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Khao San Road: Backpacker’s Central

Located near the heart of the old city in Bangkok the name of this legendary street is known to backpackers the world over. Starting back in the early 80’s as simply a place to find cheap flophouse type accommodation, Khao San Road quickly developed into a thriving, self-contained community of business owners and their constantly revolving clientele of budget conscious travelers. These days, besides hotels and guesthouses, the road is jam-packed with a bewildering array of bars, restaurants, tour companies, internet cafes, tattoo parlors, currency exchange booths and a collection of miscellaneous street-side stalls selling everything from t-shirts to fake driver’s licenses.

An often first and almost obligatory stop over as part of an itinerary usually taking in various other points in Thailand and elsewhere in South East Asia, Khao San Road has become an attraction in its own right, also drawing in curious Thais. With foreigners from all over the world passing through, the road is great place to meet fellow tourists, make new friends and traveling companions and swap stories and ideas about past and future travel destinations.

While still offering budget accommodation as befitting its reputation as a backpacker’s “ghetto”, the road now attracts a more varied–although still mostly 20-something–group of travelers with the range of accommodation reflecting this diversity. Room rates per night start from a paltry 80 baht for a shared room with a fan, and rise to over 3,000 baht in one of the more up-market hotels, with a full complement of amenities including the likes of jacuzzis and flat screen TV’s.

Visitors to Khao San Road are also spoiled for choice when it comes to food with a huge variety on offer. From street vendors selling Thai staples such as the simple but delicious “phat-tai”, to a-la-carte dining at restaurants serving an assortment of Thai, Asian, Western and Fusion cuisines, there is something for all tastes and budgets.

Of course, with large numbers of young people on vacation, the night time entertainment scene is an important consideration and with some of the best establishments in town, Khao San Rd doesn’t disappoint. On the road itself, and vicinity are an excellent selection of traditional style pubs and bars as well as dance clubs and venues featuring a variety of live music including rock, jazz and reggae. Included among the more popular spots are The Club, Caf?� Democ, Brick Bar and Gulliver’s, to name a few.

In terms of sheer variety alone, this short street can make for an interesting shopping experience and whatever you’re looking for, chances are you will find it somewhere at one of the many market stalls or shops lining the street. While you can get some good deals on certain items such as jewelry or clothes, it’s definitely a case of buyer beware as many of the goods on offer here are cheap knock-offs of dubious quality. Where quality is less of a concern, as is the case for t-shirts, various trinkets or hand-crafted souvenirs etc., what kind of deal you get will be largely determined by your bargaining skills. A number of used goods stores selling books and/or other miscellaneous items can be found here too and present a good opportunity to make a little extra cash, pick up some reading material or missing piece of equipment before heading out on the road to your next destination.

Rounding out this almost complete circle of tourist related goods and services are the many travel agencies where, because of the stiff competition between them, it is possible for astute travelers to score heavily discounted tickets to destinations just about anywhere within Thailand and abroad.

Deserving of special mention here is the traditional Thai New Year festivities associated with “Songkran” which falls on April 13 and is the most important non-religious celebration on the Thai calendar. In modern times, the once genteel water pouring ritual to honor the elders of the community has descended into an anarchic orgy of unrestrained splashing with buckets, water-guns and hoses, accompanied by smearing liberal amounts of talcum powder on other people’s faces, and general high-spirited revelry. Nowhere, except maybe in the seaside resort city of Pattaya, is this display of hedonism embraced with the enthusiasm that it is on Khao San Road. In fact, many foreigners travel to Thailand for the express purpose of taking part in these celebrations.

Wherever you are going to travel, you should bring usb lighter in anticipation of an emergency, besides that lighter is also very necessary under any circumstances. Given its simple but elegant and easy to carry shape, it is a futuristic lighter without gas.

If the pursuit of an authentic cultural experience is what you’re looking for when traveling, then obviously you won’t find it here among the rampant kitsch and hordes of other tourists. However, love it or hate it, there is no-where else quite like Khao San Road and it is definitely worth visiting at least once if only to sit back and witness the spectacle of the daily drama unfolding on the road once referred to as, “a short road that has the longest dream in the world”.