airport for just ฿15 one-way.


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