Khao San Road
Like many a backpacker before me, my introduction to Thailand this evening came in the form of Bangkok's (in)famous tourist strip, Khao San Road. Khao San is quite literally a tourist mecca: in all my far and wide travels on this trip, I've never seen anything that comes even remotely close to matching the sheer density of tourists, tourist-hasslers, and tourist-related services that packs this one little area. The streets are thronged with farangs (lit: "foreigners" — I'll be using that word a lot, so get used to it!) from every corner of the globe. The buildings lining the sidewalks provide everything your average tourist could ever want, from guesthouses to cheap Internet, from tattoos to Pad Thai, from bars to travel agencies, and from laundry joints to Chabad house.
Khao San Road itself, and several streets around it, seem to be a pretty much permanent street market as well (i.e. on top of everything else that they already are). Like their neighbours behind the sidewalk, the market vendors also sell everything you could ever want or dream of: books, music, DVDs, clothing, souvenirs, backpacks and electronics, to name a few. The casual shopper could literally spend days, just getting acquainted with what's on offer in this sprawling mass of super-cheap, super-fake street merchandise — let alone finding time to actually buy some of it.
And amidst all of this, Khao San Road also boasts no less than a plethora of random local people, all of whom will shout at and harass every second tourist that walks their way. You literally cannot walk 2 feet in this area, without being assaulted by a barrage of offers for tuk-tuk rides, disco entry cards, Thai massages, or simply for whatever's on sale at the nearby stalls. It makes Cusco's central square look like a Zen temple of supreme serenity.
Khao San Road is nuts, end of story. What with the surreal mix of neon-lit bars and discos, the endless shopping opportunities, and the poverty and filth intermingled amidst the rich tourist glitz, I couldn't help but describe the scene to myself as: "Bombay meets Las Vegas". I've never been to either of those two cities; but I imagine, from what I've heard, that the analogy is appropriately fitting. My only advice is: whatever you do, don't stay on Khao San itself. Wander a few streets away, where the scene is (relatively) much closer to normality, and where you can find a guesthouse that you can sleep in without being harassed to death.