As Ferdinand learned of his father's passing (Nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer a sea change), likewise I find nothing remains of the Khao Sarn Road of distant memory. This month we take a look at that which Khao San Roadonce was, and that which it has become.....
The My Darling is one of Khao San Road's older indoor-outdoor bar restaurants.
Prelude: During the late 1950'sKhao San Road was busy, but not with foreigners, there were mom-and-pop stores, small restaurants, muay Thai boxing gyms, a small hotel catering to civil servants, all part of the bustling Bang Lamphu District. Meanwhile, in Europe and the Americas we saw wandering high school graduates off to Paris, a few of the more adventurous off to the Caribbean or 'Off to see the World'. And although those early wanderers were few-and-far-between, they inspired us, we school kids - a big, strange, interesting planet was out there for the taking...
But it wasn't until the 60's that those travellers 'few-and-far-between' became a "human river" of so-called 'backpackers', a large part of whom flowed into and through Southeast Asia. Likewise, those once seldom-trodden paths were labeled the "backpacker trail" (synonymous with the "Hippy Trail") - each backpacker toting his copy of FEER's 'Golden Guide To Southeast Asia' (precursor to the Lonely Planet-type guidebooks). This writer arrived in Bangkok mid-60's, prior to the Khao San guest house scene. We found instead cheap Chinese hotels, usually in the Hua Lampong Train Station area, the Thai Song Greet being the most well-known. We backpackers hitch-hiked, train-ed, bussed and hiked, travelled by tramp steamer, and complained of an all-too-expensive air-hop across Burma. Those of us who had been on 'the trail' for any length of time feigned an 'air of superiority / snobbery' over those we perceived to be "pretend backpackers", those who flew in direct-flight, with an actual round-trip ticket paid for with "Daddy's money" and lugging around backpacks twice the size that could conceivably be considered convenient or useful.
There were no fast-food outlets in Bangkok - we found Thai dishes like khai jiew, khao phat, and phat thai to be just fine. And it was at mealtimes, either on the ground floor of our Chinese hotel, or one of the other local shops (ubiquitous and usually 24/7) where one would meet the Israeli couple, the Canadian, the lone Japanese travelling with only a day-pack, the Aussie... - where often animated conversations would ensue - comparing our personal experiences, the claims in our guidebooks - and where, really, to go and what to see. It was generally a time for community discussions and swapping of stories and the hazards found along the way. And then finding time late into the evening discussing the Night Entertainment scene on 'New' Petchburi Road, or an article someone found on 'Asia On A Dollar A Day'. No mobile phones or Internet cafes, we would trek on over in the cool of the mornings to the General Post Office on New Road to pick up any forwarded snail-mail at Poste Restante and send our short-stack of post cards to the envious, worried or unbelieving at home.
As backpacker tourism continued to grow, the Chinese hotels at Hua Lampong and nearby were no longer able to handle the influx of backpackers. In the early to mid-70's the sois in the area around JUSMAGTHAI on Sathorn Road began to see small shops, apartment buildings and restaurants spring up to catch some of the US military custom. The Malaysia Hotel on Soi Ngam Dupli had also become an inexpensive and popular stop for tourists. At the same time, "guest houses" began opening up on that soi and the adjoining Soi Sri Bumphen to house the newly arriving backpackers. But it wasn't long before even that area became saturated, as the backpacker set continued to arrive in the Kingdom in increasing droves. Khao Sarn Road was suddenly ripe for what was then called 'budget tourism'.
The first recorded accommodation specifically for foreigners on Khao San Road is to be found in the 1978 'On Your Own' guide book : "Tum's Hostel 126/1 Khao San Road" - Tum's was a family residence, more like today's 'home stay'. But this hostel appears to be a one-off, as no records of an authoritative nature report any such further development until 1980 when another solitary home took in a foreign guest. Then, "shortly after" when the Bonny Guest House came on line as the "first commercial guest house", the Djinni was out of the bottle...
