Reader Question: Hi Trisha! I’ve been thinking of traveling alone for maybe a month or couple of months, a getaway from work related stress. I want to meet friends along the way and learn the culture of different countries. I’m thinking of maybe trying it out within Southeast Asian countries first. What countries do you suggest? I mean those that are easier to explore for first time backpackers? Been going out of town a lot in Philippines but usually for business trips as well as out of the country. I stay in hotels but now I want to experience the life of backpackers. – Bryan, Philippines
If you’d ask other experienced backpackers, they would definitely say, “The banana pancake trail is overrated.” They would suggest you to make your own route and will keep saying bulls*t about this travel idea.
Why? Because they already did it.
I admire those experienced travellers who do not say something bad about the places they’ve been to nor discourage the people who are wanting to start the same journey like theirs. Some are really arrogant and have their balls over their head: “Thailand is crowded” or “I got mugged in the Philippines” are some of the famous lines and this makes the one who’s asking the question discouraged.
I think we have to assess ourselves on how to give advice to those who are just starting to live their backpacking dream. We do not have the same experience! I am going to be honest with you — I also used to be like that. Whenever I meet new people who’s seeking help to plan their Southeast Asian escapade, I tell them to skip this, don’t do that, avoid this, etc. Then I realised that everyone should experience the same and see it for themselves; that I am in no position to dictate what should be on their itinerary; that I am allowed to share bad experiences as well and be honest about it but never ever make them think that I didn’t want them to go there. With this, I would always recommend that you do the same route as the others did — the banana pancake trail.
What is the Banana Pancake Trail?
Originally the “Hippie Trail” in the 60’s and 70’s, the Banana Pancake Trail is an idea which expands when more and more people are slightly going off a dictated trail searching for more genuine cultural experiences. Through the years, budget hostels, Western restaurants, Irish pubs and tourism agencies have emerged in Southeast Asia to cater to travellers who are in gap year and backpacking. It became really popular that there are numerous businesses in every area which forced every local to learn English to entice more tourists. Today, experienced travellers argue that it is not advisable to do this anymore because of the lack of real cultural experiences.
But who cares? We all took this trip and I think you should too.
I am telling you, no matter how they say that it’s overrated, you will meet a lot of new friends in the Banana Pancake Trail. Locals are used to having tourists around that you don’t need to worry about safety. Everyone’s friends with everyone. They know the route. They will tell you the places you need to visit. It’s kind of a script; a default mapping.
Oh, by the way, just to be clear, this is not a definite route. It’s just called “trail” but this is more of an idea than a route. Below are the most famous stops of the Banana Pancake Trail:
Khao San Road, Bangkok
Chiang Mai (the Digital Nomads hub)
Scuba Courses in Koh Tao
Railay for beaches and rock climbing
Phi Phi and Krabi Islands
Full moon party at Koh Pha Ngan
Pai, a small town north of the country
Angkor Wat in Siem Reap
Vientiane, the capital
Saigon then busing to Hanoi
Pham Ngu Lao in Saigon
Halong Bay in Hanoi
Hoi An in Central Vietnam
Sapa for some trekking
The Cameron Highlands for trekking
Borneo for some outdoor adventures
The Gili Islands
Mount Bromo in Easyt Java
Bali, Kuta and Ubud
Partying in Boracay
Diving in Palawan (Coron)
Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan
More water adventures in Cebu
Beaches and parties in Goa
Spiritual retreats in Varanasi
McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama
Manali for some outdoor activities
Rajasthan for a desert adventure
Tiger Leaping Gorge trekking
Dali in Yunan
This is not a travel advice. I am just explaining this route as many people have taken this trip.Let’s take it as a default knowledge for everyone. You know when you ask someone who’s been to Southeast Asia, they would always suggest the same things. Of course, in case you find something “off-the-beaten” you can share your experiences with us too! Bryan, this is just level one of your journey so I wish you all the best and never ever stop pursuing your dreams to travel the world! Good luck and may the force be with you.