Give it a attempt: Why this Bangkok backpacker strip is value a go to

Lonely Planet’s “Give it a Attempt” sequence is all about making a case for apparent journey experiences which will have been discounted for being too touristy or fashionable. Right here, photographer Austin Bush – a Thailand native – explains why it’s essential to see past the neon and noise to understand Bangkok’s Khao San Highway.

Khao San Highway is ostensibly essentially the most well-known backpacker crash pad on the earth, however given the loud, raucous vibe, inflated costs, and pushy tuk-tuk drivers, it is not precisely the place I inform mates or household to remain when in Bangkok (my on-and-off hometown). However this doesn’t imply they shouldn’t go to. Behind all of the neon is an enchanting backstory. And, properly, all that neon signifies that Khao San Highway is the bottom for a enjoyable, very Bangkok evening out.

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Tuk-tuks ready passengers on Khao San Highway © UKRID / Shutterstock

Khao San Highway’s backpacker beginnings

Though it might not be instantly obvious, there’s some historical past behind all these resort facades. Khao San Highway was beforehand linked to the Chao Phraya River by a canal, which meant it was a conduit for items shipped through river. Specifically, khaao saan is Thai for “milled rice,” and going again to the nineteenth century, the road was lined with shophouses promoting the stuff. One might argue that enterprise didn’t actually shift till 1977, which is when the writer of Lonely Planet’s first guide to Thailand, Joe Cummings, visited Khao San Highway in quest of low cost lodging. He discovered a pair cheap, Thai-Chinese language-run inns and three family-run guesthouses, which he later included in 1982’s Thailand: A Journey Survival Equipment.

I first stayed on Khao San Highway in 1997, when the strip was properly established however nonetheless largely catering to a price range crowd. The backpacker growth of the late ‘90s and the early 2000s paved the best way for the flashpacker inns, beachy bars and dance golf equipment that outline the road as we speak. The pandemic might have meant the loss of life of Khao San Highway, not solely as a result of complete absence of vacationers but additionally as a result of Bangkok authorities had been mulling plans that ranged from forbidding road distributors to constructing a roof that may cowl the road. Fortunately, the vacationers have come again, and few of those schemes had been ever carried out.

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A street vendor sells fried cockroaches and other insects to tourists on Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand
A road vendor sells fried cockroaches and different bugs to vacationers on Khao San Highway in Bangkok, Thailand © i viewfinder / Shutterstock

Counterculture vibes

Khao San Highway grew to become a cease on the hippie path of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, drawing various thinkers from throughout the globe. It’s additionally only some blocks from Silpakorn College, Thailand’s premier establishment for visible and performing arts, and a bastion of liberal thought. Throughout extra conservative eras, Thai college students, drawn to the road’s low cost beer and open-minded overseas inhabitants, made it a hangout.

The backpacker growth of the ‘90s and publicity within the 2000 Hollywood movie The Seashore made Khao San extra mainstream and dearer, spooking most of the college students to the smaller, cheaper facet streets. Within the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Khao San Highway was abandoned, leaving a vacuum that was, as soon as once more, stuffed by college college students in quest of cheap beer. Nowadays, the current decriminalization of marijuana in Thailand has led to streetside distributors promoting stacks of buds, an indirect nod to Khao San’s counterculture roots.

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A food stall on Khao San Road
A meals stall on Khao San Highway © Sony Herdiana/ Shutterstock

Easy methods to have an amazing evening out in Khao San Highway

Professional tip: Keep away from Khao San Highway in the course of the day. Arrive at evening when the air is cool, the road is closed to site visitors and the pushy tuk-tuk drivers and scammers have (principally) gone house. Begin with a falafel plate at Shoshana, a Khao San staple since 1982. Subsequent, transition to one of many streetside bars and interact in one in every of Khao San’s best presents: people-watching. There are few locations on the earth which have introduced collectively so many individuals from so many international locations. For a take a look at the extra native facet of Khao San, shift to one of many Thai-oriented bars comparable to Mischa Cheap. And in case you’re nonetheless going on the late hours, wrap all of it up at one of many raucous dwell music bars comparable to Brick Bar.

When you’re visiting Khao San from one other a part of Bangkok, make a visit of it: Hop on the river canal boat, hopping off at Phanfa Leelard Pier. From there, head south then west, winding by means of Ko Ratanakosin, previously a man-made river island that’s Bangkok’s oldest and most charming neighborhood.

In Bangkok’s excessive vacationer “winter,” between November and January, Khao San hosts 1000’s of holiday makers and partiers and is sort of one thing to be seen. In earlier years, the road has additionally been Floor Zero for among the metropolis’s most raucous water battles throughout Songkran, Thailand’s New 12 months.

VS Visitor Home, positioned on a tiny, unnamed sub-street that heads north from the easternmost finish of Khao San Highway, and open since round 1980, is allegedly the oldest working guesthouse on the strip.

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