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In this guest post, WorldNomads.com take a look at the popular Banana Pancake Trail of South East Asia. WorldNomads.com is an essential part of every adventurous traveller's journey. Follow them on Facebook and on Twitter.
Thinking of taking that mega trip to South East Asia for a rip roaring adventure filled with sunshine, parties, thrilling activities and cheap booze? You're not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people every year take the pilgrimage on what has come to be known as 'The Banana Pancake Trail' - a loose stretch of locales in South East Asia that are popular with travellers the world over. The affectionate nickname refers to the guesthouses and restaurants that cater to the needs of western visitors - yummy, inoffensive delights for those who don't like straying too far from their safe zone.
But while the Banana Pancake Trail may be filled with creature comforts of back home, it's also jam packed with perils that are endemic to South East Asia that are easily forgotten in the rose coloured haze of travel wanderlust (sprinkled with a nice dose of cheap bucket drinks). So in the interest of safety, let's take a look at some of the major snares we have discovered during our travels…
Across most of South East Asia, the moped or motor scooter is one of the most popular forms of travel - it's cheap, convenient and easy to get around. However, many travellers to South East Asia have never actually ridden motorbikes before. Despite this, they pop on a moped with the best of intentions, and end up in a hell hole called hospital. The simple fact is, if you have never ridden a motorbike before, what makes you think you can negotiate through the complex and aggressive maze that is the South East Asian road system?
We always say this, if you don't know how to ride a motorbike, South East Asia is not the place to learn. During our trips there for research, the number of travellers we saw hobbling round on crutches with bandaged heads was in the hundreds. And every story told the same thing - "Don't get on a motorbike if you don't know how to ride one".
Laos River Tubing - Leave Your Brain At The Door
If 'cheap booze' is one of the higher priorities for your travels to South East Asia, then chances are you are thinking about making the trek to Vang Vieng in Laos, home to the now infamous river tubes.
With mountains of free 'Lao-Lao' whiskey, drug shakes, booming P.A systems and death defying rope swings, it’s no wonder thousands of party animals make the trek to this former sleepy Laos town every year - however, scores of people have not made it back home. Deaths from head injuries, drug overdose and alcohol poisoning have all made headlines in recent times, prompting a closure of venues by Laos authorities. Put it this way, the scene has gotten so bad that locals believe the river water is polluted with the souls of people who died there.
If you're still convinced this is your cup of (mushroom) tea, there are a few things you should know. The rope swings have absolutely no safety standards, and are incredibly deadly - sharp rocks and shallow water mean one wrong slip could see you in the local hospital, or the morgue. Speaking of the hospital, Vang Vieng's only medical facility is tiny. And with 5 - 10 backpackers piling in every day, its resources are stretched to the limit. If you get injured badly enough, you might have to go to the larger Vientiane on an excruciating, long journey filled with pot holes and pain.
The Full Moon Party - Thailand's Manic Monster
On a larger scale of hedonism, you have the notorious Full Moon Party in the island of Koh Phan Gan, Thailand. What started 20 years ago as a group of people on a beach having a boogie has now turned into a multi-million Baht economy. Every month, 20,000 people pack Haad Rin beach to howl at the moon - and it gets messy. Real messy. This event, which is practically a right-of-passage for backpackers coming to South East Asia, has everything. Hi-octane drink concoctions, magic mushroom shakes, burning rope swings and slides, and 20 dance venues blasting out a cacophony of beats onto the teaming masses.
But all of this debauchery has a cost. When we went there in 2011, it was something else. We lost count of the amount of people we saw in bandages - accidents caused by motorbike falls, stab wounds and second degree burns. The stories were staggering. Sexual and physical assaults, police busts, drownings and drug overdoses. Everyone had some kind of a tale to tell. But the main thread that weaved in and out of these stories was one thing - people simply had too much and lost control of themselves and that is when danger strikes.
The easiest way to lose control of yourself at the Full Moon Party is through the consumption of bucket drinks. They are cheap, delicious and go down far too easy. But the thing is, only a couple is enough to send you rocketing - the secret ingredient in many of these concoctions is the M150 syrup, which is illegal in many Western countries. There are also allegations of the inclusion of pseudoephedrine in the drinks. All this put together equals a beverage that packs a wallop, and can see you out of control quicker than you realise.
With lack of control comes extreme stupidity, and that is where many revellers come unstuck. Jumping over a skipping rope burning with kerosene isn't the smartest of ideas when sober, but after a couple of buckets it sounds like rollicking good fun. But the reality of second degree burns is a different thing altogether. Swimming in the water when blind drunk is great in the moment, but bodies get dragged out of that beach more times than we would like to admit. The simple thing is - if you are out of control, and doing idiotic things, Haad Rin beach is the place where your worst nightmares can come true.
If extreme parties and hedonism really isn't your scene, there are still some things you need to consider to stay safe when travelling to South East Asia. In most major cities pickpocketing and bag snatching is commonplace, so exercise some caution when walking around town - don't flash expensive items or leave valuables unattended. As a traveller you'll have people watching you, and if those people have bad intentions, you'll be a prime target if you are careless about how you travel.
As a traveller, you'll also be invited to a range of various scams from vendors on the street. It's just part of the fabric in South East Asia, so you'll need to get used to it. The simplest mantra we can possibly offer you is this. 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is'.
And finally, health conditions may be far different to what you are used to. We advise to drink only bottled water in most South East Asian countries - your bellies simply won't be used to the bacterias. Street food from portable vendors is a delicious gamble, and you might walk away with a bug that will have you out of action for a few days. If you are not feeling too adventurous and want to stay off the toilet, we would advise to stick to established restaurants that will (hopefully) have better hygiene conditions.
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