If you’re an avid traveller, there is no better way to immerse yourself in a foreign place and take in the picturesque views than backpacking. There is no better feeling than carrying all your belongings on your back and being completely self-sufficient whilst travelling around a country, or countries.
Backpacking routes through Asia are well worn. People have been backpacking Asia since the late 1960s and the continent remains just as popular amongst backpackers today. I have put together a comprehensive list of backpacking routes from all around Asia. I hope this backpacking route list will provide you with some inspiration for planning your trip.
The 10 Best Backpacking Routes Around Asia
The Silk Road – Central Asia
Duration: 2 weeks
Despite being a tremendously beautiful part of the world, Central Asia remains less well-travelled compared to some other backpacker regions you will find on this list. The Silk Road is one of the world’s most famous and poignant backpacking routes. For many, the Silk Road shimmers out of reach on the distant horizon, but this road was once the most important trade network on Earth.
Named after the trade which sprung up in response to the demand for Chinese silk, it’s origins can be traced back over 3000 years. Along the route, merchants would exchange goods, including horses, furs, jade and ivory for silk. Yet, the Silk Road wasn’t just a single road, but more like an entire network of converging routes. The road stretches from Xi’an in eastern China to Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). Different branches of the road would diverge onto alternative routes to other areas, including the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia, across to the Middle East and over sea routes to North Africa.
Today, much of the Silk Road’s legacy is still visible, largely in the many cities that grew wealthy along its trade routes. Travelling its ancient trails is ultimately a spectacular trip through history – pass incredible treasures of Buddhist art and impressive Islamic architecture, climb through ruined cities and traverse some of Asia’s most adventurous geography. This Silk Road backpacker route spans the country of Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian state that borders China, with a population of approximately 6 million people.
Route: Bishkek -> Karakol -> Naryn -> Tash Rabat -> Torugart Pass -> Kashgar
This Central Asian backpacking route is best suited to lovers of mountain scenery, horseback riding and meeting locals. Begin this backpacker route in Kyrgyz, the capital of Bishkek, and spend a couple of days touring its Soviet-influenced sites, including the Museum of Fine Arts and the statue of Manas, a national hero. Once you’re done, hire a car or taxi and travel eastward, past the minaret of Burana to Issyk Kul, a massive alpine lake enveloped by the snow-capped mountains of the Tian Shan. If you want to take some time to explore the area, Karakol, in the east, is a particularly good base for some short, scenic treks into the surrounding Alpine valleys.
From here, you will travel south to Kochkor. Most homestays in this area will be happily willing to arrange a thrilling three-day-long horseback trek around the yurt-fringed mountain lake of Song Kul. Once you head past Naryn, you must take a small detour to the can’t-be-missed Tash Rabat Caravanserai. Here, you can stay overnight in the yurt camp before trekking up the ridge in the morning for stunning views of Chatyr Kul Lake. From here, you are just a short drive from the Torugart Pass, an astonishingly scenic border that crosses over the mountains to Kashgar in China.
Banana Pancake Trail – Southeast Asia
Duration: 6-8 weeks
The Banana Pancake backpacking trail is Southeast Asia’s most distinguished backpacker route. The trail gained its belly rumble-inducing name from the large network of guesthouses, hostels and restaurants serving fried banana pancakes to the throngs of hungry travellers en route.
If you are looking for a jam-packed, action-filled backpacking adventure, then the Southeast Asia Banana Pancake Trail is a great choice. The route includes a series of classic backpacker haunts, including Siem Reap, Ko Pha-ngan and Khao San Road, among others. These well-known landmarks provide backpackers with many of the novelties of travel combined with all the comforts of home and plenty of opportunities to socialise with fellow nomads.
This contrast can go as far as to mean that you are sampling bugs on minute and filling your stomach with the pizza the next. Many seasoned travellers argue that the Banana Pancake Trail is far from a ‘real’ cultural experience given that the only locals with whom you interact speak good English and are there to serve tourists. However, if you want to experience the true backpacker experience, then you can easily reach more authentic sites via a bus or tuk tuk.
