Late Nights in Khao San

Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Khao San is one of Bangkok’s tourist districts — probably the trashiest, most popular one for backpackers and young travelers at the moment. From twilight to 2AM the main strip is blocked off by orange traffic barricades. Every building is affixed with at least one neon sign that flashes and emits a festive, unnatural glow. Westerners, tuk tuk drivers, vendors, promoters, ladyboys, and prostitutes clog the streets from edge to edge. Every inch of sidewalk has been claimed by merchants. Some have simply set up a cooler of beers, a metal folding chair, and a cardboard sign with prices scribbled on it while others have full glass carts piled high with fresh fruit, syrups, and bottles of liquor. I even saw a man who had positioned his $1 Pad Thai wok directly in front of the door to a McDonald’s. You actually had to go around him to enter the fast food restaurant (and at the end of the night, while Cody binged on Mickey D’s cheeseburgers, I sort of remember chowing down on a tasty egg noodle dish, possibly Pad Thai style). 

7-11’s and other mini-marts are only legally able to sell alcohol until midnight (Thailand is currently under martial law, not that you’d know that from wandering around Khao San’s wild streets). After that, you have to go into one of the overpriced bars or clubs for a drink. And as the night goes on, the t-shirt stands’ profits increase significantly as drunk Westerners impulse buy $3 printed tanks and ninja pants. Tuk tuk drivers also become more persistent with tipsy-to-wasted clients, offering rides to Ping Pong shows in the red-light district. They flap laminated programs for these magic-show-esque smut exhibitions at potential customers, shouting “pussy ping pong” at passing throngs of young men. The lineups on these advertisements range from the confusing (“pussy rainbow”) to the strange (“pussy fishes in”) to the downright bone-chilling (“pussy magic razorblade”). 

We spent the first half of the night milling around the stands and people watching, chugging Siamsatos. These $1, 750ml bottles of sour-sweet goon are only available at 7-11’s, which, thankfully, are plentiful in Bangkok. In Thailand, alcohol strength is labeled by the minimum amount possible, instead of the actual quantity. For instance, Siamsatos are “at least 8%” alcohol. And it’s seriously a guessing game with them - I’ve definitely had a few that were way over 8%. When 7-11 would no longer sell us Siamsato, we made our way down an alleyway and ended up in a teeny bar, barely wider than a hallway, that was blasting techno beats. We bought $3 buckets of rum, pineapple juice, and coconut milk, and danced until Cody (who was dancing while sitting down) crushed the Asian-sized plastic chair underneath him and we had to get the hell out of there. 


  • Cab ride: $5-7 (depending on where you are in the city/how well you haggle)
  • (If you’re willing) Siamsato: $1 per bottle
  • Toilets: $0.25
  • Street Pad Thai: $1
  • Cheap t-shirt souvenirs you can’t refuse: $3-5 (depending on your haggling skills)

Travel Tips

  • Don’t be stupid about drug usage in Thailand. It’s sketchy as shit here - the cops are corrupt, the tuk tuk drivers are often narcs, and the whole damn country is under marshall law. If you’re willing to risk having a cop walk you to an ATM machine and ask you to empty your bank account or go to Thai prison for a minimum 3 years, be smart about it. 
  • Bangkok’s alleyways have just as many bars as the main strip; check it out if you hear good beats going down.