Banana Pancake Trail: The Ultimate Guide 2024

Are you interested in backpacking the Banana Pancake Trail?

You’ve come to the right article, as I’m going to tell you everything you could ever need to know about the Banana Pancake Trail.

Southeast Asia is one of the most fascinating parts of the world. Every country offers something slightly different and unique.

But as amazing as those differences are, it can make it hard to plan a trip. The Banana Pancake Route is on every backpacker’s bucket list, and it was on mine too.

After spending lots of time in the beautiful region of our planet that is SE Asia, I’ve created this ultimate guide with everything you need to know before setting off on the trip for yourself.

So without further ado, let’s get straight into it.

What is the Banana Pancake Trail?

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the backpacking route, it’s important to clarify what the Banana Pancake Trail actually is.

Lots of people have heard its name, but fewer people know what it actually is. After all, the name has nothing to do with geographical location.

The Banana Pancake Trail is an extremely popular – but not very specific – backpacking route throughout South-East Asia.

The name comes from the Westernised breakfast served at hostels and guesthouses across the region, you guessed it, banana pancakes! And so came the name “Banana Pancake Trail”.

A picture of some boats sitting in a cove in Krabi, a key stop along the Banana Pancake Trail.

The route became popular in the 1950s and 60s as Western backpackers sought to explore Asia, picking out an easy-to-follow (although a million more times much easier in 2024!) route throughout the southeast part of the continent.

It’s now one of the most popular backpacking routes thanks to the 50s and 60s.

This period of time is, in essence, why backpacking is commonly associated with hippie culture. Because most backpackers in those days were peace-loving, smoking, hippies.

Hippies still make up a decently sized part of the backpacking community, and if you love to live the hippie lifestyle, you’ll love the Banana Route. But equally, not every backpacker is a hippie in 2024.

The route has had many drafts and changes with lots of stops being removed but also added over the decades. That being said, a universally agreed route remains to exist, making the Banana Pancake trail all the more interesting and exciting to explore!

Because one of the best parts about travelling is making it unique to yourself- picking and choosing the stops which appeal to you rather than visiting places just because you feel like you “have to”.

Where is the Banana Pancake Trail?

The Banana Pancake Trail is a route which takes you all throughout South-East Asia, usually taking you through at least 4, but up to 9 beautiful countries.

The most basic and simple version of the Banana Route takes you through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

These countries are widely agreed to be the core foundation of the trail, and it would be impossible to exclude them from a true BPT, instead, you would just be backpacking Southeast Asia.

A picture of South-East Asia, where the Banana Pancake Trail takes you through. Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are the focus of the map.

On top of these countries, many backpackers choose to extend their trip to Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and The Philippines, bringing the country total up to 9.

Each country is unique and has its own paths to explore! If you have the time, I would recommend doing as many countries as possible, however, doing the 4 countries that are definitely included in the Banana Pancake Trail, is a must!

They’re the fundamentals of the route, and it’s impossible to visit this part of the world without paying each of them a visit.

Why choose the Banana Pancake Trail?

Similarly to the Gringo Trail in Central and South America, the number one reason most people choose the Banana Pancake Trail is because it’s affordable.

It is so cheap to travel compared to other parts of the world. If you are on a budget, South-East Asia is definitely the option for you.

As you’ll see later, it’s oftentimes cheaper to backpack than live at home and pay bills.

That being said, if budget is not a factor for you, the Banana Trail should 100% still be considered. The culture in South-East Asia is like no other.

If you have not experienced Asia in your life before, it is a must-do. You will be met with the happiest of smiles, the kindest of conversations and the tastiest of foods!

A picture of Ramen, a common dish along the Banana Pancake Trail.

Another big reason to consider the Banana Trail is because there are also no language problems for most people.

English is very commonly spoken all across SE Asia and you will always be able to find somebody who speaks it.

However, I always suggest learning a few phrases in the local language (hello, please, thank you etc.). Not only does this improve your language skills, but it is also a lovely gesture and the locals will appreciate your efforts.

