Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand, could arguably be the budget travel hub for Asia, if not the world. The infamous backpacker ghetto -- sometimes referred to simply as Khao San or Khao Sarn -- is a short-but-exciting street located in the Banglumpoo district on the west side of Bangkok.
Cheap accommodation, crazy nightlife, and a reputation for chaos have made Khao San Road the default destination for backpackers and budget travelers that stay in Bangkok.
Khao San Road in Bangkok
Both loved and hated, Khao San Road in Bangkok is considered the hub of the backpacker circuit unofficially known as the Banana Pancake Trail. With cheap flights and an unrivaled traveler infrastructure, Bangkok is often the starting point for many round-the-world or extended trips to Asia.
Unfortunately, with the close proximity of everything a traveler needs, many backpackers staying in Bangkok never venture far away from Khao San Road or the adjacent Soi Rambuttri. While the area is a great place to meet -- and party with -- other budget travelers, Khao San Road Bangkok is hardly a good representation of all that the city and Thai people have to offer!
A Short History of the Infamous Khao San Road
Khao San or Khao Sarn actually mean “rice mill”; the street was once a center for trading rice. Later, the street became known as “Religious Road” because of several shops that catered to the needs of monks. A tiny guesthouse opened in the early 1980s and from there the street exploded into one of the busiest travel epicenters in the world.
TIP: Khao San Road is often mispronounced as "Koh San Road." Learn why Koh San Road is incorrect.
The Khao San Road Bangkok Area
Khao San Road has outgrown its boundaries and spilled onto the adjacent Soi Rambuttri as well as Samsen Road and Phra Athit Road. Although a few nice Khao San Road hostels can be had, many travelers prefer to stay just on the outskirts of Khao San Road where a nicer and slightly less chaotic atmosphere can be enjoyed within walking distance.
Although Soi Rambuttri is quickly growing to catch up with Khao San Road, it remains a quieter alternative for eating, drinking, and sleeping. The extension of Soi Rambuttri on the other side of Samsen Road rests in the shadow of Wat Chana Songkhram -- a pleasant temple; the vibe is completely different that that on Khao San Road.
Surviving Khao San Road
While not dangerous, you can pretty much assume that everyone on Khao San Road is after your money in some way or another. Even the old, smiling Thai woman cooking pad thai on the street will overcharge you depending on the time of night.
The hordes of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers parked along Khao San Road are experienced scammers; always hail a passing taxi rather than taking one of the parked ones. Avoid the age-old tuk-tuk scam of “free” or low-cost rides. Read more about surviving tuk-tuks in Thailand.
With so many scams in constant progress, avoid making large purchases on Khao San Road such as gold, silver, and tailored suits -- which are nearly always poor in quality.
The cheap nightbuses from Khao San Road to Chiang Mai, the Thai islands, and other parts of Thailand have a long reputation for petty theft. The drivers' assistants often rummage through backpacks in the buses' luggage compartments while you sleep. Keep money and valuables with you; they probably won't be interested in stealing dirty laundry!
- Read more about the scams in Asia.
Khao San Road Safety
Put a lot of drunk tourists into one chaotic street and bad things are bound to happen. Although Khao San Road is relatively safe, a good number of bad folks do prowl the street looking to prey on drunk or naive tourists.
Pickpocketing is common; always keep an eye on your belongings. While violent crime is still relatively low, travelers have been attacked while walking home to areas just outside of Khao San Road. Avoid walking the many dark alleys and interconnecting streets alone after a late night out.
Don't expect the brand new police station on the western end of Khao San Road to be of much help for incidents.
- Read about travel safety in Asia.
Getting to Khao San Road in Bangkok
Despite the popularity, Khao San Road is unfortunately not as easy to reach as it should be. No BTS Skytran or subway stops are within proximity.
Drivers love to overcharge people heading to Khao San Road. Always choose a taxi driver who agrees to use the meter before you get inside. Taking a tuk-tuk can be fun but will invariably cost you more!
From the Airport: With the termination of the Airport Express bus service on June 1, 2011, you must now take a taxi from the airport to Khao San Road. The taxis are ticket based; expect to pay more than 300 baht. Even hailing a metered taxi outside of the airport does not save much, because a shift premium is added to late night taxis. The two tolls are typically included in your fare from the airport -- confirm when you buy the ticket.
From Sukhumvit: A taxi from Sukhumvit to Khao San Road will cost between 100 – 150 baht.
By Boat: Ferries ply the Chao Phraya River on the west side of Bangkok. A ride is cheap and enjoyable; you pay for the distance traveled. To reach Khao San Road, exit at the Tha Phra Athit port -- located just after a large bridge and before an even larger bridge -- on Phra Athis Road just before the park and white fort on the right. A small alley across the street connects the main road with Soi Rambuttri. Read this guide to using the boats in Bangkok.