Rediscovering Khao San Road: Changes, Constants, & Why You Should Visit

Khao San Road is world-renowned as the party destination for backpackers and travelers who come to Bangkok. But since Covid-19, things have changed. Khao San Road and the surrounding streets have become more gentrified and now cater to a broader range of tourists and locals.

I’ve been living in Thailand for over seven years, and Khao San Road was never that appealing to me, but that’s all changed now, and I’m there almost every week. Why the 180 turnaround? Read on to find out.

Khao San Road was established in 1892 under the reign of King Rama V and quickly became the most prominent area for trading rice, hence the name khao (rice). It was during the 1980s that traders and travellers visited the street and wanted to rent rooms. As vendors in the area began to cater to the people staying in the rooms, the area became a central hub for travellers. 

Then, in 2000 came the movie The Beach, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, and the opening scenes in Khao San Road introduced it to the world.

It then became the most famous party street in Bangkok, which it still is today (kind of).

During the 1990s, Khao San Road had a massive influx of tourists at all levels, including an extremely high amount of backpackers. Many came on one-way tickets and lived as cheaply as possible until their money ran out.

Khao San Road in the 1990s

They then went out begging on the streets, often in the form of busking or dancing, in the hopes of funding the rest of their holiday.

A begpacker circa 2016 on Khao San Road Credit: Dall.e

Nicknamed ‘begpackers’ by the Thai media, they were a blight on the entire street and were the cause for many locals to take their business elsewhere. Then Covid hit. Most of these young travellers had no choice but to return to their home countries, never to be seen again.

Covid hit Khao San Road businesses hard, sadly, some closed, never to reopen, but the removal of the begpackers ended up being the best thing to happen to the area. Finally, once lockdown restrictions were lifted, it entered a metamorphosis.

In 2019, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority announced it was investing $1.6 million to transform Khao San Road into a regulated “international walking street.” The work was completed in November 2020.

Without the begpackers tainting the street, new life was breathed into it. New bars opened, others got revamped, and the street took on a bigger, better, more inviting look. 

My darling Khao San Road Bangkok
There is a bar for every mood and budget

Best of all, locals started coming back. What was once the playground for backpackers was now a night out for everyone. And to this day, it remains like this. There are bars and restaurants that cater to every demographic, from those on a budget to those with more to spend. 

You might be sitting in a bar with a group of wealthy guys from the Middle East celebrating a business deal on your left, and on your right is a group of university guys taking advantage of a 3 for 1 beer deal to toast to the end of their exams.

As I mentioned earlier, I now go to Khao San Road almost weekly. We even had our wedding afterparty there. For a place that I used to avoid pre-covid that’s saying a lot, and here’s why I love it so much now:

People Watching

It’s fantastic for people-watching. Grab a table at any street-front bar, sit back and watch the activity. I love looking at the first-timers who wander up and down the street with awe written all over their faces. 

Music and live bands

There’s a bar for every vibe. Sometimes I want to sit at a bar and listen to the Thai brother and sister act who sing contemporary English songs from the 80s and 90s; at other times, I want to dance my butt off to ‘doof doof’ music, and sometimes, chilling out to reggae is what I’m after.


Khao San offers all of that. 


Our first thought when you think of getting a massage at one of the many shops along Khao San Road might be, “Oh, oh”, but you’d be dead wrong. They’re all above board, very clean and hygienic, and most massage beds are side by side so that no funny business can go on. 

Have your massage outdoors for some people watching or escape inside for the air conditioning

The current price is around 200 baht per hour for a foot or a traditional Thai massage, and the prices go up for oil or specific area massages (like back, shoulders, and neck).  They’re open long hours, from early afternoon until well after midnight. 

They’re very tourist-oriented and don’t mind if you bring your beer with you while you enjoy a foot massage. My tip: grab a foot massage chair with a view and watch the passing parade. 

Eating and Drinking on Khao San Road

Khao San Road bars and restaurants seem to be immune to the ‘no alcohol to be served between 2 pm and 5 pm’ rule that’s in place in many areas across Thailand. I’ve happily sat there at 3 in the afternoon with a beer, surrounded by other equally happy tourists, locals, and expats. 

