Tourist eating scorpion on Khao San Road

Khao San Road, the Center of the Backpacking Universe (34 Photos)

Photo Essay, Street Photography, Thailand

Khao San Road

Described by Alex Garland in his best selling book, The Beach, as “the centre of the backpacking universe,” Khao San Road in central Bangkok certainly lives up to that description. Pretty much every backpacker that visits southeast Asia will end up on this road at one time or another. It is a great place to stock up on books, souvenirs, get a Thai lover, drink a beer, buy a fake college diploma, meet other travelers, eat pad thai from a street stall or feast at McDonalds. It literally has everything a backpacker could want.

It is also a great place for photography. On a recent visit, I plopped down at a street-side restaurant-cum-bar and just watched people – and took photos of the interesting ones – for hours.

The People of Khao San Road

The scorpion vendors

scorpion vendor Bangkok Khao San road scorpion vendor

On the day of my visit, it was a slow day for the scorpion vendors. Even though people tend to start drinking very early on Khao San Road, I don’t think anyone was drunk enough to give them a try. Then this bad ass guy came along:

Scorpion Vendor with tourist

This guy isn’t afraid of anything. I am pretty sure he has eaten people before. He sat down to have a casual read of his ebook with a beer and a snack, much to the amusement of the local behind him.

Tourist eating scorpion on Khao San RoadBut even this tough guy was a little taken aback by the taste. Luckily he had a beer close by.

Yum scorpion on Khao San Road Yum scorpion on Khao San Road Tourist eating scorpion with beer

The Magicians

Sitting right in front of us were two Dutch guys who were getting entertained by a local street magician.

Khao San Road Street magician Khao San Road Street magician Khao San Road Street magician

Getting a magic show wasn’t enough. The experience unlocked a hidden desire in one of the tourists to be a magician himself. He got lessons from the pro.

Magic lessons, Khao San Road Magic lessons, Khao San Road

After a detailed lesson, the tourist was ready to try and impress the locals with his new found skills.

Tourist teaching magic Bangkok

Tourist magician Khao San Road

He may not have been a great teacher, but it seems like a great way to meet the ladies.

Khao San Road magic

Khao San Road magic

Suns out, Guns out. Suns out, Buns Out

You can’t get a group of backpackers together and not have a high percentage that are under-dressed. There is something about going to Asia that makes a girl want to let her ass hang out and makes bros think shirts are optional.


Girl on Khao San road ass out


Topless tourists Bangkok

I can almost smell the Axe Body Spray through the photo.


Day Drinking

Khao San is a street party. People start drinking early and stay late.

Asian lady drinking beer


Friends drinking on Khao San Road

Singlet in Bangkok

The great thing about drinking on Khao San Road is that some places don’t I.D. or have any morals when it comes to over-serving.

NO ID bar in Bangkok

The Freak Show Cool People 

Interesting people abound on Khao San.

Cool dude with dreds and tats

New tats on Khao San Road Hooker on Khao San

Cool hot girl on Khao San Road

Cool vendor on Khao San

Shop till you Drop

From selfie sticks to fake college diplomas to genuine Rolex watches, there is an endless supply of tourist crap available for purchase.

Fake IDs for sale on Khao San

Food stall on Khao san

Street vendor on Khao San

Selfie stick vendor on Khao San

Khao San Road signs

And of course, no photo essay of Bangkok people would be complete without the requisite older foreign guy with a young, pretty Thai girl.

Old man, young lady in Asia


Have you been to Southeast Asia?

You went to Khao San Road, right? 

Related Post: The Spectacle that is Khao San Road at night (Nomadic Samual)

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Posted by

Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

40 thoughts on “Khao San Road, the Center of the Backpacking Universe (34 Photos)”

  1. To your second question, yes I did. I stayed at a hostel near Khao San Road on my first trip to Bangkok. It was also where I tasted my first ever grasshopper, doused with a really nice spicy sauce. Never thought taking photos of people at this backpacker Mecca could be so interesting. Well done, Jeff!

      • They are supposed to be high in protein and environmentally friendly to harvest, especially when compared to pigs and cows. I’ll give them a try next time I see them.

      • That’s true. Maybe in the future we’ll eat insects more, and they’ll even make their way to fancy restaurants.

  2. Adventures in Kevin's World says:

    Not that I had ever heard of this place, but you pretty much cured me from ever wanting to visit. Yikes.

