Backpacking in Thailand
Backpacking in Thailand
I lived in Europe in the Sixties and Seventies, the hay days of backpacking, although in those days, I called it
hitchhiking. I'm not really sure if it's the same thing. I used to wear a rucksack if I was going a long way or
carry a sports bag if not.
The rucksack was the hitchhiker's equivalent of a suitcase, I suppose.
Anyway, hitchhiking was very popular method of budget travel back then in Europe, I can't speak for America, but
I think it was the same. I must have travelled more than 100,000 miles hitchhiking in the Seventies. Then I got
older, got a proper job, and didn't have time to do it anymore.
After all, you need time to hitchhike as it can take hours or even days to get a lift, especially if you don't
know what you're doing, if you're off the beaten path or traffic is bad.
I now live in Thailand and I have never seen a hitchhiker in southeast Asia, local or foreign, in all the ten
years I've been here, although I am also reliably informed that there are far fewer hitchhikers in Europe now
It is a sign of the times, I suppose, but I am not sure what it says. Are all travellers tourists now?
Are people too afraid to hitchhike, and if so, is there a justification for it? Or is there some other reason?
Perhaps people are too scared to give lifts or people have enough money to take the bus or train. Maybe, travel
insurance regulations won't allow it.
I knew women who were raped hitchhiking in Europe and I was worried about being robbed twice, but it didn't put
me off doing it again because I enjoyed the adventure.
Back to backpacking in Thailand and the rest of beautiful southeast Asia, why don't people hitchhike here?
Firstly, it is not in the Thai culture to travel far or even to expect to be able to travel free of charge. A
Thai would have serious problems hitchhiking because they are mortally afraid of losing face - ie if they thought
that others thought that they could not afford the bus or train fares, it would stop them in their tracks.
The fact that hitchhiking in Europe was not always about not having the money to take the bus, would not occur
to a Thai. I liked hitchhiking for the experience of meeting people, not because I needed to save the fare. Well,
not always anyway, but it was handy for those on a shoestring.
So, backpacking in Thailand and in Asia in general is a more leisurely version of the original. They wear a
pack on their backs, but they travel by bus or by train, which admittedly is very cheap by European standards.
Here are a couple of budget travel tips for any destination in the country between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and
even a bit further.
Typically, a mile of travel in a VIP bus costs about 2p or 3c.
Accommodation is equally inexpensive, but backpacker hotels are dirt cheap, although there is a severe
degradation of service. I don't think that it's always a good idea to seek out backpacker hotels, is what I am
saying, because hoteliers have learned that they can get away with poorer service for backpackers than a normal
traveller would expect for the same money.
Similar caution should be exercised when considering your travel options. So-called backpacker buses can be a
lot worse than standard buses, but cost the same and all the scams that I have heard of have taken place on
You can have a great time backing in Thailand, and in Asia in general, but you have to be aware of what you are
doing. If you are white or black, you are out of your depth in Asia, so be nice, but not patronising. Be generous,
but not flashy and be conscious of the feelings of your hosts.
by +Owen Jones