Restaurants, guesthouses, convenience stores, travel agencies, Thai massage parlours, souvenirs and T-shirts stalls; on each of these categories, Khaosan Road probably features the highest density per square meter in the whole world. It may seem unappealing, but Khaosan’s eclectic reality is a powerful magnet for travelers from all the inhabited planets.
Suddenly a minority in their own country, the few Thais venturing into this alien, galactic center do their best to sell the ultimate souvenir to funny looking, round-eyed, long-nosed humans.
May be it is the heavy heat and humidity of Bangkok that inflict a languid humor upon most visitors, or maybe the sweet fumes breathed out by cars using leaded fuel; regardless the actual reason, it seems that millions of travelers prefer to carry out all their businesses in Khaosan Road while in Bangkok, rather than travel around the city.
The road is spectacular. Here, travelers can settle down and still live under the illusion they are moving fast across vast distances. A face from a different corner of the planet appears every few meters; sounds in different languages create destructive interferences among the sound waves and mimic a modern Babel Tower. Nobody completely understands his alien conversation partners and yet everything seems to function properly in a modern version of the Biblical "Speaking in Tongues."
Such diversity is irresistible for any traveler and few other places provide the opportunity for him to imagine he is everywhere – and nowhere – at once. Where else a Nepali restaurant flirting with Mexican food would feel comfortable? Where else a pumpkin flavored coffee would be the natural end to a meal of fried insects? Where else can Indian tailors provide an extra-elegant suit in ten minutes and for the price of a meal to a traveler about to visit semi-naked hill tribes?
Even if some travelers would feel embarrassed to admit enjoying such a kitschy environment, Khaosan provides the perfect pretext to justify an open visit during broad daylight: the best flight deals in the world are available here. Professionally organized, Thai travel agents successfully manage to force all the airlines to keep prices low, thus faithfully representing their transient customers. Most of the best Thai travel agents are located along the alleys surrounding Khaosan Road.
The more a traveler stays there, the better he realizes he had hardly scratched the surface of this complex place. Many – nobody knows the exact number – cultures coexist there in perfect harmony showing thus that such a reality is a feasible future.
The street setup may look chaotic at first, but certain rules appear to function quite well during all my visits along the years. The best travel agencies are on the alleys surrounding the main street. The best hotels and guesthouses are on Khaosan Road itself, but the quieter ones are behind the temple on its western side. All the souvenirs, clothes, CD’s, electrical adaptors and other knickknacks are vastly cheaper elsewhere in Bangkok. The best Western food restaurants in the area are on the main street, but the best Thai ones are in the surrounding streets.
Despite the astonishing amount of establishments in each category, over time the best ones can be singled out; here is a partial list of those.
On the narrow alley between Khaosan Road and Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the Indian travel agency managed time and again to beat all the other agencies with their knowledge, accuracy, punctuality and prices. However, that it is true only regarding visas to other Asian countries and plane tickets. Trips within Thailand should be arranged independently without the help of travel agencies; traveling within Thailand is easy and inexpensive.
Strangely, the most expensive hotels in the area are not those offering the best rooms. Those are in the new building of the D&D Guesthouse (68-70 Khaosan Road). Moreover, being located at the very center of the street, it offers a superb spot from where to explore the area. From the pool at its roof there are great views of the Grand Palace, especially at night.
Despite the wide variety available of restaurants serving this kind of food, Gulliver’s Travelers Tavern at the western end of Khaosan Road, has not only an irresistible name, but it also successfully mimics an English Pub and has an attractively eclectic clientele, including Thais. The food is rather expensive, but it is worth it.
Coffee World and Starbucks have very attractive branches in Khaosan and both offer good coffee with a Thai twinge.
The several stalls occupying the western end of Rambuttri Road – the first street north of Khaosan – beat all the fancy restaurants in the area in their variety and authenticity of the Thai dishes served. It is the perfect place to get acquainted with one of the most wonderful cuisines in the world.
At night, Khaosan Road can be called a night market, though technically it is not one. Simply, all the shops and stalls stay open and food stalls catering for every imaginable culture appear everywhere; the crowds returning from a busy day at the city complete the eclectic picture.
Wat Pho, also known as Wat Phra Chetuphon or Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is located next to the Grand Palace on its southern side. It is Bangkok’s oldest and biggest temple; built in 1688 – before the foundation of the city – it has ninety-five pagodas and 394 Buddha images, an amount unmatched by any other temple in town. In 1832, the king ordered to decorate the walls with diagrams on history, literature, astrology, medicine and animal husbandry and transformed thus the temple into an open encyclopedia. As time passed by, the institution began specializing and nowadays it is famous for its Thai Traditional Massage School, which is considered to be the best in the country. The school offers massages, practical courses and it is still a center for traditional medicine. The massages include body massage, body massage with herbs, and foot massage, and cost around six dollars per hour; the establishment is open daily between 8am until 5pm.
Reaching Khaosan is easy from anywhere in Bangkok with local buses or taxis; however, the Skytrain and the Metro do not reach it. From the Suvarnabhumi Airport, the A2 bus reaches the street and costs 150 Baht. Most taxi-boats traveling along the Chao Praya River stop at Phra Arthit (pier number N.13); from there it is easy to walk the few blocks remaining to Khaosan Road.
Other sites of interest within walking distance from Khaosan Road are the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha shrine, the Democracy Monument, the Black Metal Temple and the Golden Mount.