What To Do At Khao San Road: Bangkok’s Backpacker Mecca

So after years of incredulous looks whenever I tell friends I’ve never been to Bangkok (“but it’s so near!”), I finally got to visit Asia’s City of Angels, The Big Mango; or more notoriously, Sin City. It was a short trip and we barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer – but N and I enjoyed our time here immensely. Now I see why everyone was like “why haven’t you been to Bangkok yet?!”

Bangkok at night 01 (MK)
Mathias Krumbholz [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
We didn’t do much research prior to going (a mistake seasoned travellers should avoid!) so I wasn’t sure which area would be a good place to stay. Bangkok is a huge city, divided into many subdivisions, each with its own attractions and experiences. We were on a budget so I picked the cheapest accommodation I could find that wasn’t a hostel. I found one near Khao San Road, a backpacker’s paradise. The only problem? We aren’t exactly party people, so I wasn’t sure what we could do around the place. Turns out, plenty.

Bangkok, like Kuala Lumpur, has two major airports: Don Mueang, which services low-cost airlines, and Suvarnabhumi, which is about 20 km away. Traffic can get pretty bad in the city so always allocate plenty of time going to and from the airport.

HOW TO GET TO KHAO SAN ROAD from DON MUEANG AIRPORT 

The night before we were due to depart for Bangkok, I scoured various websites for info, but there seemed to be no easy way to get to Khao San from Don Mueang. If you’re landing at Suvarnabhumi, things are much easier as there is an airport rail that goes directly to the city centre. The worst case scenario (for our budget, anyway) was to take a taxi (900 baht (!!!) (RM 121) from the official taxi stand inside the airport).

I wasn’t about to spend a good chunk of the money I brought for one taxi ride, so I stubbornly went to the tourist information counter to ask if there was any other way to get there. Lo and behold – the airport runs shuttle buses to various tourist-centric areas within the city ! The A4 bus would take us directly to Khaosan Road and it only costs …. 50 baht! (RM6.77). That’s like a 95% cheaper alternative! 

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The A4 bus runs every 30 minutes. You need to wait for it at the airport’s Exit 6, which is just after arrivals. If you have a lot of luggage, this might not be the best mode of transport since you’ll have to lug it on and off the bus, then up to wherever your hotel is.

The coach was air conditioned, clean and cosy. We got on around 2-ish, and it was quite empty so we had a lot of space to ourselves. From the airport, it took us about an hour to reach Khao San Road.

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We hopped off near Banglamphu, because our hotel/hostel was actually on Soi Rambuttri, just off Khao San Road. Rambuttri is a good place for people on a budget who want to be close to the action, but not at the centre of it. The place is much quieter, with a quaint hipster vibe. The streets are well paved, there is very little traffic except for the occasional bike or trike or two, and there are loads of shops that mirror the ones you find at Khao San, but with less crowd.

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Rambuttri is known for its chill cafes, bars and restos, with large and shady trees and greenery.

 

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There are street stalls as well, peddling souvenirs, cheap clothing, bags, shoes, and more.

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Street massages are a thing. No one bats an eyelid if you’re reclined in full double-chin glory with your feet exposed by the side of the road. An hour-long foot massage will set you back around 250 – 300 baht.

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Exploring the Banglamphu area

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We took a short cut that ran through a covered area, which had more souvenir shops and massage parlours, but also some interesting gems like indie bookstores

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Cue N pushing me past this 2nd hand bookstore really quickly lest I stop to look (after which he wouldn’t be able to get me out of there again)

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Souvenirs for sale. Many sold the standard stuff like fridge magnets and T-shirts saying “I Love Thailand”, but there were also some interesting pieces like paintings, decorative wall hangings and handmade items.

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Finally emerging into the 400-metre-long Khao San Road, we were greeted by dozens, if not hundreds of signages proclaiming various services, from bars and massage parlours to jewellery stores, fashion and retail centres, tattoo studios, restaurants, money changers and supermarkets. Not to mention the many street stalls selling food and clothes on the pedestrian-only main thoroughfare. Loud music blasted from every corner, vendors shouting cheap beer! massage! exotic show! party! fun! It seemed like if you had the money for it, you could find anything along Khao San Road.

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Bangkok’s famous tuk-tuk 

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Khao San felt like a riot on the senses. The swirling colours, the different faces from all walks of life in every shape, colour and size, the smell of barbecued meat and steaming corn wafting into the air, whole barbecued crocodiles and exotic insects on sale, touts shouting “Ping Pong Show!” while holding up placards of sexy women, open air bars where the music was so loud the ground felt like it was shaking slightly.

