“Travel is transition, and at its best it is a journey from home, a setting forth. I hated parachuting into a place. I needed to be able to link one place to another. One of the problems I had with travel in general was the ease with which a person could be transported so swiftly from the familiar to the strange, the moon-shot whereby the New York office worker, say, is insinuated overnight into the middle of Africa to gape at gorillas. That was just a way of feeling foreign. The other way, going slowly, crossing national frontiers, scuttling past razor wire with my bag and my passport, was the best way of being reminded that there was a relationship between Here and There, and that a travel narrative was the story of There and Back.”
Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari, 2004
Famous Overland Routes
On his way into Tehran, Paul Theroux bribed his way into a cabin with “a large bald Turk” named Sadik. “It was Sadik who pointed out to me that the hippies were doomed,” Theroux later wrote. “They dressed like wild Indians, he said, but basically they were middle-class Americans. They didn’t understand baksheesh, and because they were always holding tight to their money and expecting to scrounge food and hospitality they would always lose.”
Time, I think, has proved Sadik wrong. The hippies emerged from the baby boomers, from a socio-economic moment peculiar to the West, when there was a safety net of well-to-do parents, easy jobs and welfare at home. They were never doomed, they just grew up, but their spurt of vibrant, iconoclastic counterculture gave the West a way of seeing India at least as pervasive as the British Raj, and established backpacking as an industry. The original Hippie Trail is closed, but young people have continued to travel east of Suez, without worrying about baksheesh, and for better or worse they have been welcomed. They travel cheaply, and some scrounge where they can, but most don’t need to: in India and Nepal, on Southeast Asia’s Banana Pancake Trail, and elsewhere, a sprawl of guest houses, restaurants and markets has been set up to cater to their penny-pinching needs. Many choose to adopt aspects of a hippie identity, but they do so with the wisdom and perhaps the cynicism of hindsight. They do not expect to change the world, and know that they too must grow up, but without the idealism of the sixties and seventies, all that is left to them is debauchery, clothing, and a narrow view of Asia.
Read the full article: Vestiges of the Hippie Trail
Lonely Planet has been blamed for creating one of the most overrun backpacker trails in the world: the Banana Pancake Trail, an informal route that is as much a concept as it is a series of criss-crossing transport connections dotted with popular destinations. The Banana Pancake Trail’s roots lie in the Hippy Trail to the Indian Subcontinent. After travelling overland from London to Kathmandu in 1972, and then all the way to Sydney, Tony Wheeler and his wife Maureen took the information they’d gathered along the way and compiled a guidebook, Across Asia on the Cheap, published by their own start-up, Lonely Planet Publications. With the first book published, the sheer demand for information about independent, budget travel – and their own passion for the open road – inspired them to embark on a second journey: a year-long motorbike trip around Southeast Asia, out of which Southeast Asia on a Shoestring was born.
Today, the Banana Pancake Trail refers to a collection of Southeast Asian destinations that are extremely popular with backpackers, taking its name from the eponymous snack that is sold at traveller cafés or stalls along the way. It’s made up of a list of must-see sights, and now that air travel is cheap enough, people often fly from site to site or ‘paradise’ to ‘paradise’, rather than travel overland as they did in the past. It cannot be precisely defined because it is ever-evolving: it expands when an airport near Nha Trang is renovated or a road in Cambodia is tarred or visa regulations change. To me, the term is best used to describe locations where tourist facilities are better developed than the infrastructure used by locals, or where the proliferation of services geared at tourists has pushed other businesses further and further out, until a substantial part of a town’s centre is a tourist ghetto.
As far as it is a physical route, the Banana Pancake Trail predominantly snakes through mainland Southeast Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and, increasingly, Laos – but the Indian hippie haunts of Goa, Gokarna, Hampi, Pushkar and Rishikesh are often considered part of the trail. Some call its Indian incarnation the Hummus Trail because of the abundance of young Israelis travelling after a period of compulsory military service. A handful of scenic spots in Southwestern China such as Guilin, Dali and the towns within reach of the famed Tiger Leaping Gorge – all close enough to northern Laos or Vietnam to reach by bus or train – are sometimes classified Banana Pancake Trail territory too, as are parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Read the full article: The Banana Pancake Trail