It’s seedy, too touristy and a place to avoid — that’s the distinct impression I had before wandering down Khao San Road for the first time. Being a contrary madam, that meant I had to go and check it out for myself. It’s also why we ended up staying in the Samsen area, a safe distance away from the mayhem and close enough to walk to.
If you’re looking for culture, Khao San Road is probably not the place to go. If you love people watching, go alone, because you will be so distracted you may struggle to acknowledge the company you keep. This busy, pedestrianised street is exposed by unflattering flood lights and fills with people from every corner of the globe — including local Thai people. Parts of it buzz with the chatter of bucket drinkers and the rumble of bass, other parts clog-up as passers-by peruse the stalls of t-shirts, dresses and handicrafts.
I felt a fizz of excitement when I first strolled through Khao San Road, overwhelmed by the conflicting beats of music from various bars and suddenly feeling the urge to shrug off my jet lag with my first slurp of Chang — a Thai beer. We ended up in a bar at the top of the mayhem, having done an inaugural lap. A mixed group of lads sat beside us soaking up numerous ‘Beer Towers’, which are a tad more exciting than pitchers. Meanwhile, Billy and I ordered a bucket, despite the best advice from friends back home — or perhaps ‘because of’. A lonesome German guy was sipping on a Chang beside us, so we invited him to drink with us — it turns out he’d recently split from his girlfriend and was looking for a ‘real’ woman, who wants more than a career…
It didn’t take long for the vodka, coke and redbull to swim through our bloodstreams like rocket-fuel following the ‘all systems go’ routine. I forgot about my deafness, which was exacerbated by the pounding music and soaked in the euphoric vibe. It felt like the night was building up to something massive, I just had no idea what. We were trying to figure out where we would go next and then ‘Fucki, fucki’ shows popped up. We had already been asked numerous times by casual Thai men, who shoved ominous looking lists in front of us, whether we’d like to see a ‘Fucki Fucki Show’. In that moment of tipsy excitement, we all agreed that we were intrigued — but would we have the bottle?
Just as the bar began to empty, Billy passed his sell-by-date and the jet lag finally caught up with us. We went home promising to give Khao San Road another go. And we did, albeit briefly. The following night we wandered up the quieter Rambuttri Road, with its trendy garden bars and gentle pulse, around the corner to the bottom of Khao San Road. Dithering like indecisive doe-does, we couldn’t decide where to go and ended up rather sheepishly sitting in an Irish pub. There wasn’t much atmosphere outside and the Thai bar lady was a bit of a grump, so we watched the people stream by as we tried to quickly finish our beers.
Interestingly, when I went upstairs to the bathrooms, I found a pumping Irish bar full of well-dressed Thai people and other Asians looking fresh under the fierce air-con. It seemed like a trendy spot. ‘But we are doing it all wrong’, I thought, ‘We’re sweating it out downstairs with various solo western men.’ It was there that I began to really admire the elegance of Asian women, managing to maintain an aura of perfection despite the heat. The next bar was a shisha bar with pumping hip-hop that once again had the excitement rising from within me.
Sitting outside the hip-hop bar was a 50-plus western man, who had two Thai ladies with him — they chattered away absent-mindedly in Thai. He smiled and occasionally jumped in and asked questions or made statements: the response was generally courteous smiles and short pauses, looking around and then diving back into their conversation. I felt a bit embarrassed for him. I was becoming acutely aware of the number of solo male travellers over the age of 40. I rarely saw a solo female traveller over 40.
A trip to the bathroom took me into the shadowy insides of the bar, with edgy looking locals once again maintaining their cool within reach of the a.c. It also brought me face to face with a bizzare sign on the toilet wall, which prompted the beginning of a series of photos chronicling the strange and disgusting ‘Toilets of Thailand’. This came to an abrupt end following a particularly nasty experience in the Hua Lampong train station toilet — it wasn’t funny anymore and it would get worse…
After watching tourists pose with scorpion lollies, groups of boisterous backpackers barge through the crowd like there’s no tomorrow and Thai children attempt to sell various bits to those lounging in the bars, we decided to head back to the Samsen area for a drink. Some how, we’d been caught up in the excitement of Khao San Road twice, but never managed to follow through to the end. Considering the fun that ensued in Samsen, we weren’t too bothered: but we were glad we’d given it a good crack.