Night Time Is The Right Time
In early January 1985 I’d arrived in Banglumpoo, checked in at Central Guesthouse (*) and afterwards had something to eat in one of the very few restaurants catering to foreigners in Khao San Road.
By 9 PM the place was already deserted…
In those days Khao San was just an ordinary Thai street with some shops and a First World War Veterans Office (**), but that was about it.
A handful of low budget basic guesthouses were scattered around in the vicinity.
Most backpacking travellers passing through would end up staying longer than expected, lured in by job offers: teaching English (***), working as extras in movies (****), going on ‘milk runs’ (*****), etc.
Instead of 1 week I ended up staying for 3 months, before moving on to Hong Kong.
In 1986 I returned and noticed lots of changes, more restaurants and guesthouses, some stalls selling Peacock cassette tapes, but no souvenirs or clothes yet.
The 2000 movie The Beach really put Khao San Road on the tourist map and after that the scene literally exploded, so called flash packers started arriving in droves and any small local stores disappeared quickly, tourism became number 1, period.
This phenomena started spreading, whereas Rambuttri Road was in 2003 still a quiet backstreet with only the Viengtai Hotel (******), a few years later it had turned into a second Khao San!
Nearby Phra Athit Road started changing as well, but differently, here Thai art students from Silapakorn University came up with small restaurants and bars catering to a more Thai crowd.
Much later Khao San became ‘multi culti’, with visitors from all over the world.
One of my Thai friends told me once that when she walked there she didn’t feel like being in Thailand anymore!
Over the years I kept coming back, at least once a month and on the whole enjoyed seeing what was happening, perhaps too commercial, but certainly vibrant, just sitting at an outside terrace with a beer in the early evening watching the world go by was (& still is) a pleasant experience.
However walking after 9 PM through Khao San I gave up very quickly, the mix of several restaurants and bars on both sides of the street blasting all kinds of music, forget it, not my cup of tea.
Then suddenly bloody Covid-19 appeared on the scene and the impact - like in most other tourist places - was devastating.
Earlier this week I paid the area a visit with an old friend of mine and we both felt quite shocked, the number of closed shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, guesthouses is just appalling.
At present less than 5% seems to be open and struggling to find any kind of customers.
Some outside bar staff in Khao San still came over to offer us cocktails, buckets, laughing gas or whatever, but we didn’t feel even remotely tempted.
To me the whole strip looked like a Netflix zombie series, the following shots will give you some idea...
Entering Rambuttri Road near Wat Chanasongkram
My favorite Indian Restaurant was down the drain...
One of the new places was open.
The little alley leading to Phra Athit, black cat crossing our path...
A few Thai customers.
Phra Athit looked a tiny bit more lively.
One of the many closed hotels.
No more blues in Bombay...
Minivans in storage...
Chakrabongse Road with only a 7-11 open.
Entrance Khao San, note the police station at the left corner has moved.
Welcome to ....
Temporarily closed..., wait and see I guess.
Some local visitors made an effort.
But we got the impression that they weren't very excited either.
However these ladies seemed to be in better spirits.
Looking for something.
Where are the customers...
At least they had some people.
The little alley between Khao San and Rambuttri.
Rambuttri view halfway.
At least we were relieved to find the old Adhere the 13th Blues Bar (*******) still open.
Even with less than 10 customers the music helped us to recover a bit from the Covid Blues.
And when Pong himself joined in to accompany the acoustic player I decided to have another beer!
(*) Still there!
(**) Yup, a small number of Thai soldiers were active during WW1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siam_in_World_War_I
(***) Yup, did that!
(****) Yup, did that, played Vietnam era US soldiers for Good Morning Vietnam and Saigon!
(*****) Never did, smuggling wasn’t my thing.
(******) Still there, but fully renovated and nowadays part of the Ibis group.
For a very different 2019 impression have a look here: