Southeast Asia is one of the most popular places for backpackers to travel in. But can you imagine there was a time when there were almost no tourists walking around in Bangkok, no foreign stores and the beaches were almost empty? That’s how it was about half a century ago. But thanks to the guidebooks and hippies, Southeast Asia would soon become one of the most popular travel routes in the world.
The beginning of the Banana Pancake Trail
Traveling to Asia hasn’t always been easy. There was a time when there weren’t any hostels, bars, travel agents or any other foreign businesses here like you can see almost everywhere now. But when the hippies started to travel to Asia and even celebrities such as The Beatles journeyed to the Far East, people started to get more intrigued by Asia, especially Europeans. That’s how the “Hippie Trail” started, which was a route between Europe and Asia. As it became more evident that Asia was on the rise, local entrepreneurs started to open up small businesses to accommodate foreigners. One thing that every traveler needed was a cheap bed and free breakfasts. If there’s one thing there’s an abundance of in Vietnam, it’s bananas and pancakes are good for western tastes, so that’s how the Banana Pancake Trail got its name.
The rise of Lonely Planet
Some of the most popular places to travel to in Asia was Khao San Road in Bangkok and Kuta in Bali, which today still remains two of the most visited places. From there, the trail started to grow and travelers discovered places such as Chiang Mai in Thailand and Hanoi in Vietnam. Since internet didn’t exist back in the days, word of mouth was how you learnt about places. But this would soon change once Lonely Planet published its first travel book. It was called Across Asia on The Cheap and their second would be called Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, signs that Asia was booming as a tourism destination and more people were interested in traveling there. The two books not only became instant classics, they also made it much easier for travelers to find good places to eat, accommodation, and all the other necessities that a traveler is looking for. All the information they included in their books would soon become part of the ‘Banana Pancake Trail’.
What is the Banana Pancake Trail?
The Banana Pancake Trail can be compared to the “Gringo Trail” in South America, referring to a typical route that tourists take when traveling in South America. The difference is that the Banana Pancake Trail is in Asia, or more specifically Southeast Asia. It’s not an actual route though but it does exist, although it’s changed a lot throughout the years. When it just started, the trail consisted mostly of Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, India and Nepal. But by the late 1980s, the trail had expanded to Vietnam and Cambodia as well and now included famous tourist sites such as Hoi An, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. The most common route nowadays is a loop that runs through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and is mostly done by motorbike.
One of the obvious reasons for why the Banana Pancake Trail is so popular is because Asia is a relatively safe place to travel in, tourism is developed, Southeast Asia is incredibly cheap if you’re from a western country and it has some spectacular sites and landscape that will surely take your breath away. It’s the most popular backpacker route in the world and it’s worth doing at least once in your life. Even though the trail has now become immensely popular, it’s still fascinating to follow the routes of the first hippies that came to Asia and discovered what would be famously nicknamed as the Banana Pancake Trail.
If you’re thinking of traveling to Southeast Asia and Vietnam is one of the countries on your itinerary, remember that you must apply for a Vietnam visa in beforehand. You can either get it via the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate or apply for it online, which is by far the most popular way to acquire a visa. You can either get a Visa on Arrival or an E-Visa, depending if you’re eligible to apply for it. It’s both safe to apply to, fast, simple and affordable, which is why most people prefer to do it online.