Bangkok/Khao San Road

Khao San Road (Thai: ถนนข้าวสาร) is a small road located about a block from the Chao Phraya River at the northern side of Rattanakosin. Backpackers and budget travellers are drawn here by some of the cheapest accommodation and travel deals in Thailand. This article also deals with the wider Banglamphu area that hosts a few interesting temples, as well as lots more places to stay and eat.

Understand

Pronunciation tip

The syllable "khao" is pronounced similarly to the English word "cow", but since the late 1990s, backpackers have often been mispronouncing it as "coe" (perhaps confusing it with "koh", meaning "island", which in itself is incorrect and should be an abrupt "goh"; perhaps influenced by the book/movie The Beach). Please help re-introduce the correct pronunciation into the backpacker community by pronouncing it properly. Khào Sán, Khào with the falling tone, and then Sán with the rising tone.

The word khao san itself means milled rice and is an attribution to the historical role of this street in the rice trade. The first business to open on Khao San Road was a small hotel aimed at serving civil servants from the provinces who came to Bangkok on business. The hotel was followed by Sor Thambhakdi, a shop selling monks' accessories. Four similar businesses moved in after, and Khao San became known as a "religious road".

Word soon spread about the easy lifestyle and friendliness of the locals. Friends told friends, and before long, the owner of the house started to charge 20 baht for food and lodging. The first commercial guest house, called Bonny, opened in 1982 with six small bedrooms.

Today, there's a lot more than six small bedrooms on offer. The hippy, laid-back, and budget Khao San Road of the past has long given away to its now highly commercial and tourist-centric atmosphere. This is the epicentre of the Banana Pancake Trail. In the span of just a couple of blocks, there are bars, food stalls, restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacies, internet cafes, money changing booths, ATMs, shoe stores, massage parlours, tailors, travel agencies, laundromats, boxing gyms, optometrists, endless warrens of suspiciously discounted designer clothes and, oh, rooms for the night.

The chaos has spilled over to the entire area, including Soi Rambuttri with its little bars and restaurants that are starting to spill out onto the road; Phra Athit Road with its colonial-style mansions and riverside hotels; and Samsen Road, a quiet neighbourhood with cosy guest houses and vegetarian restaurants. It is indeed a tourist destination and can be a little unsafe at night as instances of mugging and pick-pocketing do occur.

Get in

Map of the Khao San Road area

Khao San Road is fairly easy to get to from anywhere in Bangkok. Express boats, buses and taxis are your main options. While the Skytrain and the metro are convenient ways of getting to many places in Bangkok, there is no connection to Khao San Road (or to anywhere else in Rattanakosin, for that matter). While Khao San Road is easy to get into and out of, travelers should be aware it is located quite far (30–60 minutes) from most other areas tourists will travel to in Bangkok, such as Sukhumvit or Silom.

By boat

The Chao Phraya Express Boat is the cheapest and most scenic way of getting to Khao San Road. If you're coming from the city centre, take the Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station, where you can transfer onto the express boat at Sathorn pier. Then ride the express boat all the way north to Phra Arthit pier, which takes about 35 minutes and costs 13 to 18 baht. Make sure to get either the orange flag line or the blue flag tourist boat, as the yellow flag line skips Phra Arthit pier completely.

If you're staying in Khao San Road, the express boat is the easiest way to get to Rattanakosin and Silom. It's only a short (but confusing) walk from Khao San Road to Phra Arthit pier. First walk to the police station side of Khao San Road, then take a right onto Chakrabongse Road and immediately a left into Soi Rambuttri. Walk until you have to take a left and then take a right into Soi Chana Songkhram. At the end, take a right into Phra Athit Road, cross the road, and look for the small sign to the express boat pier (it is near Navalai River Resort). Bring a good map, have a good sense of direction, or ask help from a local if you get lost. The main idea is to head west until you hit the river.

The most important piers are Tha Chang (for the Grand Palace), Tha Tien (for Wat Pho) and Rachawongse (for Yaowarat). All lines attend Sathorn pier, where you can transfer onto the Skytrain. From here, you can go to Silom, Siam Square, Sukhumvit and Phahonyothin. The Chao Phraya Express Boat stops running around 18:00 or 19:00 depending on the day, so you'll have to rely on other forms of transport in the evening.

