It’s difficult to fathom the concurrence of fecundity and foulness that flourishes in the small but extraordinarily dense and colorful tourist district that is the short stretch of Khao San Road in central Bangkok. Visitors to southeast Asia who are drawn to the region by the allure of the exotic surroundings and/or the affordable immorality will find both in excess at Khao San. Reactions to the profusion of clubs, hostels, bars, bizarres, prostitution, and psychotropics vary widely, but an indifferent response is a rarity.
Famously favored by the backpacker crowd (illustrated most recently in a sequence in 2000’s The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio), Khao San is cheap and teeming with commodities of all kinds that can be had for a song. Needless to say, there is a considerable criminal element and scams abound, but the energy in the district is palpable and the wary and incredulous can find excitement of a sort that is difficult to match elsewhere.
Though known as a “backpackers’ ghetto” for the last few decades, quite a bit of high-brow investment has attracted upscale amenities including spas, boutiques, salons, fine dining, and even a Starbucks. The budget-minded need not fear, however, the “bed in a box” hotels, street food, and illicit activities still make Khao San an unparalleled place to stretch your baht.
Though the critical faculties for emerging from Khao San unscathed and financially intact are a sharp eye and a keen disposition, a few words of caution are worth considering. When it comes to the cheapest accommodations, the occurrence of pestilence the persistence of pimps and pushers can be unbelievably odious. Take care not to pay for your rooms at check-in, on the off chance that a rapid relocation is in order. The nearby districts of Sukhumvit and Rambutri Street offer somewhat more dependable lodgings at rates that are nearly as low.