Quick note before I begin this post: This might be a little bit of a rant and I apologize beforehand. If you refer to yourself as a backpacker, if you are obsessed with the Thai islands, if you overly love to party, etc. be ready to be slightly offended. But it’s time you realize something, so read on.
Ok let’s get started. Unpopular opinion coming atcha. I HATED the Thai islands. Ok, hate is a strong word. And the Thai islands are some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. So maybe the word “hate” is a little much. But the Thai islands proved everything I had expected to be true about Thailand.
Let’s rewind a bit. I’m living in Indonesia. I had just come from Singapore and Malaysia and had a blast. And was falling in love quickly with the Asian culture. To be honest, when I was leaving Malaysia, I was absolutely not looking forward to Thailand. To me, Thailand has always seemed like a played out, overrun tourist destination for full-moon parties or honeymoon resorts, and that’s just not my style. But, as I was just an hour flight away, I knew I had to see it for myself to hopefully prove me wrong. I knew there was so much more to this country than what I was thinking, or so I hoped.
However, when I arrived in Krabi, I was greeted with everything I hated: loud Westerners with no regard for a new culture, already drunk, with 2+ massive checked bags a piece, and looking for the closest party. Major eye roll. Yea I know, if you’re reading this and you’ve been to the south of Thailand, you’ll say “Obviously Paige, what did you expect?” But I had hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as I’ve heard. Man, was I wrong.
Now listen. If you are looking to party with a bunch of fellow white, English-speaking people in gorgeous places, by all means, visit the Thai islands. But what I noticed was that the culture I fell in love with was missing from the second I landed (It also might’ve not helped that I almost didn’t land. Long story short, we hit a really bad storm; lightning hit the wing; we tried to make an emergency landing; the wind was too strong and right before we landed, the pilot had to go full-throttle straight up to avoid crashing; one of the flight attendants was crying; and I was ready to leave Thailand before I even actually got there. But I’m alive, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice).
Ok ok I’m done bashing the islands because I’m being cynical and totally didn’t hate them that much. I had a really good time to be honest. But there is one thing I realized about myself when hopping from island to island:
I am absolutely not a backpacker.
Yes, I’m traveling with two backpacks and may look like one. But for the first time, I really was forced to spend time with the “backpacker” type. You know, the one that hasn’t showered for two days, isn’t wearing shoes, already has a beer (or two) in hand, and somehow manages to talk about the number of countries they’ve ever been to and how they’re “like sooo powerful man.”
I’ve learned a ton of patience while traveling. And I’ve learned that I have zero patience while traveling. Years ago, the backpacker term was truly that: stuffing your life in a bag and exploring a country as it was meant to be seen, leaving nothing behind. I don’t know if I’m just old now that I’m thirty but holy shit is this not the case anymore. These “backpackers” as they refer to themselves might travel with a backpack but they leave trash everywhere, they refuse to learn the local language, they get absolutely pissed drunk, are the loudest in the hostel, and expect everyone to love them.
But I’ve realized that while all of my belongings fit in two backpacks, I will never call myself a backpacker. While I haven’t showered in two days, it’s because I have been so busy hiking or exploring the city I’m in that I crash right when my head hits the pillow on my hostel bed. While I may not get the pronunciation correct, I’ll do my best to only speak the local tongue when I can. While I may like to have a few beers, I know my limit and know that I’m not in my own country and need to show respect (and know my way back to the hostel without stumbling around).
So if you are a “backpacker,” please be more self-aware. Please learn to respect a culture and blend in, not stand out (in a rather embarrassing way). And for god’s sake, it’s a 45-minute boat ride from island to island. I promise you, you don’t need to slam 10 beers before you get to the next stop.
On that note, I’m grabbing my two backpacks and softly saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry” in Thai behind every one of these “backpackers” to show not all of us are like that. I promise.