There were tall blonde Westerners dressed in strappy spaghetti tops laughing boisterously over drinks as they flirted with the tanned, handsome bartenders, petite Thai college girls giggling with their friends as they checked out merchandise, young local women clinging to the arms of older white men, old Japanese tourists, families, students. An essayist once wrote that Khao San was a ‘place to disappear’, and she wasn’t wrong.

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Even the McDonalds here has a Thai flavour ! (pun)

It was fun for awhile to observe the goings-on at Khao San, but also draining for introverts like N and I lol. We retreated back to the Rambuttri area for dinner. Popped into one of the nicer restaurants, which was still reasonably priced.

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Can’t come to Bangkok and not have a coconut shake

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Cheese-filled wontons

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Chicken tom yum for that spicy kick

 

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Gotta pad thai like a basic tourist. It was great though!

Me to waitress: I don’t want beansprouts.

*Waitress does not understand.*

Me: You know, the long white things.. vegetables

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Walking back to our hotel we came across this souped up van that was converted into a mobile bar, with seats on the pavement and a TV installed into the boot. If you like your alcohol, I think you’d be very happy at Rambuttri / Khao San.

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There was still some time to kill so we had a massage (in the shop rather than on the street). Wasn’t much in terms of privacy as everyone was chatting away, but still relaxing.

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Ended the night with a banana nutella pancake!

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Staying In A Capsule Hotel – Riccarton Jonkerview, Melaka

Capsule hotels were first mooted in Japan, during the economic boom of the 1980s. The concept came about as a solution for salarymen who needed a place to crash for the night after work and socialising into the wee hours of the morning. ‘Pods’ in these hotels often comprised of a basic, single bed, and perhaps a TV.

While they’re still used for this purpose today, capsule hotels have become a novelty for many travellers, especially backpackers, as they are cheap and provide a better semblance of privacy as compared to traditional shared hostels. The concept can now be found all over the world, including Malaysia.

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My (work) trip to Melaka was on a tight budget (the company wasn’t paying for it), so when I saw a promotion on Agoda for the Riccarton Jonkerview Cottage capsule hotel going for just RM36 per night, I snapped it up faster than Thanos. I was also curious as I had never stayed in one before. There were some hiccups at check-in, as the front desk staff was new and didn’t know what to do (her senior had to prompt her every step of the way, from asking for ID to asking for deposit payment), but nothing major.

There were lockers at the lobby where we had to store our shoes and put on house slippers, for cleanliness reasons. If you have baggage, there are larger storage lockers in the common area as well. Being the paranoid people that we were, we decided to stuff our backpacks inside the pod itself.

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The common area had a couple of chairs and tables + a water dispenser. Bathrooms were shared, but I have to say that everything was super clean and they had all the facilities: warm shower, shampoo, etc.

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Our pod was an upper one. My knees groaned in protest each time I had to climb up and down (which was fairly often to go to the toilet). I had a sudden feeling I was getting too old for this. That being said, the design was definitely interesting and unique. They looked more like space pods than anything else.

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The inside was surprisingly spacious, equivalent to a queen-sized bed. The mattress was thin but firm, and each pod came with a blanket, two pillows and towels. On the side of the panel was a small safe, light controls (you can switch the lights to different colours and have a rave party inside, I suppose), air conditioning control, USB plugs and a small mirror.

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There was an Android TV but their Wifi wasn’t working. Wi-Fi was only available at the lobby.

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When your s/o is more engrossed with playing games than cuddling with you. 😡

We didn’t spend that much time inside the pod since most of the day was spent exploring.

Now this has nothing to do with the comfort and cleanliness of the place and more to me being a spoiled brat, but I couldn’t sleep the entire night. I’m a light sleeper, and the sounds of the creaking (when people got up to use the bathroom, etc.) kept jolting me awake – but I guess it would have been the same if it was a hostel or shared dormitory. Being so close to the action can be a con, as there was loud music blasting away even at midnight, and the walls are thin enough that you’d hear it as if it was inside the pod.

If you’re used to staying in backpacker hostels and don’t mind the noise, the Riccarton Jonkerview Cottage Hotel is a steal. It’s also an interesting experience for anyone who has never stayed in a capsule hotel.

PROS

  • Convenient location (literally steps away from Jonker Street, close to Dutch Square)
  • Clean
  • Shower, locker facilities
  • Towels provided

CONS

  • Noisy
  • Limited parking (there is parking behind the hotel, but it’s usually full. We had to park one kilometre away).
  • No breakfast options, but there are plenty of restos and coffeeshops in the area

RICCARTON JONKERVIEW COTTAGE HOTEL 

No.3, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Taman Kota Laksamana, 76450 Melaka

Phone: 06-281 1691

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