The Old Days on Khao San RoadKevin (เควิน) Khaosan
Where you on Khao San Road when ‘Hotel California’ was still cool and Leonardo de Carpio still waiting to happen? If so, let us have your stories. Is it true there was tumble weed blowing down the middle of the street and a single bar called the “Titty Twister”? Is it true that there were so many Aussies on the strip that it was an Australian dependency? Is it true there were overland buses running direct from KSR to Kabul? Please explode (or otherwise) the myths and legends that have arisen about this noble strip of earth. If you have got some pictures, don’t forget to send them, too!
Stefan Lindholm writes: “September 3, 1991. We were going on a trip around the world. Our first stop was Bangkok, Thailand. It was me and me my best childhood friend. We knew in advance that the place to stay in Bangkok was called Khao San Road, at least if you were a backpacker. The place we ended up staying in was called something like 7 Holder Guest House. It was at the end of Khao San Road (Burger King side). We paid 300 baht for the taxi from the airport, probably a big ripoff at the time, hehe. The room was a double at 120 baht. Khao san Road felt magic and stayed a few days. We only left Khao San to go to watch the shows on Patpong! I remember having breakfast at a place called Hello on the second, and we liked it a lot. Went back to Khao San in 2004, to travel overland from Bagnkok to Cambodia and Vietnam I was shocked about the change that had happen to Khao San. Both good and bad changes. The magic and the charm was gone though, as in many other places in Thailand, like Koh Samui.”
Matt Lawson (no email) writes: “My first experience of Kao San was in 1986 with my friend Vincent Smarro. Stayed at the PB (which appears to be gone now…but no surprise there) and within moments of entering was attacked by the owner\’s pet gibbon who occupied the territory between the snooker hall and the accommodation. The little guy was chained (at a height of about 2m) to a wire between the two building. This allowed him a couple of metres of travel and he entertained himself by welcoming the new guests by leaping onto their unsuspecting heads. The established guests learned to crouch while passing through his domain. The owner of the PB was an expert Scrabble player and he made short work of almost any farang who deigned to play on a rainy night (Yes, he beat me too but I was playing him and Singha beer so it was unfair).”
Pedrito writes: “I echo Pierre”s experiences of KSR and PB guest house (below) – couldn’t possibly write on a public site exactly what I saw and experienced there. I do remember pool tables with fans above each table – watched one guy lift up the cue after a shot, the cue got caught in the fan, spun around, hit him in the head and knocked him for 6. That was a while ago and times have changed. All seems a bit tame now but still a place I like to visit.”
Elise Kennedy writes: Flashback to 1991! Four 18 year old blonde aussie chicks the beginning of a six month thailand sojourn Ah I can’t to this day not smile about the memories. A thai jeweller/artist we named no name because we could never remember it. His tiny flat on a rooftop around the corner, his amazing drawings which two of us still wear on our bodies today thanks to a friend of his who was a tattooist on khao san. Doing ‘stuff you shouldn’t do’ on the rooftop overlooking the city that never sleeps. Rooms that you fell into the bed as that was all that fitted in there but for 50B a night mai pen rai (no problem} Those were the days my friend! In the four visits since then a small piece of me has cried for what once was and for how now is extinct!
Richard – England writes : My first experience of Khao San Rd was in April 1988. After 17hrs on a flight from London, via Europe and the Middle East, I arrived in Bangkok. Stepping from the air conditioned terminal was like suddenly being smothered in a hot wet blanket. Metered taxi’s at that time were a thing of the future so I got on to a number 59 bus. Long before the elevated expressways, toll roads and sky trains, the traffic then as absolutely atrocious. Two and a half hours later I staggered on to Khao San Road.
