Are Backpackers Thailand’s greatest Import?

Backpackers are here, and we’re grateful for them. Worldly locals and seasoned expats alike have experienced the countless benefits of living in a country that attracts such valuable visitors.

While other travelers bring pensions and contagious skin diseases, few bring the joy and happiness that characterizes the wandering droves of thread bare vagrants we all know and love.

Hopefully this list can be a helpful reminder of the reasons why backpackers are the pride and joy of Thailand’s expat community.

Backpackers actually appreciate Thai culture.

Unlike the Chinese tourists jumping from air conditioned bus to air conditioned shopping mall, Thailand’s backpackers are planted firmly within the local culture. They traverse the country in rickety busses, find their spirituality in quiet temples, and barter for bags of fruit like real Thai people. Backpackers have even gone so far as to keep up the classic Thai tradition of busking on street corners to keep their holiday rolling. Without backpackers, how would people in our own home countries ever get familiar with bamboo tattoos, pay to work yoga retreats, or molluscum contagiosum? Indeed, backpackers do a better job at advertising the Land of Smiles than any marketing agency.

Friendly backpackers keeping tradition alive.

They keep prices low.

No backpacker has ever been overcharged. For anything. In fact, I know a few backpackers that still owe me money. Middle class suburbanites give away far too much money in the form of tips, taxi scams, and “farang prices”. Thankfully, backpackers keep street vendors on their toes by being familiar with local prices, and sometimes charming their way in to free meals and lodging. Did you know that you can sleep on the cool, hard tiles of a temple floor for free? You probably didn’t, unless you’re a backpacker. Ultimately, backpackers are to thank for Bangkok’s 10 baht hotdogs and Texas Chicken’s free refills.

Hard travelling backpacker supporting local businesses.

They’re not sexpats.

Have you ever seen a North Face Mountaineering backpack leaned against the entrance of a massage parlor? No. You haven’t. Backpackers don’t have the disposable income to drop 500 baht on a limp wristed massage, let alone another 500 to 1,000 for a happy ending. Do you know how many bowls of vegetable broth that money can buy? Backpacker hookup culture is respectful, progressive, and consensual.  It’s normal to spot two sunburnt love birds wrestling about behind the bushes of a public beach. If you ever find a backpackers copulating in public, mind your own business and don’t tell any Koh Tao cops.

Not to mention a backpacker’s intentions while travelling through Thailand are saintly in comparison to the notorious “two years of experience” amateur pedophiles teachers roaming the Thai countryside. We all understand the human desire to explore the world with nothing but the clothes on your back, but no one can explain the urge to “teach English” in a third world country most well-known for the sex trade.

“Professional” English teacher grooming children

They don’t know what they’re doing, but that’s ok.

Backpackers may be burdened with student loan debt, but they are certainly not burdened with the cost of a buffalo farm and a dowry while working in Thai public schools. The pleasant image of a carefree wanderer is a much better representation of Thai life than the sad reality of a lonely pensioner scraping by as his disaffected Thai wife spends his hard earned money on a Facebook live marketplace. Backpackers may not have much going on over here, but they definitely have lives to return to back home.

“120,000 baht investment”

They’re one of the last remnants of Bangkok’s “gritty” urban image.

When the Thai government cracked down on illegal street vendors back in 2017, they insisted that the purpose was to clean up the streets and improve safety on the roads. It’s unclear how effective that was, but what is clear is that much of the soul of Bangkok has disappeared. There are no more hectic scenes of charcoal barbeque carts and rainbow colored banners down certain sois. In fact, if it wasn’t for the colorful backpackers wandering around Sukumvit, one might forget just how dirty Bangkok can really get. Sweat stained tank tops, moldy Tivas, and saran wrapped palm tree tattoos are staples in the uniforms of our favorite guests. Their oily, sun damaged hair tells part of their story while their body odor tells the rest. Their bracelet covered forearms and synthetic dreadlocks might be offensive to some, but we can all agree that they are doing something much better than the cargo shorts and tube socks wearing hay seeds clogging up the BTS entrance gates.

“In many ways, indistinguishable from Paris Fashion Week.”

I think I speak for everyone reading this when I say that I feel proud whenever I see a backpacker disappearing into the busy streets of Thailand. Their unbridled passion and lust for adventure should inspire us all. Maybe the next time you see a weary backpacker, you can offer them a baht or two and wish them safe travels. With any luck, they’ll never have to leave our sight again.

Written by: Olivia Gonzalez