Time and Khao San Rd
For those unfamiliar with Bangkok and the tourist Mecca that is Khao San Road, the original backpackers’ district of pretty much the world has been luring backpackers in left right and centre for decades. I first went there in 1999, staying in two places, one actually ON Khao San Rd itself (no, I did not sleep well that night), I then stayed elsewhere in 2000 but returned to the road for a brief morning break, and so it’s been nearly 15 years until this year’s visit.
I don’t think I’d stay in the area if I go again. I went to see how it’s changed. And – it has. 1999 and 2000 it was really for travellers, for backpackers with a spirit of adventure. It was not as clean as it is today, not by a long shot. Does that make today BETTER? Well… it’s a positive to be honest. In 2000 I distinctly remember sitting down to breakfast and seeing rats on the window sill. I could do without that.
Things looked more ramshackle, less organised. The bars were more laid back and open to the street. Today, in the day time it’s almost orderly and business-like. And sorry, but spoilt by the presence of Burger King and two McDonald’s. There were no chains back in the day. At night, in 2015, I found the place was just party central.
My very first night of backpacking, Bangkok, February 1999. A group of backpackers in a non-descript bar got drunk around a large table, we didn’t know each other from a bar of soap, and talked crap for hours and hours on end. That was how backpacking started for me. I don’t think that would happen in the Khao San area of 2015. Instead the bars pump loud dance (for want of a better word) music at loud volume, and advertise that they don’t check ID, so if you’re under 18, feel free to get drunk anyways!
And all the bars seem to be doing this. People selling a shot of laughing gas too, so now it’s just a place to get trashed and high. Shops all selling EXACTLY the same things (sounenirs). Ok, they were doing that back in 1999. Still, I have to be honest, walking down Khao San Road at night, maybe I missed my early 20s. Maybe I felt my age and that I didn’t belong. But Khao San for me had lost its soul. I fear we may never feel it again.
Still, at the end of the street is a policeman who reminds you that they’re out and about and will stop any funny business. Sadly, the establishments of Khao San Rd seem to have stopped playing ‘One Night in Bangkok’ wherever you go. In truth, I actually liked that!
May the journey never end.