The so-called Banana Pancake Trail is a not-so-specific route through Asia that is particularly popular for backpackers and long-term budget travelers. The major stops are typically affordable, social, adventurous, and cater to travelers -- making life on the road a little easier.
Although the concept was never planned and certainly isn't "official," budget travelers and backpackers typically end up circulating through the same destinations in Asia -- especially in Southeast Asia and South Asia -- as they make their way across the continent.
Travelers don't necessarily follow the same route or direction along the Banana Pancake Trail, however, running into the same people over and over during an extended trip is common!
What Is the Banana Pancake Trail?
Much akin to the "Gringo Trail" in South America, the Banana Pancake Trail is the modern rendition of the "Hippie Trail" paved in the 1950s and 1960s by the Beat Generation and other vagabonding travelers.
The Banana Pancake Trail is more a fuzzy idea than an actual route, but it does exist and travelers know it well. For good or bad, the trail grows expands as travelers explore areas slightly off the beaten path in search for more genuine or cultural experiences.
Tourism reigns along the Banana Pancake Trail; numerous internet cafes, guesthouses, Western-style restaurants, and bars have sprung up to accommodate the influx of budget travelers. Locals speak some level of English and lots of entrepreneurs, honest and otherwise, move in to capitalize. Begging becomes a problem.
Many seasoned travelers argue that the Banana Pancake Trail is not a “real” cultural experience, as many times the only locals with whom you interact speak good English and are only there to service tourists.
All complaints aside, traveling the Banana Pancake Trail is a sure way to meet other travelers, sample an exciting country safely without too much effort, and to have a little fun on a trip abroad. The top backpacker destinations may draw a crowd, but they do so for a reason: there is a lot to see and do!
Why Banana Pancakes?
The Banana Pancake Trail is thought to have received its name from the sticky-sweet banana pancakes often served by street vendors and in guesthouses that offer free breakfasts. Street carts and restaurants often sell banana pancakes, even though they are by no means a local creation, to travelers in popular destinations.
Even Jack Johnson sang about banana pancakes in his song of the same name, and yes, you will most likely hear the song more than once along the way!
Where Is the Banana Pancake Trail?
The hub of the Banana Pancake Trail could arguably be Bangkok's infamous Khao San Road. Loved and hated, Khao San Road is a circus of budget travelers coming and going from other points along the Banana Pancake Trail. Cheap flights and an excellent travel infrastructure make Bangkok the perfect starting point for many long trips.
TIP: Don't join the uninformed masses! Learn why Koh San Road is not the correct way to refer to Khao San Road.
Traveling the Banana Pancake Trail is social and includes many rites of passage for partygoers such as tubing in Vang Vieng and attending a Full Moon Party in Thailand. The partying is often balanced with nature excursions and visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia.
Although disputable, the core of the Banana Pancake Trail could be Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Travelers with more time expand the Trail to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Boracay in the Philippines. The far reaches of the Banana Pancake Trail extend to stops in China, India, and Nepal.
Popular Stops on the Banana Pancake Trail
While certainly not exhaustive, these places nearly always tend to be popular with backpacking travelers who are moving along the Trail. Remember: there are plenty of other interesting places in each of these countries!
- Bangkok's Khao San Road
- Chiang Mai
- Koh Tao to get scuba certified
- Railay in Krabi for rock climbing and beaches
- The Thai islands, especially Koh Phi Phi for parties
- Attending a Full Moon Party in Haad Rin on Koh Phangan
- The small town of Pai in Northern Thailand (adventurous travelers drive a motorbike there)
- Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat temples
- The small town of Sihanoukville for relaxation
- Phnom Penh and other places in Cambodia
- The capital city of Vientiane
- Vang Vieng for tubing and socializing
- Luang Prabang (taking the slow boat from Thailand is a popular activity)
- Other places in Laos
- Going from Saigon to Hanoi
- The Pham Ngu Lao area of Saigon
- Hoi An in Central Vietnam
- Hanoi's famous Halong Bay
- Trekking in Sapa
- Georgetown on the island of Penang
- The Perhentian Islands, particularly Perhentian Kecil
- The cultural hub of Melaka (Malacca)
- Kuala Lumpur
- The Cameron Highlands for trekking
- Outdoor-loving backpackers go to Malaysian Borneo
- Bali, especially Kuta and Ubud
- Kuta on the island of Lombok for surf lessons
- The Gili Islands -- particularly Gili Trawangan for partying and Gili Air for relaxation
- A trek to Mount Bromo in East Java
- North Sumatra with Lake Toba being the most popular area
- Goa for the beaches and party scene
- Varanasi to see spiritual rituals
- The Taj Mahal because it's the Taj Mahal
- Manali for outdoor sports
- McLeod Ganj to visit the home of the Dalai Lama
- Rajasthan for a desert experience
- Dali in Yunan (Southern China)
- A Trek through the Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Xi'an for the terracotta soldiers
Many people would argue that the old Hippie Trail hub of Kathmandu in Nepal is part of the Banana Pancake Trail. Lots of travelers on round-the-world trips end up in Nepal for trekking before visiting India or many of the stops listed above.
The Future of the Banana Pancake Trail
As travel becomes more and more accessible to people from all over the world, tourism along the Banana Pancake Trail will continue to have more and more of an impact on developing countries. While tourist dollars do help poor areas in these countries, they also bring change -- sometimes unwanted -- and cultural mutation. We have a responsibility to preserve the places that we visit.