My Banana Pancake Trail
The Banana Pancake Trail is the name given to the well-trodden and constantly growing routes around South East 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 marks on the local tourist industry, which has created restaurants, hotels and entertainment catering to these travellers’ needs.
Ahhh the Southeast Asia circuit… what a majestic, inspiring and well-worn path. After a spending a couple of days in Bangkok, I slowly formed a rough itinerary in my head. I learned that there were two directions most people took: clockwise and counterclock wise. Most people start in Bangkok and either go east into Cambodia or north into Chiang Mai, followed by Laos. Both routes usually loop through Vietnam and end up back in Bangkok.
I decided to go east and head into Cambodia because I figured it would be easier to get a visa for Vietnam in Cambodia versus Laos (we screwed up our diplomatic relations with Vietnam with that little thing called the Vietnam War). I ended up trekking through Cambodia, up the coast of Vietnam, through Laos, back to Bangkok, down into the islands and finally back to Bangkok one last time. The map below is a pretty accurate representation of my route.
View Southeast Asia Trip in a larger map
Along the way, you’ll find that a lot of people talk about the “Lonely Planet” route. Because most people are using the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia book (affectionately called the “Yellow Bible”), everyone ends up going to the same places and seeing the same things. The further I traveled, the further I realized this was the case. In fact, I ran into a couple (Ian and Claire) in 6 different places over the course of about 1 month.
And because of this, one will inevitably run into people (the high-and-mighty traveler; I’ll write about them later) who shun these places because they are so “touristy” and not “off the beaten path”. But the truth is, the reason why those places are so frequented is because they are the most interesting/fun/historical places to go. In my opinion, anyone who tells you otherwise is either full of shit or has their nose so high up in the air that all they see is the sky. Yes, it’s fun to get away from the touristy areas for a while, but overall for me, I like talking to people who speak English, I like partying with other travelers, and I like hanging out with people who have something in common with me.
The worst case of a snobby traveler was when I met a girl at the Spicy Laos guesthouse in Luang Prabang. She told me that I “hadn’t seen Cambodia” because I didn’t go meditate/pray with some monks in some rural, middle-of-nowhere village. Apparently seeing Ankor Wat (jewel of Cambodia) and Phnom Pehn (capital of Cambodia) did not qualify me as seeing Cambodia. News to me. I have no problem with people doing what they want, but when they preach it onto others and put everything else down, then their opinion is rendered worthless to me.
If there’s one thing you should remember while traveling, it’s to do whatever YOU want to do. In the end, it’s your time, money and experiences. Don’t let someone else cramp your style. Take your trip by the horns and for once, do everything that you’ve wanted to do.