To be sure, Khao Sarn Road had a number of advantages, it was 400 meters long, so virtually able to expand to meet the demands of the swelling backpacker arrivals. It was near the then-Sunday Market at Sanam Luang, the Grand Palace and Wat Po. It was near the river and the old historic Rattanakosin Bangkok relics. By the year 2000, it was at, or near it's peak - as far as the backpacker activities were concerned. There were just on 26 Guest Houses on the main road and the immediate side-sois. And if one were to count those restaurants that had rooms for rent above, the number would be in the mid-30's. There were also 16 silver shops and 23 (or so) boutiques. In those early Khao San Road times, the same camaraderie, the same 'vibe' and 'energy' existed that the backpackers of the 60's had found. Again, it was at the Khao San restaurants where the travel stories and the 'adventures' and the cautionary tales were passed on to others: Which 1-baht ferry to take across the Chao Phraya to see the turtle wat. Which temples between Vientiane and Paksan would allow backpackers to overnight in the salas. Beware of the 'guides' outside Wat Po, and the number of the bus to the Khlong Toey docks. (The list was as endless as it was varied.)
The basement complex Plantopia Weed City has a total of ten cannabis shops and a central seating area for those wishing to smoke on premisis. And if one counts the Highland at the left of the entrance, that makes eleven. See our map. There are a number of other cannabis shops on Khao Sarn Road, not to mention a number of push-carts that roll in each evening with their glass vials of cannabis. Each shop has its own 'clever' cannabis-derived shop name - we can't help surmising that Bangkok now has so many cannabis shops, they will soon run out of names....
By the early 80's Khao San Road's popularity, by word of mouth and through the travel guide books was known throughout the world, so it was no surprise that it became a major 'nexus' and waypoint for the backpackers / budget travellers. Every third shop one was met with a sign that read "Call Home", or "Cheapest Air Fare", or "Change Money", or "Travellers Checks Best Rate", or "Military ID cards / Diplomas", or 'Bus to Pattaya' Chiang Mai... ) ', or 'Visa Extend', or "Floating Market".... The local restaurants had 'Westernized' their menus over the 1960's Chinese Hotels - in addition to an expanded Thai menu, there were such delights as 'smoothies', and banana fritters, and pancakes and crepes, and mystery-meat kebabs, and faux-club-sandwiches and fake lightweight Chinese pastries. These times on Khao San Road were pre-water-bottle days, so most decided to play it safe - don't drink the water, don't trust the ice, have a Coke or a 7-Up. But this version of Khao San Road, this dynamic, 'alive' and thriving crossroads for backpackers, hippies and other strange travellers was not to last. This was the version of Khao San Road depicted in DeCaprio'sThe Beach - this was the version in which future visitors thought they would someday immerse themselves. They were wrong.
NOW (Paradigm Shift)
We hadn't covered Khao San Road since October 2018, so this month we approached our two-day survey with apprehension - would we be looking upon a Covid-induced ghost town? Or were they somehow able to struggle out of the pervading Pandemic darkness and once again be able to draw in the tourists, the resident expats and perhaps even some of the Yuppie Thais of the pre-Covid era? 'Gobsmacked' is actually a word in the English language, and that, by any measure, was us. By way of quick comparison, in 2012, when we lamented Khao San Road had become a "garish Night Bazaar" it had 33Venues that would possibly be considered for entertainment purposes. Our 2018 survey revealed 35 such Venues. The other night we counted a total of 63 such Venues (inclusive of the recent explosion of Cannabis lounges).
Khao San Road looking toward Jakrapong Road. We can just barely make out the Rocco Rooftop Bar, which is about the only relaxing way to overlook the zoo below.
