Once upon a time, locals peddled rice on Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Barges paddled, and later motored, down the Chao Phraya River, where they dropped off tons in jute sacks.
By the end of the 19th century, the district was the largest rice market not only in Bangkok, but in Siam, the world’s largest rice growing nation. Vendors opened shops, where a dirt-track alley became so thick with rice trade that King Chulalongkorn ordered a road built in 1892. The cobbled strip wasn’t grand enough to be named after a historic Thai figure or nation-building principle, so it was simply called Soi Khao San (or Milled Rice Lane).
The area flourished on rice profits, and expanded into other products like clothing and jewelry.
Yet only 100 years later, an invasion of international backpackers almost eclipsed local market culture. Starting as a trickle in the late 1970s, when Bangkok was a terminus for the Asian hippie trail, the influx became a tidal wave in the 1990s.