by Karen Quinn, Mar 05 2020
Much loved by backpackers looking for cheap deals, market shoppers looking for a steal and groups of friends making good use of the many bars, the Khao San road is one of the liveliest areas in Bangkok. But is it worth it (and safe) to visit with kids? I’d say that’s a big fat yes but it’s probably worth prepping the kids – and yourself for the sights, sounds and smells you might experience before you get there.
The Khao San road was first made famous in the film the beach, it’s where Leonardo DiCaprio finds a cockroach infested hostel room for the night (most hostels on the road are actually nothing like this!). This image has been further cemented by films such as The Hangover 2 focussing on the hard partying and slightly darker side of Bangkok. We didn’t experience any of this, we weren’t staying in any of the hostels and we visited in the afternoon, what we did find was a lively mix of tourists and markets traders selling everything under the sun.
What you might see on the Khao San Road
All the weird and wonderful things you’ve seen in the movies and more! The Thais have picked up on what a tourist draw the Khao San road is and really play up to it. This is where you can buy a scorpion lolly pop or a tarantula on a stick. This is not genuine Thai street food, it’s there so tourists can take pictures or dare their friends to eat something crazy – I’ll leave it up to you!
We also saw a crocodile being skinned and the meat sold for food, again, I don’t think this is Thai food, unsurprisingly I didn’t see any Thais queueing for the meat, just lots of tourist taking photos. The guy had the crocodile fully skinned in less than half an hour and his assistant was charging people for pictures – you’ll get this a lot in Thailand. Piper is such a huge animal lover, I knew she’d be devastated by this so made sure she didn’t see.
And on to some other horrors – the toilets. Even the toilets in the bars aren’t great but they are a whole heap better than some of the bucket toilets you’ll find in the road side cafes in Bangkok. Hold your nose, cover the kids in sanitiser and try not to look at anything.
We arrived at the Khao San Road in glorious sunshine but there was a downpour when we were there. We took shelter in one of the roadside bars and were amazing by how quickly the market traders covered their wares and coped with the rain. It’s clearly a common occurrence.
What to buy on the Khao San road
As well as the aforementioned interesting snacks you can buy on the Khao San road, you’ll want to bring your wallet and stock up on souvenirs for home.
You’ll be able to snap up all manner of knock offs – sunglasses, handbags even footwear and also cheap as chips T shirts and swim wear. Yes they may shrink down to Barbie sizes the first time you give them a hot wash but they’re the perfect material for keeping cool in the Thai sun. It also has an unusually large amount of used book stores, where you can pick up all the latest blockbusters for a fraction of the RRP presumably left behind by backpackers who don’t fancy lugging their new book to their next destination. This is the place for tie dye trousers, hippie jewellery, organic face creams and plastic LED flying toys. Probably very little of which you actually need but see it more as bartering practice for some of the better markets you might visit around Thailand.
If you’ve forgotten any of those oh so important electronic accessories– cables, chargers etc, you’ll be sure to find them on the Khao San road, they may not last you long but they’ll do the job.
This is also a good place to find some Western stores, we spotted a Boots the Chemist and plenty of 7/11s
The Khao San Road is also a popular place in Bangkok to get a tattoo – we didn’t but just so you know!
Finally, I don’t recommend buying anything valuable on the Khao San Road such as high end jewellery, watches or suits. You’re likely to get ripped off, the quality will be poor and you’ll have no chance to complain or ask for your money back.
How to get to the Khao San Road
The Khao San road is located in the Bang Lamphu area of Central Bangkok, just over half a mile from the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. It is easy to reach from most parts of Bangkok but you’ll probably need to take a train and the river ferry. We were coming from the Sukhumvit area but these directions can easily be adapted from all around the city.
Take the train to Sathorn/Central Pier (Saphan Taksin Station), you may need to change at Siam Station depending on where you get on. Then hop on the Chao Phraya Express boat to Phra Athit which will be an adventure in itself and it’s lovely to see Bangkok from the river!
You could also take a taxi to the Khao San road which will take between 30 minutes and an hour depending on traffic. It should cost under £4 (as long as the driver switches on the meter) and is a good option if the kids are hot or tired. I don’t recommend it however as the public transport system in Bangkok is really very good and traffic on the roads is awful! Piper’s favourite way to get around Bangkok is by Tuk Tuk, these terrify me but we’ve never had any problems in them. They’re also no cheaper than a taxi but it definitely is a fun way to go a few miles dodging the city traffic.
How long to spend on the Khao San Road
This really depends on what you want to do. It will only take you about 20 minutes to walk the length of the road, dodging the crowds and market stalls. Don’t just do that though, there are so, so many market stalls, many selling very similar things that you could spend a good few hours visiting each and haggling to get the best price. I love giving Piper a few hundred Baht and letting her try out her negotiation skills on the traders. Apparently 30% of their original offer is where you should end up but we rarely get that low, stall owners will act very offended which generally makes me cave! Prices on the Khao San road are a little higher than other markets in the city – it’s a famous tourist draw after all. However you’re not going to pay that much more than elsewhere so don’t worry too much.
Once you’ve had your fill of shopping I’d factor in another hour or so for a foot massage and a drink or something to eat. You could even get your hair braided!
I just recommend leaving before it’s fully dark and the clubs and bars really pick up. Many bars shut at around 2am but then the party goers just continue in the street. Fun if you’re a gap year back packer – less so if you’re in Bangkok with kids.
What else is nearby
At the end of the Khao San road you’ll find Wat Chana Songkram, a beautiful Buddhist Temple which is free to enter. For other temples in the area, it’s only around a ten minute walk to the Grand Palace, possibly the most famous temple in Bangkok. Here you’ll also find the temple of the reclining Buddha. From there you can take a boat over the Chao Phraya River to Wat Arun, the most photogenic temple in Bangkok.
Rambuttri Road is another popular street just a couple of streets down from the Khoa San road. It’s a little quieter but still has a fun backpacker vibe and plenty of bars and restaurants which are much better value than on Khao San Road.
Where to eat on the Khao San Road
You can pretty much eat what you like on the Khao San road. If you don’t fancy scorpions and tarantulas, I’m sure most kids will love that there’s a MacDonald’s on the corner which is clearly very popular. Every other shop front seems to be a restaurant. The food is quick, cheap and at times very tasty. We stopped at a couple of places and enjoyed a cold beer and the coolness of the overhead fans but we didn’t order a main meal, I prefer to eat away from the Khoa San Road.
What I will buy when we’re here is the street food. We love wandering along with some fresh, tropical fruit, sipping coconut water and ordering some snacks to keep us going. This is pretty much my favourite way to eat in Thailand and I’ve never been poorly doing so.
Where to stay near the Khao San Road
Whenever we visit Bangkok, we stay at the Anantara Hotel in Sathorn. It’s a lovely, modern and great value hotel located further away from the craziness of places like the Khao San Road. We love the outdoor pool, rooftop bar and location close to the train station. You can read my full review of Anantara Sathorn here.
For somewhere a little closer to the action, the ibis Styles Bangkok Khaosan Viengtai is a great option with colourful rooms, some of which are interconnecting and easily large enough for a family. They have an outdoor pool and onsite restaurant although food will be even cheaper on the road itself. It’s quirky, cool and great value with rooms starting from just £45 a night.
So would I recommend visiting the Khao San Road with kids? Most definitely, it’s an iconic part of Bangkok and has loads to keep little one’s interested. Just make sure you prepare before you go, stay safe and keep a tight hold on the kids as you wander.
Make sure you pin for later to plan your trip to the Khao San Road with kids.
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