From Khao San, Thailand to Pahar Ganj, Delhi to Thamel, Kathmandu to all those other districts that you forget the names of shortly after you leave, there’s no doubt that seasoned backpacker love to hate on the backpacker ghettos, but are they really that bad?
Backpacker Ghettos are there for a reason… backpackers keep showing up. There are certainly many reasons. One of the most obvious is convenience. You can normally find buses or trains right from the ghetto without having to hunt too long. You’ll also be able to find decently cheap rooms. If you’re looking to do a little shopping, this isn’t the cheapest place in town to do it, but it tends to be the place where you can find all those little backpacker knickknacks.
These Ghettos can be extremely interesting if you care to just sit down and do a little people watching. Although they are not the best area to experience the culture of whatever country you may be visiting, they are a great place to understand your fellow backpackers a bit better and possibly gain quite a bit of compassion for the locals. Just sit around and watch how tourists react in Backpacker Ghettos and you’ll realize why the vendors get so pushy, so persistent, so damn shady!
If you’re looking for a party, this is also probably the right place to go. I’m certainly not one to travel for a party, but having a night out every now and then can be a great way to feed that part of your brain that’s just dying to socialize… this is your place to do so.
Perhaps one of the best things that backpacker ghettos has going for them is the fact that they have other backpackers around… if you have just arrived somewhere and are a bit intimidated by the idea of travelling alone, or just feeling a bit lonely, or even a bit homesick and looking for someone to speak your language, the ghetto is probably you’re best bet.
The bad stems right out of ‘the best thing they have going’… they’re FULL of backpackers. If you have any interest whatsoever in getting seeing the ‘real people’ as so many travelers seem to claim, than the backpacker ghetto is going to be your Achilles Heal… Don’t get me wrong, this place has a culture of its own. But it’s a culture that stems from years of tourists/vendors relationships.
Although you’ll be able to find many trinkets to share for the body and mind (well the soul is often somewhere behind), you’re very likely going to have to work quite hard to not get taken to the cleaners. Even if you spend your day haggling with the best of them, you’re most likely going to get ripped off pretty well… just the price you pay for shopping in these areas.
The ghettos can also be quite annoying for backpackers as you’ll never get a minute of peace. Walking down the street, you are going to be approached by people from every corner and cranny trying to convince you that you need some tuk-tuk made of a Coca-Cola can, or croaking frog or who-knows-what… It gets a little hard to take after awhile.
Some of these places can get just downright disgusting. The Ping-pong shows in Thailand are potentially the best example, but there’s also all sorts of Cocaine dealers whispering in your ears in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, or Opium dealers in Pahar Ganj, Delhi or Hashish dealers in Thamel, Kathmandu.
Stay long enough and you’ll normally see some sort of altercation break out in between backpacker and vendor… and typically no one is right. The vendors have years of experience before you arrived of tourists that have ignored them, cheated them, and/or disrespected them. The backpackers are sick of having every random person on the street trying to sell them something. The backpackers get ruder and the vendors get more persistent… basically the tension just keeps rising. Backpacker Ghettos typically all have a few things in common: everyone will speak to you in English, they’re pure chaos, and the tension runs high.
Should You Bother?
There’s no point in staying there for a long time, as it’s not really seeing the country that you came to see… it’s more like going on spring break with a bunch of first year college kids…
But that being said, there’s no shame in staying in the Backpacker Ghetto for a couple of days, meeting some good peeps, and refilling your backpack of whatever supplies you may need… plus, it’s cheap and easy.