Northeast of the National Art Gallery is the district of Banglamphu and the legendary Khaosan Road, backpacker haunt and epicentre of Bangkok’s travellers’ culture. It all began when the Viengtai Hotel opened in 1962, giving the area a reputation for budget accommodation. Local families began to rent out rooms to travellers and by the mid-1970s the Khaosan Road we love/hate was firmly established. Much has been said and written about the strip. Thai purists look down their noses at it while many locals like the money it brings in but feel threatened by the loose Western culture it brings to the capital. For some younger Thais, it’s a hip, liberal hangout, a space and place apart from the constrictions of traditional Thai culture.
There is no doubting Khaosan Road’s sustained popularity, though the quality of food, accommodation, goods and services are easily surpassed in other parts of the city. As well as the expensive Thai food being of a very low standard, souvenirs are overpriced, while the minibuses that take unsuspecting backpackers to the popular beaches and islands tend to be falling apart and driven by Red Bull-fuelled maniacs. Taking public buses from the respective bus stations tends to be cheaper and safer.
So why stay here? If you’re travelling on a budget and it’s your first time in Asia there are few better places to connect with other travellers and get into the swing of things. More seasoned travellers may find Khaosan Road a homogeneous spread of tie-dyed, penny-pinching backpackers and every bit as challenging as staying in a packaged resort.
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