September 19, 2019
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Bangkok backpackers' mecca to be revamped by Thai authorities

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela.

Bangkok, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- The hustle and bustle of Khao San Road, Bangkok’s backpacker hub popularized by Leonardo DiCaprio's film "The Beach," is a pocket of wild and bohemian charm in the Thai capital, but the authorities now want to revamp it to attract more families.

At nightfall under its famous neon lights, the road becomes a trail of tourists in search of cheap restaurants and bars, or bargains at the stalls of street vendors selling clothes, souvenirs, alcohol, seafood, fruit and even grilled insects.

But in addition to offering a wide variety of items for sale, some street stalls are unlicensed and occupy the sidewalks, making walking difficult and creating conflict with some businesses that own premises and pay taxes.

The local authorities want to solve this issue with an investment plan valued at 48.8 million baht ($1.59 million) to organize the stalls and improve the sidewalks and spaces.

It’s estimated that the renovation work will begin in October and end in February next year.

"I think it's good that the government plans to improve the sidewalks. The renovation will help attract families," Khao San Business Association president Sanga Ruangwattanakul told EFE.

Sanga said the authorities' plans will improve the accessibility of the street and reduce conflict between vendors and shops that are blocked by carts selling their wares.

The businessman added that at the end of the night, rubbish is piled up — especially plastic cups and bags — due to the shortage of rubbish bins.

Spanning about 400 meters, Khao San Road has about 400 permanent stalls and at least 100 street vendors, although the backpackers’ area of hostels and restaurants has expanded to other adjacent streets.

According to Sanga, the area attracts about 50,000 tourists a day in high season (between November and March) and about 20,000 in low season (between April and October).

Situated in the capital’s Old Town near the Chao Phraya River, Khao San ("milled rice" in Thai) Road was founded in 1892 and, as its name would imply, the area served as a silo and rice market.

In the 1980s, it became crowded with low-priced hostels for young backpackers attracted by the exoticism and revelry of the capital before leaving for the white sandy beaches of the south.

Despite strict anti-drug laws, marijuana was easily found in the area, said Sanga, who opened his first street bar 25 years ago and is now one of the partners of the Buddy Group, which owns bars, restaurants and other businesses in the area.

In 2000, the street gained popularity with the film “The Beach,” in which DiCaprio played a backpacker who heard in a Khao San Road hostel the story of a community living on a secret beach.

More recently, the area has gained a bad reputation for the noise of bars with loudspeakers in the streets and cheap low-quality hostels, although there are also more higher-end hotels.

"For me it's the best. We arrived on the first day as we had no place to eat dinner and we were served the typical food — pad thai — which is very good," said Marco, a tourist from Madrid who believes that the chaos is part of the street's charm.

"Then we partied some of the group, and the truth is that we had a great time. We have not seen it very dirty," he added next to several of his relatives on a rooftop on Khao San Road with a local beer in hand. EFE-EPA


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