Why do the locals in Asia want photos with me?

You’re minding your own business on some beautiful beach in Southeast Asia, when a group of locals come up to you and politely ask if they can get their photo taken with you.

Has anyone else experienced this? It always makes me feel like I’m some sort of minor celebrity, and not just another sunburnt tourist.

Why do the locals want their photos taken with me in Asia?
Feeling famous in Vietnam.

Somewhere in Southeast Asia right now, there are likely dozens of people with photos of me. Not compromising ones, thankfully – just photos of me and them, at the beach or in front of some tourist attraction.

One time, Mrs Man vs World and I even featured in an Indonesian couple’s wedding photos. We just happened to be walking along Kuta Beach at the time and, well, we just couldn’t say no to the happy couple and their family.

I’m flattered that people want to have their photo taken with me. I really am. I mean, I’m definitely not famous and, let’s be frank, I’d never make it as a male model.

Seriously, even my friends and family don’t particularly want to be photographed with me.

Why do the locals want their photos taken with me in Asia?
Pictured: a face that only a mother could love.

It only ever happens to me when I’m travelling in Asia.

I can only think that some people in some parts of Asia like getting their photos taken with tourists like me because it’s still something of a novelty to see white people in their midst.

It surprises me in this day and age, with increasing globalisation and the proliferation of social media and cheap airfares, that white tourists like me are anything special. We’re not. In fact, in some resort towns in Thailand, for instance, it feels like the tourists almost outnumber the locals.

In these places, pretty soon the tourists will be taking photos of the locals.

I’ve got some questions for you:

  • Have you had this experience?
  • Can you tell me if it’s the same situation in other parts of Asia that I haven’t visited yet, including China and India?
  • How do you feel when you’re asked for a photograph? 
  • Should I be charging money?
About Simon Petersen 296 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

8 Comments

  1. Yeah, I get it a lot travelling in Asia….it’s happened multiple times in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan….those ones I remember for some reason….other Countries not so much…as Borat says

  2. I thought of this today for some reason and decided to google. Years ago while living in Singapore I went on a visit to Bangkok with a group of lady friends. While we were at the Grand Palace, I was approached by a young Asian couple who asked, I thought, to take their photo. After some pantomime, I realized that the girl wanted a photo of me with her. I obliged and just before her boyfriend clicked the shutter she threw her arm around me like I was her new best friend. I laugh sometimes that a photo of blonde me is part of her vacation photos. I never noticed anyone surreptitiously taking my photo but as I traveled a lot in Asia, I’m sure it happened. ps I’m kind of surprised that I was the only one she asked. My friend with me was Irish-American with flaming red hair.

  3. This has happened to me twice while in Thailand! I’m glad I’m not alone. Once with my boyfriend and once by myself. They were both at highly tourist areas: a Temple and China town during the Lunar New Year. I had no clue why, but was happy to go along with it. In both instances they were very kind and thankful to me. I also felt like some sort of celebrity, haha!

  4. I was traveling through India from the northeast Sikkim and Delhi. It first happened to me when a little boy came up to me and asked for a picture, but I thought he wanted a picture with him and his mother and needed someone to take the photo, but I was mistaken. They each wanted one with me. About an hour later at a different site a group of woman came over and asked me for a photo and before I knew it I had 10 cameras in my face and women, their husbands, and kids lining up to take a photo with me. Last at the taj young girls had ask to take a photo with me and by that time the group I was with was over it and told them no because it started to get out of hand. It was overwhelming when I had multiple cameras in my face at onetime and people lining up, but I felt bad saying no. From a local, they claim it’s because we are foreign and they don’t see us often so it’s new to them and something to bring back home and show their friends.

  5. This is ABSOLUTELY TRUE in China as well! However, it’s only really true in parts of China. For example, I live in Shenzhen, next to Hong Kong. It’s very rare for someone to want a picture with you here. However, in Beijing, you would run into at least one person every day who would want to take a picture (and lots would sneak pictures of you too). This is my theory: Beijing has a lot of Chinese tourists coming to see the sites. My guess is that it’s not the local Beijing people who are shutterbugs. That might be true for the tourist-heavy places you visited too!

  6. Well, having been brought up around Malaysia and SE Asia in general. The way it goes is that caucasians are viewed as cooler and more kickass. This stems a lot from the very widely available American and English films you probly see being sold by street vendors as well as all the electronic gizmos are western branded. Any western consumer product is viewed as reliable,cool, and of a higher standard than locally produced stuff (since a lot of our stuff comes from china being that we’re so close and all).

    And there is also a cool factor associated with being friends with a westerner/caucasian in general. I mean, if I went back to Brunei and brought a blonde home to visit, there really would be a boost in social standing among my friends and people in town. I’d become “the cool kid”

    They can’t show you off to their friends most of the time, so the next best is a picture with you. “hey look! I took a photo with a european!” “OMG that’s so cool. Was his english very good?”

    As lame as it may sound, that’s how it usually goes, especially in China, Thailand, and some parts of Malaysia.

  7. Thailand, Laos and Vietnam it’s happened to me and my girlfriend. She’s got long blonde hair and I have dark hai with a matching beard. I’m still not sure why, as flattering as it is. It may be because blonde hair and beards aren’t very common amongst the locals though we have people pulling out their iPhones and asking for photos in good English, so you’d think they’d be desensitised to seeing westerners.

    Still, always happy to oblige and for some reason I’ve never thought to ask them why… If you find out, let me know!

  8. Pretty common experience. I’ve had people attempt to be subtle to take a secret photo of me. I’ve also had a monk in Cambodia ask to take a picture with me…on his cell phone.

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