    • HAHAHAHA! It is normally the type of place we’d avoid, but we needed to stock up on books and we wanted to revisit some places we went eight years ago. For pure, people watching fun, you can’t beat it!

  3. OMG Jeff I can’t believe we went to Bangkok and didn’t go to Kao San Rd. What a circus – in the best way. I’d have been totally overwhelmed with stuff to photograph. Oh well. Have to save it for another trip. We knew it was backpacker central and we’re not backpacker type travellers, but I can see we need to get out more 🙂

    • It is terrible in a great way. It was halfway through our trip and we needed to stock up on some English books so this was the place to do it. We had a great time seeing it but one afternoon was enough!

  4. To be honest Jeff, I don’t think I would ever want to visit Khao San Road. I watched the first 15-20 minutes of ‘The Beach’ on Youtube and it really put me off seeing that area of Bangkok (including the part about backpackers watching an action movie like a group of zombies). Am I being a snob for thinking that looks like tourist hell?

    • James, I think you need to go. Where else are you going to get your Bob Marley T-shirt, eat a fried scorpion and drink strong cocktails for 35 baht? It is totally your scene. 🙂

      I think you’d have fun there if you spent a few hours in the afternoon like we did. You have to have the right mindset.

  5. Thanks for taking me to a place so full of…well… I think you left me speechless I’m not sure what word fits exactly. Looking at the girl in the 3rd “cool” people photo made my feet hurt looking at her shoes, all I could think was hooker! Great photo essay.

    • Thanks Laura, I got all those shots standing sitting in the same spot. Imagine the photos that a photographer could get with a few days there? It is an interesting place. And yes, those shoes did look painful, and yes I am pretty sure her services were for sale.

  6. This is the sort of place that makes me want to travel. Gross, weird, hilarious, people letting their real self hang out for everyone to see, I must go to this street.

    • Sadly, I think that most Thai people probably look at westerns on this street and think we are a bunch of freaks. You’d fit in well there, Betsy, you should go to there. 🙂

  7. Love that – have actually wanted to do something similar in the touristy part of the old quarter in hanoi but have never been brave enough to – did you use a long lense?

  8. We stayed just off of Khao San, on Soi Rambrutti on our first trip to Thailand many years ago, and I remember feeling relieved that we weren’t right on Khao San itself. I also remember feeling disappointed that it wasn’t seedier (yeah, impressions from The Beach movie), but more just unwashed backpackers and rampant commercialism. Now we stay near Chitlom/Siam area whenever we visit, and it’s so much easier. No scamming and always easy to get a taxi. 🙂

    • Shelly,
      Agreed, Khao San road isn’t really seedy enough 🙂 It is commercialized and touristy, but strangely fun. The biggest frustration with touristy zones is getting taxis, in my opinion. If I find myself staying somewhere that has too many foreigners, I’ll walk away to get taxis, food, etc.

  9. Jon Urlie says:

    Haha! This was great, Jeff. Glad to see you have kept traveling. I’ve recently quit my job to get back into that kinda life. Let’s stay in touch. Hopefully we can meet up on the road some time.

    • Hey Jon, good to hear from you. We’ve been blessed to be able to keep traveling all these years. We aren’t going back to AK this summer for the first time in 10 years so I don’t know what is next. Yes, let’s stay in touch. We may just be near each other again.

  10. Hmmm- this looks similar to the tourist strip in downtown Gatlinburg. Minus the fried scorpions. But they did have fried Twinkies so there ya go. 🙂 Great post and fun people watching photos! I’ll add this to my list of places to only go with a bodyguard.

    • Sue, yes, a bodyguard would be nice to fend off the touts with, but it is totally safe 🙂 I have heard terrible things about Gatlinburg. If I ever go there, I’ll be taking people photos. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Great street shots. Often travel blogs show me places I’d like to go…thanks for this useful overview of a place I’ll avoid for sure!

  12. Earl says:

    Nice place easily the mecca of backpacking fantastic streets surrounding khao san like Rambutrri rd great live entertainment and fantastic restaurants the street is long so stay on the Khao san side that runs parallel .. stayed in a hostel called Chill Out recommended by a friend turned out to be great place.

      • JessicaPanz says:

        Actually we are yes!We are going to visit a few friends who live there and split the trip to NZ, otherwise it will be too long and exausting (we flew from Italy to Australia before and it was horrible).

  13. Pingback: Why You (Probably) Hate Bangkok | Planet Bell

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