Khao San Road safety and scams
First published 10th June, 2012
There's been talk on the Travelfish forum that Thailand's backpacker nerve centre, Khao San Road, is little more than a "dodgy" place where "sharks", "the most unscrupulous people in Thailand", "Thai mafia", "thugs, gangsters and thieves" prey upon the droves of dreamy-eyed travellers passing through each day. For many, the area's party-gypsy-rainbow-child atmosphere is a fun time, but how safe is it? It's unlikely problems will arise if you stay smart, but just in case, here are some tips for safely experiencing Khao San.
Most of the creepers come out at night.
Watch your things. This doesn't only apply to Khao San but is truly smart travel 101. Don't put your valuables or yourself in situations with a high risk of theft or worse. Violent robberies are uncommon in Thailand, but pickpockets, bag snatchers and cat burglars aren't.
Secure your valuables to the best of your ability (use security gear if you want to be extra safe), and never leave them lying around anywhere; on a bar, on a convenience store counter, on the seat of a tuk tuk (even while moving), in an unattended hotel room, anywhere. Leaving a camera bag passively under a table, or a wallet clearly visible in your pocket is just asking for it.
This should go without saying, but if you drink so many buckets that you end up comatose under a Khao San streetside table at 04:00, you're probably not doing a great job of watching your things.
Watch yourself. Related to the above, although perhaps even more important, is to stay mindful of your own behaviour. Thai society doesn't appreciate aggressiveness or cockiness. Someone bumped into you in a bar? Let it go, or as the Thais would say, mai pen rai.
Thai society is also quite courteous overall, but you can pretty much throw that out the window on Khao San Road. Even so, anywhere in Thailand it's a big no-no to humiliate or intimidate a Thai person, making them "lose face". Do that around Khao San, even if the person seemingly has it coming, and you can expect a not so pleasant visit from those "thugs, gangsters and thieves" during your late night stroll back to the guesthouse.
Thumbs up to safety!
Watch your drink. Tales of unsuspecting travellers being drugged, usually in a drink, and later robbed are among the more rumoured about Khao San horrors. However, it appears to be more gossip than truth -- a google search for "drugged Khao San Road" reveals just one idiot's story of taking home three sex workers and waking up walletless.
Surely there must be some instances of bar drugging that have occurred on Khao San, but it doesn't appear this dirt-bag practice is any more common here than at other night haunts across the world. Still, it's advisable anywhere to keep an eye on your drink while out, and to not accept drinks from strangers.
Watch who you hang with. Again, this is good advice for any nightlife area, but if an overly charming stranger seems to be trying way too hard to become your best friend on Khao San, be wary.
There's no doubt that Khao San attracts some serious sketch-balls (both Thai and foreign), and if you wind up hanging with one of them until the wee hours when you go to put the straw in your mouth but it ends up in your nose instead, it won't be difficult for your new "friend" to snake something from your pocket, or worse. It's easy to ride the wave of a big night out, but use common sense and sound judgment with regard to who you hang with.
Even in broad daylight, there are plenty of scams common around Khao San (it's also good to have a handle on common global scams), so don't hesitate to walk away or get the police involved if something doesn't feel right.
Hmm, do I spend my last 50 baht on another bucket, or a M.A. from Oxford?
Watch who you roll with. In the Khao San area, choose your means of transport wisely. There are a host of tuk tuk drivers usually camped near the Tanao Road end of Khao San who like to get in travellers' faces asking, "Where you going, what you need?" Avoid them like the plague.
Instead, walk off Khao San a bit and catch a taxi, tuk tuk, or motorbike taxi as they pass. If a tuk tuk or motorbike, be sure to clearly negotiate a price before setting off. If a taxi, make certain the driver turns the meter on, and never go for "a special price for you".
In terms of transport further afield, the buses departing from Khao San are not your safest ticket. Not every bus operator from Khao San (this one, for example, is a fine choice) will be rummaging through your pack in the stow away compartment down below while you sit in headphones bliss up top. There are however enough reports of theft on the Khao San buses that we generally wouldn't recommend them, especially considering safer (and cheaper) government buses can be caught relatively easily at Bangkok's public bus terminals. On any bus, always keep your valuables safely on your person and never in the stow away compartment below.
Where am I going? To catch a non-sketchy tuk tuk off Khao San, thanks.
Watch where you are. I don't mean to raise any alarms with this, but if terrorists were going to strike Bangkok, Khao San would most likely be at the top of their list of targets. Thousands of Westerners gather here nightly to let loose, and although Khao San has thankfully never been the sight of an attack, similar places frequented by Westerners -- in India and Bali for example -- have been hit over the last decade. A recent terrorism threat on "tourist areas in Bangkok" was immediate enough for the US State Department to issue a warning.
Currently, I would not avoid Khao San or anywhere else in Southeast Asia due to terrorism concerns, but I am selective about where I go while in such places. You know those mega bars on Khao San that are filled to the gills with hundreds of boozing Westerners each evening? No thanks.
Both for peace of mind and what I find to be a better ambience, when I do go to a Khao San area bar it's typically at the more low-key Soi Rambutri or Phra Athit Road, which are still lively spots but away from the all-out debauchery of Khao San.
Red sky over Khao San.
Finally, don't be too up tight. Be smart and prepared, but if you're utterly consumed with worries of being scammed, robbed or worse, it simply won't be an enjoyable trip. Is Khao San populated by a disproportionate number of thugs, scam artists and thieves compared to most of Bangkok? Definitely. Is everyone around Khao San trying to scam or steal from you? Certainly not. Is Khao San also frequented by some genuinely good and interesting people who you might want to meet? Absolutely.
After getting out of a cab in the Khao San area at one point in my journeys, my travel companion realised he had forgotten his backpack in the backseat, which was full of electronic goodies. In our bemoaning, we accepted it as a loss right off and started the process of making a claim through his travel insurance. About a half hour later, we glanced at the spot where we'd been dropped off, and who did we find standing on the sidewalk in the hot sun holding my companion's backpack while sharply perusing the crowd of travellers? That's right -- the goodhearted Khao San cabbie had come back to look for us and returned the backpack with all contents still inside.
Expect the bad, and you'll probably find it. Act stupidly, and the bad will probably find you. Be smart and look for the good, and chances are your experience will be flawless, even on Khao San Road.
About the author
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary.
Related readingCorruption in Thailand
Travelfish tips on travel health & safety
10 points on buying travel insurance
Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
Read 11 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (16)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Soi Dog Foundation
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (9)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (18)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Luang Prabang for kids
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (10)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (80)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok craft villages
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Great Thai food blogs
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai?
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Full Moon Party
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (33)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Ha Long Bay or Sapa?
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (16)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.