The Banana Pancake Trail is the name given to the well-trodden and constantly growing routes around Southeast Asia travelled by backpackers and other tourists. The trail has no clear definition but is used as a metaphor for places that are well-visited by mostly Western tourists who have left their mark on the local tourist industry, which has created restaurants, hotels and entertainment catering to these travellers' needs.
The term "Banana Pancake Trail" is usually used tongue-in-cheek as an affectionate nickname and in reference to routes connecting the many guesthouses, cafes and restaurants that serve banana pancakes as a form of sweet breakfast.
The Banana Pancake Trail is sometimes associated with travellers who use Lonely Planet travel guides, due to the fact that this publisher's books were the first to provide information about the region and were therefore used by many backpackers. The influx of Western travellers led to the rise of many restaurants serving food adapted to their needs, including banana pancakes and other comfort foods like yoghurt with muesli and honey.
There is no firm (geographic) definition of the Banana Pancake Trail, as it is a metaphor to describe the ever-developing travellers' trail going through many different places in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent (India and Nepal) rather than an actual route or road. But if you want to begin your journey by really diving head first into backpacker land, by all means book a ticket to Bangkok and make your way to Khao San Road. Yes, there's a reason it is mentioned in the very first sentence of the #1 backpacker novel of all time: Alex Garland's The Beach.
For many of these countries, many visitors will require visas obtained in advance; see the individual country articles or the foreign ministry website for your home country (U.S. Dept. of State for U.S citizens) for details. Visas can be obtained before you leave or in capitals near the destination; Bangkok and Singapore are popular centers for this. Bring extra passport-size photos if you have them; many visa applications require one or two. If not, get a photo taken wherever you are and get at least a dozen prints to cover the rest of your journey.
While there's no official list of places along the trail, the term is used to describe, among others:
- Bangkok (with its famous Khao San Road), Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket, Pai, Krabi, the islands of Ko Pha Ngan (with its world-infamous full moon party), Ko Phi Phi and Ko Samui in Thailand
- Halong Bay, Hoi An, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc in Vietnam
- Vang Vieng in Laos (with its rites-of-passage river tubing)
- Sihanoukville and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) in Cambodia
- Penang, the Perhentian Islands and Malacca in Malaysia
- Lake Toba, Yogyakarta, Mount Bromo and the islands of Bintan, Bali, Lombok and Gili Trawangan in Indonesia
- Pushkar, Varanasi, McLeod Ganj, Manali and Goa in India
- Kathmandu in Nepal
As tourism expands, the Philippines have become part of it as well, and many of the Trail's stops are diving resort areas such as Boracay, Siargao, Puerto Galera, Moalboal and Panglao Island. Other popular stops include Palawan, the major cities Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, and picturesque smaller places like Vigan and Dumaguete.
The Trail also seems to have a northern extension into China with Dali and Yangshuo as the major centres. Major routes into China from Southeast Asia include Hanoi-Nanning and Laos-Xishuangbanna-Kunming. See the itineraries Hong Kong to Kunming overland and Yunnan tourist trail for some of the routes within China.
Don't mix alcohol and motorbikes. Cover-up and use sunscreen during the peak sun hours. Always use condoms. Be wary of people offering drugs in the streets. And don't argue with Thai police when they ask for traffic infringement fines. Hand over 500 baht and walk away.
One possibility is to head west to India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. See flying on a budget and the "Get in" sections of those country articles for transport options. For routes further west from there, see Istanbul to New Delhi overland.
Another possibility is to head east or south into Oceania.
Gringo Trail, a similar range of destinations in Latin America.