Self promotion: Here’s a CNNGo.com story I wrote about the scene at Khao San Rd. today. Includes pics.
I was in downtown Bangkok’s Banglamphoo district yesterday afternoon, and I figured I’d drop by Khao San Road to see how it’s looking these days. You may remember that I penned a New York Times travel story in 2007 about how Khao San Road, long a gathering spot for backpackers, has become increasingly upscale.
I hadn’t visited the area in about six months, and at first, everything seemed normal: There were vendors selling offbeat T-shirts, various travelers were drinking beer at outdoor cafes, and a young woman was sitting on a curb, getting her hair braided.
But then I saw this, which I must admit took me by surprise:
Yes, that’s a recently-opened iStudio shop — a Mac re-seller — on Khao San Road. I went inside, and can report that the shop sells the full range of Apple gear: routers, desktops, laptops, iPods, and even the iPhone. Here’s another pic:
I also noticed, further down the street, that in addition to pirated music CDs, which have been available on Khaosan Road for many years, there’s now at least one vendor selling bootlegged computer software.
And then there’s this:
There were at least two stalls where vendors were selling movies and music that could be downloaded directly to iPods, mobile phones, or computers. You can see, here, that the sign says “Music & Movie — Load to iPod.” (For the record, this practice may not be particularly new. And it may not be unique to Bangkok: A friend in the know tells me that this downloading service has been available in Phnom Penh for some time.)
So these new, digital offerings — the iPod-ifcation of Khaosan Road, if you will — means that if you’re a backpacker and you want to upgrade your aging iPod, let’s say, or even purchase a new iPhone, you can do so at one end of the street. Then you can wander a few hundred meters down the road and load the device up with pirated flicks and tunes. And there you go: You’re set for the rest of your journey.
Depending on your perspective, I imagine this is either scary, surprising (or not), or totally cool. Maybe it’s some combination of all of those.
Over at the New York Times’s Travel Q&A Blog, David G. Allan recently pointed out some resources for two inexperienced travelers coming to Thailand. I was happy to see that my Khao San Road story was among the highlighted articles.
I am 18 and not a terribly experienced traveler. I have traveled in the United States, Spain and Portugal. This May a friend and I are braving our way to Thailand. The tickets have been purchased, but the itinerary is not yet set, and we have our anxieties, as do our mothers. Do you have any advice on where to go? We are doing the trip on a budget, and we are looking for a very cultural, and exciting, experience.
Thailand is quite safe in terms of crime, very inexpensive and culturally exciting. You should have an experience that eases your (and your mothers’) anxiety by sticking to well-worn travel paths yet avoiding any elements that cater to foreign tastes in illicit sex or drugs (which is strictly prosecuted).
You will no doubt fly into Bangkok, and you should stay long enough to visit such sites as the Grand Palace and Wat Arun and take a boat ride along the Chao Phraya. If you want to meet fellow backpackers, you might explore Khao San Road as Newley Purnell did in “A Hippie Haven Goes Upscale” (Aug. 19, 2007). For good (and inexpensive) food options, read “Street Smarts in Bangkok” (Jan. 6, 2008) by Joshua Kurlantzick, and for a glimpse into the lives of the city’s up-and-coming artists, read “To Be Young and Hip in Bangkok,” by Matt Gross (Nov. 20, 2005)…
There’s more info in the complete blog post.