Weekend Destination: The Top 5 Countries You Thought Were Dangerous, But Really Aren’t…
For any of you who missed out on childhood, let me recap a cardinal lesson: Danger = Fun. You may have grown older, and sticking forks in unplugged toasters might not be as high octane as you’d remembered, but still, nothing gets the heart beating quite like the thrill of uncertainty. Below, I’ve stitched together a Top 5 List of travel destinations that satisfy this danger-lust without severely jeopardizing safety. While you might initially perceive these destinations as “dangerous,” they can in fact be safely navigated with a little common sense, and the right preparation. You might even be surprised; some of these “dangerous” countries aren’t really dangerous at all…
At number five on our list, beautiful, sunny Colombia is home to stunning beaches, rainforests, lost Inca cities, and South America’s longest running armed conflict, with Narco-terrorists, paramilitaries, and government armed troops locked in bloody struggle for national control. Colombia is also famous for rampant tourist kidnappings, so don’t forget your tanning oil – it’ll increase your value on the sex slave market. Fortunately, your chances of running into any of these problems nowadays are very slim, and Colombia’s crime and conflict has vastly diminished over the last decade. With safety restored, thrill-seekers can party in Bogotá, trek the Sirerra Nevadas, surf, scuba, or even go piranha fishing in the Amazon. And if that doesn’t get your heart pounding, you can always just bury your face in a small mountain of cocaine.
Your fantasy Ethiopian vacation probably goes like this: You wake up as dawn illuminates the parched, African plain. You do as the locals do and skip breakfast (and lunch for that matter), and wile away the day exploring rural villages, accompanied by a gang of emaciated children begging you for money, or a buzzing ectoplasm of flies feasting on your hot, sun-burnt flesh. In the evening, you retire to your quirky guesthouse—a shaky hut constructed entirely out of sticks and cow feces—and tuck into a feast of Ethiopia’s most celebrated dish: a handful of rice. Fortunately, this fantasy vacation is only that: a fantasy.The devastating droughts of the ‘80s and ‘90s have ended, and the corpulent Sally Struthers has flown home, meaning there’s plenty more food to go around, and you probably wont be cannibalized. The Ethiopia of today is a lush, verdant plateau, peppered with psychedelic natural oddities, spectacular ancient ruins, and colorful African tribes, straight out of the pages of National Geographic. And the locals couldn’t be kinder and more hospitable. Angelina Jolie was so smitten with them, she even took a little one home as a souvenir. Then again, she seems to do that wherever she goes.
Osama bin-Laden might have been a lunatic, but he sure knew where to go for the perfect get-away. At number three, Pakistan might just be the most risky country on this list, and traveling anywhere south of Lahore is as safe as sucking on an exhaust pipe, but this country has it all. There’s fascinating culture, scintillating history, breath-taking architecture, one of the world’s best cuisines, atmospheric bazaars, shockingly friendly locals (I’m not kidding), and the show-stopping Karakoram—arguably the most stunning mountainscape on the planet. If you stick to the north, you face a far lower chance of getting a machete embedded in your face. In fact, the whole Karakoram region is quite safe, and you can retrace the ancient Silk Road from village to village with the only worry being whether you’ll have time to see it all. Any travel outside this region is a game of Russian roulette though, so be warned, infidel. If you try to save money on airfare by flying into the southern city of Karachi, you might as well ask the customs officer to decapitate you on YouTube, so that you wont have to bother leaving the airport.
It’s like falling into the pages of George Orwell’s 1984. It’s a modern country, but the Internet is somehow illegal. Listening to South Korean radio is punishable by death. It is a federal offense to make fun of their ex-president; the angry Korean hobbit, Kim Jong-il. Most puzzling, a recent poll showed that an overwhelming number of North Koreans believe that Kim Jong-il was capable of controlling the weather. What more reason could there possibly be to visit this backwards, backwards country? They thought their president could control the weather! The only way you can visit North Korea is by signing up for a government operated tour, during which you’ll be blasted with a fire hose of propaganda, and your movement and behavior will be restricted. You’ll be accompanied by your guide at all times, you’re forbidden to leave the hotel alone, you’re not allowed to speak to locals, your phone calls are monitored, and at several points in the tour, you’ll be required to bow before a statue of Kim Jong-Il and offer flowers. I’m not making this up. If you disobey any of these rules, you’ll be liable to face a prison sentence in a North Korean labor camp, before being deported and barred from re-entering. Your guide will take the brunt of the punishment, however, and it’s unlikely anyone will see or hear from him again. Other than that, a trip to Korea is entirely safe, and the crime rate is practically zero. The tour visits several temples and historical sites, as well as the Ararang Games, were over 100,000 performers pelt you with even more propaganda, via song, dance, and a very creative employment of construction paper (see above). The real highlight, however, is simply seeing a society so warped and disconnected from reality.
If you can get past the threat of impending nuclear holocaust, and forgive the Iranian government for their repeated promises to violently annihilate the West, you might be surprised to learn that Iran is an exceedingly friendly and safe country to explore. Choose between kinetic metropolises, Persian ruins, Islamic architectural wonders, and diverse, stunning scenery. And wherever you go, you’ll agree that all the silly “Death to America” banners never get old. Being American earns you special status in Iran, and certain rules only apply to you. For instance: You’re not allowed into the country. That is, unless you’re on an organized tour. Relations between the U.S. and Iran are so strained that the entire U.S. Embassy in Tehran was deported, and the embassy building was converted into a quirky, little museum now called “The Den of Spies.” Despite political conflicts, it’s unlikely you’ll face any judgment from the Iranian people; their hospitality is nothing short of legendary. Couple this with the incredible chance to visit Esfahan and Persepolis, and it’s no surprise why Iran is one of my top dream destinations. That being said, those of you looking for relaxing, sunny beaches, don’t be fooled. Ladies, it’s hard to work on your base-tan when you’re required by law to wear a giant, black pillowcase.