In the book 'The Beach' it is described as "The centre of the backpacking universe." No surprise then to find that it has become a Mecca for the hundreds of thousands of pierced, dreaded, fisherman pant and tie-dye shirt wearing "trustafarian" tourists that flock there each year. And the area certainly caters to their presumed needs. There are innumerable backpacker hostels dotted haphazardly along the 1km long main road, and many more on the side roads surrounding it.
The street is lined with stalls selling everything that a backpacker could want (and many things that they don't) - there's even a McDonald's and a Burger King, as well as any number of Irish pubs, recognisable British shops, and restaurants creating Thai favourites adapted to suit the western palette. If you want Thai green curry and chips, then this is the place to come.
An alleyway off of the main street reveals more tattoo parlours than I have ever seen, and a number of local artisans working on their trades (mostly leather craft), creating masterpieces before our very eyes. Regardless of the other tourist tat thereabouts, there are some very talented people displaying some beautiful workmanship here. You just have to fight through the sea of "I went to Thailand" t-shirts and cheap sunglasses to get to them. Bob Marley tunes blare out of the speakers whilst the artists work, and there's a smell in the air that tells me that it is not just his music that is being enjoyed in the neighbourhood.
Colourful jewellery for sale @ Khao San Road, Bangkok
We settle down for something to eat, and as I munch on my unremarkable Pad Thai, I close my eyes to block out the din of Pussycat Dolls and Justin Timberlake which rings out from our café and the one next-door; and try to imagine what Khao San Road might have looked like back in the 60s. I conjure up a vision of it in the years before you could sit in the street and wait to have pirate DVDs burned to order. What a place it must have been.
I'm really glad that we visited Khoa San Road – the area is lively, colourful and fun, but I can't imagine staying here – perhaps I'm getting old, but I felt that it lacked much of a sense of the 'real Thailand' and had become much more about the vision of Thailand that tourists want it to be.