The so-called Banana Pancake Trail is more or less a metaphor or idea for the major tourist stops throughout Asia -- particularly Southeast Asia and India.
While the concept was never planned, budget travelers and backpackers typically end up circulating through the same destinations in Asia as they make their way across the continent. Travelers do not necessarily follow the same route 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 1960s and 1970s by vagabonding travelers.
The Banana Pancake Trail is more an idea than an actual route, and expands as travelers explore areas slightly off the trail in search for more genuine or cultural experiences. Tourism is prevalent along the Banana Pancake Trail; internet cafes, guesthouses, Western restaurants, and bars have sprang up to accommodate the influx of gap year and budget travelers.
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 a local country safely without too much effort, and to have a little fun on a trip abroad in relative comfort.
Why Banana Pancakes?
The Banana Pancake Trail is thought to have received its name based on the sticky-sweet banana pancakes often served by street vendors and in guesthouses that offer free breakfasts.
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 Trail!
Where is the Banana Pancake Trail?
The hub of the Banana Pancake Trail could arguably be Bangkok's famous 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 on many year-long trips.
TIP: Learn why Koh San Road is not the correct way to refer to Khao San Road.
Traveling the Banana Pancake Trail includes many rites of passage for party goers including tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos, and attending a Full Moon Party in Thailand. The partying is balanced with visits to many 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 Yunnan, China, and at least Goa in India.
Popular Stops on the Banana Pancake Trail
While certainly not exhaustive, these places nearly always tend to be popular with travelers who are moving along the Trail:
- Bangkok's Khao San Road
- Chiang Mai
- Koh Tao to get scuba certified
- Railay for rock climbing and beaches
- The Thai islands, especially attending a Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan
- The small town of Pai in Northern Thailand
- Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat temples
- The small town of Sihanoukville for relaxation
- Phnom Penh and other places in Cambodia
- 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
- Kuala Lumpur
- The Cameron Highlands for trekking
- Outdoor-loving backpackers go to Malaysian Borneo.
- Bali, including Kuta and Ubud
- The Gili Islands
- A trek to Mount Bromo in East Java
- North Sumatra with Lake Toba being the most popular area
- Some of the great islands in the Philippines.
- Goa for the beaches and party scene
- Varanasi to see spiritual rituals
- Manali for outdoor sports
- McLeod Ganj to visit the home of the Dalai Lama
- Rajasthan for a desert experience
Many people would argue that the old Hippie Trail hub of Kathmandu in Nepal is part of the Banana Pancake Trail. Many 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, travel along the Banana Pancake Trail will continue to have 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. Read more about responsible travel in Asia.