The ‘beg-packing’ epidemic in SE Asia

Backpackers sell postcards in order to fund their travels


Locals have been shocked to see white tourists begging in the streets of Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore to raise money for their travels. While some just see it as bizarre, others are outraged by it, calling it an “orientalist fantasy”.

“Beg-packers” is the word sometimes used to describe young Western tourists who play music or sell knick-knacks in the streets of southeast Asia to pay for their trips or to purchase their ticket back home.

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Photos of two couples doing just this have been widely circulated online. The first pair are sitting on the ground behind a cardboard sign that says “Support our trip around the world”, and are peddling postcards.

Other photos show a different young man playing Pink Floyd and Guns ‘N’ Roses songs on the guitar and harmonica next to a cardboard sign with the same message.


“We find it extremely strange to ask other people for money to help you travel” Maisarah Abu Samah

These young people don’t seem to be in dire need, however — they own expensive equipment such as an amplifier. Maisarah Abu Samah, a young Singaporean, was startled by the strange scene and stopped to take these photos, which she published on her Twitter account.

It was the first time I’ve seen something like that and it stopped me in my tracks. First of all, you don’t see many people selling knick-knacks or playing music in the street in Singapore because there are strict rules governing these activities.

And, if you do happen to see street vendors or street performers, they are usually in the town centre and not near a bus stop in a relatively middle class neighbourbood like this. I’ve also never seen white people doing that.

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We find it extremely strange to ask other people for money to help you travel. Selling things in the street or begging isn’t considered respectable. People who do so are really in need: they beg in order to buy food, pay their children’s school fees or pay off debts. But not in order to do something seen as a luxury!

Other wannabe travellers go online to do their own version of “beg-packing” by starting crowdfunding projects in the hopes of raising money for big trips.

This culture seems to go hand-in-hand with the explosion of so-called “travel porn”, where social media accounts and travel blogs post endless images of faraway destinations, in the aim of inspiring wanderlust in readers.

Backpackers, known in Thailand as ‘twat-packers,’ are often viewed as the antithesis of organised trips and mass tourism. But even the romantic image of adventurers on the hunt for new horizons has transformed in recent years.

Now, many see backpackers as Westerners who want to travel on the cheap — to the point of exploiting the locals.

Benjamin Holst has a swollen left leg (he suffers from a condition called macrodystrophia lipomatosa) and has been allegedly using his condition to get people to help him out.

In Thailand, a German foundation gave him lodging after he claimed that he lost his passport and money. But he disappeared and resurfaced in Pattaya before authorities decided to kick him out.

“Holst, aka the farang beggar with the big foot, was rescued in late September after he was found homeless on Khaosan Road. He received THB50,000 to get a flight home from Deutscher Hilfsverein Thailand, an organization that helps German citizens,” reported Coconuts Bangkok.

“It took only about one day after he got hold of the cash for photos to turn up of Holst partying with bar girls in Pattaya, breaking the hearts of his well-meaning benefactors,” adds the report.

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After Thailand, Holst was photographed begging in the streets of Denmark.

And he is now back in SE Asia and enjoying the sleazy part of Angeles City, Pampanga. How do we know? He very recently posted a photo of bar girls and a bathroom with a jacuzzi to his Facebook account.

BangkokJack News Team

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