Kao San Road maybe famous but is really quite a small road within the district of Banglamphu. The area has quite a lot of budget accommodation which has always attracted the backpacker fraternity. Kao San became the focal point. For many this is both the first and last stop on their Thai adventure.
Historically the district was always a community of artists and musicians and was well known for its silver-smithing workshops long before the first backpacker arrived demanding to have every limb and appendage riveted together. The silver-work is still probably one of the best buys in the area.
But it has developed a lot in recent years. These days the street is lined with the same souvenirs, clothing and stuffed tarantulas that can be bought in Silom or Sukhumvit but, in my experience, the vendors are a lot more stubborn when bartering for prices.
Trendy restaurants, bars, convenience stores, burger joints and internet cafes have put a modern sheen on the place but the once transient community of backpackers sharing travelers tales, discussing the best ways to get from A to B and swapping Lonely Planet books has become just another bunch of tourists. Younger than the ones in the Holiday Inn perhaps but tourists none-the-less.
These days your entire trip can be organised from Kao San Road. You will never need to worry about how to get to the bus station, or even which bus station you need to go to. You will be picked up at your hotel or guest house and deposited back there when you return. You can also organise visas for surrounding countries but like the buses you will almost certainly be paying a mark up for the service.
If you’re keen to stay in the area to benefit from the budget accommodation and it’s proximity to the Grand Palace and all the major sights of old Bangkok, but would rather avoid the melee of Kao San Road itself, look for accommodation along Phra Athit.
For culture vultures Phra Athit is particularly interesting. Many of the rather attractive buildings are former residences of Royal family members. Though they haven’t been used as such for many a year, most of them are now offices. But the UNICEF office at number 19, which was originally inhabited by Prince Naresworarit – a son of King Mongkut, is particularly striking. The building and also has a gift shop so you can go in and have a little look around.