The quickest (though not the most comfortable) way to get from Khao San Road to Siam Square, Sukhumvit and Ramkhamhaeng is by Saen Saep Express Boat. The closest pier to Khao San Road is Panfa Leelard, which is near the Golden Mount and Wat Ratchanadda. There you can get on the Golden Mount Line, which is a direct boat service from Panfa Leelard to Pratunam. At that pier you can switch onto the NIDA Line, that runs from Pratunam all the way northeast to Wat Sriboonreung in Ramkhamhaeng. A single trip from Panfa Leelard to Pratunam takes about 20 minutes and costs 11 baht. On the trip, you will pass the stops Talat Bobae (for the garment market of the same name), Sapan Charoenpol, Baan Krua Nua (for Jim Thompson's House), Sapan Hua Chang (for Siam Square) and Pratunam (for Pratunam and Ratchaprasong).

By bus

The bus system in Bangkok is very complex, but as Khao San Road is not connected to the Skytrain, for some destinations you don't have a choice. Some useful bus lines for travel to/from Khao San Road include the following:

The Airport Express bus, including backpacker favourite AE2 to Khao San Road, stopped running in June 2011. Another, even cheaper (although more fiddly) option is to use a local bus to get to Khao San Road. From the airport, catch the shuttle bus for free outside door 5 (on both the upper and lower floors) to the Public Transport Interchange. From there, catch bus 551 (a white van) which will drop you off at Victory Monument for 40 baht. Then take bus 59 and get off about halfway between Khao San Road and the Democracy Monument. To get to the airport, catch bus 59, which departs from Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, about halfway between Khao San Road and the Democracy Monument (look for the half-torn airplane sign on the bus stop sign). It will drop you off at Victory Monument, from where you can catch bus 551 to the Public Transport Interchange. From there, it's just a small ride with the free shuttle bus to the terminals.

Khao San Road is also the stop for the majority of long range buses from Chang Mai, elsewhere in Northern Thailand, and from Siem Reap, Cambodia as it is located on the edge of Bangkok and buses avoid the notorious Bangkok traffic by starting and stopping routes here.

By taxi

Even some of the metered taxis will try to charge you a flat rate of about 200-300 baht to take you to Khao San Road, rather than use the meter (which would mean no more than an 80 baht fare from Silom, or 100-150 baht from Sukhumvit, or about 60 - 80 baht from Hualamphong Train Station). The drivers will claim that Khao San Road is "too far away" for the meter, but that's not true; the fact is, they can get away with overcharging tourists, and if you don't take it, the next one down the street might. You should refuse to pay that amount and find an honest driver — there is no shortage of taxis in Bangkok. There is no point trying to haggle, as the meter is always cheaper.

As a general rule, older drivers tend to be more amenable to the meters, while the younger ones tend to gun for big fares from tourists. Also avoid the parked taxis (dishonest drivers prefer to wait for gullible tourists) and hail a moving taxi (a red light on the dash board indicates if they are available). The majority of taxis are new (less than two years old), and its best to avoid the older taxis as their air-conditioners function poorly, and these drivers tend to be less reliable. The great majority of taxi drivers are reasonably honest though, so always opt for a taxi instead of a tuk-tuk.

Coming to or from the airport, a taxi is by far the easiest and quickest way to Khao San Road. A metered taxi should cost between 300-450 baht, if using the toll roads (known by Thais as toll way) which cost up to 65 baht. Traffic during the day can make the toll roads very worthwhile, as they will save time and money. The trip takes around 45 minutes in good traffic, but allow considerable leeway during rush hour as the area around Khao San can get very congested. If you arrive after midnight, expect to pay around 500 baht. This 500 baht includes all tolls, the airport fee of 50 baht and the price stated on the meter. Taxis are your only option at night, as the Airport Rail Link stops running at midnight.

See

Although there aren't any famous historical sites to speak of on the road itself, Khao San is a part of Rattanakosin and actually one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Bangkok. Around the street, there are a number of old shophouses and noteworthy temples. Aside from the interesting architecture, the area shows a mix of peoples and heritages that is typical for Bangkok. There are Buddhists, Chinese, Muslims, Mons, and of course a great number of foreigners in this small part of the city. All of this makes the area an interesting place for a glimpse of Thai life.