Route: Thailand -> Cambodia -> Laos -> Vietnam -> Malaysia -> Indonesia -> Phillipines -> India -> China
Arguably the hub of the Banana Pancake Trail is Bangkok’s infamous Khao San Road. Cheap flights and unbeatable travel infrastructure makes Bangkok the ideal starting point for many backpackers. As a result, Khao San Road has become a circus of budget travellers coming and going. Depending on how much time you are willing to dedicate to your backpacking trip, you can expand the trail to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. For those who are really serious about trekking this Southeast Asian backpacker route, the far reaches of the Banana Pancake Trail stretch to India and China.
Given the potential length of the Banana Pancake Trail, you can tailor your trip to suit your preferences. However, here is a list of some of the most popular and impressive stops along the Banana Pancake Trail that you might not want to miss.
Popular Stops Along the Banana Pancake Trail
- Bangkok’s Khao San Road
- Chiang Mai
- Koh Tao – for scuba diving
- The Thai Islands – for partying
- Haad Rin on Koh Phangan – for Full Moon Parties
- Siem Reap – to see the Angkor Wat temples
- Phnom Penh
- Sihanoukville – a small, relaxing town
- Vientiane – the capital city
- Vang Vieng – for tubing
- Luang Prabang
- The Pham Ngu Lao area of Hanoi
- Halong Bay
- Sapa – for trekking
- Georgetown – on the island of Penang
- The Perhentian Islands
- Kuala Lumpur
- The Cameron Highlands – for trekking
- Bali – especially Kuta & Ubud
- The Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan for parties & Gili Air for relaxing
- Trek to Mount Bromo
- Boracay – for partying
- Goa – for beaches and parties
- Varanasi – for spiritual rituals
- The Taj Mahal
- Manali – for outdoor sports
- McLeod Ganj – home of the Dalai Lama
- Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Xi’an – for terracotta soldiers
The Golden Triangle – India
Duration: 1 week
The Golden Triangle backpacking route, otherwise known as the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur Circuit, is one of the most predominant in India. The route gained its name for the almost-equilateral triangle that the three cities make when plotted on a map. If you’re strapped for time, this route is the perfect length to help you get a taste of India in a short space of time. Given its shorter length, the Golden Triangle route is also popular among first-time backpackers.
It has to be said that India can be a difficult place to travel. Cities in India can be incredibly hectic and overwhelming, but the business is all worth it for the reward of some of the most awe-inspiring sites in the world.
Route: Delhi -> Agra -> Jaipur
Your Golden Triangle backpacking trail will inevitably start in the capital city of Delhi. If you’ve never visited India before, you should be warned that beginning your journey in Delhi can be quite formidable at first. However, if you can see past the mayhem, you are sure to find plenty of very interesting things to do and see in Delhi.
To do in Delhi:
- Visit Humayun’s tomb and marvel at the striking Redstone architecture
- Go on a street food tour of Old Delhi
- Take a stroll to India Gate
- Visit the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple
Once you have completed all the sites in Delhi, you can make your way to the slightly less manic Agra. This city is no walk in the park, but compared to Delhi it is a breeze. Here, you can take a deep breath, be thankful that you survived Delhi and take in the stunning sites of Agra, including the infamous Taj Mahal.
To do in Agra:
- Watch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal
- Trip out of town to see Emperor Akbars mausoleum
- Visit the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah
At the third corner of the triangle is Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Jaipur is known as the ‘Pink City’ thanks to its walled, pink-hued cluster of buildings. A beautiful city, Jaipur has a range of historical highlights to see, as well as being famous for its traditional crafts, making it the ideal place to shop for gifts to take home.
To do in Jaipur:
- Amer Fort & the Amber Palace
- Watch the sun go down at Nahargarh Fort
- Take in the architectural wonders of the Pink City, including Jaipur City Palace
- Visit the Monkey Temple
Duration: 6 weeks
It can be incredibly difficult to choose an Indonesia backpacking route given the sheer size of this archipelago. Indonesia’s size is more reminiscent of a continent than a country which can make seeing it all on your backpacking trip almost impossible – if you were to visit a new Indonesia island every single day, you would spend over 49 years trying to see them all. Therefore, unless you have half a lifetime to explore, you will need to pick and choose where to visit. This Indonesia backpacker trail combines some of the greatest sites and landscapes across the country.
Classed as part of Southeast Asia, this vast array of islands is far from the standard Southeast Asia backpacker route. On this Indonesia backpacking route, you will experience ancient temples, fiery volcanoes, stunning beaches, vibrant nightlife and a thriving Hindu culture.
