Khao San Road – three words that inspire the fiercest reactions in people. Before I left London for Bangkok, I had read a decent number of blogs that pretty much only had bad things to say about this infamous road in Thailand’s capital city. I was so frightened by this unanimous dislike of the street that I didn’t dare venture on to Khao San Road in my first week in Thailand, which I spent entirely in Bangkok. As I was staying in Silom and having a gay old time exploring the city’s gay neighbourhood, I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on much.
It was only once I had returned to Bangkok after a stint in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan that the opportunity to visit Khao San Road was properly presented to me. While staying in Bangkok, I was fortunate enough to meet two amazing Thai university students who possessed just about every human quality that I deem important; fun loving, kind, irreverent, smart and they managed to find a joke in everything. When they suggested that we spend an evening on Khao San Road, I figured that if it was good enough for them, then it was certainly good enough for me.
One of my hosts took great pride in the fact that she had partied on Khao San Road five times already, and for my other Thai host, this was his first visit, and like me he was intrigued to see what all the fuss could be about with his own eyes.
It wasn’t only the travel blogs that gave me such a fiercely negative opinion of Khao San Road before I had even visited. In fact, in other areas of Bangkok and on the islands in the south, it was made clear to me by other people on their travels that Khao San Road is a place that I should steer well clear of.
Arriving on Khao San Road for the first time, it is fair to say that my initial impression was that it’s a busy place swarming with people. I come from a big city, I love big cities, and I am rarely put off by crowds, so I managed to run that first gauntlet pretty successfully.
I figured that because Khao San Road is a tourist area, the prices would be incredibly inflated, just as they are in the tourist areas of London. Wrong. The road was full of cheap and hearty street food, and the drinks prices in the many bars that line that street are similarly suited to the budget conscious. And so my friends and I indulged in a couple of towers of beer at a very reasonable price. Far from thinking that ordering a tower of beer was a lout’s way to drink, to me it seemed a very sociable act to share a common pool of alcohol and I lamented that we don’t have this way of drinking at home.
But all of this cheap booze must lead to obnoxious behaviour, right? Well, I certainly didn’t witness any. I saw groups of friends having a fun time together. Burn them at the stake! Lynch them! I confess that the thumping music playing from a couple of the bars wasn’t to my taste, but it wasn’t like it was difficult to avoid. I just went to another bar where the music was a bit quieter – no drama necessary.
Perhaps the biggest and the most annoying whinge that people like to have about Khao San Road is that ‘it isn’t the real Thailand’. Bitch, please. It’s real because it’s there. Tourism is a legitimate part of the fabric of Thailand, just like temples, silk making and papaya salad. Oh wait, it’s not tourism that is completely at fault, but a particular kind of tourism. Tourism in which people have a good time with their friends, drinking and dancing. Give me a break. This kind of criticism invariably comes from the kind of traveller who spouts anti-globalisation guff at me while seeing no irony in the fact that they spend their time travelling around the world – the mind boggles, really.
After a lot of thinking about this, the only sensible conclusion that I can come to is that the Khao San Road haters are snobs through and through. I can understand why a person might not want to visit the place, I get that not everyone is a fan of drinking or perhaps they feel uncomfortable in big crowds. Fair enough. But the vehement hatred that is spewed at this street and the people who frequent it is completely unwarranted. The people who hate Khao San Road are anti-youth and anti-fun – they remind me of the losers at home who love nothing more than to slag off reality television shows like Jersey Shore and The Only Way Is Essex – shows that simply present young, working class people, having a good time. I sincerely hope that as I grow older I don’t have such a chip on my shoulder that I have to be resentful of the people around me enjoying their lives in whichever way they might choose. As for the Khao San Road haters, they can stay away as far as I’m concerned, and in the meantime I’ll be drinking, dancing, and having the time of my life with my Thai friends on this wonderful street.