It’s one of my favourite things about travelling, immersing myself in the local way of life, and learning some basic phrases is a big part of that. Sure, the shopkeeper will understand “Thank you”, but saying “Cảm ơn” in Vietnamese for example, means a lot more.

Cảm ơn is one of my favourite phrases to have learnt…it’s pretty much just pronounced as “come on”.

A picture of me holding my phone on Duolingo, a language app, translating "Hello" in Vietnamese.
Hello in Vietnamese

Another reason to visit is the beautiful nature and scenery on offer on this beautiful part of our planet.

Along with the thousands of beautiful temples, the trail takes you through some of the most stunning sights you will see, and give you experiences and memories like no other.

For example, if you are an animal lover, take advantage of the opportunity to swim and bathe with rescued Asian Elephants. It is a memory that will stick with you forever and trust me, the Banana Pancake Trail offers a lot of opportunities for lifelong memories.

There are endless reasons to choose Southeast Asia as your next destination for a backpacking trip, and it would be impossible to list them all. But by reading the remainder of this article, you should pick up many more of the reasons.

A picture of some exterior decor on a temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Is the Banana Pancake Trail safe?

This is one of the biggest questions people have before booking their trip to Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, there are many stereotypes that his part of the world isn’t safe.

In reality, this isn’t true. Backpacking the Banana Pancake Trail is commonly viewed as one of the safest routes to travel in the world. People are kind and welcoming with very low crime rates, particularly against tourists.

Of course, I can’t personally guarantee your safety, and you should always take personal safety seriously, following all the important backpacking tips, but speaking generally, Southeast Asia is very safe to visit.

A picture of a crowd of people in Chinatown in Bangkok at night with lights shining and lots of neon signs.

As I said, the Banana Pancake Trail is one of the safest backpacking route out there, particularly for solo travellers.

Due to the route’s popularity, hostels will be filled with hundreds of people doing the same route as you- even when solo travelling, you are very rarely alone.

I can’t speak from personal experience, but for women, many women consider Southeast Asia to be one of the safest places to travel too.

It is extremely safe to travel to South-East Asia and it is very unlikely you will encounter any trouble.

How much does the Banana Pancake Trail Cost?

South-East Asia is notorious for its cheap prices whilst travelling.

For this reason, the Banana Pancake Trail will “only” set you back around $1500 USD a month.

If you compare this to bills and other expenses when living at home, it could actually be more affordable for most people to travel full-time! Living in a house working 9-5 or travelling Southeast Asia? It’s a no brainer if you ask me.

A picture of my hand holding two £20 notes.

Obviously, your budget is dependent on how you like to travel. Everyone is different.

You may like to travel ultra-hardcore backpacker style and spend only $1000 a month, or you may prefer to travel with a bit more luxury – “flashpacking” as they call it – and spend $2000 a month.

Your budget will also depend on the country you are in. Naturally, some countries in the Banana Pancake Route are more expensive than others.

A rough guideline for a daily budget in each country would be:

CountryAverage Backpacking Daily Budget
Singapore $50
Indonesia $50
The Philippines $40

When travelling as a backpacker anywhere in the world including along the Banana Pancake Trail, you will have 4 types of expenses: Food, Accommodation, Travel and Activities.

In Southeast Asia, food can be as cheap as $1-2 a meal if you look in the right places. Street food is particularly good value for money and gives a good authentic taste of the local food.

And no, you aren’t guaranteed to get food poisoning like most people assume for some reason.

Accommodation can also be found for less than $5-10 a night if you are happy to stay in a dorm bed in a hostel room. It adds to the experience and is one of the best ways to meet like-minded people. And yes, hostels are safe.

A picture of bunk beds in a hostel room.

As you might have figured out, your biggest expenses will be travelling and activities. Shock!