Route: Java -> Bali -> Lombok -> Flores
This route begins in Java, the beating heart of the country and home of Jakarta, the country’s capital. Java dominates Indonesia politically, economically and culturally. With a population of over 148 million, Java constitutes 56.1% of the Indonesian population and is the world’s most populous island.
To do in Java:
- Jakarta – the Indonesia capital is a chaotic mega-city, home to over 10 million people. There are plenty of important museums to visit as well as a raucous nightlife, with giant 24 hour night clubs.
- Dieng Plateau – Get away from the bustling capital and visit this plateau, at 2000 metres above sea level.
- Yogyakarta – A lively city, with a thriving art scene and busy districy that caters well for hordes of travellers. Just an hours ride outside of the city are the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan.
- Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park – This park is a popular stop-off point on the lengthy trip from Yogyakarta to Bali and comprises two of the most accessible active volcanoes, Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru.
From the national park, you will travel to Banyuwangi, situated on the Eastern tip of Java. This port has ferries to Gilmanuk in Bali that run every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day. The ferry journey across only take around 30 minutes. Once you arrive in Gilmanuk, there is little to keep you busy, so it is best to hop on a bus straight away.
Bali is a relatively small Indonesian island which means that you can reach any point in the space of just two-three hours. However, don’t mistake Bali’s size for meaning there is nothing to do there – you could end up spending weeks on Bali and still not get bored. Most travellers choose to base themselves on the south of the island, with Kuta Beach being the most popular and liveliest choice. Yet, while the beaches, surfing and nightlife of Bali is great, there is a lot more to Bali than this.
There are plenty of chilled, laid-back traditional fishing villages and quiet bays for you to escape to if the fast-pace of Kuta begins to get too much. Visit Nusa Lembongan, a beautiful island just off the coast of Bali, for diving and snorkelling opportunities. Bali is dominated by Hindu culture and customs, and there are many fascinating markets, arts and crafts shops to explore in the central region of Bali. There are also plenty of Balinese temples and museums to visit to get a real sense of the history and culture.
When you have sufficiently explored Bali, you will island hop to Lombok. Regular fast boat services run from Benoa, Serangan Island, Padang Bai and Amed on Bali to the Gili Islands. If you’re not interested in visiting the Gilis, then you can stay on the boat which will continue on to the coast of mainland Lombok.
To do on Lombok:
The Gili Islands are small and very chilled, representing a stark contrast to the mass tourism witnessed in Bali. Gili Trawangan has been popular with backpackers since the early 1990s and continues to attract steady waves of budget travellers. Of the three Gili Islands, Trawangan is considered the best for partying. If you’re looking for a quieter escape from the main island, then Gili Meno, an idyllic desert islet, and Gili Air are the best options for spending lazy days.
Senaru is a quiet village on the fringe of the Mount Rinjani National Park where you can learn about the unique cultural beliefs on the island of Lombok. Nearby are stunning waterfalls and, for the adventurous, you can hike up Mount Rinjani and see the best 360-degree views of the island from the top of the second highest volcano in Indonesia.
After having spend an active and tiring few days on the North side of Lombok, the pleasant beaches and bays of South Lombok provide the perfect relaxing retreat, Surfing is a popular activity here and you won’t have any huge crowds to contend with like on Bali.
Next on your Indonesia backpacking itinerary is Flores. The hop over from Lombok to Flores can be the most troublesome of the trips between the islands. In between Lombok and Flores lies the island of Sumbawa which is extremely remote and receives barely any visitors. One option is to take a ferry to Sumbawa, a bus to the other side of the island and catch a ferry to Flores from the port of Sape. However, these ferries aren’t particularly regular so it is best to time it well. Alternatively, you can complete the trip over with a company called Perama which includes a few site seeing stops, including the Komodo National Park. This might be a better option, but the trip can take 2-3 days.
To Do on Flores:
Komodo National Park
For many backpackers, taking some time to go see the iconic Komodo dragons is an essential part of any trip to Indonesia. The Komodo National Park comprises three islands just off the main island of Flores and is home to an abundance of animal life. As well as the famous dragons, the park is home to wild horses, boar, deer, water buffalos, monkeys and snakes. The surrounding tropical waters are inhabited by whales, dolphins and other marine life.
