If there’s one lasting lesson that I have learned in my limited travels, it’s that the places most famous are often the ones least relaxing to spend time in. When a city, beach, resort, or even a road has been made legendary by history’s great travelers, it’s fairly safe to assume that it is now overrun by people attempting to recreate the stories which spurred their dreams of exotic adventure.
(WARNING: This video was meant to document the night life of Khaosan Road to the fullest. It contains 2 seconds of blurred nudity.)
I’m not discounting this type of travel…it’s just not for me. Some people love the highlights. They want to see what the big fuss is all about, and that’s a perfectly reasonable reason for them to travel to far away lands. Go for it, but expect to be surrounded by the throngs of loyal disciples of those same travel novellas and memoirs that are there for the same reasons. A small part of me also enjoys going to the famous haunts of authors, explorers, and photographers that I’ve admired, and this path often leads to places like Bangkok’s Khaosan Road.
During the day, Khaosan Road is a vibrant and lively area of the city, filled with great Thai street food, high-end retail knock-offs, tie-dyed everything, forged diploma and passport stalls, and spectacles of humankind beyond imagine. In the heat of the day, Khaosan is a place worth visiting and enjoying. We had a really great time with fresh smoothies in hand and countless stalls to browse. We ate good food, dodged tuk-tuks, contemplated various purchases, and meandered down many back alleys around the area. Next time we are in Bangkok, we’ll probably wander back to the area, too.
At night, though, everything changes and nothing is off limits. The exciting street of the day turns into what I can only describe as “Backpacker Hell.” The exhausted masses- tired from endless bus rides, airport layovers, or simply on a gap year break with too much money and no inhibitions before they settle down for university- descend upon Khaosan with a collective mindset of “YOLO.” The street transformed into a collective mecca for the transient/hipster/backpacker/alcoholic crowd trying to lose themselves in a district of Bangkok that many have tread before. The party rages.
All sorts of services and substances can be found easily on Khaosan Road, and they are offered endlessly. A simple walk through the jostling crowds will yield many offers for things you didn’t expect and maybe weren’t after. Like I said, some people go to Khaosan Road for these very reasons, but we didn’t. I don’t want to say that we were miserable or judgmental, because we really don’t care. It was fun to walk around and see the spectacle. For the people looking to get lost at night on Khaosan Road, I’m sure that they found exactly what they were looking for. We simply weren’t prepared for the Jekyll and Hyde transformation that took place around dusk.
Whatever your experiences are while travelling, they are firstly always that: experiences. Some better than others, sure, but it’s great to see these places and witness such legendary debauchery. Daytime Khaosan is a perfect example of the shopping and street culture many people expect when they think of Bangkok, and I quite enjoyed it. At night, however, it’s a different animal.
Thailand is a spectacular country but it’s most famous places have been famous for a long time. These places may not be completely overrun, but they are saturated with tourists and have befallen the fate of unrestrained tourist traps. These fantastically energetic places can still inspire and amaze you, but don’t expect these cities to retain the same feel as they held in the past. Enjoy them for what they have become, and adjust your expectations to include the effects of decades of people visiting for the very reasons you are there. To put it simply, it’s not the Bangkok you remember from old copies of National Geographic; it’s grown to meet the visitors with open arms and access to the vices Bangkok so famously satisfies.
I’ll go back some day, but my expectations will be more realistic. In this realization, I ask:
What city has surprised/disappointed/perplexed you in your travels?
What effect has tourism had on these places?