2005 in Focus – Top Ten Worst Destinations

A summary of the world’s worst travel dstinations of 2005, as chosen by Polo’s Bastards.

2005 has been another bumper year for finding adventurous places to travel. There was certainly no shortage of natural disasters and the seemingly never-ending supply of wars and conflict has made certain parts of the world a miserable place for many unfortunate souls. It comes as little surprise that the top ten worst destinations fall into just two continents – Asia and Africa. In truth, we could easily find ten countries in Africa alone that could warrant being on this list, but in the interest of fairness, we’ve nominated just four. Also, it would be true to say that the Americas escaped by the skin of its teeth, with Colombia being the most probable “number 11”. Whether you agree with us or not, this is Polo’s Bastards’ top ten list of 2005’s worst destinations:

Iraqi National Guard. Photo by Lee Ridley

Iraq
– was there ever really any doubt that Iraq was going to take out the number one spot? Anyone who ventures into the Sunni Triangle seems to be taking their life in their own hands, and other areas of the country still don’t seem to be a picnic. The Kurdish autonomous north of the country is, perhaps, a little less dicey for the adventure traveler, and is a place where your guard can be dropped a bit as you walk the dusty streets talking to the locals about their hope for a better future. Nevertheless, the sad thing about this country is overall it’s a pretty nasty place to be caught with your pants down and we can’t see it leaving the number one spot any time soon. It will almost certainly be years, if not decades, before Iraq even leaves the top ten.

Somalia – This ugly conflict became mainstream viewing when the Ridley Scott film Black Hawk Down hit the shelves in Blockbuster Videos. Without a central government since 1991, the ongoing power struggle between the country’s warlords has turned the horn of Africa into a lawless wasteland, where the only rule is the rule of the gun. Journalists and travelers can fly into Mogadishu easily enough, but if they want to set foot outside the airport they are strongly advised to hire their own private, heavily armed guards. Failure to do so could seriously jeopardize the already slim chance of surviving the day intact. Daily rates for an armed escort range from a couple of hundred bucks if staying within the Mog, and several hundred bucks if going up-country, making Somalia an expensive as well as dangerous place to spend time.

Afghanistan – Following the promise of good times to come, the country once again seems to be receding back into the contentious ranks of the world’s most dangerous places. It culminated this year in the deaths of two Japanese school teachers who ventured into the wild southern regions of the country around Kandahar. By all accounts, many areas of Afghanistan are falling back under the sway of extremists, and Kabul itself is even experiencing its own fair share of terror attacks – enough to make all but the hardiest of travelers a little wary. Whether you’re in search of the fabled Minaret of Jam, the pastoralist Kuchi shepherds, or your latest bulk opium order, Afghanistan has a wealth of travel experiences just waiting for the foreign visitor. So long as they’re aware that Taliban-sponsored suicide bombs, IEDs and unexploded ordnance all list among the country’s attractions.

Warning Unexploded Ordnance. Afghanistan. Photo by Dan Quinton

Thailand – OK, so Thailand is a great tourist Mecca and it’s not exactly what we would normally call
‘dangerous,’ but this year it gets a spot on the list because of the Tsunami. The Tsunami was on Boxing Day, 2004 but the effects were mainly felt in 2005, with the extent of the damage coming to light up to several months after the event in some areas. The cleanup is still going on and bodies are still being found a year later. This, along with the ongoing hostilities between the government and the restive Islamic militants in the southern provinces, is putting a lot of doubt into prospective tourists’ minds, causing them to look towards alternative shores for their annual hols. Until these concerns disappear, this wonderful country will continue to struggle as a result of the depleted supply of tourist dollars.

Sudan – This one is also gearing up to be a permanent resident on any top 10 list of worst destinations. With the ongoing tensions between the government and rebel groups, as well as the government backed (or at least not stopped) genocide, any areas outside the capital are looking shaky for travelers. In the beleaguered western region of Darfur, murder and rape is commonplace as people cower in the IDP camps, fearful of setting foot outside in search of wood to make cooking fires, lest they encounter the murderous Janjaweed militia. In the northeast of the country, the marginalized Beja people are also dissatisfied with their lot and, led by the Beja Congress, are uprising against the central government. Travel permits are required to head into this region, and Khartoum simply isn’t issuing them. Peace has allegedly finally come to the south of the country, thanks to the tireless efforts of recently deceased John Garang. However, the cross-border activities of the Ugandan Lords Resistance Army in the far south, close to the town of Juba, means that the shit could hit the fan at anytime, with little or no warning.