Democracy Monument
Wat Bowonniwet

Do

Activities on Khao San Road are not particularly high class. Many backpackers just chill out in a cafe and watch reruns of Friends while sipping a cold Chang beer. People-watching is also a major activity: this can be done in many roadside bars and pubs along Khao San Road. When all this becomes too stressful, there are plenty of massage parlours around.

Learn

Buy

Khao San Road

Obviously the first place to go shopping is Khao San Road itself. Simple stores line up the street selling dresses, shirts, skirts, accessories, shoes, and bags, usually for a bargain. Many of these are vintage, as that's popular among the Khao San crowd. There are also the usual souvenir and handicraft stores.

Hill tribe women dressed in ethnic clothing walk up and down Khao San Road all day, usually with the croaking sounds that come from their ornamental frogs. They approach tourists all day, trying to sell them accessories, hammocks and ethnic handicrafts. They are quite friendly, and back off with a clear "no", but once they know you're interested, many of these sellers congregate around you hoping to make some profit.

Always beware of getting ripped off. Never buy anything valuable in this area as there are many scams and tricks being played. Khao San Road is home to many wholesale silver jewellery stores, but don't even think about buying there. A common scam is to ask a lot more for a gem than its real value. Touts for suits approach men walking along Khao San Road, but never go with them — getting tailored clothes in Khao San Road is a complete waste of money as quality is extremely poor. If you really want a suit, head to the city centre for better alternatives.

Other problematic products for sale include counterfeit clothes, pirated films and even fake diplomas. The authorities here don't seem to care, but you might get in trouble once you arrive in your home country. The   Banglamphu Market north of Khao San Road is a good place to pick up cheap Thai knock-offs of everything, from jeans to Italian sneakers, as well as a few posh Thai silk stores. Food stalls are also abound in this area.

Books

As plenty of travellers use Khao San Road as their base on the way to the beaches, a number of second-hand book stores have congregated in this area. Expect dusty stores with books completely worn out — but usually prices are cheaper than elsewhere. Some of the newer book stores have a fresher appearance and even sell new books. The usual English fiction titles are available, including backpacker favourites like The Beach. If you're into non-fiction, get one of the titles on Thai or Southeast Asian history and culture. Some book stores have a buy-back scheme, so you can sell the book back to the store for half the price after you have finished your trip.

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Under 100 baht
Mid-range 100-500 baht
Splurge Over 500 baht

Khao San Road offers some of the cheapest and most diverse food selections anywhere in Bangkok. Travellers from all over the world attend the road, so there is a high demand for all kinds of ethnic food. Alongside the usual Thai dishes, Indian, Italian and Jewish cuisine are especially well-represented, as are restaurants specialised in vegetarian food.

Street carts on the road sell decent pad thai (fried noodles), quail eggs, roti (like a pancake), falafel, hummus, various bugs and some sell just cocktails. However, it's worth noting that much of it is specifically geared for backpackers — even the local pad thai, especially the 10 baht variety, saves money on the ingredients and uses soy sauce instead of the traditional tamarind sauce.

As Khao San Road leaves its backpacker roots, standards (and prices) are rising. In the last ten years, many popular international food outlets have set up branches in Khao San Road, including Burger King, McDonald's and Subway. More mid-range restaurants are opened on a daily basis, but don't expect to splurge. Those looking for truly good food would be advised to head elsewhere, such as to Sukhumvit.

Budget

Cooking up a storm on Khao San Road

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Cafes

You might like a freshly brewed coffee in the early morning, or some coconut juice or iced chocolate to cool you down in the hot afternoon. There are plenty of cafes serving these on Khao San Road. Coffee World is across from McDonald's in Buddy's Shopping Plaza and there is a Starbucks in a nice converted house on Sunset Street.

Go to Phra Athit Road for a more sophisticated way of getting some caffeine. It is home to many colonial-style townhouses and shophouses that have been turned into artsy cafes and restaurants.

Bars and pubs

One night in Khao San

While there is much more to see in Bangkok than Khao San... yeah yeah, blah blah, we all know that. Party time! Khao San Road has some of the best bars in town and spending one night of your trip here is a must.

You might want to start with a romantic dinner and views over the Chao Phraya River. No place does this better than Aquatini Bar and Restaurant. A good alternative is the seafood at the al fresco terrace of Tom Yum Kung. If you want to save money, or want to have dinner at a typical Khao San-style restaurant, go for the seafood at Popiang House.

