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Elephant pants and backpackers, why are they always together?

To anyone who traveled through South-east Asia, Elephant pants and the people wearing them are a familiar sight. To locals, anyone wearing elephant pants is immediately identified as a backpacker, gap-year traveler or tourist at the very least.

Because even though they are very comfortable, no self-respecting Asian will wear them. And amongst expats living in Asia, this piece of garment tends to be the butt of a lot of insider-jokes. So try to keep that in mind when your buddy is trying to slip you into a pair.

Often associated with eco tourism, millennials and yoga

On sale all over SE-Asia, Elephant pants come in thin fabric, a loose cut and with the one-colour print featuring elephant motives. Offered exclusively in those parts of town that rely on foreign money, spotting a stand with them usually means you are in a full-blooded tourist area. These pants come in very basic colors, usually with a white print of repeating patterns and a steady appearance of Elephant motives. The same fabric is also used for dresses, scarves, sheets and any other piece of fabric a tourist is willing to buy from these stands.

You will not be the only one wearing these puppies in Asia…

As mentioned previously, while a local may be asking themselves why so many people wear the same pants, there are a number of good reasons. Firstly, they are very cheap and present an ideal solution for someone who’s traveling with a bag full of dirty clothes. Secondly, their thin fabric and wide cut make them great for trekking through Asia. And should you accidentally rip a pair on a rusty Indian train car, you can buy a new one at the next stop – simple!

272 steps and a Sri Lanka cave – your elephant pants will take the abuse

Backpackers often pride themselves on taking an alternative route and “going off the beaten path”. The reality however, is that 80% of travelers choose the Banana Pancake Trail. A familiar route where thousands have gone before, and where you can find western comfort food on every corner. Unfortunately, these are also the areas where scammers operate, and Elephant pants mark you as a potential prey. Also, there is something to be said for “fitting in”, especially if you are eager to make friends with the locals. Especially when dealing with Asian (immigration) officers, looking halfway civilized will produce a different attitude.

Travelers who’ve been “around the block” will spot elephant pants from a mile away

The beauty of backpacking is that you can do whatever you want for an extended period of time. One could argue that sporting a pair of parachute pants with elephants printed on them is an extension of that experience. So by all means, go out there, buy the pants and flip flops, and rock them at the full-moon parties, zip-lining, diving resorts and temple visits. But also keep in mind that you may look less like the seasoned traveler you aspire to be, and more like the eternal tourist, looking for a cheap guesthouse with the next yogurt and muesli breakfast.

This Post Has 2 Comments
    1. Hi Kelsey. Thanks for your feedback and thoughts. Elephant pants have become quite a phenomenon in Asia these days 🙂
      Feel free to link and thanks for sharing your blog, too!
      All the best, Berit – Team Go Beyond Asia

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