Khao San Road (Thai: ถนนข้าวสาร) is a small road 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, and lots more places to stay and eat.
The word khao san 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.
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, it is quite far (30–60 minutes) from most other areas tourists will travel to in Bangkok, such as Sukhumvit or Silom.