The Banana Pancake Trail: the mother of all Asia tours
It’s whispered in revenant tones from the Middle East to India, the beaches of Southeast Asia to the belching volcanos of Indonesia. It’s spoken of in hushed incantations in the bamboo bars of Pai and the thali dives of Udaipur. It’s talked about between the palm gardens of Sihanoukville and the vine-dressed temples of Angkor Wat. It’s dreamt of along the rickety rail lines between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Jakarta and Java. It’s written in the surf trails of Bali, and scrawled across maps and guide books and travel journals ad infinitum.
What the devil is it you ask? Well, the fabled Banana Pancake Trail of course. What else?
This winding, lengthy and ambitious traveler route through the depths of the east and the Orient is arguably the mother of all Asia tours. It ranges from the desert-shrouded reaches of Rajasthan, where the elaborate forts of onetime Maharajas crown the Aravalli Hills, to the deep-blue waters of Boracay and the jungle-topped isles of El Nido. A truly bucket-list-busting adventure, it can be completed in one fell swoop, or done in separate sections.
Let’s take a look at some of the destinations along the way, and options open to any budding wanderlusters eager to hit he trail too…
India and Nepal
The western fringes of the so-called Banana Pancake Trail start where the Indian subcontinent crashes into South Asia. One of the most popular places to join the route is with the cities of India’s Golden Triangle, which ranges from the glistening Mughal domes of the Taj Mahal to the spice-scented bazaars of Jaipur. Other travellers will go for the Himalaya, where trekking towns like Manali and Pokhara open up walking in the Himachal Pradesh and even to the Everest Base Camp itself (only for the most daring of adventurers). The southern, tropical reaches of India are also popular stops on the unwritten route, with the ashrams of Karnataka, the golden beaches of hedonistic Goa and the winding waterways of Kerala all possible entry points.
Now emerging from decades on the travel blacklist, Myanmar is once more staking its place on the western fringes of the Banana Pancake Trail. Mystical cities like Mandalay come topped with golden Buddhist stupas and royal palaces that take the breath away. Meanwhile, the undulations and rugged heights of the Shan Hills are transformed into a trekking mecca, and the water villages of Inle Lake are surely a highlight on any major Asia tour!
Thailand: The Land of Smiles; the undisputed king of all backpacking destinations in the east. Yep, it’s hardly surprising this great chunk of territory straddling the Malay and Indochina peninsular is one of the top treats on the Banana Pancake Trail. After all, it’s here that the powdery white beaches of islands like Koh Samui beckon. It’s here that the legendary Full Moon Parties of Koh Phangan unfold (legend has it these were even started by intrepid hippies following the famous Banana Pancake Trail back in the mid 80s!). It’s here that the bamboo huts of Pai house beer-drinking travellers. It’s here that Rasta-Buddhist reggae bands serenade the babbling River Kwai. It’s here that the Indian Ocean caresses the beaches of the Andaman, and that Khaosan Road sloshes with Chang beers and buckets. Simply put, don’t miss this section of the Banana Pancake Trail! (Oh, and LBW’s got plenty of options for joining. Just check out our Thailand itineraries…)
Laos and Cambodia
Laos and Cambodia are two uber-popular additions to the Banana Pancake Trail, and two of the most fascinating countries in the heart of Southeast Asia besides. The first offers a glimpse at the untrodden and unexplored side of the region. It’s cut-through by the mighty meanders of the Mekong River and comes dressed in vast swathes of green, green jungle. Gibbons swing through the canopies and little towns like Luang Prabang (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) come spiked with the gables of ancient temples. Meanwhile, Cambodia is the home of the bucket-list-busting temples of Angkor Wat, which lurch from the midst of the misty jungles in a series of awesome Khmer stupas and shrines. And that’s not even mentioning the enthralling capital at Phnom Penh, or the sparkling beaches of Sihanoukville in the south!
Hanoi and Halong Bay come top of the menu for visitors to northern Vietnam. The colossal capital of the country is a frenetic medley of street sellers and hawkers, all bolstered with Soviet-style monuments to the Father of the Nation, Ho Chi Minh. Backpackers and the Banana Pancake Trail folks typically make a beeline for the rustic guesthouses in the historic, French-flavored Old Quarter. They can be found slurping pho noodle soups and glugging Vietnamese beers at night along Ma May Street and Hang Be. Booze cruises out to the legendary rock towers of Halong Bay are also popular with wanderlusters, while others will make a beeline for Sapa, to hike the misty hills and wonder at Nam’s highest mountains. The south of the country is also a major section of the trail. This is where the gorgeous colonial town of Hoi An rises on the edge of the South China Sea; a patchwork of arched bridges and glowing lanterns, with pastel-painted homes and some of the best tailors going. Even further south comes party-mad Nha Trang, the sprawl and energy of Ho Chi Minh City (think waterparks and sleepless parties down Pham Ngu Lao Street), and the natural wonders of the Mekong Delta to boot! (And just in case you’re wondering, LBW do pass this way on our Vietnam itineraries!)
Bali, Lombok and the Nusa Tenggara
This cluster of islands in the heart of the Indonesian archipelago is where it all goes down for the backpacker. Bali is the most popular in the area. Hailed as the so-called Isle of the Gods, this speck on the map is famous for being one of the few Hindu enclaves in the country. It’s a place where travellers get to explore ancient cave temples dedicated to mysterious deities, hit some of the most iconic left-to-righters and reef breaks on the globe, witness enthralling fire dances atop the cliffs, scramble up the scree fields of smoke-spurting volcanos – the list goes on. And just a little to the east is where you’ll find Lombok: the little brother of Bali. This is a more authentic image of the beautiful Nusa Tenggara region. Here, the town of Senggigi comes fringed with ivory-white sands and Kuta in the south has awesome surf. Add to that the tropical paradises of the Gili Isles (most notably Gili Trawangan with its heady party nights), and it’s easy to see why this one’s such a must on this, the mother of all Asia tours! (LBW head to Bali and Lombok on our Indonesia tour packages).
Ending the Banana Pancake Trail in the Far East with its medley of world-class beaches and enthralling cities are the thousands of isles and cays of the Philippines. Places like Boracay bring up the fore as one of the most popular spots on any Asia tour in these parts. Here, you can expect shiny white sands and seas of turquoise blue. But the draws don’t end at the ocean either. Not when there are the cascading rice terraces around Banaue to wonder at, and the electric megalopolis of Manila to experience!
Find more information on all of our tours HERE!