This is probably a bit contentious but today I am going to write about the plethora of stories that are cropping up on social media about beg-packers.
I have been travelling the world for 35 years now, first as a musician, then as a traveller and now as a writer. My credo is simple: follow the customs of the country in which you find yourself; leave only footprints and friendship; take only photos and memories; and put in more than you take out.
It’s really not that difficult, surely? To come to countries that are infinitely poorer than your home and take money from the locals is, in my opinion, awful behaviour. I don’t care how poor some of these backpackers think they are, they are wealthy compared to the company in which they find themselves here. Preying on the beautiful nature of Southeast Asian people is just a no-go area in my book.
I once got into an argument with a backpacker on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. He was arguing with a woman at a street food vendor over the price of his pad thai. I really lost my temper. He had a phone worth about three months of her salary, a watch that was probably the same and a backpack that was possibly as big as her house. I got a lot of support and he shuffled off to the jeers of many. In recent weeks we’ve had a guy standing by the roadside in District 2 claiming to have no money and needing to get home to Scandinavia. They have embassies and consulates for people who are genuinely stranded. This is simply trying to con people out of their hard-earned cash. Vietnamese people are naturally generous and the sight of a local person handing over money to someone who has spent $1,000 on a flight over here is sickening.
I have recently seen a couple of posts on facebook of people bragging of getting away with not spending money. One was a guy who was advising a young man not to buy a ticket for the Angkor Temples but to go by bicycle and just simply walk in. Apparently nobody checks except at Angkor Wat itself, so you can do all the other temples for free. Really?
The second guy was advising someone else never to use a tuk tuk in Cambodia but just hire a bicycle. Why spend $25 on a tour round the Angkor temples when you can do it yourself for $5. So he’d rather save $20 by riding round in unbelievable temperatures for 11 hours than give a guy a living. How eco friendly of him. I’ve seen others advising people to ask locals for a free night’s board as Southeast Asian people are “friendly and will give it”. What is the matter with these people? In the West an average student will spend more on beer than these people get to look after their families. A ticket for a rock concert costs about two weeks salary. If you can’t afford to come and be decent, don’t come.
It’s endemic of this attitude that everyone deserves to be able to do everything. I would love to do the Son Doong Cave, but I have to admit that I am no longer fit enough. I still disagree with putting a cable car through. Everest will remain at rest for me. Do I want an escalator up the side? No. Please do us all a favour, save up and come out when you’ve grown up.
Following a successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter/musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, then Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City since 2013.