Khao San Road blues

Has something about me changed? Or has the backpacker hub of South East Asia really lost its charm?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Do you remember that scene early on in The Beach? You know, the one where Richard is in a dingy room of a backpacker hostel in Bangkok?

(By ‘Richard’, I mean ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’, for those who are more familiar with the critically-panned but cultishly-adored movie than the amazing Alex Garland novel.)

It’s a room that many travellers would dread to stay in – humid, dirty and somewhat claustrophobic in its heat and poverty.

But there is also something toxically-appealing about it for the young adventurer because it represents the promise of a new world, a place without boundaries where the dinginess is seen as a portal to limitless depravity and uncontrollable perturbations.

How has Khao San Road changed, Bangkok, Thailand

This is Khao San Road, the home of the backpacker hordes of South East Asia. For years it’s been the base camp for travellers making expeditions to outlying parts of Thailand or into neighbouring countries like Laos or Cambodia.

But over the years it’s changed, as have I, and on my latest stop there I hardly recognised the place.

Don’t misinterpret me, the street still looks quite similar from a superficial physical assessment.

There is now a 24-hour McDonalds, which looks out of place as much for its American-ness as its cleanliness. But otherwise it’s pretty much the same bars, restaurants and hotels on the strip.

The street stalls still sell cheap noodles, cheap buckets of alcohol and cheap t-shirts that are designed to prolong laundry day rather than take pride of place in a wardrobe.

There are still travel agents (although I don’t know how they survive in the world of the internet)…

There are still suit shops (although I don’t know how they survive on a street where most tourists would only need a suit for a court appearance)…

And there are still cheap Thai restaurants (although I don’t know how the customers survive them).

And, most importantly, there are still large throngs of backpackers from every part of the world mixing together, sharing tales from the adventures they’ve just come back from, or talking excitedly about the ones they’re about to embark on.

How has Khao San Road changed, Bangkok, Thailand

It’s in these backpackers, though, that I see the change. Or, at least, my perceptions have changed.

For once there was a time where I was one of those young explorers, drinking on the street and chatting happily to fellow travellers about the promise of discovery.

Now, all I see are drunken louts who are more interested in debasement of themselves and the culture around them.

In conversations overheard and actions espied, I sense the focus is on the party rather than the joy of experiencing a new country.

To put it bluntly, the backpackers of Khao San Road seem young, obnoxious and ungrateful.

All night, as I try to sleep in my small plain room, I am woken up by the noise of parties on the street or by people coming home in the corridors with loud voices heavy with intoxication and revelry.

During the day I’m confronted by figures who seem fatigued by the excesses of the previous night, with no plans except to recover and do it all again.

How has Khao San Road changed, Bangkok, Thailand

I must stop myself mid-thought now, though, to wonder whether they are any different to the thousands who have come before them, myself included.

Were we all like that once and am I only being judgmental through the lens of an older more-seasoned traveller?

Have I not deliberately travelled to “party places” around the world to let loose and shake the shackles of whatever stress ailed me?

It troubles me, ultimately, not to think that the road has changed so much but that perhaps I have.


I’ve got a whole story with my thoughts on where to stay in Bangkok. But the short answer is there are two areas I would recommend for most travellers, and the first is Silom.


If you’re looking for a fun backpacker option, then I would suggest HQ Hostel Silom.


There are a few budget options, but I would recommend looking at Silom Serene.


A cool funky hotel in Silom is the W Bangkok.


And for the ultimate luxury, I would recommend going across the river to the beautiful Peninsula Bangkok.


The other main area for accommodation in Bangkok is around Sukhumvit.


There’s no better party hostel in Bangkok than the Slumber Party Bangkok in Sukhumvit.


A good cheap and comfortable hotel that I would suggest is the 41 Suite Bangkok.


For a very cool boutique hotel, I think the Bangkok Publishing Residence is awesome.


And although there are quite a few good luxury hotels, I think the best is the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit.

21 thoughts on “Khao San Road blues”

  1. Howdy Turtle,

    Just wanted to say thanks again for submitting to the BT Blog Carnival, and also congratulations! Your article has been hand-selected and was included in the 8th BT Blog Carnival which was published today.

    If you could retweet, stumble, or like this edition of the blog carnival, I would really appreciate it. 🙂

    Thanks again!

