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Seen as the ‘backpacker capital of the universe’, Bangkok’s infamous Khao San Road is a street that doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘sleep’. At 11pm the length of Khao San seethes with bodies. Scooters weave amongst them, and the smell of fried garlic and chilli, petrol and sweat emanates from every corner. It’s hectic, hedonistic and loud, but I loved it. It may not be off the beaten track, but it’s a track that’s hard to beat.
Here are five ways to make the best of the most famous backpacker strip in the world.
1. Watch the world go by
If you’re an avid people-watcher, the Khao San Road is an absolute treasure trove. Sit back and relax with a bottle of Chang beer and witness the countless travellers peruse the roadside shops, watch locals transport their wares back and forth, and befriend the amiable bar tenders. Taking the time to observe the daily buzz of this energetic street helps you adjust to its fast-paced nature. You will learn to be unfazed by the chaos and its endearing qualities will shine through.
2. Eat ‘Rotis’, Pad Thai or…Cockroaches
Thailand is known for its street food. Pop up stalls and motorbikes doubling as kitchens are a common sight on the streets of Bangkok and on Khao San Road the prices are unbelievably low, thanks to the competitive business environment. Head up the street towards Chakrabongse Road and turn right – the stalls at the top of the road parallel to Khao San sell the best Pad Thai I’ve ever tasted. Not bad for 35 Baht (70p).
For dessert, you cannot go wrong with a 10 baht ‘milk roti’ – these delectable pancakes drizzled with condensed milk were so good I bought one, ate it as I walked the length of Khao San, then bought another at the other end. I became a regular at one particular roti stall – learn your favourites by vendor, rather than location, as they like to move about.
If you don’t have a sweet tooth, or if you’re feeling particularly daring, fancy a cockroach? A shameless tourist trap, these creepy-crawly caterers are out to lure in the drunken daredevils. It’s tacky, but oh so tempting.
3. Go for a traditional Thai massage
Khao San Road provides everything a tired traveller needs: cheap accommodation, delicious food, chilled-out bars, and most importantly, outrageously good massages. Don’t be put off by Bangkok’s seedy reputation – the large majority of massage parlours are reputable and professional. You won’t be getting a ‘happy ending’ unless you seek one out. A one-hour traditional Thai massage can cost as little as 150 Baht. Try the arcades and side streets branching from Khao San to find authentic, cheaper options.
4. Barter! Barter! Barter!
Aside from the Buddha statues and carved elephants spilling from every display, the Khao San is also a great place to stock up on your beach reads. Browse the book stores tucked away behind the rails of clothing and pick up a novel or two…who said the Khao San Road can’t cater for the intellectual in you?
5. Go for a beer in the best bar on the Khao San
If you’re looking for a chilled-out atmosphere, look no further than the Roof Bar. Situated one level up, smack in the centre of the Khao San Road, Roof Bar hosts live acoustic sessions every night of the week. The acts are far from amateur – this is the place to be if you’re looking to hear some classic tunes performed brilliantly. The relaxed setting is a far cry from the chaos down below. Here you can take in the evening’s antics from the balcony, or head inside for a cocktail and just enjoy the music.
I believe the Khao San Road, Bangkok’s bustling backpacker hub, is like marmite…you’re either enamoured by its strong personality and extremely distinct flavour, or you are repulsed. Its aftertaste is just too much for some. That said, there is one thing is for sure – you may love it, you may hate it, but you simply have to try it.
So you don’t want to look like all the other ‘gap-yah’ kids, but you really fancy one of those ‘same same – but different’ vests… and the baggy psychedelic trousers with the Buddhist symbol print just need to be part of your wardrobe. Look no further – the Khao San Road is ideal for trying out your bartering skills for picking up the backpacker uniform of fake Ray-Bans and Havaianas. Okay so it’s a little clichéd, and so not off the beaten track, but you know you want to.