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Beg-packers?

Posted by exacto on 21/7/2017 at 19:05

I read a few articles recently about the increasing problem of backpackers in Southeast Asia making their way along by asking for cash. They are called beg-packers.

I've experienced it to some extent now and again over the last quarter century, but the articles made it sound like the problem has grown dramatically, particularly in Thailand, with rumors that border checks now include proof of 20,000 baht cash before they'll let you in.

What gives? I definitely encountered a few in Munich on my last visit there in June. Is this really happening in Asia? What do you do when you see them?

#1 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,753
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Posted by gecktrek on 22/7/2017 at 00:20

hey, i read a story on traveller.com by b.groundwater on this subject, overall it was pretty sloppy, plenty of assumptions and conclusions but no interviews with any of the so-called beg-packers to explain their side of the story. i have never noticed this in my travels and really don't know if it is 'a thing' or just another example of click-bait! perhaps a followup story is needed...

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Posted by DLuek on 22/7/2017 at 03:59 TF writer

"just another example of click-bait!" - gecktrek hit the nail on the head.

I've seen the (very) occasional foreigner in Thailand busking or selling art on footpaths for years, and I don't recall ever seeing one outright begging. To me there's a huge difference between playing a guitar with your case out or selling your paintings, and just lying around begging. Many of these articles about "begpackers" have focused on buskers, not beggars. Prior to the social media era, it wouldn't have been a story at all.

From what I've seen, begging among foreigners is not happening more nowadays -- it's just that a few cases of it have gone viral via publications that specialize in clickbait. Then those stories find their way into local social media forums, and then local news talks about it, and then it really gets legs when large international news outlets just regurgitate whatever the local news is saying. (Another ex. happened when The Nation, which is a crap Thai newspaper, wrote some misleading / erroneous things about the so-called Bangkok street food ban, and next thing you knew there were dozens of reputable international news agencies publishing headlines like "Bangkok bans all street food." It's hyperbole dominos.)

Same thing happened with this 20,000 THB proof of funds when arriving in Thailand thing. I believe that started with a single post on the Bangkok Expats page on Facebook -- a guy who was trying to enter on his third straight tourist visa (as I recall) was asked to show the cash, a rule that has been around forever but hardly ever enforced. The same thing happened to two or three other people who were also abusing the visa system to stay long-term, and next thing you knew it got picked up by international news and regular tourists started freaking out about it. The immigration officers shouldn't have used it as a way to deny entry to people they wanted to deny for other reasons, but still, the whole thing got blown WAY out of proportion. I believe it was less than five total cases of people being asked to show 20,000 in cash, most of them at Don Muang Airport and none at border crossings or elsewhere. That's out of thousands who enter Thailand every day.

And then you saw articles weaving the "begpacker" narrative into the "20,000 Baht" story even though one had NOTHING to do with the other. Both stories are pretty ridiculous, and it's especially ridiculous that these clickbaiters started mixing them together for maximum shock value. Okay rant over. ;)

#3 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,277
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Posted by SBE on 22/7/2017 at 04:53

Backpackers are often on very tight budgets and there will always be a few who run out of money altogether but I haven't noticed a sudden epidemic of western beg packers either.

The rumours about people being asked to show 20,000 baht are true. It happened to me when entering Thailand overland from Malaysia a couple of years ago but I don't think it's got anything to do with beg packers. Immigration officials get suspicious that you're working in Thailand illegally if they see a lot of entry stamps in your passport. That was what I got grilled about when they pulled me out of the queue anyway... they didn't seem in the least interested in finding out whether I had enough funds to pay for my vacation. I didn't have 20000 baht on me but as soon I showed them an equivalent amount in euros they waved me through. As far as I could tell they were just interested in finding out whether I was a genuine tourist or not.

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