Backpackers, Fear on a Shoestring: Most Controversial Travel Book of the Year!?

Updated November 18th, 2017.

As book lovers and travel junkies, we like to keep our finger on the pulse about the best selling books on South East Asia that come out each year. Last year’s popular beach read was Richard Arthur’s I of the Sun, before that Emily Barr’s Backpack, way before that of course was Warren Fellow’s disturbing tale of drugs and prison life, Damage Done, and who can forget the South East Asia novel of all time – Alex Garland’s epic, The Beach?

When we picked up Paul Bellamy’s Backpackers, Fear on a Shoestring recently, we didn’t expect more than an easy to digest beach read about backpackers falling in love, getting drunk and having their eyes opened by quirky characters and exotic sights of the East.

However, the reality was far from our expectations.

Beach ReadFar from a light-hearted beach read!

From the get go – this book is shocking. Tangled into an Asian backpacking adventure is everything that would horrify your parents and encourage them to hide your passport and burn your backpack. Murder, lust, smuggling, drug-fuelled Full Moon Parties in Goa and psychological sex issues that make 50 Shades of Grey look like an Enid Blyton children’s book. Half way through the book you are almost desensitized to the hard-core sex scenes that penetrate every chapter.

Our two heroes are Andrew, a nice-but naïve English traveler, and Kirsten, a wild, tantalizing, German sex addict whom Andrew is unhealthily infatuated with. Their desperation for money and to continue living the ‘backpacking dream’ leads them into a dark underworld that is far more terrifying than either of them could ever have imagined.

A far-fetched, fantastical, at times horrifying read – an adventure story for sure – but certainly not one that you would want to be caught up in. Entirely fiction, this book must be read as just that – a crazy tale of everything that could go wrong as you travel.

So what does this book say about backpacking today?

Is it simply entertaining escapism to while away a sunny afternoon on an idyllic Thai island? Or are there deeper issues that Bellamy planted beneath the sex and gore?

From the beginning of the book, as two innocent backpackers invite a enigmatic French stranger to their hotel room to smoke Marijuana, an interesting theme is raised which continues page after page.

The theme is trust.

Do backpackers trust too easily?

After reading this book I realized that as a member of this tribe called ‘backpackers’, how easily we trust other people who are also part of the clan. We do not question people’s history or psychological make-up as we would in the ‘normal’ world. We have all left home to leave responsibility and inhibitions behind. The desire for wild fun unites us above all sense and logic that is kept intact at home.

SONY DSCGoing wild at the Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand

So what do you think? Is this book a valid addition to the travel literature of South East Asia – or an attempt to shock and disgust a gullible audience? Does it discourage backpacking in general? Or is it a dramatic, provocative warning for young backpackers to be careful whom they put their faith in as they travel.

Download the book yourself to form your own opinion. But be warned it’s no ‘Beach’. And if you’re planning an upcoming trip to Asia – don’t let your Mum read it. 

Kindle version is $5.99 and Paperback from $10.93 on Amazon.

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