After talking about “The Gringo Trail” we will be moving on with another interesting route that every backpacker has to do!
For many travellers, backpacking in Southeast Asia is the cherry on the top, the highlight of their backpacking lives. Especially if you come from the western civilization, Asia will blow your mind into another dimension.
If you are new to backpacking, Southeast Asia is a great place to start your adventure as it is friendly, affordable, diverse and beautiful. Comparing it with “The Gringo Trail” one could say the biggest difference would be the safety, as South America can be a bit more “tricky”.
The trail I’m going to discuss is not exactly an official one, but many travellers normally end up circulating through the same destinations in Asia (South and Southeast).
“The Banana Pancake Trail” is more of a fuzzy idea than an actual route, nonetheless it’s a very real route. Some people argue that tourism reigns as there are numerous internet cafes, guesthouses, Western-style restaurants and the only locals whom you interact with, speak good English. Which would make this a not so “real” cultural experience.
Even so, travelling the Banana Pancake Trail will sure be an exciting adventure as you’ll meet other travellers, discover Southeast Asia safely without much effort and have a unique experience.
The name derives from the street food that is often served by street carts and restaurants to travellers, though they are by no means a local creation. It’s funny how names come to be.
In this route, you’ll be visiting diverse countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, among others. Of course, this all depends on how much time and money you want to invest in it.
First of all, you’ll have to fly to the Thai capital, Bangkok, to start your adventure. As a major airline hub, it’s very practical for you to start there. It is the most westernized city in the region, so the culture shock won’t be as hard as it would be if you were to land first in Laos or Vietnam. Additionally, you’ll be able to stock up with all the tools you’ll need for this trip for a much cheaper price. Talk about being efficient.
The city has different things to offer, from a backpacking Mecca centred around what is possibly the most international street in the world, Khao San Road, to a seedy underbelly infamous for its sex industry.
But Thailand has more to offer than just Bangkok, for example, the northern city of Chiang Mai which attracts nearly 2 million foreign tourists a year. Crazy, as it doubles the entire metropolitan area population of just under one million people!
Even with the horrendous traffic, the vibe and pace of life here is more relaxed than that of Bangkok. It is widely considered a cultural hub as you will find beautiful temples, a multitude of cooking, language schools and a large population of creative artists, both Thai and foreign. Hence this caused the city to be considered for UNESCO Creative City status.
Before leaving this country you will have to make a short visit to Koh Tao as it is the undisputed epicentre for cheap diving and scuba culture in Southeast Asia. As a small island located in the Gulf of Thailand, it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy the nice water and to actually learn how to scuba dive. All your friends will die of jealousy.
Moving on to the next country of the trail, we arrive at Phnom Penh in Cambodia. A city of contrasts where there are genuine luxuries in the form of majestic temples, but also a large sum of desperate poverty. You’ll find the streets filled with vendors, monks and young Cambodians living their normal lives.
Phnom Penh is a small but crazy and entertaining city as there are different activities you can do there as visiting stunning temples and palaces, trying exotic plates in the traditional marketplaces and other crazy things which will astonish you!
Next, take a bus to Battambang to discover a city full of statues and enjoy the river-based activities it offers. Although this will only be a short stay as you will be using the river to move north on a boat to Siem Reap.
Over a million tourists a year pass through here, making it the fastest-growing place in Cambodia (apart from Phnom Penh). Many people say that this place is the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia as it offers not only the temples of Angkor Wat, which are Siem Rep’s main draw but also the National Museum, the Land Mine Museum and a ride on a hot air balloon ride over the Angkor ruins. Calculate a visit of at least 3 days so you can really enjoy these things without being too stressed about it.
“Good morning Vietnam!” Yeah, you know that one for sure (shame on you if you don’t, and go watch the movie). After Cambodia, we arrive at our next stop: Ho Chi Minh City.
HCM, AKA Saigon, is the biggest and most populated city in this country. It will also be your starting point while moving around Vietnam’s oblong shape. You can dispose of 3 different possibilities, either you move by bus, train or plane. Travelling from Saigon to Hanoi will be a long journey, but fortunately, there are enough exciting stops along the way.
For example, you can go to Nha Trang for some beach time, or if you are more interested in some culture and history there is Hue, or Hoi An for the pleasant setting and the Japanese influence. Indeed, this will all vary on diverse factors like how big your budget will be and what means of transport you’ll be using during this trail.
At last, but not least, we have our next destination and last country we will be visiting in this “Banana Pancake” Trail, Laos. To be more specific Vang Vieng, which is another hugely popular backpacking destination in South East Asia. The main attraction is going tubing down the river and visiting the various bars along the river. It’s not as dangerous as it was years ago, so you should try it out!
What exactly is tubing you wonder? To simply put it, it’s travelling through water on a large inflated inner tube. Sounds fun right? If it doesn’t, drink some beers and get in the water. Your opinion will change.
Being considered as the planet’s most improbable party town, it’s a backpackers paradise. Travellers come here to party and “get wasted”. If you want to read more about it, then follow up with this article from the guardian.
Furthermore, you can’t leave this country without visiting its capital city, Vientiane. Clearly, this city is pretty dull compared with the other sights and places we have just seen, but it’s going to be an enjoyable ending to a long, hard and exhausting adventure. Here you will have the opportunity to try out some more of that delicious and unique street food. People are also extremely friendly to foreign visitors. Just remember to say “Sabai dee” which is an amicable way of saying “hello”.
All things considered, I truly believe “The Banana Pancake Trail” is an exciting way of backpacking, doesn’t matter if you are experienced or not. Even though, as mentioned before, this route is not official, hopefully, after reading this article you have a better overview of how to move through South East Asia. So let life surprise yourself and take a leap of faith.
Now is the time.
Mark is a Business student and currently a member of our Intern team! Mark has three different nationalities, he lived in a lot of places (New York, La Paz, Mexico City, to name a few) and he’s now in Amsterdam to help other students excel at their studies!