Khao San Hell

Last night I had the sheer bad luck to end up on the Khao San Road. For those that do not know, KSR is a street in the Banglamphu area of Bangkok (meaning it’s not near the BTS or Metro) which is populated almost entirely by the worst kind of “traveller“.

You know the sort. You can spot the uniform a mile away:

  • Baggy fisherman trousers
  • Vest or “(insert country name) Beer” tshirt
  • Dreadlocks / wild, curly hair
  • Bandana
  • Variety of cheap rubbish “ethnic” pendants and bracelets.

They swarm around the stalls selling cds and cheap clothes. They drink local beer (because to do so makes them part of the culture) and order exotic fried rice. All the women get their hair braided (because, after all, that’s what all Thai women do).

They will talk whistfully, with a far-off look in their eyes of how they really felt for the tragic past and current plight of the Khmers . Or how they loved Laos because it was just so “different“, man.

Invariably they have arrived in Thailand because they are on some journey during which they will discover themselves. And what better way to do this than exist in an exceptionally non-Thai microcosm where you can mix exclusively with like-minded farang?

What gets to me is that a lot of these people will never see anything else of Bangkok. They will get a taxi direct from the airport or maybe arrive on the many mini-vans from Cambodia and Laos. They will spend a few days on KSR, perhaps even going as far as the big wat at the end of the road, and feel they have seen Bangkok. That they are now one with the Thai “ways“. They “understand” the people and the culture. They will scorn anyone who maybe goes to a shopping mall because that’s not the real, traditional Thailand.

After all, they do have the Tuk-Tuk Tshirt. And the necklace-made-of-fruit-seeds. And the latest Buddha Bar Compilation CD.

But I digress (!). Actually, this is my second time on KSR – I went a couple of years ago, mostly out of interest to see what it was like. It’s improved a lot – it’s a lot cleaner than the opening scenes of The Beach, for example. But it’s still same same. A mix of guest houses, pirate cd shops, tattoo parlours, bars and cafes. As a place it is not utterly without its charms. But it is no more “real” Thailand than anywhere else. The drinks are overpriced and badly mixed (not a huge suprise when you consider the average farang there will want the cheapest – and so most “real” – beer available) and the taxi drivers and ping-pong show sellers swarm around anyone who isn’t Thai.

In fact, one thing it does have going for it is its location: It’s not close to much, and so the people that populate and stay there don’t often stray too far.

A good thing.

4 Comments so far

  1. Paul (unregistered) on November 28th, 2004 @ 11:42 am

    Excellent post, Him. Most of them KSR folks look as though they had just been voted off the island on a recent “Survivor” episode. I am especially amused that many of them have sampled fried rice, pad thai, and tom yum and think that this 0.001% represents the country’s entire culinary repertoire.

    The sad thing is that while many Bangkokians do spend much of their free time in shopping malls, most KSR folks don’t realize that there are several places far less egregiously commercial where they can hang out and still get a flavor of the Bangkok ambiance. All they would need to do is take an afternoon to browse through Jatujak Weekend Market or take a stroll through Lumpini Park.

  2. Ben Harris (unregistered) on November 29th, 2004 @ 12:46 pm

    That doesn’t explain why the two guys having a bit of argy-bargy with their fists were Thai. Maybe one was staring at the others farang (thank god they didn’t have guns!).

  3. scuba (unregistered) on November 29th, 2004 @ 8:13 pm

    Oddly enough, a couple of places at KSR are (were?) pretty popular with a hip Thai crowd – I’m thinking The Club, Suzy Bar, and a few other places. Perhaps young Thais thought it was cool to go check out the hippies, kind of like Safari World or something. And yet, they would pretty much hang out inside the club, never mingling with the hippies at all. There’s the irony – Thai’s hanging out with each other pretending to mix with hippies who hang out with each other pretending to be in Thailand!

    On the whole though, I approve of the hippie-tourist circuit (Thamel in Kathmandu, Kuta in Bali, Goa, KSR, etc). It’s like eco tourism – as you mention, they stay in one place, don’t disturb others, spend their money on overpriced goods, and then go away. Why not? :-)

  4. lynn (unregistered) on December 1st, 2004 @ 10:51 am

    Fantastic post, Him.

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