Khao Sahn Road - Take 2

from: Room 1509, D&D Hotel, Khao Sahn road. Bangkok, Thailand.

We paid extra on an already overpriced room to have a private bath and now the burping toilet is regurgitating sewer smells into the room, making it barely inhabitable.That tells you just about all you need to know about the roach infested backpacker 'haven' that is Khao Sahn road. Except that there is more, much more. . .

This is my third trip here and I am thus refining, deepening and bettering my understanding of this place. I am beginning to hate it. Khao Sahn is a slum, it's the best word for it. Large labyrinthine buildings that house dirty hotels, dark twisting alleyways that offer both threat and adventuresome discovery of hole in the wall bars or steaming noodle sellers, lots of tight fisted backpackers looking to get ahead by finding an even cheaper room or getting a lead on an even more deserted beach.

The hotels are overpriced, dirty and almost always full. They don't take reservations, they don't have to, and their only approaching helpfulness is to tell you to check back at noon. Maybe someone will check out. Maybe not. The restaurants are the same way, offering the poorest service and unfriendliest staffs. Both types of places have so long had it so easy that they no longer care if you walk away, there are a hundred more where you came from.

That of course is the bad side. There is a good side that might in fact be equally bad. Nowhere in Asia is the natural herding instinct of tourists better nourished than in this backpacker enclave. It is so jam packed with budget travelers from around the world there are bound to be a dozen, at least, into what you're into. There is an energy on Khao Sahn at night that cannot be faulted - it is raw and inquisitive while being painfully self-aware. Self conscious young people mix with the rarer self conscious older people, each uncomfortable for different reasons.

There are undoubtedly a lot of beautifully interesting looking people here, and a lot of frumpy ones too. It is the heat I suppose. How good can you look in shorts and tanktop? The Israelis put more effort into their appearance than any other discernible group in Thailand. This investment in plucking and teasing and hair dyeing generally yields positive returns, though only amongst the men. They are the N'Sync of the backpacker set looking likely to break into a dance rouitine. I wander about looking like a sweaty member of the Pogues after a bad night. The worst stereotype in the flesh must be the overweight and/or balding middle aged white men with svelte and gorgeous Thai women half their age on their arms. I don't know quite who to dislike more - the opportunistic Thai or the exploitative Westerner. And don't talk to me about love, don't even! If love where anywhere apparent I would have seen more than one Asian man - western woman couple in six months in the east. The distinction in this part of town is the semblance of a relationship. At least in Patpong, Bangkok's famous red light district, you know it is purely up front business. Signed, sealed and soon to be delivered in some rank room.

For all these various flavors of people and all the freely flowing booze, Khao Sahn is a fairly peaceful place. I've seen no tempers flare amongst all these good-times seekers. Perhaps because the playing field is leveled as no-one has home field advantage. On the contrary, everyone is secretly overwhelmed while outwardly sticking to the travelers creed : Don't LOOK overwhelmed because the wolves always go after the weakest in the flock. The wolves in this case are best represented by the Tuk-Tuk drivers who lie in wait at either end of the street. One type will get you in the back and concoct some ridiculous tale in order to take you somewhere other than your desired destination. Usually a gem dealer or tailor that pays the driver a cut of any sale they make from a passenger. The other type will simply quote you a sum four or five times the going rate. So outrageous are these prices they need only one tourist fallen fresh off the intercontinental turnip truck to give them a days good business.

Only two types of person are comfortable on Khao Sahn. The local vendors who are making a buck from this zoo and have seen it all, and the small contingent of brain fried old timers who have actually freid away and forgotten more than even the vendors will ever know. I suppose that if you spend enough time here you might, if character and curiosity permit, come to revel in this parade of characters. Perhaps your homegrown moral code will fade and you'll enjoy Khao Sahn to the fullest. As for me, I'm not hanging about to find out because I heard about this deserted beach . . .

~ Nigel



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