Ende is the largest city on the island of Flores and is filled with rich history. Nearby the city, there are various caves, hot water pools and lakes, many of which have bizarre ancient myths and beliefs surrounding them. Yet, the highlight of a trip to this area is Mount Kelimutu and its incredible colour-changing crater lakes that can appear anything from turquoise to red and even brown.
Maumere is the main transport hub on Flores and isn’t too far from Ende. The main draw of Maumere is the airport which has regular flights to other parts of Indonesia, including to Denpasar on Bali, which is probably your best bet for flying home or continuing your travels elsewhere in Asia.
Duration: 2 weeks
A tiny island in the Indian Ocean and often mistaken for its humongous neighbour, India, Sri Lanka is a stunningly beautiful country. Diverse in both nature and culture, the island nation has something to offer every type of backpacker. Beach-goers can hang out on the island’s coastal belt, amongst modern cafes and a thriving surf culture, while history buffs can browse the charming ancient towns of central and northern Sri Lanka. Being so tiny, with just a couple of weeks to spare you can easily scratch the surface of what this astonishing island has to offer.
Route: Colombo -> Ella -> Mirissa -> Galle -> Kandy -> Sigirya & Dambulla
A Sri Lanka backpacking route that offers a bit of everything begins in the capital city of Colombo. You should only require one night in Sri Lanka’s bustling capital, allowing you plenty of time to visit Gangaramaya Temple and the Dutch Hospital Complex in Colombo Fort. You could also head to Galle Face Green to watch to sunset and to sample the Sri Lankan street food scene.
Next, you will hop on a train from Colombo to Ella. This train journey is fairly long, lasting around 9-10 hours, but you won’t be bored with stunning vistas and endless tea plantations to keep you entertained. Look out for Little Adam’s Peak which is a sight to behold when the early morning sun casts a golden glow over the central highlands.
Once you arrive in Ella, if you feel up to it, you can take a strenuous three hour hike to Ella Rock. Although the Ravana Ella Falls are often packed to the brim with visitors, I would definitely say it is worth the trek and the crowds. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then the stunning natural pool of Diyaluma Falls makes a great alternative. While staying in Ella, you should make time to go see the famous Nine Arch Bridge – time it just right and you could see a train pass over one of Sri Lanka’s stunning architectural wonders. Once your busy Ella schedule is complete, be sure to treat yourself to some delicious local or Western cuisine and chill out in one of Ella’s trendy cafes.
The next stop on your Sri Lankan backpacking journey is Mirissa, a small surfing village on the south coast of the island. Mirissa is the ideal destination to soak up some tropical sun and explore some quirky, colourful streets. It is the home the dome-shaped hill, dotted with coconut trees, which has now become a popular Instagram spot. But, if you’re not one for taking selfies, you can still easily find a secluded slice of paradise on Secret Beach. If you want to explore the village at a faster pace, why not rent a scooter or bike to visit the nearby seaside hamlets and secluded beach spots.
Over halfway through your Sri Lanka backpacker route and you will head to Galle, the island’s southern capital. Galle is filled with cool streets, artsy gift shops and thriving restaurants. Incredibly unique, the city comprises Portuguese and Dutch influenced architecture, which has provided opportunity for a number of aesthetically designed hostels to be built. While staying in Galle, you can rent a bike and cycle to nearby Unawatuna for a quick day trip. Here, you can indulge in some delicious fresh seafood and then spend the night at one of the beach parties – Jungle Beach and Dalawella Beach are two secluded strips that you are sure to love.
Conveniently, there is a direct train that runs daily from Galle to the next destination on your itinerary, Kandy, Sri Lanka’s most spiritual city. While there, make sure you plan a visit to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, as well as the Udawattakele Sanctuary, a lush green forest where you can be educated on the local flora and fauna.
Finally, it’s time to reach the last two stops of your Sri Lanka backpacking trip, Sigiriya and Dambulla. I would recommend spending around two nights in Sigiriya which will allow you time for a quick trip to Lion’s Rock, the eighth Wonder of the World. If you’re into your wildlife, then you should definitely take the time to go on a safari in the nearby Kaudulla National Park. Once you have seen everything, you can board a train back to Colombo from Habarana before flying home or going off to explore the rest of Asia.