Starbucks Changes Khao San Road – Some Say, For The Better

Khao San Road in Bangkok has been known for decades as the “Hippie Heaven” of Thailand. Stuffed with stalls weaving dreadlocks, tattoo parlors, cheap clothing shops, vegetarian restaurants, hole in the wall bars, fake DVD stalls, and incense stalls – this was the place to come to if you were a backpacker in Bangkok and short on money.

Today, it still has more than its fair share of hippie paraphernalia, but the times they are a changing on Khao San Road.

Now you’re as likely to see a suited business man rushing by with a briefcase as you are a hippie with a backpack. There are European families on vacation with their kids, and nouveau riche Thais who want to see what it’s all about. We, who live in Bangkok, are not quite sure when it happened – but some people blame Starbucks.

About five years ago, Starbucks thought an ideal location for a new café would be Khao San Road. So they scouted the area, decided against the typical street front properties and instead chose a traditional wooden Thai house set back off the street.

It has its own patio and is beautifully designed inside with dark hardwood floors, comfy chairs, pleasant music and good coffee. In fact, it is now one of the prettiest Starbucks in Bangkok.

Here, you’ll see a group dressed in business attire having a meeting, hippies with practically every body part pierced, and middle-aged housewives stopping in for a quick latte before heading home. This one new business opening paved the way for other like-minded people to open up shop.

Since Starbucks opened, other cafes have done renovations and are now more upscale than before. Several high-end fancy spas have also opened as Khao San Road is becoming the “in” place for Thai college students, those into the Bangkok “hip” scene and even some of the “hi-so” (the Thai phrase for “high-society”) types.

Some of my favorite places, in no particular order, are on Khao San Road or in the immediate vicinity. Some are a bit “hi-so”, some are just “hip and cool” but all are worth checking out if you like up and coming places.

Oh My Cod, a British restaurant, opened a few years ago and is incredibly popular with Western expats and travelers. I’ve also seen a lot more Thais here recently too, which is unusual as most Thais aren’t known for liking Western food. It’s actually just off Khao San Road on

Silk Bar, actually more a restaurant than a bar, is popular. It’s packed during the day with Westerners and Thai, which is not surprising as they do great food for only a couple of dollars. It gets even more crowded at night, as it’s just about the only place on the street that stays open until 5am, but it also gets rowdier so be careful.

Gulliver’s is always packed with Westerners and hip, young Thais. It’s a large air-conditioned, dark bar with enormous big screen TVs that show all the important sporting events, rocking music, cute Thai girls playing pool, and a great choice in drinks. More expensive than other places on the street, for me, it’s worth it just for the air conditioning. It also attracts a clientele with a bit more of a padded pocket than normal.

May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant is a superb Vegetarian restaurant that is earning an international reputation. It’s been featured in Thomas Cooks list of best restaurants in Thailand, and was even named “Best Restaurant” by a Spanish magazine.

May Kaidee‘s serves absolutely fresh, delicious vegetarian food for very cheap prices. Several of my more affluent friends rave about this place and it’s apparently becoming one of the “in” restaurants for those in the know in high society.

My favorite place, and a place that would have been laughed off Khao San Road only a few years ago, is It’s Happened To Be A Closet. Okay, so the name leaves a bit to be desired (Thais aren’t known for their good command of the English language!), but the place more than makes up for it.

Squeezed into a small, darkish house, surrounded by books and plush fabrics, It’s Happened To Be A Closet is a boutique shop, a restaurant, and a bakery all rolled into one. The baked goods are scrumptious, the Thai spaghetti one of the best I’ve ever tasted and, although I’ve yet to buy anything from their gorgeous boutique, it’s only a matter of time.

It’s Happened… everything I love about Bangkok. It’s modern thinking, fashionable, unusual and going places, and with a nice owner too. Before Starbucks, this store wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Khao San Road pretty much has something for everyone now. It’s getting away from its backpacker roots, and attracting a more diverse crowd that’s interesting to watch. Just nursing a beer at a sidewalk café and watching the world go by can give you hours of entertainment.

For me, it’s more interesting than it ever was as there are less undesirable types and more people who are just there for a good time. But, those who still want to live in the past, yep, they still blame Starbucks.