Although travelling and activities are cheap compared to the West, they can quickly add up. I’ll go further in-depth about travelling along the Banana Pancake Trail in a moment.

But activities are a big setback- they won’t be as expensive as at home, but they will definitely cost more than your day-to-day needs.

For example, getting to Ha Long Bay will cost you around 150,000 VND (equivalent to roughly $7).

A picture of some ferry boats in Ha Long Bay.

It’s not much, but if you do multiple things a day, do something more expensive like taking an island-hopping tour, or if you do things for multiple days in a row, it can quickly take a hit on your budget.

That’s why many backpackers seek out cheap and even free things to do. For example, I always take a free walking tour everywhere in the world I go. It’s always the first thing I do.

All in all, the Banana Pancake Trail should be relatively cheap to travel compared to other trails around the world. But just be careful not to get carried away.

When to do the Banana Pancake Trail

Another really common question people always ask about anywhere in the world is “When is the best time to visit?”

And my answer is always the same: Everywhere has something unique to offer at different points of the year. There’s no bad time to visit and there’s no right time to visit.

But there is a most popular time which most people consider the “best”.

The Banana Pancake Trail takes you through countries which experience a monsoon season (when it is rainy and floods are regular). Finding a gap in these seasons can be tricky.

Here’s a table showing when each of the 9 countries along the Banana Route experience their monsoon season.

CountryRainy Season
ThailandJuly to October
LaosMay to October
VietnamMay to November
CambodiaDecember to April
MyanmarOctober to February
MalaysiaNovember to March
SingaporeDecember to March
IndonesiaNovember to March
The PhillippinesMay to October

As you can see, each country experiences their monsoon at a slightly different time. So it can be hard to make a plan, but it is possible.

You can plan a route to take you to each country in its dry season, although prepare for high temperatures and scorching sun!

I would recommend starting the Banana Pancake Trail in November or December, and starting in Thailand, then working your way through each country one at a time.

For example, Thailand then Laos then Vietnam then Cambodia. Something like that.

I have a checklist of places I recommend visiting, you can use it to plan your route.

How long does the Banana Pancake Trail take?

The age-old question with an old folks’ answer. How long is a piece of string?

It is impossible to give an exact answer to this question as each traveller prefers to go at a different speed.

Some people will spend months and months in one country, some people will choose to only spend one week in each.

However, I would recommend a minimum of 3 months to travel to the 4 base countries in the Banana Pancake Trail of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Just under one month in each country is a good amount of time to explore all of the nooks and crannies that each has to offer.

I would not suggest completing the Banana Pancake Trail in less than 3 months. It is logistically doable, however, you will miss a lot of the things the route has to offer and will be very tired.

If you’re short on time, I would instead recommend picking one or two countries from the route and focusing on seeing those properly. Remember, you can always come back and do the trail another time!

A map of the world focusing on Southeast Asia, the heart of the Banana Pancake Trail.

If you wish to visit more of the countries in Southeast Asia, I would add roughly 1 month per country (except Singapore- which only needs a few days). You could easily spend more time in each country too! Make sure you have the right visas to avoid any trouble.

So if you want to visit all 9 countries, I would recommend about 8 months or so. It’s a pretty long trip, but I promise you it’s amazing.

How to get to Southeast Asia

Travelling to Southeast Asia isn’t as straightforward as just booking a direct flight to Bangkok, or at least this is the case for most countries.

From Europe, there are only a few destinations which fly directly to Bangkok at reasonable prices. Instead, I recommend taking a flight with a layover.

This makes it much much more affordable. For example, I got return flights to Bangkok with a layover in Dubai for around £600 GBP. Whereas direct flight return was nearly £1500.

If you’re travelling on a budget, spending a night in an airport is worth the £900 you save.

Bangkok is the best airport to fly into as it’s the most popular starting point for the Banana Pancake Trail. It’s also one of the cheapest airports to fly into after a layover.

On average, return flights from Europe with one layover are around $800.

