22 Feb Getting the best of Khao San Road
The famous Khao San Road has become a backpacker’s paradise, with cheap and friendly guest houses/hostels, street food, cafes, bars and rowdy nightclubs. It’s not the real Thailand, but it’s pretty much unmissable in most people’s eyes because it’s just such a famous little road.
Everything you could possibly want as a backpacker/traveller is here; it’s a great place to party and meet fellow travellers who are usually on their way south to the islands.
Here’s how to get the best out of staying in Khao San Road and how to find some authentic areas nearby. There’s a handy map at the bottom too.
Top tips for Khao San Road
- There is no Skytrain in this area so play it safe and take a metered taxi until you are familiar with the area.
- If you buy anything expensive on Khao San Road – it will either be overpriced or fake.
- Quieter areas around Khao San are: Rambuttri Road, with little bars and restaurants, Phra Athit Road with colonial-style houses and riverside hotels; and Sam Sen Road with small guest houses and vegetarian restaurants.
- Beware of scams. Buy onward travel and tours online or from a shop – not off the street.
- For really authentic Thai food, try other areas of Bangkok or read our recommendations below.
- Nightclubs tend to ask to see your passport before they let you in.
- Don’t ask tuk-tuks to do wheelies……seriously….
History of Khao San Road
Khao San Road is located a block away from Chao Phraya River in the area of Bangkok called Rattanakosin which is in the heart of the ‘old city area’, known as Banglamphu. ‘khao san’ means milled rice and the road was thus named due to the role it had in the rice trade from the 19th Century until the 1970’s.
Khao San became famous internationally when hippies in the 1970’s stopped off here while making their way along the four Ks of Kabul, Kathmandu, Khao San Road and Kuta. The first official guest house called Bonny, opened in 1982 but now the Khao San vibe has spilled over the entire area with hundreds of places to stay, eat, shop and party. There’s even some 5 star hotel action near the river.
The area has become an actual tourist attraction rather than just a place to stay due to the novel and movie “The Beach” set in the early 90’s but it has come a long way from how it was represented then. Accommodation all used to be basic but now many guest houses have upgraded, funky fresh hostels have opened and there are quality hotels now too.
Good Bars and Clubs near Khao San Road
There are some great bars and clubs actually on Khao San Road but here are 4 more quality live music venues and clubs nearby. Each has has link to their Facebook pages.
- Adhere the 13th – 13 Sam Sen Road. Open, 18:00–00:00. This is a small blues bar that is all about the music. There is always a band playing and the atmosphere is intimate.
- jazZ happens! – 58 Phra Athit Road. Open 18:00–00:00. This bar features live jazz played by Thai students and is a collaboration with Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Jazz. Very popular among the locals and is now being found by foreigners.
- Café Democ – 78 Ratchadamnoen Klang Road. Open 11:00-03:00. A restaurant at daytime, this place really gets going around 20:00 when it becomes a nightclub. Great mix of locals and foreigners and ideal for the indie crowd that are into house.
- Dickinson’s Culture Café – Phrathit Road. Open from 23.00-02.00. With a strong connection to the Ministry of Sound and the above Cafe Democ this is THE club of choice in Bangkok with world class dj’s and awesome events.
Where to eat good Thai food near Khao San Road
The international mix of travellers means that if you are craving cheap international food, particularly Middle Eastern, or Indian this is the place to come. You can even find Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway here. However, the road has a reputation for poor quality Thai food but I would just call it distinctly average. You can find really authentic Thai eating places very close by if you know where to look.
- Madame Musur – 41 Rambutri Road. This upmarket bar/restaurant has great Chang Mai style Thai food and cocktails with a local Chang Mai twist. Bamboo decor, paper lanterns and day beds will make you feel as if you are in one of Chiang Mai’s trendy neighborhoods.
- Newlight Thai Tapas Bar – Rambuttri Road. This upmarket bar is in a beautiful old Thai house and you can eat central Thai and Isaan food served in distinctly tapas style. Not quite authentic Thai but delicious all the same.
- Street Food Stalls – Rambuttri Road. This collection of cheap street buffet stalls with seating is ideal for foreigners wanting to try cheap but authentic, fresh Thai food. A large variety of traditional Thai dishes are available here and most of the servers can speak English to help you.
- Local Food Market – Chakrapong Road. This is an area to see real takeaway Thai food for the locals including local sweets and desserts. It’s a good place to try “Thai food on a stick” which is almost always awesome.
Getting to and from Khao San Road, Bangkok
While the Skytrain is the most convenient way of getting around Bangkok, there is no connection to Khao San Road or to anywhere else in that area including Wat Arun and The Grand Palace, so your choices are boat, bus or taxi.
Boat to Khao San
The Chao Phraya Express Boat is the cheapest way of getting to Khao San Road. If you’re coming from the city centre, take the Skytrain (BTS) to Saphan Taksin Station and get on the Express Boat at Sathorn Pier. Ride the boat to Phra Arthit Pier which takes about 35 minutes. It’s only a short walk from the pier to Khao San Road. The Chao Phraya Express Boat stops running around 18:30.
Bus to Khao San
The bus system in Bangkok is not easy to navigate but is very cheap, usually around 10 baht per trip. Here are some useful bus lines for travellers at Khao San Road:
- Bus 2 goes from Sukhumvit Road to Sanam Luang, and passes Ratchdamnoen Klang Road, which is close to Khao San Road. The route is handy for connections to the Skytrain (BTS) and the Eastern Bus Terminal. It runs 24 hours a day.
- Bus 3 goes to the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) and passes by Chakrabongse Road near Khao San Road. This bus also stops near the awesome Chatuchak Weekend Market.
- Bus 509 starts at Mo Chit Bus Terminal, passing through Victory Monument which has a SkyTrain station. It also passes by Ratchadamnoen Klang Road near Khao San Road.
Taxis and Tuk Tuks to Khao San
Some taxis will try to charge you an expensive flat rate to take you to Khao San Road but the meter is always cheaper. The majority of taxi drivers are reasonably honest, though, so opt for a taxi instead of a tuk-tuk and make sure the meter is on before you get in. Most trips will cost you less than 100 baht unless you are going to either of the 2 airports which on a meter will be about 300-400 baht maximum.
Tuk-Tuk drivers will often quote a price that is more than an air-con metered taxi so bargain hard with tuk-tuk drivers. Any person offering to help you get a tuk-tuk will quote a higher price to cover their commission. Be wary about taking a tuk-tuk very late at night to a nightclub of the driver’s recommendation because there are several scams that you could unwittingly get involved in.
Should I stay in Khao San Road?
If you’re young, on a budget and looking to mingle with other backpackers, staying around Khao San is a no-brainer, but keep in mind that there are other parts of Bangkok that have some budget places to stay and have travel agents, fun shopping and bars nearby etc. Why not stay 2 nights in the Khao San area and visit all the tourist attractions near the Grand Palace while you are there and then spend a few nights in Sukhumvit or Silom to see the real Bangkok and also go shopping in the malls. 1 night in Bangkok is simply not enough!
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Images courtesy of Flickr.com – Featured image by ‘R’, tuk-tuk by Chochlik and view of Khao San Road by Guillén Pérez. Map found on Google Images, commercial use allowed.