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The Banana Pancake Trail

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Last update: October 2023



The Banana Pancake Trail is a great way to discover Southeast Asia and beyond. This goes for first time travelers, as well as for more experienced globe trotters. These travel routes in Southeast Asia provide affordable, safe and accessible travel infrastructure. Many of the must-see highlights are located along the various routes. Partying and social mingling with fellow travelers is easy along the Banana Pancake Trail Asia, while opportunities for more authentic experiences are never far away.


Banana Pancake Trail
Follow that trail


What is the Banana Pancake Trail?


The Banana Pancake Trail is not one specific route in Southeast Asia, but a metaphor to describe various travel routes in Southeast Asia for backpackers and budget travelers (but not only). Along these routes the local communities (and entrepreneurial expats) adapted by offering all the typical amenities that are sought after by travelers. Think budget accommodation, easy transport, ample food options, nightlife and guided tours.

The trail is named after one of the most popular breakfasts along the trail…Banana Pancakes!


Banana Pancakes trail



Is the Banana Pancake Trail worth it?


Some well-seasoned travelers might argue that the Banana Pancake Trail offers no authentic experiences since everything along the routes in Asia 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. And this actually goes for all routes in Southeast Asia along the trail.


Bangkok market along the banana pancake trail
Around the corner from Khao San Road. What’s not authentic about this?

It’s true that 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? Nonetheless, real off the beaten path routes are often just a short detour away from the Banana Pancake Trail. It is still very much possible to have an authentic experience.

Just because the trail is popular it should by no means put you off to follow it. For most of the must-see attractions it’s unavoidable to find yourself on the Banana Pancake Trail anyway. 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, the Banana Pancake Trail is totally worth it!


Vegetable vendor in Hanoi, Vietnam
Everyday scene in the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

My first time on the Banana Pancake Trail


On my first trip to Southeast Asia I set out on the trail without even knowing that I was. As it turned out I traveled one of the most popular routes. Such an unbelievable experience! My journey started at the unofficial, but iconic Banana Pancake Trail starting point: Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand. From there my trip went North to Chiang Mai and proceeded into Laos.


Banana Pancake Trail most popular route
Banana Pancake Trail map of the most popular travel route in Southeast Asia

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 a 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.


Laos is part of the banana pancake trail
Beautiful Laos

Concluding my first trip

I only had one month, which proved do-able, but in hindsight wished that I had more time. Pressed for time I had to skip a multitude of interesting places and only spent very short periods at the ones I did visit. Never made it to the Thai Islands on that first trip, although I had planned to. However, it was still wonderful and it really opened my eyes to Southeast Asia. On the plane back home I already started planning my next trip.

I since returned to travel numerous more routes in Asia, but to this day (14 years later) I still haven’t seen everything on the trail. The routes are continuously expanding and new ones are added as travelers keep exploring the edges. So, my discovery of the Banana Pancake Trail is still ongoing.



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Places to visit on the Banana Pancake Trail


There is no Banana Pancake Trail map outlining an “official” trail, nor is there a complete list of places to visit. There are no strict Banana Pancake Trail itineraries or routes to follow. Again, it’s just a metaphor. However, if there would be such a list then the usual suspect places to visit would at least include:




  • Yogyakarta
  • Bali
  • Gili Islands
  • Lake Toba
  • Luang Prabang
  • Vang Vieng
  • Nong Khiaw
  • Si Phan Don
  • Yangon
  • Bagan
  • Mandalay
  • Inle Lake
  • Palawan
  • Boracay
  • Siargao
  • Bohol


Boracay sunset on the banana pancake trail
Stunning Boracay in the Philippines



The Banana Pancake Trail 2.0


The above locations 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 Southeast Asia.

As backpacking and budget travel for longer periods and to further destinations becomes increasingly popular, many interesting places beyond Southeast Asia are also added to the Banana Pancake Trail, such as:

  • Dali, Yangshuo/Guilin and Kunming in China;

  • Goa, Varanasi and Manali in India;

  • Kathmandu and the Annapurna in Nepal;

  • Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Taiwan.


Kathmandu is a popular stop on the banana pancake trail
Durbar Square in Kathmandu

Typically enough, some of these newly added places are part of the “Hippie Trail“, which was a popular route 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. More recently, China had restrictions because of Covid and a bunch of other stuff. Myanmar has its own problems and some smaller parts of Indonesia and the Philippines are off limits for visitors.



Useful Tips


Banana Pancake Trail Itinerary

Because of the many countries along the trail, countless itineraries are possible. Basically, your itinerary depends on two important things:

First, what is your goal? 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?

Second, 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.

Overall, I would say that an absolute minimum of three weeks is necessary for the most simplest of routes. A lot will depend on your choice of transport. Obviously, flying between locations can save you lots of travel time. At the other end of the spectrum, you can spend a full year backpacking and still not cover the entire Banana Pancake Trail.


person holding a religious requisite to represent the cultural experience on the banana pancake trail
Culture?
fullmoon beachparty wear to represent the party experience on the banana pancake trail
or Party?

Banana Pancake Trail Preparation

“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 if not prepared. Here’s a brief list:

Visa

  • 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 can be 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.


Thailand beach
On the Banana Pancake Trail

Medical

  • 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 dental work needs to be done during your trip. The latter, sadly spoken from experience.


Mount Kinabalu
Unique experiences on the Banana Pancake Trail

Money

  • 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 to the banana trail. 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.


Bia Hoi Hanoi
Making new friends on the Banana Pancake Trail

Travel insurance

  • 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.


More

  • Unlock your sim card for use abroad. Or better yet, use local prepaid sim cards of the country you’re visiting and save loads of money. 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.


Read more: Renting a car in Thailand – How to? What you need to know before you rent that car



The Banana Pancake Trail Resources


The travel resources below have always been helpful when planning and preparing my trips. Particularly in Southeast Asia they have proven to be extremely useful when traveling the Banana Pancake Trail.

* affiliate links disclaimer


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 banana trail transport planner. In just a few clicks book your transport in Southeast 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 platform for Southeast Asia. Largest range of accommodations with free cancellation.

Quick check 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. Also, reviews provide good info about the professionalism of the local tour companies.




FAQ


How long does it take to do the Banana Pancake Trail?

At least 1 month for the route Thailand-Laos-Cambodia. An extra month to add Vietnam and Malaysia. A total of three months for these countries would be better. Of course it all depends on how many locations you would like to visit while on route and how much time you will spend at each location.

What is the Banana Pancake Trail experience?

It’s the experience of immersing yourself in all that Southeast Asian countries have to offer. Whether it’s hiking through rain forest or mountains, snorkeling or diving in the turquoise seas, beholding ancient temples and small local villages or enjoying the nightlife.

What is the banana pancake route?

There isn’t a specific or official route. The Banana Pancake Trail is a metaphor for all routes in Southeast Asia that are popular with backpackers, budget travelers, flash packers, etc.

How much money do I need for the Banana Pancake Trail?

Some backpackers claim that they can get by with $500 per month, but that seems quite unrealistic to me. I would say at least $1,000 per month if you’re being extremely economical and don’t plan to fly in between countries is closer to the truth.




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