When we asked our office dictionary whether it was possible for Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand to be an island, it answered abruptly that an island is a ‘piece of land surrounded by water’. When we pressed the point it did concede that an island could also be ‘a thing regarded as resembling an island, especially in being isolated, detached, or surrounded in some way’. We knew we were getting closer to the truth (although as far as we are aware Bangkok is on the mainland with the odd canal running through).
Following further investigation it turned out that Khao San Road (a.k.a Khaosan Road in case this is relevant) is a cultural enclave for Western backpackers that was once a rice market hence the name. Everything is a little cheaper including travel agents could you believe it, and it’s a great place to catch a rickety bus to Cambodia, Malaysia and Japan that could have the folks back home reaching for their virtual prayer beads.
Photo by Roslyn
Khao San Road’s fame dates from its mention in the novel The Beach as ‘the center of the backpacking universe’ from where a twenty-something young man sets off in a marijuana-muddled haze in search of the ultimate island where he won’t have to do anything, anymore. Certainly the thought of doing nothing serious except for having fun rings out loudly after dark, when music strikes up in the bars and on the streets.
Although scarcely two-thirds of a mile long, Khaosan Road packs in a load of spots for backpackers to crash, budget ‘guesthouses’ to sleep easy, midrange hotels and places you’ll never want to mention you stayed over in, at least in polite company back home. The local boys and girls are friendly, and greet you wherever you go in internet cafés, bars, tattoo shops and clubs. We are not too sure about the massage parlors so will pass on that one.
Water fight Khao San Road style.
Photo by Jack Kurtz
However we can confirm that the food is absolutely delicious (although you might like to close your eyes as you get your mind around barbecued insects on a stick). Not far away there’s a side street where you stay up all night long and dine on local delicacies like ‘stinky mackerel’ purchased on the curbside. You can always cover it with nam phrik chilli paste if you don’t like the fishy aroma, although downing a local beer or taking a shower could be an easier-going solution.
That aside, our island in the Bangkok pulsating river of life is a great place to chill out with someone who at least speaks a little English, find something you recognize to eat, and spend the evening chatting over beers about exotic places in Asia to experience. If you are visiting during the Thai New Year from 13 to 15 April, then you’d better pack a swimming costume, just in case you get caught up in the biggest water fight in the world.