Affectionately dubbed the ‘City of Angels’ by natives, Bangkok is a city of contrasts. For aspirational backpackers, its a mystical place that promises both history and hedonism in equal measure, while for travel veterans, returning to the buzz of this urban sprawl is akin to coming home. At the beating heart of old Siam’s buzzing Banglamphu district lies Khao San Road; the fabled street where East meets West, and the place where dreams end and adventures begin. Less than 60 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport via the Airport Express rail link, Khao San Road is often the first place visitors pass through en route to the city, and if you’re looking for somewhere affordable to stay, happens to have some of the most wallet-friendly  accommodation deals in Thailand. With a smattering of cheap 24-hour bars, quirky eateries, intimate galleries and thrift stores selling everything from high-end designer-wear to patriotic souvenirs, this curious street is a must-visit for every wide-eyed first time visitor to Thailand!

 

Short Road, Big Dreams

An unidentified Thai writer once described Khao San as “the shortest road with the longest dream in the world” owing to the proliferation of merchants and chancers who flock here seeking to make their fortunes. Walking through this bustling shopping hub today, it seems all the more fitting given the sheer diversity of its market stalls, culinary experiences and watering holes that have sprung up during the past thirty years.

Situated 1 km North of the Grand Palace, Khao San Road was always going to be an ideal travel base for those seeking to experience the rich culture and history of Bangkok, and prior to the 1970′s, it was also a focal point for Thailand’s thriving rice trade. Farmers would travel from as far afield as Chiang Mai to sell their harvested crops, primarily because the Khao San Road lured Bangkok natives in their droves with the promise of competitive prices. Most would say that little about this tiny street has changed in thirty years; merchants continue to flock here chasing the ‘big dream’, and outsiders continue to bolster its burgeoning economy.

 

Hunting For Bargains in Bamglamphu

There are few places as wallet-friendly or diverse for shopping than Khao San Road. From vintage clothing and handmade accessories, to Thai silk scarves, knock-off DVDs and ornamental frogs, there’s very little you won’t find amongst the humble stalls and wandering Northern Hill tribeswomen wandering this shopping mecca. That being said, Khao San Road is also a place where rip-off merchants and con artists operate freely, therefore some caution is necessary – particularly when buying silver jewellery, antiques and tailor-made suits. Fake designer clothing and watches can be found in abundance here, as well as at the covered Banglamphu Market nearby. If you are hoping to bag genuine designer goods at bargain basement prices, head one block along to Thanao Road, or hop into a tuk-tuk and head to the infamous MBK centre. At less than 50 Baht, the journey is well worth it for the many bargains to be found there.

 

Bangkok’s ‘Budget Quarter’

Much along the Khao San Road has changed since its first budget six-bedroom guest-house opened in 1982, with the exception of accommodation prices. A popular stop-off on the well-trodden “Banana Pancake Trail” (which encompasses a number of popular Asian backpacking destinations, such as Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi and Siem Reap in Cambodia) you’ll find that accommodations along the Khao San Road are surprisingly diverse. ‘Cell’ rooms and hostels are at the lower end of the budget scale (around 100-150 Baht per person), and whilst they offer little more than a mattress and basic washing facilities, are ideal if you’re simply dropping by en route to Bangkok. For around 400-500 Baht, its possible to find more comfortable lodgings within one of the many boutique hotels popping up along the adjacent Soi Rambuttri. Always try to book directly with the hotel rather than a local travel operator, since the area is world renowned for scammers.

 

A Taste of Culture Amid The Chaos

The Khao San Road has largely moulded itself upon the dreams and desires of Western backpackers, so you won’t find many attractions per se. However, this throbbing entertainment street happens to be situated within one of the oldest corners of downtown Bangkok – Rattanakosin. Khao San is the ideal base for exploring several archaic relics of old Siam, including the 18th Century walled Fort Phra Sumen, built by King Rama I, and stunning Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) with its dramatic gold spires. Ringed by a series of man-made canals and lush parkland, Santichaiprakarn Park is a worthwhile stop-off if you want   to escape the frenetic chaos of Khao San Road for a few hours. You’ll also discover a host of lesser known landmarks, such as King Rama IV’s magnificent suspension bridge across the Chao Phraya River, and acres of beautifully manicured ornamental gardens rarely featured in the guidebooks!