One of the most popular backpacking trails in the world is what is colloquially named the ‘Banana Pancake Trail’. This trail focuses primarily on Southeast Asia but can also include some South Asian states such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. However, one of the most transited trails starts in Thailand heading to Vietnam, with stops in Cambodia and sometimes Laos on the way. Backpackers taking this route often start from Bangkok and explore Thailand before either heading into Laos or Cambodia and into Vietnam. Our blog will head start in Thailand before heading across into Cambodia, followed by Vietnam and ending in Laos ready to fly back to where it all started, Bangkok. Some of the cities you'll pass en route can include Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Siam Reap, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Vientiane and more.
Currency: Thai Bhat
Top Destinations: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Phuket, Pattaya, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Phi Phi
We think Thailand is a great destination in Southeast Asia to kick off your backpacking expedition. The country is a bustling and vibrant one offering amazing food, experiences and memories all at a great price. The best option for arriving into Thailand from an international destination is to fly to the nation's capital Bangkok. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is the major international airport serving the city with connections to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Oceania. Thailand is a backpacker's dream with accommodation costing as little as $4, making it a budget-friendly destination. Not only are hostels cheap in Thailand but so is eating out with an average meal price being between 90-150 Bhat ($2.70-$4.40) with a beer only costing 50-120 ($1.48-$3.55) Bhat depending on size and brand.
Bangkok offers a lot and is a great place to start your tour of Southeast Asia. Head down the Khaosan Road in Bangkok and enjoy one of the many bars, pubs and clubs on offer. Take in some culture of the city and visit the Royal Grand Palace or one of the many Buddhist Temples. Bangkok is a hotspot for backpackers, alike with many either beginning or ending their trips here. South of Bangkok is the equally bustling resort of Pattaya, with fabulous nightlife all along the coast of the Gulf of Thailand.
There is lots to see and do across the country head to the northern city of Chiang Mai and immerse yourself in the beautiful nature Thailand has to offer. These parts of Thailand are abundant with wildlife sanctuaries and conservation areas with wild elephants roaming the rainforest. You may be able to pick up some work here helping to clean enclosures and wash Elephants, which is an amazing experience. Catch a budget flight from Chiang Mai down to the south of Thailand where hundreds of beach resorts line the coast. One of the larger and more bustling destinations frequented by backpackers and holidaymakers is Phuket. From here you will be able to find a range of accommodation at reasonable prices. While you're down in this part of Thailand make sure to visit a full moon party! One of the most famous and popular ones is usually held on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, a short boat ride off the coast of Thailand.
Thailand has numerous international airports you can choose to fly into. However, we recommend you book your flights to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport as it is the Thai airport with the most international connections. Easily fly to the city with Air Astana, Air France, ANA, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, El Al, Finnair, Japan Airlines, KLM, Qantas and more! It is extremely easy to fly domestically within Thailand, as there are 8 airlines which offer these services, with a range of full-service and low-cost airlines, helping to keep your travel costs down. Visit our dedicated domestic flight page to see how you can fly domestically within Thailand.
Capital: Phnom Penh
Currency: Riel (KHR) & Unofficial US Dollar (USD)
Top Destinations: Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh
Cambodia is another great country to visit when backpacking across Southeast Asia. The country has a rich history, making it attractive for any historian and any adventurer alike. At one time in its life Cambodia was under the brutal dictatorship of Pol Pot, so make sure to pay your respects at one of the many memorials and killing fields across the country. Cambodia is littered with ancient Buddhist temples and royal temples, with one of the most famous being Angkor Wat, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The ancient palace is the world's largest religious centre, even being 3 times larger than the Vatican! It is definitely worth the visit if you are in Cambodia.