Soi Rambuttri is a more peaceful alternative to Khao San Road

You can get a range of food choices here, and it’s not as expensive as you’d first think. Sure, the bars, hotels and restaurants charge more elevated prices than you’d pay in the suburbs, but they’re nowhere near the same as in Sukhumvit or Silom, for example. And there are street food vendors everywhere, where you can get the likes of Pad Thai for 50 baht.


Now, shopping may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Khao San Road, but I always budget for that when I go, as you never know what I’ll see. Of course, there is touristy souvenir shopping with street stalls selling things like keychains and passport covers, but some of the clothing is unique in style and not the same as you’d find at most tourist markets. 

Stalls line Khao San Road

There have been times when I’ve gone for one drink and stayed for the night, only to realise I didn’t have a phone charger, but not to worry; they’re also available to buy up and down the street.

How to Get There

Khao San Road isn’t the most easily accessible place by BTS or MRT. The closest MRT station is Sam Yot, and it’s a good 20-minute walk away. There is a ferry pier, Phra Athit, only a few minutes away, but the ferries stop at 7 pm, making evening visits inconvenient. 

Alternatively, numerous public buses stop near Democracy Monument if you’re brave enough to navigate the complicated Bangkok bus network. It’s not as scary as it looks! Taxis or tuk-tuks are your best bet. 

Khao San Road and Songkran

Songkran Festival in Thailand, 13–16 April, is the Thai New Year and is widely known for four days of getting covered in water. Khao San Road is one of the three streets in Bangkok that are closed to vehicles for three days, allowing fun-filled water-gun and water-bucket fights.

Songkran Festival Thailand
Songkran is double the fun on Khao San Road

My tip is to grab a perch inside one of the street front bars, grab your bucket of cocktails and your water gun, and ‘engage’ with other like-minded revellers. 

Visitors to Khao San Road may not know that the parallel road to the north, Soi RamButtri, is a quieter version of the street. This street is very similar; it has massage shops (my two favourites) and many streetside bars. The odd thing is that almost every restaurant has the same menu. 

What makes this area so attractive is that it still has the Khao San vibe, but there are fewer people there, getting a table at a restaurant or bar is much easier, and it’s not as loud as there are no nightclubs in these streets. 

During the day, you will find the ferry services are the best way to reach the popular Bangkok sites.

  • It’s about a 20 to 25-minute walk to the Grand Palace or the gold leaf covered reclining buddha at Wat Pho from Khaosan Road.
  • A 20-minute walk in the opposite direction will get you to Golden Mount Temple
  • The Siam Museum which will help you understand Thai culture is 25 minutes walk

The shopping malls of central Bangkok are

In walking distance to Khao San Road, you will find a nice hotel, budget hostels and guest house options. It’s not the most central location in Bangkok, but you have easy access to the river and if you are looking for a party atmosphere with nights in local bars and clubs, it might be a good choice for you.

I would recommend a hotel on Soi Rambuttri or a surrounding street over one directly on Khao San Road.

Chillax Heritage Hotel Khaosan

A stylish hotel 5 minutes walk from the action of Khao San road with a lovely rooftop pool. Soundproof rooms ensure a good night’s sleep and the breakfast is great!

Find out more or book a room at Chillax Heritage Hotel

Buddy Lodge, Khaosan Road

With a rooftop bar, large rooms with balconies, and a location just back off the action of Khao San Road, Buddy Lodge is well worth considering.

Check the price and room options at Buddy Hotel

The Secret Service Bed & Breakfast

The Secret Service Bed & Breakfast, is only 300 meters from Khao San Road, has dorm rooms and private rooms. The 20sqm private rooms are air-conditioned and have private bathrooms. These rooms are priced as low as 1200TBH a night.

Find out more about Secret Service Bed and Breakfast

Rambuttri Village Plaza

One of the most popular hotels in the area, Rambuttri Village as 2 rooftop pools, and is only a 5 minute walk away from the fun of Khao San Road. Lots of places to eat located right at your front door.

Check out Rambutti Village Hotel

Come Back to Khao San Road – We Missed You

If you used to avoid Khao San Road or you’ve never been, it needs to be added to the itinerary of your next visit. Come and check out the changes, wander around the outskirts and enjoy your night out with friends. Who knows, we may even bump into each other there.

About the author: Stephen left Australia in 2016 with a one-way ticket to Thailand
and hasn’t been back since. Seven years later, he’s “living the ex-pat dream”, married and settled down; he and his partner travel across Thailand competing in half-marathon running events and sampling coffee at cafes.