Travelling on the house

BANGKOK, 3 May 2017: The welcome mat for extreme budget travellers is wearing thin in Thailand, according to a VoiceTV report based on social media comments.

The local channel claims Thais are reacting strongly to the increase in Western tourists who come to Thailand, either to beg, or barter their way around the country.

VoiceTV posted a minute-long video about what they called a new trend in tourism. It is actually a remake of the ‘dollar a day’ trend of the 1970s when travellers claimed bragging rights if they could show how they travelled on a sub-dollar daily budget. In those days it usually incurred a few nights on the house in a rural temple to live within the dollar budget.

VoiceTV said opinions varied on the issue. Some Thais recognised backpackers consider it a challenge to travel on a minimal budget. Others said they were plain old free loaders.

They are not alone. They actually ape the antics of travel bloggers who have been travelling free for years, by offering to give a hotel or restaurant a mention in exchange for a free stay or meal. It’s a form of barter.

Begging is the extreme version and most of the Thais commenting said it was disgusting that Western tourists stoop so low to pretend they are destitute. They should be packed off to their homes pronto.

Some commenters said it was akin to busking at a station or park. The hat is on the ground to collect coins for tomorrow’s journey following a poor rendering of the 1812 Overture on a harmonica.

Travellers on extreme budgets are the antithesis of what the Thai government expects from tourism.  They are expecting tourists to spend USD300 a day.

One realistic travel blogger estimates budget travellers can get by with THB900 to THB1,500 a day if they ration their booze quota.

At the other end of the scale, Thailand Conventions and Exhibitions Bureau estimates a business event visitor spends THB80,000 per trip ( average trip four nights).

Chinese tourists on average spend THB6,400 a day compared to THB5,690 for everyone else visiting the Land of Smiles.

Out of the 32 million claimed visitors to Thailand in 2016, the percentage of freeloaders, foreign beggars or barter vendors, including travel bloggers, travel writers and down-on-their luck journalists is well below the radar’s base line. Their freeloading antics are nothing more than a mild irritation.

But social media pundits can make anything look alarming far beyond its significance, hence the term Fake News courtesy of Facebook.

VoiceTV rolled out a few witnesses prepared to rubbish the purveyors of extreme sustainability. It quoted Tossapon Kaowong who said: “If they come here they should pay for their trip – not beg for our money and call it a trend.”

Pattharmon Sukasem was even more forthright: “Chase them all away – if they don’t have money what are they doing here?”

Ekung Moopii said: “This trend is not good for tourism. I have seen evidence of it a lot recently – people with signs on the roadside or begging at gas stations. Here in Asia we are not used to this way – and I honestly fear for their safety.”

While Taka Hiro wrote: “We need tourists’ money for the benefit of our economy. If we are supporting beggars or people bartering they will just take our money. It is the wrong way round.”

Teerayuth-Neng wondered what might be next commenting: “Now it is just the fair haired people – in no time the Chinese will be doing it.”

What comes round, goes round, so to help the cycle I am booking a business class fare on Emirates to Manchester with my harmonica packed and a hitch-hiker sign “Pensioner needs to get home urgently.”  That should do for a week of free travel, before I hear the stern voice of a bobby; “move along my lad, no loitering outside the lordship’s manor.”

(Source: VoiceTV,