Where did all the travelers go?

by Johnny Ward

Being semi-based in Bangkok and often taking trips around South East Asia I’m well aware of the backpacking crowd in the region. the more trips I take around here, the more I feel inclined to stay in Bangkok and forget about traveling in SE Asia, just live my life until it’s time for my next real trip, and leave SE Asia to the new crowd.

Drunk backpacker

Is this really traveling?

 

I don’t know how it’s developed but a trip through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam used to be about seeing Asia, experiencing new cultures, learning new languages, having life-changing experiences but something’s gone very wrong along the way.

 

Speaking to so many people passing through Bangkok, and witnessing what goes on, I’d go as far to say that a standard trip through these 4 hotspots often doesn’t constitute traveling anymore, it some sort of middle-class rite of passage for twenty-somethings and recent graduates. It’s often a glorified boozey holiday for most, and it pains me to admit it. Just in the same way that Brits would flood to Ibiza to get drunk and get laid with other Brits, Aussies to Bali and Americans to Tijuana –  now the world has got smaller, flights have got cheaper and the whole lot congregate in South East Asia.

 

Just to highlight the issue, someone I knew (I’ll mention no names) recently came to Thailand. Did they read up on Buddhism? Perhaps try to understand the longest reigning monarch in the world? Nope, they wrote back to Ireland saying “It’s f*cking brilliant out here, but I have to watch out for all these f*cking chinks (derogatory term for Chinese, but he was actually referring to Thai people)” Marvellous.

 

Now I wish this was an isolated incident but having just come from Vang Vieng, it’s just more of the same. Ditto for Khao San road, Pattaya, Koh Phangan, Koh Phi Phi (where I see they actually have a booze cruise now, sailing around the beautiful Maya Bay and for 600 baht it’s ‘all-you-can-drink’). Checking out people’s photos from their ‘travels’ in the region will tell the same story, drunken night, hungover day full of family guy and friends reruns, back on the sauce again the next night.

 

I’m a huge advocate of travel, it should expand our minds, teach us about religion, increase our patience, help us understand how fortunate we have been in our lives. Using the strength of our relative foreign currencies so we can afford more booze does none of that, and it pains me to think that’s what ‘travelling’ is coming to represent.

 

Of course there’s time to cut loose on the road, partying is part and parcel of life in most countries so traveling shouldn’t exclude that facet of culture, in fact it should embrace it, but when it becomes the main activity we partake in, we know something is amiss.

 

Now I’m aware some people are going to accuse me of getting on my high horse, acting superior or sanctimonious and if that’s the case, so be it, I’ll take it on the chin. Equally, I’m aware that there are people who come to the region for something other than fire dancers and buckets of cocktails, but the article above refers to a worrying, growing contingent. So next time someone tells me they ‘traveled’ in South East Asia, I’ll ask them “did you travel there, or did you go on another lads holiday?”. Safe travels :S

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33 thoughts on “Where did all the travelers go?

  1. Pingback: Helpful Information From Other Blogs | Broads Travel Abroad

  2. Adam - Tropical Nomad

    Hey Johnny,
    I have so many peoples pictures of Vang Vieng and Koh Phanang, where it is just a party buzz full of drunks. I try to mix it up as best as I can. Training Muay Thai, visiting temples and going exploring on scooters.. But I am guilty of having a party on Phi Phi or Koh Tao but not to the extent of some backpackers. I lived in Spain and have done that craic already. Some people will just act like drunken messes all the time and turn ‘backpacker hotspots’ into disgraceful places to visit.

    The sad thing is that it is allowed and encouraged so long as it brings in money to the area…

    Reply
  3. JadeAdele

    I haven’t been to SE Asia yet but I found a similar issue in Central America: A lot of young folks living the beverly hills lifestyle on a wallmart budget just because they could. No interest in understanding anything about local culture and too oblivious to understand their “traveling” was seriously negatively affecting local life by introducing a drug market and drug dependence. Thanks for being vocal about it. I also shake my head in sad disappointment for wasted potential.

    Reply
  4. Matty D

    Thank you for this post, it’s really quite sad that people consider this ‘traveling’ it reminds me of the idiots I’m leaving America because of. I would hope that along my journey I am going to find like minded individuals traveling to experience new cultures and learn and I’m sure I will but I suppose when these things come too popular it attracts the fools. Johnny, I love this website/blog! You’re definitely an inspiration to me in my travels! I wish you the best of luck in your travels and maybe one day our travels will cross paths!