  2. Khao San Road, has been going downhill for quite a while, but it still is the one place everyone eventually gravitates towards…

    If you just head out along the fringes, that is where you will find a much better atmosphere, try Rambutri Road – still quite nice as far as mixing and real travelers headed to.

    But Khao San is turning more into party central than a stop over for travelers…

    • Yeah, you’re right. There are still some decent areas nearby – Rambutri Road is a perfect example. It’s just a shame that Khao San itself has changed so much…

  3. Khao San is a special place for me when I started travelling outside my country. It was where I first knew about the possibilities of long term travelling. It was where I first overheard people doing overland travels from Beijing to Bangkok (some even farther like Europe to Asia). It was where I met people who had amazing adventures in different places around the globe.

    But as years go by, I find myself retreating to quieter areas like Rambuttri or Phra Athit. The craziness of Khao San seems to be getting too much for me (or maybe its me getting old LOL) but nevertheless I still feel its old charm hidden in all the loud noises and all the shops on that street.

    • Interesting to hear that. I worry that I’m just getting old as well. Although I’m convinced the place is changing. In fact, a lot of SE Asia is changing as it gets easier to travel through it.

  4. Lovely post! I’m a young and pretty new traveler compared to most. I’m not a huge fan of Bangkok to be honest. After my first three days there two years ago, I was ready to get out. However this past summer after arriving there after being in Hanoi, another busy city I didn’t love, I had a new-found love for Bangkok, the area around Khao San Road and the familiarity of it all. It was like no matter what was going on elsewhere, Khao San just seems to remain the same craziness as I remembered it to be. As already mentioned, Rambuttri Road is very close, but somehow I love it way more than Khao San!

    • I completely understand what you’re saying! It is nice to have a city, or a part of a city, that has some familiarity when you’re travelling. it may not be ‘home’ but you can go there after some busy times in Hanoi and feel relaxed. I suppose that was what upset me so much, that it didn’t feel that way for me anymore. I’m glad to hear you’ve still got a love for the place though!

      • There is a new KS in the early stages forming in Yangon, centered for the moment on 19th St. in Chinatown.
        I really hope it never comes to fruition. The Thai culture, the people that work there have long lost their
        “innocence” in the face of decades of Farang obnoxiousness. I am not casting blame, I have been one of those
        obnoxious Farangs on occasion. It’s just a dilemma for which there is no real answer – we love to travel and discover
        and photograph, but when we do and do it well, we know more will follow and before long what was once is no
        more. All we can do is our conscious best and hope others follow suit, but knowing the bad apples and hordes will
        eventually take over. Ah well, onward!

        • Oh no – that’s actually quite sad to hear that’s happening in Yangon. When I was in Myanmar last year, it felt nothing like the tourist trail of Thailand and that was one of the reasons I loved it so much.
          I have also been part of the KSR crowd but I still maintain it felt different ten years ago when I first went. It is not the norm across the whole country, though, so it’s just a small part of the community that comes face to face with the farang attitude all the time.

  5. Khao San Road really offers the best that a tourist can expect in Bangkok. I live in Thailand and every time I arrive for arrangement I stay nearby, in Rambuttri Road. During the evenings, Khao San Road turns into a big rave party  where visitors from all around the globe become friends and then continue to travel together.
    There is a nice hotel at great location in Khao San Road, that offers high standard rooms and a tour guest:

  6. I came to koh San road over 15 years ago and was mesmerised by the place, I feel it may have changed a bit, but I think it’s because I am looking at the place with older eyes, but I still think beneath it all it still has its charm

    • I certainly hope there’s stlll some charm there. I find that looking at it with older eyes allows you to see how much has been lost. But perhaps if you’re visiting for the first time, you don’t know how it used to be and you just enjoy what’s there. I hope so – for the same of all the new generations of young travellers who want to travel the world and discover themselves.

  7. No dude you are correct – the mentality of todays backpackers have changed. I started going to Khao San just shortly after Soi Ngam Dupli lost it’s drawing power to those on a shoestring budget ( early – mid 80’s) Sure, we partied but it was more about the adventure and the discovery of new places people and lifestyles. Not just obliteration of your own senses. I’ve stayed there several times over the years and it’s actually interesting to watch it change but also sad in some ways. The “log books” are gone – remember those? – and half the people I met wouldn’t dare go to another place without Googling the crap out of it first.
    It is what it is. I found it quite disheartening last time I was still has some appeal but the real charm, the charm of people looking to discover, I think that, for the most part, has gone. Internet be damned! lol

  8. Khao San is great even in 2019. It’s party central, and that’s why I love it! I keep reading these buzzkill articles…eventually the street will change into something else. Enjoy it for what it is.

