Western “Beg-Packers” Raise Eyebrows In Vietnam


Authorities in the island of Phu Quoc are investigating a 20-year-old Russian tourist who was pictured on August 7 meditating on the sidewalk in front of a sign which reads, “Meditate for luck, need money” in Vietnamese.

Mr. Pham Van Nghiep, deputy chairman of Phu Quoc, was quoted by Cong An (Police) newspaper as saying that the island district had asked the Kien Giang provincial police and external affairs department to deport the female tourist if her visa expires.

The picture of her went viral on Facebook and news websites.

After being summoned for questioning at local police station, she said she has been backpacking through Southeast Asia with empty pockets.

western beggarImage source: tin247.com

She said she had spent most nights of her trip sleeping in tents in local parks, on the beaches or in the forests, while meditating on crowded streets during the day, using her sign to ask for money.

Mr. Nghiep said the tourist did not cause disorder or disturbance with her meditating but the act of begging for money is unacceptable.

He said she failed to declare with the local immigration office and register for temporary residency with local authorities.

According to Tuoi Tre, foreigners visiting Phu Quoc Island are granted visa exemptions for stays no longer than 15 days, and are required by law to make declarations with the local immigration office upon arrival.

“If her visa is valid, we will help her complete the necessary paperwork should she choose to stay,” Nghiep said.

A Common Practice

The practice of the Russian tourist is called "beg-packing", a riff off of the term “backpacking”. It has become common in Vietnam over the past few years.

Foreign beggars have been reportedly spotted in popular tourist spots like Nha Trang, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Local media has published a number of reports describing expats sitting on the sidewalks with signs which said they lost their wallets and belongings, or that they were robbed of all their money. But when local people offer to take them to embassies or consulates, they refuse to or just disappear.

Infamous German beggar Benjamin Holst, who has been travelling the world and partying with money made from begging, was spotted in HCMC in March when his pictures began circulating on Vietnamese social media.

western beggarImage source: kenh14.vn

Holst has been dubbed an “international beggar” for repeatedly using his leg, which is permanently swollen due to a condition called macrodystrophia lipomatosa, to gain sympathy from tourists and locals around the world.

He posted photos on his Facebook page sitting in bars around Saigon’s backpacker area and enjoying Saigon nightlife, accompanied by waitresses in skimpy clothes.

According to his Facebook page, a Vietnamese woman then bought him a train ticket from HCMC to Danang, while another bought him food and booked a GrabBike for him to the train station.

It was not the first time Holst came to Saigon. He was spotted begging for money on Ly Tu Trong Street in June of last year.

Vietnamese Facebook users expressed their disappointment after knowing about Holst and other beg-packers, saying that they felt taken advantage of.

Many users said beg-packing is unacceptable because travellers who cash in on the sympathy of locals are taking money that should be given to more deserving needy people.

Other commenters have also expressed worry that those who beg for money during the day ended up spending it all in local bars or on sex services at night.

Cross-check Needed

Apparently, beg-packing is becoming a phenomenon in Asia, which raises the question about the mentality of Western beg-packers. Some believe the exercise is in poor taste, as they usually beg in cities where many local residents struggle to make a living.

western beggarImage source: thanhnien.vn

With the recent cases, Vietnamese netizens say the best way forward is to check and verify a beg-packer’s story to see if they really do need help due to robbery or missing belongings, or if they’re just trying to cash in on the compassion of others to satisfy their travelling expenses.

Banner image source: thanhnien.vn

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