From Australia or New Zealand direction, you can get direct flights for much cheaper, for a few hundred dollars and obviously the flights are much shorter too.

If you’re flying in from North or South America, your best bet is to take a flight to Europe, spend a day or two exploring the city you fly into, and then make the same journey I recommended above.

A picture of me looking at a departures board in an airport.

How to travel whilst in South-East Asia

Making it to Southeast Asia is obviously the most expensive part of any trip, and you’ll be thankful to know it’s much cheaper when you’re out there.

Getting from place to place is also extremely easy. There are so many options for every journey you plan to take.

The main options for transport are flights, busses, trains, boats/ferries, taxis and tuk-tuks. Each method of travel has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a quick overview:

FlightQuick, can go anywhereExpensive, Carbon emission, baggage
Bus1000s of options, night buses, cheapSlower, less comfort
TrainDecent price, sleeper trainsThe train system isn’t great outside of Thailand
BoatNeeded to island hopSlow
TaxiConvenient, easy to find, quickWatch out for scams and ‘broken meters’
Tuk-TukConvenient, easy to find, quickWatch out for scams and ‘broken meters’

Most of your travelling between stops along the Banana Pancake Trail will involve buses. There are always lots of affordable bus options that can take you all throughout the route.

For example, you can get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai which is a 10-hour journey for under $20. It’s crazily cheap, which is part of the reason backpacking this part of the world is so great.

Bus journeys can get pretty long, and the bus conditions aren’t amazing, but backpacking isn’t glitz and glam like you see on Instagram. Everyone has bad days when travelling, it’s normal.

I always suggest reminding yourself to think of the bigger picture. Spending 8 hours on a bus might sound awful but think of all the amazing things you’ll get to do in that destination once you reach it.

A picture of an orange bus in Thailand.

In terms of getting around a city or town, tuk-tuks are a great way to get around for low prices. Just make sure to negotiate your price in advance and make it clear you’re not an unknowing tourist willing to pay 3x the going rate.

I would also recommend using apps like Grab, which is South-East Asia’s version of Uber. Thailand doesn’t have Uber and nor do any of the other countries in the region, they all use Grab. It is a lot safer than a normal taxi and also guarantees you won’t be paying a ridiculous fare.

What to bring to South-East Asia

Starting out on a long backpacking trip can be intimidating, and overwhelming.

It’s really easy to forget what to pack, but it’s even easier to pack too much. One of the worst things you can do to yourself is to overpack.

I was told this before my first trip and I still overpacked. And I regretted it every single time I moved from place to place. Be strict on yourself and don’t allow yourself to overpack.

That being said, make sure you bring the essentials for any backpacking trip. And there are also a few items that may come in particularly handy for the Banana Pancake Trail. Here are my recommendations for Southeast Asia:

  • Universal Travel Charger Adapter – South-East Asia is unique and will use a mixture of ‘American’ and ‘European’ sockets, so having both is ideal!
  • Bug repellent/ bite cream – although not as big of an issue as you may think, bug bites can happen, and you will want to be prepared
  • Travel-friendly Credit Card – withdrawing cash in Southeast Asia can come with large processing fees, so a card like Revolut helps to save you money when withdrawing
  • Padlock – needed for locking your locker in hostels, most hostels don’t provide them
  • Microfibre towel – it’s small and dries quickly, and most hostels charge to rent towels
  • Day bag – unless you want to carry your whole belongings all day every day, this is a must!
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen – it gets warm!
  • Longer tops and trousers – make sure you have appropriate clothes to visit the temples, or else you will not be allowed in.

Banana Pancake Trail Checklist

As mentioned throughout this article, the Banana Pancake Trail does not have a 100% clear, universally agreed route. Everyone’s backpacking route will be ever so slightly different. But that’s what makes it so special.

I don’t like giving full itineraries because how I like to travel is different to how you like to travel, and that’s different from the next person and the next.

But I have created a list of what I consider to be some incredible places to visit along the Banana Pancake Trail.

