Last update: September 2022
The Banana Pancake Trail is a great way to discover South East Asia and beyond. This goes for first time travelers, as well as for more experienced globe trotters. The trail provides affordable, safe and accessible travel infrastructure. Most of the highlights are located along the various routes. Partying and social mingling with fellow travelers is easy along the trail, while opportunities for more authentic experiences are never far away.
I swear, on the plane back home I was already planning my next route!
What is the Banana Pancake Trail?
The Banana Pancake Trail is not an actual geographical trail. It’s a metaphor to describe various popular travel routes in South East Asia. Along these routes the local communities (and entrepreneurial expats) adapted by offering budget accommodation, easy transport, restaurants, guided tours and the occasional Irish pub.
The trail is named after one of the most popular breakfast’s along the trail…Banana Pancakes!
So, why is this an interesting trail for you to follow?
My first time on the Banana Pancake Trail
On my first trip to South East Asia I set out on the trail. What an unbelievable experience! My journey started at the unofficial, but undisputed king location of the Banana Pancake Trail: Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand. From there my trip went to Ayutthaya and proceeded North to eventually end up in Chiang Mai. Soon after I crossed the border into Laos.
Laos was gorgeous and with the exception of the capital Vientiane and maybe Luang Prabang, still undiscovered. Man, this country is so beautiful I wanted to stay forever, but on I went, cross country to the Laos-Cambodia border near the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don).
In Cambodia my visit to Angkor Wat was obvious, as was Phnom Penh, along with several other locations. Finally I reached Thailand again to at long last fly back home from Bangkok airport.
I only had one month and to be honest it wasn’t the best way to explore the trail. Pressed for time I had to skip a multitude of interesting places and I only spent very short periods at the ones I did visit. However, it was still wonderful and it really opened my eyes to South East Asia. I swear, on the plane back home I already started planning my next routes.
I returned for numerous visits, but to this day I still haven’t seen everything on the trail. It’s continuously expanding as travelers keep exploring the edges. So, my discovery of the Banana Pancake Trail is still ongoing.
Should you go?
Some well-seasoned travelers might argue that the trail offers no authentic experiences since everything is so adapted to tourism. I would say this is only partly true. Yes, it’s hard to find authenticity if you only stick to Khao San Road or Sukhumvit in Bangkok, although even that is debatable. On the other hand, just turn the corner of Khao San Road and you’ll find authenticity right there.
Just because the trail is popular it should by no means put you off to follow it. It is still very much possible to have an authentic experience. For most of the must-see attractions it’s unavoidable to find yourself on the trail anyway. Moreover, real off-the-beaten-path experiences are often just a short detour away from the trail.
It only means that yes, you’re not unique on the trail and you will encounter other travelers along the way. But then again, you’re a traveler yourself. Part of the fun of travel is meeting like-minded spirits from all over the world isn’t it? Above all and especially for first timers, you can expect that infrastructure and facilities for safe, worry free, fun and affordable travel are widely available.
So heck yes, you should go!
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Places to visit on the Banana Pancake Trail
There is no official map outlining the routes of the Banana Pancake Trail, nor is there a complete list of places to visit. Again, it’s just a metaphor. However, if there would be such a list then the usual suspects would at least include:
- Gili Islands
- Lake Toba
- Luang Prabang
- Vang Vieng
- Nong Khiaw
- Si Phan Don
- Inle Lake
Banana Pancake Trail 2.0
The above are just a few examples of places to visit on the trail. There are many more and the number is continuously expanding. At the same time it seems that the banana pancake trail is no longer limited to South East Asia.
As travel for longer periods and to further destinations becomes increasingly popular, many interesting places beyond South East Asia are also added to the trail, such as:
Dali, Yangshuo and Kunming in China;
Goa, Varanasi and Manali in India;
Kathmandu and the Annapurna in Nepal;
Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Taiwan.
Typically enough, some of these newly added places are part of the “Hippie Trail“, which was popular in the 1960’s/70’s and is said to be the precursor of the Banana Pancake Trail.
It needs to be said though that certain events can at times limit access to parts of the trail. Vietnam for instance only opened up in the 1980’s after the war and likewise for Cambodia after the 1990’s. Nowadays, China has restrictions because of Covid and a bunch of other stuff, while Myanmar has its own problems.
