“Don’t go to Khao San Road, there’s nothing to see” said our Bangkok Couchsurfing host Ice.
“There’s nothing to see, and it’s just full of foreigners. No Thai people go there”.
Oh, how we wish we’d listened.
On our fourth day in Bangkok we figured that it was about time we left our usual routine of city street hiking & art gallery after art museum and ventured out to see “the sights”, the scenes and places that everyone always mentions when they’ve completed their 3 month sabbatical or gap-year round the world trip.
We took the 20baht (£0.42 / €0.49 / $0.67) ferry along the Khlong Saen Saep Canal which winds it’s way from east-to-west (or vice-versa) across the middle of Bangkok, surrounded on all sides by the grim grey/black water that the ferry skims across throwing water all around & inside the boat, soundtracked throughout by the rattle & thunder of the engine which tries it’s best to blacken the parts of your skin not hit by the water with it’s delightfully charming choking black smoke.
After alighting from the ferry no less than ten minutes walk away from destination, we took to strolling to Khao San Road.
Thirty Years of
Chaos Khao San Road
Khao San Road, Bangkok has for the last 30 years been a prime backpackers destination. After the thrill of the 1970’s and the call for many to travel in the name of peace, love & good times, the 1980’s sparked a backpacking & travelling boom where people who’d heard of such great time’s had by their parent’s & friends during the 70’s decadent times, took to filling their backpacks & finding this enlightenment for themselves.
In the early 80’s, one man opened the empty & spare rooms in his shop selling monks accessories to wanderers who’d travelled to this place where people could converse with locals about the ways of Thai life, learn the teachings of Buddhism and the many other religions who worship locally, and just – just take life easy, man.
Those Days Are Over, Man
Whatever led people here all those years ago to Khao San Road has all but been concealed & hidden without a trace that it was ever there at all.
Learning & living with the local people & community that was once nothing but Thai with the occasional Farang (Thai for Western Foreigner) has now been replaced with the opposite; A community of Farangs with the occasional Thai local.
Every restaurant you stand in front of, every bookshop you admire from afar, you’ll see nothing but white face after the next of backpackers & tourists alike browsing the street stalls beyond count, some half-naked disregarding the thoughts of others who might just find such things offensive (myself not being one of them, but there are those who are).
So what about preparing yourself for the ways of Buddhism by getting those necklaces, robes & other accessories you’ll need? Does Khao San Road still have those?
Where once there may have been stall after stall of merchandise for the budding monks amongst us, now it’s all been replaced with hippy regalia, ‘I Heart Bangkok’ and Chang & Singha branded t-shirts, enough indie-style t-shirts to smother a 13 year old to death & row-after-row of Indian, African & Thai men trying to sell you tailor made suits, rides in tuk-tuks, cheap beer, cheap accommodation, cheap copied CD’s & DVD’s, cheap flights, cheap coaches, cheap ferry trips, cheap pad thai (best avoided, contains next to no real ingredients), overpriced fruit, overpriced beer, overpriced rooms, oh, and more ‘I Heart Bangkok’ t-shirts.
Note – Yes, all those offers & more were offered to both myself & ITALIAN/Franca during our hours period in Khao San Road – some were even sung to us.
So you’ve come to Khao San ”take life easy” just like they did in the 80’s? Well, you’ve bought your vest top, you’ve got your cheap beer in hand; how could things get any better?
Foot Massage? Check. Thai Massage? Check. Swedish Oil Massage ?(!?) Check.
You name it, it’s taken care of. Every conceivable method of massage is on show on the streets or available behind the doors concealed by the rows of touts & market stalls. Just what you need to find inner peace.
So Dale, Why So Bitchy?
Perhaps it’s best if I address just why I’m being quite so hard on Khao San Road & the people that fill in from 9AM to 2AM each & every day.
Why travel halfway across the world to drink beer with people from the same country as you? Why not do it at home and save the cost of travel?
Why spend all of your time in just one area for days on end? Why not explore what Bangkok really has to offer?
Why by the same cheap knock offs & ‘I HEART BANGKOK’ t-shirts, fridge magnets & notebooks you can get all over Bangkok & throughout Thailand? Why don’t you try buying real local products made with someone’s hard worked hands? Why not celebrate Thailand with real stories instead of showcasing the nicknacks you picked up for next to nothing?
Trying Not To Judge
I know that some people might be put out by what I’ve said, honestly, I’m trying to not judge here, I’m just trying to express my compelling urge for people to see travel as something more than just a party or a cheap way to get squiffy with the off chance of meeting a fellow squiffer (may or may not be an actual word) and seeing where the night takes you & your new faded Starbucks logo vest-top.
Just a few days prior to taking the train to Bangkok we had the incredible fortune to hitchhike by complete accident to the most deserted beach we’ve ever been to. As we walked our way to the beach & along the coast, three local Thais stopped by in their car, on their scooter & in the bus they were driving to give us lifts without asking for anything, but giving us everything and bright huge smiles to boot.
Without stepping away from the typical tourist traps & the “must-see” attractions we’d never have experienced the warmth of friendship between those amazing three people & us lucky two, and the smiles and fun we had in trying to communicate with our complete naive & unprepared lack or Thai & their understandable lack of English.
Travelling should be about experiencing the unknown, not the known but with a different climate, shouldn’t it?
But if what’s available at Khao San Road appeals to you, who am I to disway you? Just consider for a minute that it’ll never be a match for experiencing local life in Thailand – you’re thirty years too late for that.
Falling On Deaf Ears
So, we wish we’d listened to our Couchsurfing host, we wish we’d stuck with the feeling in our gut that said don’t go – We Wish We’d Missed The Chaos Of Khao San Road