Featuring in the hit movie and book The Beach, Khao San road has a worldwide reputation as a backpacker ghetto. Situated in the Banglamphu area, away from the central business and shopping districts of Bangkok but close to cultural landmarks, it offers a cheap alternative for budget travelers. However in recent years both the government and private investors are realizing just how amazing this historic part of Bangkok is. There are many good reasons for LGBTQ travelers to consider staying in or around Khao San road, here are my top 10.
No matter how precious (or otherwise) you are, you’ll find a bed for your budget. Khao San road itself still offers basic rooms from USD8 a night but these days you also have the choice of mid-range boutique hotels in the quieter surrounding streets. They generally go for between USD40 and USD100 a night, my favorites being Villa Phra Sumen and the Nanda Heritage Hotel. A stone’s throw away and you can experience ultimate luxury at the Best City Resort in the world, The Siam. And for all you queens out there, I’m sure you’ll fit right in at the former royal residence Chakrabongse Villas.
- People watching
Khao San road offers some of the best people watching in the world. Settle in for a beer or foot massage around sunset and watch the entire world pass by…every imaginable ethnicity proudly sporting fashion styles you never knew existed. Along with the typical tattooed and pierced hippies, you’ll see beautiful model types, strange and bizarre misfits as well as happy families enjoying the buzz. If you ever felt as though you didn’t fit in ‘normal’ society, I’m sure you’ll feel quite at home here. As the night progresses and the parties begin, things get stranger and stranger, but always in an entertaining way.
Let’s face it, Queens love palaces. And you’ll have two of the best in the country right at your doorstep. The Grand Palace is a must-see containing spectacular examples of Thai art and architecture, the history of Thailand and the monarchy, and the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Dusit Palace contains the beautiful golden teak Vimanmek Mansion and is well worth a visit. Visitors should wear shirts covering shoulders and pants/skirts covering the knees.
- Wonderful Wats
Thai people’s devotion to Buddhism, reflected in their calm and tolerant nature and visible at spectacular Wats, is for many LGBTQ visitors one of the highlights of a trip to Thailand. There’s no better place to experience this than from your base in Banglamphu. Wat Pho, containing an awe-inspiring reclining Buddha and Thai massage school, is a short walk. From the river you can marvel at glorious sunsets behind Wat Arun or take a tuktuk (auto-rickshaw) to Wat Traimit to see the largest gold statue in the world, accidentally found after hundreds of years when cement chipped off the edges of a large Buddha statue to discover solid gold beneath. There are plenty of less popular Wats in the area which are often empty and blissfully peaceful. Read about a couple of my favorites here.
Whilst I could eat Thai food every day of my life, I’m sure the rest of you enjoy variety. There’s no place you’ll find more styles of food than at Khao San. Restaurants cover all your favorite cuisines plus street stalls offer Thai delicacies, fresh tropical fruits and some exotic local snacks. Fancy trying a BBQ Scorpion on a stick? However if you’re interested in eating at Thailand’s award-winning restaurants, you’ll need to head into town.
When you think of Bangkok gay nightlife, Silom Soi 2 and 4 come to mind. Fear not! Even Khao San road has its own gay clubs. Sa-Ke is a gay club popular amongst young Thais. It’s a little intense but fun for a night out. Sa-Ke and a few other gay bars are a short walk from Khao San (2nd street on the left off Rachadamnoen Road). There are numerous other clubs in Khao San and if you have a dating app on your phone, guaranteed there will be many guys and gals from around the world nearby (trust me on this).
- Enjoy the busy Chao Praya River
Being located almost adjacent to the busy Chao Praya river, enjoy romantic evening strolls while watching this busy river in action. I love jumping on the Chao Praya Express river ferry and riding downstream to the Asiatique night market or upstream to experience the calm of rural life at Koh Kret.
Although you’re likely to have seen a vast array of unusual creatures at Khao San Road, the Dusit Zoo, a sprawling park with a wide variety of well-cared for animals, is close by. I’ve enjoyed many an afternoon wandering through the gardens, enjoying $1 beers (yes they sell them inside), visiting and feeding my favorite hungry hippo Herbert. I’m also quite partial to the seal show, but only because one of the seals rescues a Britney Spears doll. Oops she did it again
Whilst the street markets in and around Khao San are no Chatuchak, you will find great t-shirts and clothing, souvenirs, musical instruments, jewelry, shoes, knick-knacks and all sorts of Thai handicrafts. You’ll probably need to bargain a little (it pays to shop around and compare prices prior to your first purchase)
- But wait, there’s more
Slightly further down the road (catch a taxi or tuktuk), Chinatown is a noisy, smelly, frenetic maze of market alleys. Not for the faint of heart, but quite an experience. In the evenings restaurants suddenly appear on the sidewalks offering delicious Chinese and seafood dishes. The evening flower market is close by and definitely worth a visit, if only to see the spectacular array of Thai orchids. There are also over 15 museums in the streets around Khao San, which should keep all you history buffs entertained for quite some time. The Muse Pass gives you access to all.
So there you have it, 10 great reasons to stay in or near Khao San road. Almost everything mentioned falls within a 1.5 mile radius of Khao San (marked on the map below). If you only have a short time in Bangkok and are not so interested in the modern shopping malls and main gay district (they are in fact only several miles away) then perhaps the Banglamphu area is for you. This part of town can easily keep most travellers (and even old hands like myself) entertained for several days. Enjoy Amazing Thailand. Go Thai Be Free.