  9. While I haven’t stayed on Khao San Road since the early 1990’s, it looks/sounds exactly the same, (with the exception of the McDonald’s & greater number of outside tables). Like any backpacking spot, there will be crime, disrespectful people, unwanted noise & unsanitary conditions. However, the majority of people will be generous, kind & happy to recommend cheap/pleasant places to eat, drink & sleep. I first went to Khao San Road for its cheap hostels, I kept returning because of the people.

  10. The buzz of Khao San Rd is no different throughout the 18 years I’ve seen it. Sure there are the many changes from when I first ventured onto the street in late 1999… lined with colourful stalls, some of which were bootleg dvd/cds, and peddlers of fake ID cards in various formats. Large projector screens showed pirated cinema releases in the background of the busy bars… I was sitting at the edge of one such bar, at a table out on the footpath, beer in hand, lapping up the vibrant atmosphere. Food vendors within arm’s reach, selling Pad Thai with egg for 15 baht. Or iced coffees and cokes, tropical fruit smoothies, all sold in small clear plastic bags for 15 to 20 baht.
    Early 2017, the bars are busier and grander. The footpaths no more, as the beer tables extend across the road, swallowing up the vending stalls. You no longer amble up the evening street, instead dodge the people converging through the narrowing centre, the buzz is there alright, no different. It’s my aging memory of it that has changed.
    My first introduction to this small area in Banglamphu, was Rambuttri Lane. It was where I stayed over the many years, behind the Temple nearby. A pleasant contrast and respite to the hectic lively atmosphere that awaited on Khaosan. Here there are changes also, but more subtle. Guesthouses that come and go as do the stall vendors and their wares. But the buzz is no different too throughout the 18 years.

  11. Here I am in December 2022, 18 years since my first visit here, and 3 years since my last visit. Has it changed? Absolutely. But hasn’t everything to some degree including ourselves. I’m now 38 and not downing buckets ending up on random rooftops swimming in my underwear with random travelers I met a few hours earlier. The party vibe is still as loud as ever and even though I’ve chilled considerably I appreciate that it’s still blatant and in your face. Noticeably there are a TON of weed shops and they are embracing that culture whole heartedly at the moment. I have to say it’s a perfect fit. I remember scoring weed here when I came for the first time in 2004 and the local breakdancing crew that hooked me up were deadly (and rightfully) serious about it, cautioning my naive self to be careful! Now? It’s literally everywhere. It will be interesting how it plays out but I sense it will mesh just fine with the vibe as time ‘rolls’ on. It’s still a great start/end point to any Southeast Asia adventure and a fantastic place to let loose and meet some colorful people. Definitely check wander over to Rambuttri for the food and more laid back vibes and don’t be scared to wander down some of the little alleys around Khao San as there are nuggets of pure gold tucked away all over the place. Sending love to all of you from my restaurant table as I sip a cold Chang and indulge in a cigarette (I quit ages ago, I swear).

  12. I was first at the KS road 1988. Last time was a few months ago and time before 2013. places I stayed in 2013 are long gone. It was nice to go back and I stayed around the corner, so I could go there and leave there when ever I wanted. Before this I was surrounded. by backpackers in Koh Rong Cambodia.. Even there, backpackers seem more interested in cheap places to stay than understanding the history and culture. I still enjoyed Bangkok and the Pat Thai and nice food. Meet some nice people at the guest house who told of islands to visit that are not so known and it was nice. There are still some neighborhoods with places that are not so overrun with foreigners.. Travel is busy because after covid lock down, places are now open unlike just a year ago.

  13. This is quite an old article, but I’ll comment anyway. I recently moved to Bangkok, and visited KSR last week. It was completely dead. Just a handful of farangs, bars and restaurants were largely empty. The place has lost its charm. I remember first visting in 2003 and being excited an somewhat intimidated. It was very busy back then with street vendors and everything else in between. Now its just, well um empty. For example, gullivers bar was at the end of the road and always packed, it seemed closed down last week. The lava bar was good fun, but thats gone now.


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