    Reply
  5. Linda

    Some people just can’t get away from themselves…. “Wherever you go, there you are.” Sorry the nice places are getting too popular. I agree with you that when traveling it helps to shut up and listen more, and try not to be an ass. Mainly, some people probably should not travel if they seem to do it so badly. Love your blog.

    Reply
  6. Barry

    Hey Johnny,

    Yup, it use to be mostly Ibiza and Benidorm, but it’s cheap to get to most places, and SE Asia alone is fashionable. Also it’s not just Brits, Aussies and Americans. It’s Russians and Brazilians as well. So I guess that swells the number of people around travelling. When I went to Ko Phangan 3 yeas ago for a month to see my Pops, the island was pleasant and relatively under developed, I mostly met Brits and Aussies. My last trip a few months ago….Brits, Aussies, Germans, Argentinians, Brazilians and LOOOOADDDSSSS of Russians (and they do like a drink do the old ruskies). The world is becoming richer, and I guess that has it’s ups and downs. Also Ko Phangan now has gone in to development overdrive, and day by day the place loses a little bit more charm.

    It is a shame that the binge drinkers are going bananas in Pattaya, Benidorm, Bali etc and not seeing the real things that these countries have to offer, however on the other hand, do we want them to?

    Reply
  7. Katy

    As a girl who backpacked SE Asia with my dad when I was 9 I kinda resent this article. Shockingly at 9 I wasn’t boozing :p and we spent our time going to the sights, temples and lakes and waterfalls. I ate fried scorpion which lead to the worst food poisoning of my life (which lead to the Angkor Wat situation). But at the same time I don’t doubt there are boozers – but don’t say everyone is!

    Reply
  8. Slava

    Yes but you are talking about young backpackers…think there are plenty of more affluent/older travellers who aren’t interested in boozing but actualy travel to explore cultures and sights!

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      if they’re coming to SE Asia then the cast majority are boozers or holidaymakers. The days of ‘traveling’ in SE Asia are sadly dying

      Reply
  9. Bryan @ BudgetYourTrip

    Well said! It’s a shame that people feel the need to fly to the other side of the world only to do the same things they could do at home. However, it’s also possible to get away from the stereotypical backpacker crowds. Avoiding Khao San Road and some of the other “party” areas will put a traveler into more local neighborhoods and destinations, resulting in a trip about traveling instead of drinking.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      bryan, all though that’s true mate – thailand is not the country to come to if you really wanna travel. Please don’t get my wrong, i live in Bangkok when i’m not traveling, but that’s just the point – it’s so easy to live in, so westernised that it’s not traveling at all

      Reply
  10. Alex

    Couldn’t agree more, Johnny. I remember walking into a bar in Vietnam and everyone being 18 y/o British kids. SE Asia has become almost like an extension of University. It’s embarrassing and the mindless hedonism that pervades so much of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand is partly thanks to the Brits Abroad invasion. like you said before, it has become an IBiza/Faliraki suitcase destination, where morals are left at home.
    And then everyone reads the same guide book, and follows the same backpacker trail, and buys the same tank-tops like mentioned by previous posters; it’s proof of how mainstream travelling has become. It’s not insightful at all. I still had fun there, but I preferred India and Indonesia, where it’s much easier to get off the beaten track.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      hey alex, sounds like you’re a man after my own heart. India and indonesia are much more real experiences although i feel like india has certainly began to form it’s very own ‘gap yar’ vibe :S

      Reply
  11. Nomadic Samuel

    In a lot of ways I agree with what you’re saying here. The fact that it is so ridiculously cheap and affordable means that these destinations that have plenty to offer in terms of culture, food and local experiences are flooded by idiots who just want to have cheap thrills drinking, doing drugs and making complete fools of themselves. I wish it would change but it mostly likely won’t.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      hey samuel, you’re right mate – it won’t change. It’s getting progressively worse and worse and is likely to continue. That’s ok though, i’m happy to venture further afield :)

      Reply
  12. David M

    I’m with you on this one Johnny. Twice now I’ve done the SE Asia loop from Hanoi to Bangkok & while, as you well know, I’m not one to shy away from a beer (or twelve) on both occasions – & even back in 2003 – it just felt like an extended Oz Experience experience, if you get my drift? The trail is so well worn now that it’s just too easy to conform & get carried along by the prevalent happy hour buzz, bumping as you go into the same obnoxious ‘travellers’ who are out to ‘discover themselves’ & who are wearing the same uniform of beer Lao tanks, or whatever is in fashion on the Khao San at the time. Of course there are people there making an effort to experience the culture & genuinely see the sights but they generally seems to be lost in the crowd. I’ll be back in the region in some two weeks for the first time since 2005 & I really don’t know what to expect.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      hey dave, a man as well traveled as yourself is in for a rude awakening on your rediscovery of SE Asia, expect the same as before but worse! good luck mate and safe travels :)