Pick and choose where you want to visit, some stops will stand out to you as amazing, and some won’t appeal to you at all. And that’s perfectly fine.

I’d also recommend to try and visit some more off-the-beaten-track places. They always leave the best memories from my experience.

But to help you start your planning, here are some stops I recommend:

Thailand 🇹🇭

  1. Bangkok
  2. Chiang Mai
  3. Krabi
  4. Pai
  5. Ko Phi Phi
  6. Koh Tao
  7. Ko Pha Ngan
  8. Phuket
  9. Koh Lipe
  10. Koh Samui
  11. Chiang Rai
  12. Khao Sok
A view of Bangkok from the viewing deck of a skyscraper.

Laos 🇱🇦

  1. Vang Vieng
  2. Luang Prabang
  3. Bolaven Plateau
  4. Si Phan Don
  5. Nong Khiaw
  6. Houay Xai
  7. Vientiane
  8. Tha Khaek
  9. Savannakhet
A picture of a beautiful waterfall in Laos.

Vietnam 🇻🇳

  1. Hanoi
  2. Sa Pa
  3. Ha Long Bay (or Lan Ha Bay)
  4. Hoi An
  5. Nha Trang
  6. Da Lat
  7. Ho Chi Minh City
  8. Hue
  9. Mui Ne
  10. Dong Ha
  11. Ha Giang Loop
  12. Bac Ha
A picture of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, one of the most popular destinations along the Banana Pancake Trail.

Cambodia 🇰🇭

  1. Siem Reap to visit…
  2. Angkor Wat
  3. Ko Rong
  4. Phnomh Penh
  5. Battambang
  6. Kampot
  7. Sihanoukville
  8. Kep
A picture of a temple in Angkor Wat.

Myanmar 🇲🇲 

  1. Bagan
  2. Yangon
  3. Inle Lake
  4. Hpa-An
  5. Pyay
  6. Hsipaw
  7. Mandalay
  8. Pyin Oo Lwin
A picture over a city in Myanmar with a mountain in the background and a rainbow in the sky.

Note: due to the current political situation in Myanmar, I would not recommend you visit it in the current climate. Hopefully the country can be brought to peace soon 🙁

Malaysia 🇲🇾

  1. Kuala Lumpur
  2. Kedah
  3. Penang
  4. Tioman Island
  5. Malacca City
  6. Malaysian Borneo
  7. Johor Bahru
  8. Cameron Highlands
A view over Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia from a skyscaper.

Singapore 🇸🇬

  1. Chinatown
  2. Marina Bay
  3. Little India
  4. Arab Street
A picture of the waterfall in Singapore Airport.

Indonesia 🇮🇩

  1. Bali
  2. Lombok
  3. Gili Islands
  4. Komodo
  5. Jakarta
  6. Sumatra
  7. Yogyakarta
A picture of Nusa Penida in Bali.

The Philippines 🇵🇭

  1. Cordillera
  2. Sagada
  3. Bohol
  4. Boracay
  5. Siargao
  6. Banaue
  7. Manila
  8. Cebu
  9. Palawan
  10. Coron
  11. Secret Lagoon & El Nido
  12. Puerto Princesa
A picture of a jungle in the Philippines with a road going through the middle.

Remember: these are only rough guidelines of places to stop! Feel free to add or remove places as you wish. Choose places that YOU want to visit!

Things to do along the Banana Pancake Trail

Along the Banana Pancake Trail, there are hundreds of opportunities of things to do. I have narrowed it down to 5 MUST-DOs along the banana pancake trail. Make sure you take advantage of everything each country has to offer, as there are so many more things to do along the Banana Pancake Trail.

Swim and Bathe with rescued elephants

Asian Elephants are the national animal of Thailand, and what better way to start your Banana Pancake Trail journey than by swimming and bathing with these beautiful creatures? I only recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. You can visit them in Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya or Samui.