Probably one of the most enjoyable activities on Khao San Road is people-watching. Center Khao Sarn has the best views of the bunch with many roadside seats. Mulligans is a worthy alternative, and great for conversation as there's no music outside.

The locals flock to live performance bars and so should you — Adhere the 13th if you're into blues and jazz happens at Jazz Happens! Bar. If live music is not your thing, head to Bangkok Bar, another popular bar among the locals.

Most bars close around 01:00, but if you haven't had enough just yet,Just head back to Center Khao Sarn or Mulligans where you can wash a cold Chang beer down until 2am.

Khao San Road has some of the cheapest bars in town, and these days even Thais head down to knock back a few. Khao San bars are mostly about relaxing — just sitting outside, looking at people and enjoying the atmosphere. Some just walk around with a beer in their hand. A can of Chang beer is 25 baht at 7-Eleven. Worth a look are a few street side VW vans converted to mobile bars, serving cocktails made from cheap liquor.

The tourist crowd has spread to both Soi Rambuttri and Rambuttri Road in the north. Both of them have a relaxed pace great for people-watching. The bars have many seats lined up along the road and the music is slightly toned down for casual conversation. If you want to go where the locals go, there are some artsy/indie bars at Phra Athit Road and Ratchadamnoen Klang Road popular with local art students.

Drinking cart on Khao San Road

Nightclubs

Bangkok's nightlife has a difficult time living up to its notorious reputation — and Khao San Road in particular. While many roadside bars are open 24 hours, nightclubs close at 02:00. Always bring your passport as all nightclubs are required to check it upon entry. Mostly the backpacker/hippie crowd, so shorts and flip flips abound. If you want to see the classier crowd, you will need to leave Khaosan road. Take a taxi to Route 66 on Royal City Avenue(RCA) or Funky Villa in the Thonglo district instead.


Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under 1,000 baht
Mid-range 1,000 baht to 2,500 baht
Splurge Over 2,500 baht

Khao San Road is Bangkok's main backpacker drag. Cheap new guest houses spring up and disappear on a monthly basis, therefore accommodation is hard to recommend, but there is always something available for a small budget. As hipsters and upper class folks have been starting to discover the road, it is more and more becoming an area that has accommodations for every price class.

Before checking into an unfamiliar place, always ask to see a room first, and don't be afraid to test the fan or the air-conditioning if you think you will need it. Some Khao San Road guest houses do not accept Thai guests, or any extra guests at all in some cases.

Budget

Typical upper budget room for the area

Most backpackers head straight for Khao San Road as it has the cheapest accommodation in all of Bangkok. Don't have high hopes on luxury if you're staying here. Most of these places are dark, dingy, unclean and if you're unlucky, you might have to spend the night with bedbugs. Also keep in mind that anything on Khao San Road itself will be loud and anything with exterior windows will get hot.

Try walking a block or two off Khao San proper to find something a little quieter. Soi Rambuttri, the small street past the police station, has reasonable guest houses, though can still be loud in the evenings. The street gets darker and quieter as it wraps around the temple grounds of Wat Chana Songkhram, where you can find some quiet guest houses. Samsen Road and the surrounding area is another escape from the noise and chaos with cheap guest houses at a further distance of the action.

Mid-range

There are several mid-range hotels in the area, with swimming pools, mini bars, etc. Mid-range covers a wide spectrum, from decent three-star hotels to upper class guest houses. Phra Athit Road is a good place to start looking, its location right beside the Chao Phraya River made it home to some more luxurious hotels.

Splurge

Cope

There are plenty of places around Khao San that do your laundry. The general tariff is around 25-40 baht per kilo, and it's ready to be picked up the next day. Look around, as some laundromats even offer same-day pickup if you bring it in before 15:00. The Rambuttri Village Inn offers luggage storage for 20 baht per day.

If you don't stay at the road itself, toilets can be difficult to find. There is a reasonably clean one inside Buddy's Shopping Plaza — walk all the way in and take a right before entering Brick Bar. Price is 5 baht, but there are long queues at busy nights. Another public toilet can be found all the way inside Sunset Street, passing Starbucks on the left. Entry 5 baht. You can also try Burger King at the eastern end of the road.

