It was nearly 11pm as we weaved our way through the city, running red lights and narrowly missing pedestrians. A left here, a right there, deeper and deeper into the heart of Bangkok. The city lights a colorful blur of hot pinks and neon oranges and bright greens. Then the breaks squealed unexpectedly and I threw my hands out to catch myself as we came to a sudden stop.
It looked as though we had been caught in the middle of a midnight parade. After months of being submersed in other cultures, foreign languages had been reduced to nothing more than background noise. And although I couldn’t be sure of what the other passengers were saying, the inflection in their voices told me that I wasn’t the only one unsure of what was going on. The doors swung open, and traveler and pack alike were all seemingly vomited out of the bus.
Into utter confusion.
Shoulder to shoulder madness.
Deafening music from rivaling bars, shouting and laughter and dancing. Street vendors yelling out their prices and dropping them two and three and four times as tourists passed by. Food carts producing mouth watering aromas. Fried spring rolls and pad thai, chili pepper and grilled chicken on skewers. I snapped on my hip belt, adjusted my shoulder straps and entered the chaos.
This was going to be epic!
When my girlfriend and I hopped on HostelWorld.com to book our Bangkok accommodation, we had no idea that Khao San Road was such a big deal. But it is ranked right up there with the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan! We really lucked out booking a hostel on the main strip. Anyone remember the film, “The Beach” staring Leonardo Dicaprio? Both these locations were the basis of that movie, in case there are any movie buffs out there! Needless to say this was just the surprise we needed, as we had just spent a very heavy two weeks in Cambodia and had planned on entering Vietnam but, after a six hour bus ride from Phnom Pehn we were denied at the border (another story for another time). Once back at our hostel in Phnom Pehn, we decided Vietnam would have to wait and took off for Thailand instead.
So after a long day of travel and what seemed like one disappointment after another, we were met with the lively hustle and bustle of Bangkok. It was time to let loose!
Khao San Road is about a kilometer long, lined with anything and everything you could possibly want. From hostels and guesthouses, to market stalls and bookshops, dive bars and dance clubs, restaurants and internet cafes, travel agents, massage parlours, tattoo shops and food carts, about five 7Elevens, a McDonalds, Burger King, and a handful of ATMs. You could literally live on Khao San Road if you wanted to.
Perhaps you want a tamer scene, maybe somewhere a bit quieter with nicer restaurants and higher end hotels? Don’t you worry your pretty little head, take Susie Walking Street to cut over from Khao San Road to Soi Rambuttri and you’ll find just that!
Go big or go home! You’ve got to eat a bug or two! Those are just the unwritten rules of visiting Bangkok, and Khao San Road in particular. So pucker up, buttercup and prepare to have your taste buds tantalized! They’ve got everything from roaches and grasshoppers laid out on carts under warming lamps, to heaping bowls of beetles, and of course the notorious scorpions on sticks neatly displayed on trays. Don’t be too shy to partake in these little creatures! Even though it’s not my first choice, the bragging rights are well worth it!
And forget 2-for-1 drinks, we order by the BUCKET! There are “Bucket Specials” at every bar, and recruiters are sent after you if you linger nearby for too long. Helpful Hint: Ask for no ice. They tend to fill the buckets with loads of ice, cheating you a bit where the alcohol is concerned.
Scouts work the crowds, muttering under their breath, “Ping Pong Show … Ping Pong Show..” Making the same sound as they pop their finger out of their mouth. This was something that my girlfriend and I had heavily considered going to see, not knowing essentially any details as to what really goes on at one. It’s part of the Thailand experience, yeah?
So this scout is really trying to work us, telling us how much fun we’re going to have and trying to get us to go hop in the van that’s, “Leaving soon! Leaving very soon!” And then the next thing I know, two girls from Sweden (if my memory serves me right) approached us as if we had known each other for years with a, “Hey! There they are!” and pulled us away. Much like girls so often do at bars when they’re falling prey to an overzealous gentleman caller.
Super sly on their part.
They proceeded to tell us that they had went to this same “Ping Pong Show” the night before and that these scouts take your payment and pile you into a van and shuttle you out to a “show house” that’s on the outer edge of the city. Then when you arrive you’re charged again by the driver while you disembark. Then you get charged an entrance fee at the door. The drinks are watered down and overpriced. And on top of all of that, because they take you so far out, you have to pay for transportation back. Essentially it’s a money trap. This practice is commonly called, “Bait and Switch” and runs rampant in Thailand.
Needless to say they were extremely displeased, and as a traveler you learn from other travelers insights. It sounded like more of a hassle than it was worth and we opted out. And that’s okay, I’ve been able to live with myself! But if you find yourself in Bangkok with the desire to go to one of these shows, do yourself a favor and don’t just jump on the first van headed that way. Do a little research!
Places where tourists are likely to hop off the plane and delve right into, such as Khao San Road, are hot spots for scamming. What better time to overprice and overcharge than when a foreigner is new, inexperienced, and/or oblivious?
Case and point: A local with a street shop was trying to sell me a hammock for 1000 Baht. I knew that 100 Baht was just under $3 USD, that was my ballpark conversion I judged every price against. So 30 bucks wouldn’t be too terrible in the states for a hammock, but that’s because we have everything imported (arguably). I knew I wasn’t going to pay that here. But I wanted that hammock, it was a mix of nylon – and some other materials, I’m no hammock expert – weaved together in blue and white.
I let him talk it up, he unraveled it and spread it out, indeed it was cool – but he also had about 50 more in a giant basket near the wall. This wasn’t one of a kind by any means. At first I didn’t try to talk him down, I wasn’t going to insult his product, I just respectfully said that maybe I’d be by later to take another look and started to walk away. But he wasn’t going to let me go that easy, and I knew that! I ended up paying 150 Baht for that hammock. That’s under $4.50 USD! (Check out my post on the art of haggling here)
Let’s talk FOOD! Street food in Thailand is delicious and you can find all kinds on Khao San Road. Not only is it flavorful, but it’s cheap. Three nice sized fried spring rolls for 30 Baht? Yes please! A Heaping plate of Pad Thai for 40 Baht? Hook me up! Chicken skewers 10 Baht each? What? Is this a joke!? That’s .30 cents people! And the complimentary sweet chili sauce? Omagoodness, I’ll eat it by the spoonful! Let’s just say losing weight in Thailand wasn’t a problem for me! We became pretty used to eating whole meals for around or under a dollar.
Khao San Road is definitely a party scene, and we got sucked in for about five or six days. But at that point we were ready to move on and I still had one last thing I needed to do before I left. I needed to try Thai coconut ice cream. Not only is it made by hand with coconut milk rather than cow’s milk, but they cut a coconut in half right in front of you and dish it up in one of the halves. Then it gets a little weird. Boiled kernels of corn are added to the mix, and the whole thing is sprinkled with gingko biloba. Okay, so that’s only if you order like the locals. You can choose to have corn flakes, crushed nuts, chocolate syrup, as well as several other ice cream toppers if you choose to go the more “traditional” route!
Need a drivers license? Degree? Diploma? Well you’re in luck!
Have you been here? Headed here? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you!