Cambodia is full of things to do, not just ancient temples, palaces and remnants of a previous dictatorship. Make a trip to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Centre where hundreds of injured and endangered species are rescued and cared for. See some leopards, tigers, elephants and more all under the protection of the wildlife centre and see some behind the scenes sights. Interestingly the critically acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie was awarded citizenship by the King for her efforts in wildlife conservation! If you are looking for a unique and fun evening then head to the Phare Cambodian Circus in Siam Reap. You'll enjoy a night of dancing, singing and storytelling in traditional Cambodian fashion.
You’ve soaked in the sites of the country and have seen the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh, now head to Sihanoukville, the country's most famous beach resort. The resort is full of other backpackers all following the same trail as you. This means that every night there will be hundreds of parties you can dance the night away at. If you thought Thailand was cheap, you’ll love Cambodia. You can get a domestic beer for as low as $0.50 in some parts of the country with food costing you as little as $2. Make sure to try Nom banh chok, Amok, Kari sach moan and more. Even the country's hostels are budget-friendly with some of the cheapest being around $3 a night.
If you are travelling to Cambodia from Thailand there are numerous options you can take. The easiest is flying directly from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to Phnom Penh with Bangkok Airways, Cambodia Airways, Emirates (5th freedom), Lanmei Airlines, Thai Airways, Thai Smile and Thai Vietjet Or fly from Bangkok Don Mueang with Thai AirAsia. Other direct services to Cambodia include Phuket to Phnom Penh with Thai AirAsia, Bangkok (BKK) to Siem Reap with Bangkok Airways and Lanmei Airlines or Bangkok (DMK) to Sihanouk.
If you arent travelling to Cambodia from Thailand then your best option is to fly into the Phnom Penh International Airport as it is the country's largest and best-connected airport. You can fly to the airport from Asia and the Middle East with airlines including Emirates, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Air China and more. Cambodia is a smaller country than Thailand, however, there are some domestic flights available to help you get around with ease. Visit our Domestic Flights in Cambodia page to find out more.
Currency: Dong (VND)
Top Destinations: Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay
After visiting Cambodia, your next stop will be Vietnam. Vietnam is a beautiful country perfect for the backpack. With a coastline of 3,260 km (2,025 miles) running along its spine, Vietnam is great for beachgoers. There are three regions you must visit, North, South and Central, each offering its own allure and charm. Vietnam is a cheap country making it a great destination to visit on your exploration of southeast Asia. You can purchase a local beer for around $0.87 or an imported one for around $1.85, which is still cheap! As the country has grown in popularity so has the choice of accommodation with hundreds of hostels spanning the country. You'll easily find a cheap and comfortable place to stay with prices being as low as $4!
The south is home to the country's largest city Ho Chi Minh City, named after former Prime Minister Ho Chi Minh. Before Vietnam's reunification, the city was called Saigon. The city is a bustling metropolis filled with street vendors all over selling delicious bowls of Phở and bánh mì which you must try. Food is cheap in Vietnam too with rough prices being around $2.20 for a meal in a restaurant! See some of the sites including Jade Emperor Pagoda, Independence Palace and more. Have a break from the city and head to the island of Phú Quốc. A pristine beach resort not yet overly commercialised, offering a relaxing time while also a taste of authentic Vietnam.
Heading up the country make a stop in Hoi An, often regarded as the Venice of the East, known for its many canals and waterways. The city is a blend of Vietnamese, French and Japanese architecture. The city is incredibly beautiful at night with lanterns littering the streets casting a warm and inviting hue. To the North is the country's capital Hanoi. The city has many sites to see, including Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, Hanoi Opera House, Thăng Long Imperial Citadel and more. There's so much to see and do in Vietnam, you'll love it
If you are travelling to Vietnam from Cambodia then there are a handful of routes and airlines you can choose to book with. Fly from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to Da Nang with Cambodia Angkor Air or to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with Vietnam Airlines. You can additionally fly from Siem Reap to Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City with Cambodia Angkor Air or to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with Vietnam Airlines. You are also able to fly between the two with the low-cost airline Vietjet Air, from Siem Reap to Hanoi.