A picture of an Asian Elephant at a sanctuary in Thailand.

I have found other places sadly exploit the elephants and do not look after them. However, if you choose to go elsewhere, please remember, do not ride the elephants. If you are not already aware of this, please research the negative effects it has on their bodies.

Get your scubadiving PADI

PADI. Professional Association of Diving Instructors. It is a must-do whilst travelling the Banana Pancake Route. It is MUCH cheaper than anywhere else in the world, and there are so many beautiful places to do it! At home, it will typically cost between $500-700. In South-East Asia, more like $300 or less. I did mine with Roctopus in Koh Tao.

Scuba diver gesturing the 'OK' sign underwater with clear blue waters and fellow divers in the background

Koh Tao in Thailand is popular. As is Dauin in the Philippines, and Amed in Indonesia. The best bit is: once you have your certificate, there are 1000s of beautiful dive spots across the Banana Pancake Trail. It’s common to swim alongside a whale shark, which is such a cool experience!

Diver swims alongside Whale Shark after completing their PADI

Visit Temple after Temple after Temple

Sounds tiring, right? It’s not! Each temple has something unique to offer, something slightly different from the last. There are so many beautiful temples along the Banana Pancake Trail. Each country’s temples also differ slightly from each other. It’s a truly unique experience and an absolute must if you visiting South-East Asia.

A picture of Angkor Wat at sunrise.

If you want to visit temples in quick succession, Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the largest site in the world. Words simply cannot describe it.

Hike and Trek like never before

There are endless opportunities for hiking and trekking across the Banana Pancake Trail. It’s called a trail after all! Every country along the way has beautiful national parks and jungles to explore- make sure to do some jungle trekking, it is such a good way to see beautiful wildlife and natural landscapes.

Jungle trekking in Thailand

The Khao Sok national park in southern Thailand is a must! There are treks for all abilities, and all are just as beautiful. Just look at this sunset!

Sunset at Khao Sok national park

Eat street food

You may be hesitant, most people are, but I encourage you to overcome it! It is some of the nicest food you will ever have, and at some of the cheapest prices! You can watch the food be cooked right in front of your eyes, so you can know it is definitely okay to eat. It is an absolute must if you travel the Banana Pancake Trail.

Street food vendors in Thailand

Banana Pancake Trail: FAQ

Below are some questions related to the Banana Pancake Trail along with my answers.

Where to start Banana Pancake Trail?

Most people choose to start backpacking the Banana Pancake Trail in Bangkok. It’s one of the easiest places to get to in Southeast Asia, and flights are often cheaper than flying to other destinations. Bangkok also acts as a good hub to adjust to life in the region and plan where you are going to go next.

What is the story of the Banana Pancake Trail?

The Banana Pancake Trail is a popular backpacking route in Southeast Asia which takes you through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, often even more countries. The name originates from the common breakfast served in hostels: banana pancakes. It’s a nice attempt from Southeast Asian hostels to accommodate Western travellers, which led to the nickname for the backpacking trail.

Why is Thailand called Banana Pancake Trail?

Thailand itself is not called the Banana Pancake Trail, the Banana Pancake Trail is a popular backpacking route which includes Thailand. It also includes Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Sometimes it extends to other countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia or Singapore.

How much does it cost to travel Southeast Asia for 3 months?

For 3 months of travelling Southeast Asia, you should budget $1200-1500 per person per month. So for 3 months, that’s between $3600-4500. In many cases, this works out cheaper than paying the bills at home. Southeast Asia is one of the best regions in the world for travelling cheaply.

Banana Pancake Trail: The Wrap Up

Well, there you have it! A complete guide to the Banana Pancake Trail.

It’s one of the best backpacking trails in the world and I absolutely loved my time in Southeast Asia.

There are so many amazing things to do and it’s so affordable too.

Now that you have everything you need to know about the Banana Pancake Route itself, your next job is to learn some local lingo such as hello in Thai or goodbye in Vietnamese.