Streetlife

The world’s most iconic streets are more than just famous landmarks. Every issue we delve a little deeper into one of the globe’s most well-trodden by-ways.

This month:

Khao San Road – Bangkok, Bangkok

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Khao San Road – Bangkok

Legendary touch-down of backpackers in Bangkok, Thailand, The Khao San Road is a wild milieu of hippy paraphernalia and Thai entrepreneurialism. Stacked from pillar to post with stalls selling Thai fisherman pants, bongs, and banana pancakes it’s a Mecca for those looking to load up on traveller essentials before heading to the legendary beaches of the south or trekking adventures of the north.

As night falls frenetic bargain hunting switches to encompass the lively bar scene, which serves infamous ‘Thai buckets’ (wine buckets filled with a blend of strong spirits and various Red Bull-style soft drinks and consumed, in theory, by several people at once).

Shopping

Unless you’re looking for a briefcase and a pair of brogues Khao San is likely to be able to accommodate you. The area’s shopping may have sprung up to cater to the hippyish ways of 1980s backpackers, but Thais are masters at supply and demand, and millennial goods and services attend to a broad sweep of tastes.

Bohemian clothing of all kinds is widely available, as are the classic ‘same same but different’ designer label knock-offs and pirate media options. For those searching for something more unique to Thailand several art shops now ply local works and a number of stores sell interior décor and popular Thai axe cushions without the stuffing for easy export.

Eating

Even taking a very circuitous route around the stalls you will rarely be more than a few feet away from a banana pancake. But other street food includes pancake rolls, hot noodles, and chicken satay. Opt to pull up a chair and the range extends to various soups, rice and Thai curries. But Khao San Road has also developed apace, and to the despair of some backpackers now hosts a McDonalds and Subway alongside several western-style restaurants.

History

Back in the 1970s Koa San road was originally no more than a residential street, with hardly a mention in Lonely Planet’s first edition Asia on a Shoestring. In 1982, however the Thai government decided to fuel its burgeoning tourist industry by hosting festivals in the city, with the grandest culminating around the Royal Palace.

The move was such a success that budget accommodation became all but non-existent in the city and innovative backpackers negotiated with residents in the conveniently located Khao San Road to rent their spare rooms. The deal worked so well that guest houses began to open and before long the ever entrepreneurial Thais quickly catered to food and shopping requirements with souvenir stands selling everything a shoe-strong traveller could wish to buy.

Read All About It

The Khao San Road was made infamous in Alex Garland’s The Beach as being the site of the grisly suicide which prompts the main character to set off in search of a mysteriously mapped beach.

“Khao San road was backpacker land. Almost all the buildings had been converted into guest-houses, there were long-distance telephone booths with air-con, the cafes showed brand-new Hollywood films on video, and you couldn’t walk ten feet without passing a bootleg tape stall. The main function of the street was as a decompression chamber for those about the leave Thailand, a halfway house between east and West.”

The Beach, Alex Garland, www.penguin.co.uk

The many cheap guest houses which originally drew foreigners to the area continue to offer the chance to hole-up in low-cost, if noisy accommodation. And with hedonism running at full pelt, few arriving in Bangkok forget their experiences of Khao San.

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Best Boutique Stay

Buddy Lodge: Oriental styled rooms from 2000 baht (£35) a night. www.buddylodge.com

Best Budget Bed

Niras Bancok: Budget minded boutique dorms from 480 baht (£8) a night. www.nirasbancok.com

For Sale

Pied a Terre: One bed apartment, £120,000 Moving In: Spacious four bed apartment with four bathrooms, £375,000 Khao San Road is so popular that properties tend to be passed amongst the resident traders and rarely come onto the market. And with a guaranteed influx of cash-laden arrivals, it’s no wonder that a slice of tourist gold is in high demand. Currently a one-bed apartment nearby would sell at around £74,000, but you can expect to add a third onto this for lucrative Khao San – that’s if you ever get the chance to purchase.

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