If you are travelling from an international destination then you can either fly into Hanoi Nội Bài International Airport or Ho Chi Minh City Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport as both offer a wide selection of international routes. Hanoi Airport currently offers routes to Europe, the Middle East and Asia with airlines including Bamboo Airways, Asiana Airlines, Emirates, IndiGo, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Vietnam Airlines and more. Ho Chi Minh City Aiport also has an extensive route map offering services to Europe, the Middle East and Asia with Air France, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Korean Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and more.
Vietnam is a large country so offers numerous domestic flights at various price points. To find out more about where you can fly and with which airlines please visit our Domestic Flights in Vietnam Page to find out more.
Currency: Kip (LAK)
Top Destinations: Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Namtha
Fly into Laos from Vietnam, which will be the last country on your journey. The town of Vang Vieng sits on the banks of the Nam Song River and is a popular destination for backpackers. At night the town turns into a bustling party city and a great place to meet others and share your experiences and tips with and learn from them. Vang Vieng isn't just great in the evening but has lots to do during the day too. Explore the many temples and Buddha statues across the town and area. Swim in the blue lagoon or go ‘tubing’ down the river for the adrenaline junkies. Dine out at one of the many cafes and restaurants and try some authentic Khao soi Luang Prabang, Kua Pak bong, Nem Luang and more.
Luang Prabang is a popular city in the country for backpackers and somewhere not to be missed. The city is a UNESCO world heritage city and you'll see why. Explore the dozens of ornate Buddhist temples and witness some of the services undertaken by the Monks. The city has a lot of French Colonial architecture blending with its Asian routes to make it a cool and unique city. To the outskirts of the city is the Kuang Si Waterfall, a perfect opportunity to cool down in the hot Lao summers.
Vientiane is the capital of the country and unlike many other Asian capitals, it has a slower pace of life. Like the rest of the country, the capital blends French colonial style with Asian and traditional Lao architecture. Join one of the many bike tours and get to see some of the amazing sites the city has to offer, while also getting fit! Visit sites from the Patuxai and Wat Si Siket to Pha That Luang with lots more in between. At night stroll down the Mekong river to one of the many night markets and have a casual dinner and drinks with friends you've met along the way. Laos is a cheap country so great for your backpacking adventure. A local beer costs around $1.20 with imported beers being slightly more at around $3, but the local Beerlao is a good option! If you are dining out then this won't break the bank either with meals costing on average around $2-$4. Laos offers a wide range of accommodation types but the cheapest by far are their hostels, with a rough price of around $5+ a night.
You can easily get to Laos from Vietnam with direct services from numerous destinations. Both Lao Airlines and Vietnam Airlines offer direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to the country's capital Vientiane. Vietnam Airlines also operates a service from Hanoi to the northern city of Luang Prabang. A third route on offer between Vietnam and Laos is Lao Airlines service from Ho Chi Minh City to the southern city of Pakse.
Travelling from further afield? Lao's busiest airport is Wattay International Aiport in Vientianne. The airport offers connections to numerous destinations across Asia including Thailand, China, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia and more. You are able to fly into the country on either full-service airlines such as China Eastern, China Southern and Thai Airways or fly with a budget-friendly airline such as Scoot, AirAsia, Thai AirAsia and more. Laos is a long country, being around 650 miles (1,050 km) from top to bottom. This means that there is a range of domestic services available to help you traverse the country. Visit our domestic Cambodia flights page to find out more.
As your time in Southeast Asia comes to an end you may be thinking how do I get home? We recommend heading to one of the major airports in the region and connecting from a local flight on to your international service home. If you are ending your journey in Laos then we think the best option is to depart from Vientiane and head back to where it all started, Bangkok. 5 airlines offer direct flights from the Lao capital to Bangkok including Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines, Thai AirAsia, Thai Airways and Thai Smile. Once you arrive back in Bangkok you will be able to connect onward to an international service from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport.
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