      Reply
  13. Joseph

    I love this. It’s true that nowadays everybody rushes to SE Asia to bring their offerings to the new god – Alcohol. Why? Because it’s cheap? I don’t get this whole concept. Yes, I’ve had a couple of drinks one time or another, but I’m a high advocate of ‘you can have an amazing time without drinking away your brain’. There are truly amazing things in SE Asia that I want to experience – the floating market and a few secluded beaches, visiting the temples, spending a couple of nights in Laos surrounded by nature only, definitely visit the temples of Angkor Wat, and eat lots of amazing food. That is how I see SE Asia! *saves up money for this particular trip*

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      hey joseph, absolutely mate. With all the information on the internet now, i thought it would inspire people to truly go and see the things that they know are out there, but apparently quite the opposite is true :S disappointing.

      Reply
  14. Tinman

    What about the travelers who stayed at 5 stars hotel and never get out of the all inclusive resorts? Why bother going across the world and sleeping in at a nice hotel? Then, they only go to tourist places offer by the hotel. I understand there are not many of them out there, especially younger traveler but I’ve seem some. Just because you slept in Thailand or Cambodia, it doesn’t mean you been there. I know some people say, I am worry about security and I am on a vacation. If you are going to travel, your motivation should be more than a stamp on a passport.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      more than stamp on your passport, here here! totally agree, but then again if people are looking for a little R&R they are more than entitled to that, it’s just the people who brag about traveling yet do little else than get drunk with people from their own countries that piss me off :S

      Reply
  15. Eva

    Good for you Johnny!
    In my younger years, I spent loads of time in all inclusive Mexican, Cuban and Hawaiian destinations and had the same conversation. Asking, have you seen the sites? And the answer was always no. I left the camp to trek the mountains, rent a scooter, explore an island or spend the day snorkelling while the others recovered.

    Balance is truly the key, and many young people haven’t travelled at all, just spent sometime at a very exotic open bar, looking at what could be any beach in the world, swimming in a chlorinated pool, meeting other people with the same version of travel. Some people don’t meet a single native on their trip!

    When they get older maybe their travel bar will raise, or they will remember their glory days conquering boozy mates blurry eyed

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      hey eva, thanks for your comments =) i know exaclty what u mean, i try to stay clear of resorts myself for that exact reason. Same bar, different country

      Reply
  16. Neil

    You don’t sound sanctimonious at all Johnny, you’re reflecting on what I think is a sad reality. I’m now in Cambodia having travelled down through Laos, when I meet others that claim to have travelled there the most they can ever tell me about their time there is how wasted and or injured they got in Vang Vieng. When I then tell them about some of the most humblest people I met in villages in southern Laos, meeting some animist communities, experiencing some of the most beautiful countryside, enjoying the challenges of communicating with locals that have no common language, their eyes start to glaze over, oftten the only way to get them back is to start a discussion about the price of buckets.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      neil, thanks for that mate – really appreciate it. I really didn’t want to come across as a hater but i know exactly how you feel. Cheers so much for your input

      Reply
  17. Fidel

    I noticed on my two recent trips to SE Asia, that the backpackers tell tale sign of where they’ve been is the beer company tank top. It’s like the new patch. If you been to Laos, you gotta walk down KSR with your Beer Lao tank on. And a lot of them have that same glossy eyed look in their eyes. Like they’ve been places but aren’t really sure where they’ve been.

    I think you gotta have a balance. I’ve met several young Canadians and Swedes while I’ve traveled and they seem to know how to balance it right. They might take two or three days while in a place to do volunteer work, then go to a beach and wind down, next thing you know they are visiting more temples and ruins than Tomb Raider and the following week they are painting their bods and enjoying a Full Moon Party.

    Balancing it out is the key. And you have to be aware that although you’re young, you may never get the chance to return. So at least leave a positive footprint.

    I think as much fun as it is to hit up Pub Street in Siem Reap, KSR in Bangkok, Beer Hanoi Corner in Hanoi or wherever else all the foreigners gather, you have to branch out and stand out. I can never understand why a person from Australia leaves Australia (where they already have nice beaches, hot women) to go to Bali or Phuket to hang out with and hook up with other Australians.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      fidel, this first paragraph is possibly the greatest comment ive ever read! the backpacking uniform, i might write a travel rant about it actually – so so so true!

      Reply

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