In Depth

Thailand targets Western 'begpackers'

Tourists told to prove they have the funds to travel

Thailand is reportedly cracking down on tourists who arrive in the country with no money and resort to begging or illegal work to fund their travels.

Immigration officials at several border checkpoints are asking some foreigners entering the country on a tourist visa to prove they have 20,000 baht (£460) in cash, according to Thai Visa.  

Images of so-called begpackers - Western tourists who beg, busk or sell trinkets on the streets - have been widely shared on Twitter, drawing criticism from locals who says the practice is deeply disrespectful.

"We find it extremely strange to ask other people for money to help you travel," says Maisarah Abu Samah from Singapore, who shared images of begging backpackers on her Twitter account.

"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!" she writes for France 24.

Most of the begpackers have been spotted in South East Asia, along the well-trodden traveller's trail of Thailand-Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam-Malaysia, Radhika Sanghani writes for the Daily Telegraph.

"You cannot spend time in some of the world's most deprived areas and fail to see that there is a difference in having your smartphone stolen and not being able to eat," she says. "People who fail to recognise this are the epitome of white privilege."

Louisa K, a Malaysian woman who studied political economics and gender studies, says such behaviour shows the imbalance that still exists between the West and former colonies in Asia.

"They see Asia as an exotic place of spiritual discovery," she says. "This turns our continent into a caricature, a mystical land full of adventures or, in other words, a playground for white people."

"Sometimes, I want to ask them: what makes you think that this kind of behaviour is normal in Asia? Why don't you do the same thing at home?"

But Helen Coffman, deputy head of travel news at The Independent, questions whether we should be so quick to judge people on social media.

"As we've seen time and time again with swift and merciless Twitter witch hunts, photos are stripped of context, with no reference to or knowledge of the [people's] personal circumstances."

"For some, things go awry while travelling and they have little choice but to throw themselves on the kindness of strangers."

Sanghani disagrees, arguing that there are numerous alternatives for backpackers who run out of cash on holiday. 

"There is really no need for them to sit in their Birkenstocks and yoga pants with cardboard placards," she says. 

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