TIME Lightbox: Tourism in Southeast Asia
A great photo essay about the joys, heartache and hypocrisy of the Asian backpacker “scene” from Jörg Brüggemann. I am well aware of this “scene” having done a few backpacking trips in the region, but I don’t feel part of it any more. I was pretty unpleasantly surprised at how over-touristed and well-trodden Vietnam was when we went earlier this year but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.
(Image copyright Jörg Brüggemann)
Photographer Jörg Brüggemann joined the backpacker trail in South and Southeast Asia: a stretch of turf that has been densely charted already by Lonely Planet, that is lined with tours and scams ready to swallow up the unsuspecting, and that is trod over by millions each year. Many of these tourists are young people on gap years or study abroad, journeying ostensibly on latter day quests of self-discovery, financed on a shoestring. But, according to Brüggemann, what were once whimsical, individual explorations have turned into banal spectacles of packaged mass tourism. “Thailand,” he says, “is already like Mallorca.”
His photos from Thailand, Laos and India capture the backpacker experience in its ironies and idiosyncrasies. Young Western kids smoke hash, ape the meditation of holy men, pad around hostels, get drunk. Throughout Asia, it seems tourists are rarely engaging in the country they visit on its own terms, but rather, on the hackneyed ones manufactured by the whole backpacker tourism industry. In his seminal work Orientalism, the great, late, humanist intellectual, Edward Said, described how many Western scholars of the East—the Orient—treated it not as a real place but as a “theatrical stage affixed to Europe.” In a different context, the backpacker circuit achieves the same effect.