22 December 2007

Trippers Best Of...Backpacker Ghettos

They are unavoidable, and sometimes amazing. Backpacker ghettos, the places in many (mostly eastern) cities where the concentration of hostels and guesthouses as hit a critical mass, and with the surrounding bars and cafes, has become the meeting point for travelers from around the world. It's where you can have breakfast with a Englishman in the morning, go trekking with a Frenchman in the afternoon, and play drinking games with an Australian in the evening.

Some are great, others are cancerous. Here are my favorite 5, and my least favorite 5.

1. Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal - Beautiful streets with incredibly affordable food, lovely boutiques, and transportation by Rickshaw and foot. Also, the nightlife ain't bad, and the drinks are cheap!

2. Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia - Home of the infamous Daniel's Traveler's Lodge, one of the top 10 best lodging. Besides being a refuge of cool, mountain air in a hot, hot country, Tanah Rata has an amazing selection of South Indian, Chinese, and Malay food all at ridiculous prices, and a fantastic, laid back, backpacker atmosphere.

3. Sihanoukeville, Cambodia - One amazing thing about this place? How about FREE ACCOMODATION! Yes, at least at Khin's Shack, another one of the top 10 best lodging. Throw in a really relaxed atmosphere, only two bars on the beach, and plankton in the ocean, and you have yourself an epic time. Unfortunately, it looks like commercialization is going to ruin this place, so go there soon! Imagine Thailand 15 years ago!

4. Goreme, Cappadochia, Turkey - Imagine, rooms carved into caved for less than $3 a night. Fierce competition keeps the prices here low, and in the offseason, when I went, a beautiful, peaceful time. Check out Restaurant Mercan and say hi to Mustafa for me!

5. Kanchanaburi, Thailand - A lovely, riverfront backpacker's ghetto, with good, cheap restaurants, not too many tourists, and in close range to all the historic sights of this important WW2 city, including the infamous Bridge of Tears.

The WORST

1. Koh Phangang, Thailand - One moment, I was on the boat back from the island, and I walked outside. There I saw people sitting alongside the entire side of the boat, not saying a word to each other. Many gave me weird looks as I walked by. That was Koh Phangang, an antisocial, lazyass island with more white people on the beaches than California.

2. Vang Vieng, Laos - Imagine a city in Laos with no Lao people. Instead, just drunken, high, and drugged up westerners sitting at bars designated by the TV show shown on repeat all day (Simpsons, Friends, Family Guy, Seinfeld), and overpriced bars where everyone speaks English. If I wanted that, I'd have gone to Vegas, where at least I can gamble.

3. Khao Sahn Road, Bangkok Thailand - The most infamous backpacker ghetto (see the Beach) was not the place for a solo male traveler like me. Disgusting guesthouses, loud, loud nights, and bars that play soccer, rugby, cricket, and shitball, but not good old Football, its pretty close to hell.

4. Lake
Boeung Kak, Phnom Pehn, Cambodia - Not terrible, but the accommodation by the Royal Palace is cheaper, nicer, and better located. Here, you really are in a city within a city, and its tough to escape and see the real Phnom Pehn. Too much weed, too many movies, and too much inactivity.

5. Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey - My first real backpacker ghetto! Great location, but all the guesthouses and hostels are run like business's, and they mean to rip you off. I recommend staying on the other side of the river, or Couchsurfing, as I did my last two times after staying here and getting ripped off.

*note - Europeans cities tend not to have backpacker ghettos, hence, they are not on this list. Hostels in Europe tend to be more spread apart among the city, and the preponderance of regular tourists rather than budget tourists ruins the ghetto dynamic. Hence so much Asia on my list, though Sultanahmet is technically in Europe!

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