I'm a wine professional, living in Bangkok and travelling frequently throughout South East Asia. I'm a huge fan of Laos and Cambodia and off the beaten track travel. Feel free to contact me at: www.facebook.com/mil.elephants
Published May 8th 2016
Thailand or not?
As one the most popular tourist haunts in Bangkok Khao San has developed something of a jaded reputation. Often described as not being the real Thailand, it has an appeal for many and varied activities aimed at tourists and it's become part of a well trodden path in South East Asia.
Rather than just one street, it's spread over time to fill a mesh of streets in the area. The neighbourhood is slightly inconvenient to get to, in that it's not on the BTS or MRT lines, but all taxi drivers know where it is; if they refuse to use the meter just get out and get another. Bangkok is awash with taxis, unless it's raining or Friday night. I'm not a fan of Tuk Tuks as you always have to negotiate a price and most often it'll be more than a taxi fare. Buses are an option, but most have no English signage and the conductor is unlikely to speak any English either.
If you're looking for late night music drinks and food, it's a Bangkok go to. Several bars have DJ's inside, and later in the evening they spill onto the street itself.
The best of bars for me, are the ones that attract locals, be they expats or Thais. My favourite is Brick Bar, which is almost completely full of Thai patrons. Up tempo ska, reggae and blues are on the menu, and it's normally full and jumping.
Slightly off the main drag is Bombay Blues, which is well known as a place to smoke hooka, listen to some beats and enjoy pretty good Indian food. Once you get over the contrast of the Indian restaurant decor and the EDM music it's a cool place to hang out. Cushions on the floor and pretty good cocktail list also make this one of my favourites in Khao San.
Finally, any of the street bars that set up late at night are great for taking in the atmosphere. If you're a person who likes to sit back and watch the world go by, it doesn't get any better or weirder than Khao San: modern day hippies, Chang Beer T-Shirted boozers, gap year students and the odd Bangkok expats with just a few ordinary Thai people in the mix.
Khao San is also great for some last minute gifts if you're on your way home, but it tends to be quite a bit more expensive than MBK. Bargaining is acceptable but be aware that most sellers don't make a lot of money and arguing over a few baht here and there maybe just not worth it (and perhaps quite rude). Beware, this is the epicentre of pickpocketing and avoid any confrontation or arguments with Thais. These situations can escalate quickly.
Accommodation around Khao San starts at dorms and broom cupboard rooms that are cheap for a reason to moderately priced and very decent guesthouses, and hotels at great prices. For around 1000 Baht you'll get a very good sleep, although the beds always seem rock hard. I always test out the aircon first as often the compressors are underpowered or the air con unit is simply old and needs servicing. Bangkok can get very hot, and it doesn't really cool down much at night.
Khao San is pricy for Thai food, compared to some of the local restaurants in the area, but there's plenty to choose from and lots of western options too.
All in all Khao San is a bit of a low brow Thailand theme park, but it's easy to find a place to stay, easy to find a place to eat and easy to find a place to party, so it's definitely worth a visit.