Backpacker Ghettos – Are They Really That Bad?


Uhh... I dunno... out there somewhere...

Backpacker Ghettos

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?

The Good

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.

Backpacker Ghetto

Just take a seat, and watch what happens around you

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

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.

Backpacker Ghetto

Khao San, Bangkok… Pure Chaos

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.

The Ugly

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.

Backpacker Ghetto

You may just have to fight your way through!!!

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.


Jonny Jenkins

Jonny Jenkins

My name is Jonny, my friends call me Stef. I'm Canadian born, but don't find my identity based upon some borders that man drew hundreds of years ago. I have begun to make my way through the world, travelling and living in many different countries and cultures. I believe whole heartedly in staying longer and going deeper to get the best understanding possible of many different perspectives of life. In order to do so, you have to speak the language. I am no polyglot, but have started to put more emphasis on learning languages in the last few years. I have learned Spanish, relearned French, and started in on Portuguese, German, Indonesian and Malagasy. When it comes to the third world, I am willing to help where they (and not I) decide they need it... in the first world, I am hoping to inspire and motivate people to live more engaging lives.

12 Replies to “Backpacker Ghettos – Are They Really That Bad?”

  1. This is a really great article on the whole concept of Backpacker Ghettos that are becoming more and more prevalent around the world. I personally would much rather ‘go my own way’ off the beaten path so to speak but at the same time maybe you can pick up some vital information or inside scoop on a locale by visiting one of these. I love how you refer to these in a similar connotation to ‘College Spring Break parties’ because essentially I feel that is exactly what these are. Maybe I am being a little too negative but it’s just not my thing!

    1. Chris,
      I don’t think you’re being too negative at all. Some people love these places and some people not so much. I too tend to fall into the latter category more often then not but must admit that if I’ve been anywhere without a language I speak decently for a couple of months, I’ll gladly take the comforts of an English conversation and shared culture and put up with the fair-weather travellers… Everyone has their own path I guess

  2. I have never stayed in one so it is hard to say, but I do not stay in them because I do not like having my opinion biased before I get to see the country myself!

    1. Marysia, I definitely see where you’re coming from with that one. Thought at the same time, it’s pretty much impossible to not have a bias about a country before you arrive there as well. Sometimes they’re great places to get a ton of information quickly, and sometimes they are exactly what you speak about, people telling you what you will and will not like without thinking that you might actually be your own person.
      I like your approach of trying to have as clean of a slate as possible… 🙂

  3. Erin says:

    This gives me the hives, just thinking about it. I don’t like crowds, or pushy vendors (or cocaine) so I guess I’ll be avoiding the backpacker ghetto. I’m fully informed!

    1. Hahahahaha… Fair enough Erin, fair enough. Now go get those Hives checked out, that can’t be a normal reaction. 😛

  4. Roma says:

    Haha Sharon – lucky duck. I had those very whispers in Barcelona along La Rambla. You spend the whole time telling yourself “dont get pick-pocketed”.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of the ghettos. I like showers that work and the sanctity of 4 walls & a door. I have coped with people that creep in and out of dorm rooms but any more than that tests my patience!

    1. Yeah, it’s never fun to feel uncomfortable… it can bring a whole different feeling to the entire trip. I tend to be the one who is lucky to have 2 walls, counting my blessings if I have 3, wondering how I got so lucky if I have 4 and bathing in the luxury if it comes with a door… but, from time to time, I must admit that I like to have a little hideaway that I know is safe, and even has it’s own bathroom.

  5. Sharon says:

    I agree!!

    I get annoyed by some of the travel snobbery that exists in regards to backpacker ghettos. Having done several year long trips visiting many places devoid of noticeable tourists, it is so so nice to take a bit of a relative break from travelling with a couple of days in a backpacker ghetto. As long as you realise what it is, what is the harm?!

    Strangely, I don’t remember anyone ever offering me drugs anywhere that I have travelled. I have read this so often in other blogs, that I do find it very strange that I have somehow avoided this!

    1. I totally agree Sharon, in my experience most of the people that have traveled away from the crowd and beaten path are more than happy to get back and have some other tourists to talk to for a few days… they just keep it in perspective…
      Regarding the drugs, it’s become quite clear that I get offered more drugs than normal… A few years ago, I headed down to Cancun with 5 other family members, all the same age… at the end of the third day, I was amazed at how many people were trying to peddle us drugs… to which they all responded that not one had approached ANY of them… sooo… I’m wondering if it’s potentially my Hollywood good looks, Armani suits, and clean cut style that attracts them all?!

  6. A fascinating journey! Wow!!

    1. Thanks Marilyn, glad to have you along for the ride

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