I love walking around unfamiliar places. It stimulates my curiosity and makes me just want to explore a few blocks to observe the locals, check out food stalls, and take snapshots of statues and monuments.
This is a habit that I always do, not just in another country but also in provinces of the Philippines whenever I visit. There were even times when I leave the hotel at night so that I can look around and gain perspective of what was happening around the neighborhood.
The same thing happened during my Solo trip in Bangkok. I wanted to visit Khao San Road to experience its bustling night life and have some tasty Pad Thai for dinner, and since I stayed near the Grand Palace complex, it would take me about 30 minutes to get to my destination. No probs!
The 30 minute walk to Khao San Road
With a navigation app as my guide, I walked along until I reached a check point. There were guards stationed in and around the Grand Palace complex which made me feel safe. I flashed my passport upon request and had a short chat with some of them. With smiles on their faces, they let me through and before I knew it, I was on my way to the open roads.
It was an opportunity for me to see what was going on around the heart of Bangkok. From its noisy, vehicle-riddled roads, buildings such as universities, offices, and a library, to the alley ways and side streets lined up with food stalls and people lying down on cardboard boxes while being massaged… Now this is what I’m talking about.
A taxi ride could get me from point A to point B in no time, but I wanted to see the vibrancy of the city with my own eyes while on foot.
A Backpackers’ Mecca
I have finally reached Khao San Road after that 30 minute stroll. Khao San means “milled rice” and was a former rice market. Today it is a popular tourist destination in the Phra Nakhon District of Central Bangkok where people can eat street foods, shop around flea markets, and binge a bottle or two in one of its dozens of pubs along its 410 meter street.
Walking past the library, the city noise was immediately drowned by Khao San’s festive vibe. I was lured in to its live music and food carts which I overwhelmingly surveyed to figure out which delicacy should I start with.
I saved my hunger for a later time to check what was going on along the stretch and it didn’t disappoint me. Tourists and locals were just everywhere. Oftentimes mingling with each other doing the craziest stuff like trying out fried bugs and dancing groggily with friends.
Remember Alex Garland’s novel The Beach? It was adapted to a film by Danny Boyle and it showed Khao San Road in the opening scene. Leonardo DiCaprio was walking around and a guy asked if he wanted to try snake blood. I am already itching to watch that clip in Youtube as I write this.
But contrary to the film, there aren’t any snake blood sold in Khao San. They only have these:
It’s not just good food and bugs around here. The place is also bustling with amazing night life and cheap hostels. I spoke with someone who stayed here and he said you can indeed stay at an affordable price but it is quite difficult to sleep early because of the noise.
You can also shop around at stalls along the road. You can find almost anything from shirts, jewelry, and souvenirs. There are even people who will offer you to try some suits for sale. Locals tend to sell at a higher price since it is a tourist area so don’t forget to haggle.
Food glorious food
It was time for me to eat so I settled in one place and chose a Pad Thai joint in front of the police station at the other end of the street. I got curious since it was being flocked by a couple of customers so I checked it out.
And then I’ve finally found my holy grail. the stall was selling spicy Pad Thai for 50 Baht! I added a spring roll on top of that and had one of the most sumptuous meal I had in Bangkok.
My quest for Thai street food wasn’t finished yet as I looked around after devouring my main course. I headed back to the middle of the road to have a pack of mango sticky rice.
And if you’re asking if I tried those nasty bugs?
Nope. I had these instead…
My stomach might act up if I chugged a scorpion down my throat. I tried several exotic foods before such as ostrich meat, deep fried ants, and beetle larvae, but it was a different story. I ate those while with friends and if ever my tummy turned upside down, help is on the way ASAP. Well, maybe next time.
Satisfied with what I had for dinner, I was about to go back for another 30 minute walk when it suddenly rained. The lively music from the pubs were muffled by the sound of rain showers hitting the roofs of stores and buildings. I quickly rushed to an awning of a store to let it pass.
It was surprising to think that the once food cart congested, tourist-full street was emptied because of the downpour. I was startled by how locals were quick to pack things up and leave for shelter in no time.
The rain persisted for another 40 minutes until it went down to a light drizzle. People and stalls suddenly just popped out of nowhere! It was really amazing how they prepared for worst conditions like these. It was really impressive.
Confident with the way the rain settled, I headed back to where I was staying and had a well-deserved rest as I prepared myself for Cambodia the day after.
Khao San Road is one of the places in Bangkok that you will either get excited to or dislike depending on how you see it. It also does not reflect Thai culture in general.
There are some cons like overpriced tuktuks, persistent sellers, and drunk crowds but I think the pros outweighed the drawbacks of this awesome place. It has amazing food choices, lively bars, and you can even talk to fellow travelers and not feel awkward about it. It may not be an ideal place for staying too long but this is just a veeery small ingredient in an extra large bowl of pure Bangkok goodness.
Other things to do:
- Go people watching while having bottle of Chang beer.
- Experience authentic Thai Massage.
- Get a henna or tattoo. Getting inked in another country, how cool is that?
- Stay up late. Why not? Especially if you’re with friends and do not have a tight schedule.
If you’re the laid-back type, you can check out the slightly quieter Soi Rambuttri just beside Khao San Road. It has a stretch of restaurants, food stalls, peddlers and various fruits being sold.