Currently (2023) the garish bazaar atmosphere has not only returned, it has doubled-down. The bars, restaurants and clubs each push their chairs and tables out into the street to accommodate the late-night rush. Each with their own brand of street tout - some are attractive young ladies intently encouraging customers to sit for "a bucket", some are buzz-cut 'security' in paramilitary garb thrusting signs and menus in your face while waving a mini flashlight in your eyes, and others are 'freelance' touts coursing the roadway encouraging passers-by to try laughing gas, or to buy cannabis. The end result : Khao San Road after about 9:00 p.m. becomes a narrow gauntlet - more a challenge to visitors than any hoped-for 'memorable experience'. The bars and clubs in the central part of Khao San Road are in a perpetual hard rock / rap amplifier duel, rendering much of the 400 meter roadway unsuitable for conversation. As the daytime push-carts selling the usual bric-a-brac go off shift, the food seller carts take their place, further congesting foot traffic. No longer do you have the option of buying a dozen kinds of deep fried insects, they are now offering huge black scorpions and large black spiders each on a stick. But are they for eating? Don't ask us, we don't know either. As if in a time-warp, we see what appear to be the same wrinkled, black-toothed crones in full hill tribe colors selling the same wooden noise-maker frogs and beaded this-and-that. Most, but not all of the day-shift streetside clothiers had earlier wheeled their racks of elephant-pants and fake Hawaiian Songkran shirts inside - but not all of them. Those clothiers, closing late hoping to make the last sale, are busy pushing their racks through the crowds back to wherever they are to be stored for the night. Meanwhile, bar waiters and waitresses carrying plates of hot phat thai from roadside stalls at one end of Khao San Road back to customers at the other end, are zig-zag threading their way through the crowd, so make sure you don't bump into them as you attempt to remember why you came in the first place.
The rare tourist working his way through the melee actually intending to stay on or near Khao Sarn Road (we encountered one) was not wearing a backpack, he was dragging his wheeled suitcase behind him - and somehow this, more than anything else, shouts out that 'the past is a foreign country'. No further explanation needed as to why many of the steady stream of visitors do the obligatory walk into Khao San Road at one end, and continue to walk directly out the other. Check that off the list, been there, done that...
And, no, faithful readers - this is not the Minority Report, I neither shade nor twist this reality. Shortly after I had stated in print that Khao San Road had been transmogrified into a harsh night bazaar, I came upon on the words of New York Times journalist Seth Mydans, "But for all its color, Khao San Road is more than a curiosity. It is a raucous, round-the-clock wake for a way of life that is gone forever. It is the black hole at the center of a shrinking world where the Age of Discovery has ended. ..."
Below are a few additional pics of today's Khao San Road.
(Here we note that our depictions of backpackers & budget travellers staying in small Chinese hotels the 60's, and in guesthouses in Soi's Ngam Dupli & Sri Bamphen in the 70's, and the guesthouses of Khao San road in 80's are broad generalities. These transitions, these shifts in 'centers of gravity' of backpacker activity were gradual and overlapping.)
Thanks for the latest newsletter. I got to it by googling for something from the same place I got your email address. Thanks for all the updates. Question : I can see in your update Soi 7/1, or Eden Soi, is now lively. Just want to know is Eden Club still working or got closed? One that was(is) in Soi 7/1 nearby Nana Plaza. Just want to know if it's still working post COVID?
As you have noted, the Eden Club was on Soi Sukhumvit 7/1 (so called 'Soi Eden', as it was the original Nitespot on that soi). The Eden Club closed on the original Government-mandated Covid closures in March 2020, never to reopen - much to the dismay of many of our readers.
.... I noticed your last issue had continued discussion on Artificial Intelligence, which I believe (?) showed another AI photo. Are you planning a regular feature or regular coverage of the AI scene? ....
Actually, no, we will not be covering the AI scene further - unless of course something new comes up that affects the Bangkok Nightlife Scene. The above photo is likely the last "AI" pic we will be uploading. As to your (and others') question, if you are up for some in-depth reading, a link to a comprehensive article on what AI is, and is not, (as affects 'media' and other). It includes some relevant discussion on the "Copyright Issue" (which will not be going away any time soon) :
Iím looking for pictures of Patpong area in the late 70s early 80s, both daytime and night. Are you able to help me at all?
The above undated pic was taken in the '70's - '80's timeframe (approximate date determined by bar signs, etc.). (Note:Bangkok Eyes didn't start publishing photos until the early "2000's".) We'll be sending you this photo and a few more - once we have some spare time to dig into our archive files. Please note, this photo (and others we will be sending along) were sent to us without attribution, and as is our policy as a news / historical publication, we proceed on the assumption that unattributed material is not copyrighted. If at a later time, we are advised by competent authority that these old photos are still under copyright, we will remove them from the website.