Stay safe

Never enter a tuk-tuk if someone else is trying to convince you

Khao San Road is the worst district in Bangkok when it comes to scams and annoyances. Be highly skeptical of anyone telling you that your intended destination is currently closed. If someone offers you a free whole-day tuk-tuk ride, smile faintly and keep on walking. If you agree to this, you probably will get a free tuk-tuk ride all day, but the only thing you will see are dozens of shops where you get tricked into buying worthless gems, while the driver gets a commission. Never enter a tuk-tuk if someone else is trying to get you into one. A recent scam involves cheap transport offers to discos, massage parlours etc. late at night. The unwary who take up these offers will find themselves dropped off on a quiet street (shortcut), where the Tuk-Tuk has accomplices waiting to assault and rob any gullible tourists. Better pull over a taxi yourself.

Beware of private bus companies around Khao San Road offering direct trips from Bangkok to other cities with "VIP buses". Some are reputable and will be able to provide you with a great deal, but many of them are shopfronts for scam artists and dodgy services. The so-called direct "VIP" trips may end up changing three or four uncomfortable minibuses to the destination, and the 10-11 hour trip may as well turn into 17–18 hours. Also, you are likely to be hit for extra charges for various dubious services along the way and many operators will intentionally slow down the journey so you arrive in the middle of the night and can be coaxed into choosing their guest house — invariably the crappiest place, but pays the agency the highest commissions. Worst of all, since you have paid in advance, you have no recourse of any kind when this happens. Trips to Siem Reap in Cambodia are notorious for this. You can ask around Khao San Road, as a lot of people start and end their journeys there, and use an agent which another traveller has used without any hassles. But it is probably a better idea to do the trips independently using public BKS buses from the main bus terminals.

Beware of the Travel Agent shops throughout Bangkok offering travel packages; day trips, and tickets to tourists attractions. Often you will be taken to one of these Travel Agent shops as a stop on a tuk-tuk ride but do not purchase anything from these shops as they are not regulated in anyway, do not be fooled by the 'certificates' and stamps of approval as all the shops easily forge such documents. The scammers are professionals at persuading you to believe that they are the cheaper than doing it off your own back but this is not true. South-East Asia is one of the only places in the world that it is actually effective to travel as you go, which is why large travel companies such as STA Travel do not find it worth while investing in packages in Thailand, they only offer flights and upper market hotels because it is cheaper to book accommodation, domestic travel and tourist attractions on your own and from the hostels, train stations, and tourist attractions respectively. A common trick to sell you the package they want is to tell you that some islands are full of wild animals at a certain time of year or that boats do not go to these specific destinations. Please do not be fooled, almost all of your holiday preparation can be done from reading articles at home, these tourist shops can sell within their own network and you will end up in the worst locations in terms of accommodation.

The police station, located at the Western end of Khao San Road, could be a valuable resource for travellers in trouble. However, extreme caution should be exercised when asking them for advice with regards to booking tickets — they will often arrange a tuk-tuk to an "approved agency" for you (which seems great and normally a better deal than you would be able to arrange), but the prices offered by the agency they send you to may be 2-3 times the price you could get elsewhere. Often, the tuk-tuk driver, on seeing you come out of the first agency without having bought a ticket, will take you to a second agency "...for no extra..." only to have the same or similar price quoted.

Be sure to read the Stay safe section of the main Bangkok article for other scams you should look out for.

Connect

Internet cafes are rivaled only by tuk-tuks for sheer ubiquity on Khao San Road. Almost any guest house has at least some form of internet available.   Sawasdee Bangkok Inn has three computers set up that cost 10 baht for 15 minutes of surfing. It is a short walk through an alley in the middle of Khao San Road. The standard rate in the area is about 1 baht for 1 minute. Virtually all are set up for Skype and plain old international phone calls. Be aware that some cafes have applied limitations on their terminals, such as on printing documents and saving digital files — check whether this is the case before paying for it.

You can send (and even receive) post at one of the area's two post offices.   Ratchadamnoen Post Office is a short walk through the alley behind Burger King.   Banglamphubon Post Office is not far either, located in front of Wat Bowonniwet. From the eastern side of Khao San Road, just follow Tanao Road in northwards direction and take a right at the roundabout.

Go next

Famous sites within walking distance from Khao San Road include the Grand Palace (with Wat Phra Kaeo), Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Sanam Luang, Wat Ratchanaddaram and the Golden Mount. See Rattanakosin for details. There are also some more adventurous options:

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