Your itinerary depends on two important things:
- What is your goal? Meaning, do you want to see as many countries/highlights as possible? Or maybe, your aim is to have a more in-depth experience of each place you visit? Are you culturally interested, or do you care more for the party side of it all? Do you want to include some beach-time?
- How much time do you have? You can do pretty much all of the above in just one trip, provided you have enough time. If not, you will have to make choices.
“To travel on the fly” is fun, but it only works if time is not an issue. In any other case, the right preparation is key, or you will lose a lot of time/money on settling stuff during your trip. I’m not talking packing lists or bus tickets, but stuff that can slow you down considerably. Here’s a brief list for your preparations:
- Do your research on needed visa, especially if you intend to visit more than one country. Sometimes invitation letters are needed to obtain a visa and of lately health certificates are a thing. A good source to check needed documents is iVisa. In most cases you can also buy visa online through them. Be aware that there might be different visa protocols for land border crossings.
- Also, check the validity of your passport. You don’t want it to expire while traveling. Some countries demand a 6 month validity of your passport from the time of arrival. If you’re obtaining visa while abroad you should make sure that there are sufficient blank pages left in your passport for the visa stamps/stickers.
- If you rely on medication, make sure to bring enough for your trip. An official doctor’s certificate is helpful to avoid possible problems at customs. A doctor’s prescription might also come in handy, although don’t count on it that your medication is readily available and/or affordable.
- Take all mandatory vaccines and bring proof. Make a last dentist appointment for a check-up and any last work. Ask if you can have copies of recent x-rays of your teeth. It will save you money if any dentist work needs to be done during your trip.
- Check the expiry dates on your debit and credit cards. Find out your bank’s regulations for use of your cards abroad. Maybe get a prepaid bank card like Revolut. To be honest, I never used it, but fellow travelers told me that they have little to no charges on withdrawing cash abroad. Also they seem to have a great app to manage your money.
- You can bring some cash, some countries (Cambodia) even accept USD. However, best to bring smaller bills or be prepared to accept stacks of foreign bills for change. Also, dollar bills should be crisp and clean or they won’t accept it.
- Yeah, yeah, boring, but you know you need it! Ok, I won’t preach here, just appeal to your common sense. World Nomads is my choice since their coverage is so comprehensive. They don’t insure people over 70 years though. If you are, try Insure My Trip.
Note!: Healthcare along the Banana Pancake Trail is hopelessly underdeveloped. Any serious ailment or injury will almost certainly involve medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore, costing a fortune and payable upfront. Better have that wealthy uncle on speed dial.
- Unlock your sim card for use abroad. Alternatively, use prepaid sim cards of the country you’re visiting. You can buy them at airports, phone shops and convenience stores. In that case unlock your phone to accept other sims.
- Depending on your plans you might want to arrange an international driving permit. You never know if there will be an unplanned road trip. In some countries you can drive a 125cc motorbike on a car drivers license.
- Scan important documents (passport, visa, prescriptions, etc) and carry copies when you go out so you won’t have to walk around with the originals all day. Also, email them to your friend or relatives so you’ll have copies for when your documents are lost.
Banana Pancake Trail Resources
The travel resources below have always been helpful when planning and preparing my trips. Particularly in South East Asia they have proven to be extremely useful on the trail.
Note: Some of the links below (not all) are affiliate links and I might earn a small commission if you buy anything through them. This comes at no extra cost to you and it allows me to keep all content up to date. Moreover, I regularly use these resources myself with great satisfaction and highly recommend them:
The best flight deals, including a search on small booking sites. The platform has a calendar view that shows the cheapest days to fly.
Brilliant transport planner. In just a few clicks book your transport in South East Asia. Skip the lines at the bus station!
Insurance for travelers by travelers. Extensive coverage and speedy claims handling.Get a free, non-committal quote in just seconds.
The best accommodation booking site for South East Asia. Largest range of accommodations with free cancellation.
Quick check on which travel documents are needed for your trip. Besides visa, also health/Covid certificates, etc. Fast and easy online service.
Features an incredible amount of local group and private tours. The tour reviews provide good info about the professionalism of the local tour companies.
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