The King's Castle II has reopened, status quo ante, leaving King's Castle 1 & 2 now both open. At the time of our month-end survey, we noted the number of A Go-Go dancers far outnumbered the customers. Hopefully things will be picking up... .
Tip Top, a popular Patpong 1 restaurant for decades, reopened as a Pool Bar after Covid, however it has now closed. Whether or not it reopens is a big 'wait-and-see item' - with half the Soi now a street-food court, and the other half a night market shopping area, the prospects are not good...
The big news this past month on Patpong 2 was the crackdown on a number of bars in the Black Pagoda group of Venues. Much was said on the local television stations and in the vernacular Press, however not many facts are actually known. What is known is there was originally a crackdown on the Velvet bar in Phuket for having underage dancers. In that there have been business discussions between the Velvet and one, or some of the persons associated with the Black Pagoda group, the Thai police thought it prudent to widen the investigation to include all parties. Mid-month the Thai Police raided and closed the following Patpong 2 Venues :
*Black Pagoda *Club Black *Triple XXX Lounge *Bar Bar Fetish *Patpong Museum Annex -3rd Level - (No stairwell access due to Bar Bar closure.)
*The Strip Bangkok
Although Thai police originally began their investigation in the Patpong Museum, the museum itself was not implicated in the crackdown and remains open - and, when we passed by, quite busy.
The Bada Bing is the only straight (non-gay) A Go-Go bar currently open on Patpong 2. We note they have some new neon nailed up - looking good...
It looks like some progress is finally being made in the renovation of the old Rawhide Lounge & Bar (- at least for half of it....). We note: While business was down as much as 30-50 % in many areas, Soi Cowboy remained crowded - again, many were 'walk-throughs' taking selfies, but the bars generally were doing a good business as well...
Last month we noted that the Mani Bar & Grill was not only closed, but had removed all chattel. This month they are back, running on all cylinders. New management? Located in the Maison Hotel compound. Welcome them back to the neon circus...
SOI NANA - (SOI 4 SUKHUMVIT)
The Dubai Restaurant opened newly in what had been poised to open as Bombay Dreams. Although billing itself as a restaurant, it is functioning as yet another Soi-front bar beer. Welcome to the vicissitudes....
The Absolute Bar originally opened on the main Soi in October 2022, but closed after only one month. This time around it has reopened in what was previously the Kiss Bangkok Massage 2 on Subsoi Hana, one of the affiliate bars. ...Shake it, don't break it, lads...
The thriftily named G B bar has opened newly down at the end of lonely street.... (Subsoi Lemongrass) Welcome to these neon sois...
Nila Bistro, closed last month, has reopened. It is, however, no longer a bistro, it has become an Indian restaurant, they have just kept the old sign...
Sup Naree has a habit of opening and closing. Experience tells us that this is not a successful way to maintain regular customers. Should they plan to reopen, it might be worthwhile modifying their business plan to suit their customers..... Located in Honey Plaza.
Orange Bangkok started out during the Covid years as a Volkswagen van mobile bar named Orange. They eventually moved in off the roadway, becoming part of the Tewley Complex of open bar beers. They have since moved out, claiming a nearby spot, and making a much larger indoor-outdoor bar beer. (They have kept the VW van as their 'behind the bar' area.) Welcome back to the nightbeat.
(Sukhumvit Soi 11)
Frying Pan started out as an open-air restaurant replacing the Baobab Bar. Currently they are operating (quite successfully) as did the Baobab Bar - as an open lounge. Gotsta get paid.
The 7 Center Point (ex: Soi 7 Plaza) has already prepared for the upcoming Songkran celebrations utilizing the area at the back which recently removed all the bars to make a 'parking lot'. ...So, in that the parking lot never got off the ground, and the rear area is now fully utilized for 'Entertainment', does anyone know why they tore down all those bars in the first place? Neither do we...