Soaked in sweat, my pack seemed to weigh twice as much now as it did when I left home. I could feel my heart pounding above the music that blared from a cassette stall as it struggled to pump blood through my veins in the suffocating heat. A girl so beautiful I thought my heart would give out altogether shouted ‘Hello you want loom?’ Yes I did want a room. ‘Have good loom for you’ she said. ‘You come holiday? How long you stay? Where you come from? Oh England number one,’ she said. A few days later I saw another red faced Farang trailing behind her. ‘Oh Sweden number onem,’ I heard her say.
The ‘loom’ as it turned out was more like a cupboard. By the time I’d climbed the steep wooden staircases that lead up to it I didn’t have the energy to object… B60 a night (about 1.50 quid at the time). No window, no bathroom, a fan mounted on the wall shuddered from side to side pushing the warm air around. The heat had flattened me. I just couldn’t imagine being able to do anything at all other than step out to the shower then lie soaking wet under the fan just to try and cool down. It was three days before I could walk to the end of the street without stopping for a cold drink.
Khao San then was not quite the Khao San we see today with its new hotels and guesthouses offering air-conditioned comfort, satellite TV and mini-bars. These days young people come to see, and be seen, at the smart new restaurants, boutiques, bars, clubs and discos. It’s a far cry from the time when bemused looking Thai’s would visit just to gawp at the mad looking Farangs. It was a time before the street was closed to traffic in the evenings, a time before glass fronted shops, Internet cafe’s and the sound of mobile phones. With instant access to the world from there there’s no longer any need for the trek down river to the G.P.O to check Poste Restante for precious letters from home.
Back in 1988 Hello Coffee Shop, which seems to have been there forever, and in a slightly different guise, was one of a few places open 24 hours a day if you wanted to watch videos all night. Times change and things move on, as they should. Like Khao San I’m older now, though not necessarily wiser, and these days I stay across town. But I’d like to think that there’s still a young girl on Khao San Rd leading foreigners to her guesthouse with the words ‘Hello you want loom’?
James LeMay writes: “I took my first trip to Bangkok 13 years ago. I just jumped on a Japan Airlines flight from Los Angeles to BKK without even knowing where I was going to stay. 30 minutes before landing I asked some travelers on the plane where I could find a cheap room. The reply, Khao San Road. I never even heard of the place. Upon clearing customs I jumped in a taxi and said, “Khao San Road” and gave the driver the name of a guesthouse that the other travelers had said they were going to stay at. I ended up arriving before the guys who gave me the advice. They entered the lobby just as I was getting my room key. The woman behind the counter looked up at them and said, sorry sold out more no room\”. I ended up offering my room to the two travelers but because it was a single bed, they declined. I wish I knew the name of the guesthouse. When I return to HSR I’m going to try to find it. Lots of great memories!”
Pierre writes: “Hello, I wont start off by saying it was better but it was – in every respect that is life ? why? prices, the night life was so much more simple and not complicated and right on Khao sarn, now everyone is in the surrounding areas as far away as Soi Samsen 28 and such another thing relations between Thai’s and falang, you used to be able to meet Buddy at Buddy beer, Mr Lou at PB gust house was always fun to hang around with, Pang, the chines guy ?? selling jewelery on the street he has been there for ages… The other thing was the kind things that happened there you can not write about as it was so off far and NOT even the slightest bit possible today. It would get your site closed to talk about it…. ahhhhh memories… we left Ngam Duphli in 84 or 85 to head here as this was the place to be a local Bus 59 from Don Muang for 15 baht? the train was 5 baht? seriously even until recently… what to say…It was fanatastic nothing less and now different but never will be the same, times change. We still come back occasionally and freak out on the changes, ha ha Where is Mr Lou?”
Paul Regan “I stayed there 17 years ago when it was a few rough n ready crash pads, Thai cafes come restaurants, couple of travel agents and cheap clothing [now I think primark is cheaper]. I’m back in Bangkok next week for the 1st time since 1990, and apart from me being all grown up, it now sounds like Magaluf or Benidorm down there, MC DS , Boots, Starbucks, drunks, avoid me thinks HELP!!! I’m off to Soi Cowboy for some culture and a quiet life! Oh how we change!
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