Over the last two months Ive had several friends visit me in Thailand. Two made the mistake of staying on Khao San Road. One didnt. His experience was (I estimate) 100 times better, at least from the perspective of actually experiencing what Bangkok is about, than those of my friends who stayed on Khao San Road.
Heres why I dont like Khao San Road: its not a good sample of life in Thailand. People that stay there have the misguided idea that theyre staying somewhere thats uniquely Thai or off the beaten path when they are actually staying on a street thats in a bubble away from normal Thai life.
The entire street is full of hawkers selling cheap products, usually at silly prices. The food isnt even remotely close to actual Thai food! I bought Pad Thai on Khao San Road and it was just cheap instant ramen noodles with sauce, while people that stay there rave about how authentic it is. Its the same story for other Thai dishes there Western Thai food thats watered down and poorly made, all sold to people that arent aware.
The other problem is the quality of most hotels on Khao San Road. There are some nice hotels there (the Dang Derm Hotel is the only one I recommend to friends, if they insist on staying there) but many are poorly maintained and are infested with all sorts of vermin. I stayed on Khao San Road the first time I visited Thailand (we all make mistakes) and remember seeing more cockroaches in the three nights I was there than in the last two plus years in this country.
If you want to experience a bubble life thats completely unlike Bangkok, stay in Khao San Road. If not, stay in a hotel along Sukhumvit Road, preferably from Phrom Phong to On Nut. Its still a bubble (this is the most upmarket residential part of Bangkok) but its at least a better sample of life in this city than Khao San Road is.