As was the case last month's survey, Soi Eden (Soi 7/1 Sukhumvit) has had no change in it's inventory of Night Entertainment Venues. The only change is there seems to be fewer customers prowling the streets and sois this month... Another photo for 'The Archives'.
This month Midnite Hour goes back to July of 1966 for an in-depth look at the spectrum of Night Entertainment available for Expat consumption in Bangkok...
The Petchrama was Thailand's first (and only) Cinerama theater. And it was a 'big deal' - worthy of a Royal Command Performance on it's opening in July of 1966. Located on New Petchburi Road.
Sam Scott quite successfully transitioned from his spot at the Drop-In Tavern (New Road) to the Yard of Ale, where he ran the show. Located immediately across Silom Road from Patpong 1 on the corner of Convent Road. July 1966
The Ramayana was the dine-danceVenue at the Rama Hotel on Silom Road.
Although I-George has apparently been erased, or was entertaining under a pseudonym, Joey Hollingsworth's story is something yet again. He began dancing at 3 years of age, turning professional at five. In addition to his tour in Southeast Asia, he appeared on U.S. television, including The Ed Sullivan Show, the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He has since retired in his home country of Canada. He is 86 years of age.
Gaysorn Night Entertainment Area - July1966
The Taratip Massage was one of the few advertising their prices (60 Baht/hour) giving us an insight into how much the massage (less 'extras' and tip) would cost a customer. July 1966
It didn't take much imagination to see that the Venice Turkish Bath was not emphasizing steam rooms or the barber shop. Located on Rajprasong Road (today's Big C area).
As the U.S. R&R program got under way in Thailand, the Pretty Massage was one of the first massage parlors on Petchburi Road's "Golden Mile" to stay open virtually around the clock.July 1966
This 1966 photo of the Takaramassage is the best we have on file. It started out (1965) as a barber shop / onsen (or japanese bath house) in Patpong 2, but as the years went by, and the Takara migrated to Patpong 1, the emphasis was on 'massage' and the barber shop function quietly disappeared. Historically, Takara was a Japanese manufacturer of barber chairs and related equipment.
Sukhumvit Road was still years away from becoming an entertainment hub, but it did have a scattered number of Venues during those years, to include Sorry About That on the corner of Soi 7.
While New Road'sStarlight wasn't in competition with the "Big Three" as far as International Stars on their marquee, they remained one of the most popular live entertainment night clubs in Bangkok. (The 'Big Three' ; Sani Chateau, Cafe de Paris, Tropicana.)
Richmond, Virginia (USA) has a graffiti problem. And the Department of Public Works is mobilizing their graffiti removal crews trying to keep up with the onslaught. In 2022 there were 1,300 locations that the DPW had to regularly revisit in the city to keep up with graffiti removals. Today (2023) there are over 2,000 separate city sites on their clean-up schedule. Last year, the city received an additional 275 call-ins for graffiti removal. This year (2023), in the first two months alone, there have already been 276 separate call-ins (in addition to the abovementioned scheduled visits to heavy graffiti areas). Graffiti removal has become a seven-day-a-week job - and yes, they are hiring... Unlike some municipalities, the city of Richmond does not charge private property owners for graffiti removal. On the other hand, the DPW states that while they are not against "murals" (graffiti 'artists' throwing up pieces on so-called 'legal walls') , they do take strong exception to graffiti on private property.
Bangkok Eyes is an historically based news outlet, and as such, all graphic excerpts herein are considered, under current legal precedents and prevailing interpretations, 'Fair Use' under Copyright Law. Copyright of any original photographs or artwork resides exclusively with the creators.
Brain Salad Surgery
6 ft high x 23 ft
Bangkok Eyes is an historically based news outlet, and as such, all graphic excerpts herein are considered, under current legal precedents and
prevailing interpretations, 'Fair Use' under Copyright Law. Copyright of any original artwork resides exclusively with the creators.
Bangkok's original site !
The MIDNITE HOUR Graffiti Page is prepared by Staff Contributor "Boge" Hartman.
(Boge's photo, above, is not a graffitiper-se, although there are those who have insinuated....