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Lonely Planet blog


Bangkok: still the world’s greatest backpacker hub?

By admin   8 June 2012 10:05pm Europe/London

This is a guest post from Colm Hanratty, Editor at Hostelworld.com.

Backpackers on the Khao San Road, Bangkok. Photo by Carol Wiley

Bangkok is unique for many reasons. On every second street corner you can sit down and get food that will tantalise your taste buds for next to nothing. Upon sitting down to eat, in the blink of an eyelid you can see a bunch of ‘working girls’ rub shoulders with a group of orange-clad Buddhists, all to the soundtrack of tuk-tuk drivers, hawkers at stalls and farang (foreigners) from all over the world. That’s why I love it. You genuinely don’t know where to set your eyes.

Something else that makes it unique is a road almost exclusively populated by budget travellers from around the globe: the Khao San Road. Located in the Banglamphu neighbourhood, it is the undeniable backpacker capital of the universe.

Having been lucky enough to have been to Bangkok twice in the last nine months, I was asked whether the Khao San Road still reigns supreme for budget travellers going to Thailand. Is it where all the guesthouses and hostels are located? Are they as grubby as the one featured at the beginning of The Beach, or more like the ones budget travellers have become accustomed to, like in Europe and Australia? Well, the answer to these questions is yes and no.

Let me start with the Khao San Road. Make no mistake about it – this is still the backpacker hub of Bangkok. Or rather, the backpacking hub of the universe. Beginning at the landmark pub at the top, Gulliver’s Travellers, as you walk down you’ll encounter people from all over the world eating pad thai on the street, haggling stall owners for knock-off Ray-Bans and you’re bound to see somebody getting dreadlocks put into their hair. It is unlike any other road in the world.

When it comes to hostels and guesthouses, while many are still in chaotic Banglamphu, budget accommodation is found all over the city. As well near the famous backpacker strip, you can also find hostels over the new side of town in more modern areas like Siam Square and Silom with their own cafés and bars.

But what are these hostels like? Will I be sharing a room with nine other budget travellers from across the globe or will I have a smaller dorm, or even better, a private room?

The common area at Lub D hostel in Bangkok. Photo used with permission

While hostels still have dorms sleeping 10 people, they are modern and spotlessly clean. The dingy hostel that has four walls, a roof, a bed and a pillow is something of yesteryear. Take Lub D Siam Square for instance. Found in the bustling new part of the city near the Skytrain, it has its own bar, private rooms, while its biggest dorm is a four-bed ‘deluxe dorm’. Its sister hostel nearby in Silom even has a ‘theatre room’ where you can chill out and catch a movie. If you really do want to be in the thick of it near ‘the Khao San’, you could stay somewhere like NapPark (voted ‘Best Hostel in Thailand’ by our customers last year) that offers free WiFi and boasts all mod cons but is in a traditional Thai building.

Southeast Asia is the backpacking Mecca of the world, and the gateway to it is Bangkok. It was like that 20 years ago and it’s the same today. But that’s not to say things haven’t changed – they have, and for the better. You can still sit down in any bar along the world’s most famous backpacker strip and strike up a conversation about your travels with people from all across the world. The only difference is that now you can enjoy budget accommodation with a few home comforts.

This is a guest post by Colm Hanratty, Editor at Hostelworld.com. Check out Colm’s blog on the Hostelworld website here. You can also keep up to date with them on Facebook, follow both Colm and Hostelworld on Twitter as well check out their videos on YouTube.