Janjaweed. Darfur. Photo by Vicent Gainey

Chechnya
– It doesn’t get too many travelers at the best of times but even journalists fear to go to this former Soviet state. The insurgency is in full swing and the school hostage drama at Beslan shows just how far they are willing to go. Even if you did manage to reach the capital, Grozny, with your life intact, it’s unlikely that you’d find a hotel to stay in, as the city lies mostly in ruins, following the Russians’ capture of the city in 2001. We don’t imagine that Club Med has too many plans in the near future for this place.

Indonesia – Now this country isn’t dangerous per se, but there are so many elements of danger that it gets a spot on the list for the worst destinations of 2005, from the second Bali Bombing incident to the Tsunami. Indonesia is also home to the insurgent movements in Aceh and West Irian, neither of which are getting enough coverage in the press and both of which are extremely difficult for travelers (especially journalists) to get to. Killings and suppression of the media are an almost daily occurrence.

The Palestinian Territories – Despite the ongoing efforts of the international community, the Palestinian territories seem to sway only between bad and terrible as a place to travel. Just last week two foreign nationals, there to help educate children, were kidnapped by insurgents and later released. Foreign aid workers report being beaten by settlers. The military controls population movement and curfews are often enforced. It’s probably not on Paris Hilton’s list of places to visit.

Uganda – For some eighteen years now, the Lords Resistance Army, fighting the Ugandan government in the far north of the country, have made the region a no-go area for all but the most determined of travelers. With a reputation of being among the most evil, murderous gang of cold-blooded killers on the planet, the LRA’s practice of child abduction for the purpose of turning children into soldiers is deplorable enough. Forcing those same children to kill and mutilate their own family members as part of the indoctrination transcends most people’s idea of unspeakable horror. To journey into this area along the border with southern Sudan, truly is to journey into the heart of darkness.

Aftermath of the Tsunami. Sri Lanka. Photo by Richard Everingham.

Niger
– Last, but by no means least, Niger, rated as the world’s second poorest country, takes number ten in Polo’s Bastards’ worst destinations of 2005. The famine stricken south of the country has already claimed countless lives through malnutrition, and as the year draws to a close, official figures put some 30,000 children at risk of an unsavory demise unless food aid arrives very soon. For the aid-workers, journalists and casual travelers, the horrors of seeing starving children is just a fly-drive away, as the worst affected areas of Niger are easily accessible along the length of the country’s southern highway that runs between the capital, Niamey, and Lake Chad to the east.

…So here’s to whatever lies ahead in 2006. No doubt continuous headlines will tell of conflict, disaster and despair. And we will just strap on our desert boots, sling a small pack on our back and camera on our shoulder, and go and see for ourselves. I suspect that the list above will be largely unaltered this time next year, with perhaps just a couple of changes. The sabre rattling between Ethiopia and Eritrea is reaching fever pitch, so don’t be surprised if both countries are adorning our pages sometime soon. Also, as Ahmedinejad furthers his plans for nuclear development in Iran, the US are gonna get real itchy, meaning the Middle East will remain just about the tensest place anyone could wish to be. On top of that, earthquakes, wild-fires, tsunamis and El Niño are sure to make life a misery for countless many. Happy new year.

Author – Rob Wood and Lee Ridley

  21 comments for “2005 in Focus – Top Ten Worst Destinations

  1. Samuel
    January 27, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    You’re dead wrong about Niger. It is a wonderful country and and there are a few countries in the world where you will ever experience hospitality like with Nigerien people. Please gon the on the Friends of Niger webpage (American Peace Corpos workers living in Niger) and ask them how this are really.

    Please allow me to copy this comment from Niger Country Director James R. Bullington:

    “Moreover, the people of Niger are wretchedly poor, in a way that is quite literally unimaginable for most Americans. As measured by the United Nations Development Program, this is the second poorest country in the world, ahead only of war-ravaged Sierra Leone and well behind countries such as Afghanistan. Worse, the standard of living for most Nigeriens, according to the World Bank, has been in decline for more than three decades. This is because of rapid population growth, continuing desertification, recurrent bouts of political instability that have undermined development efforts and international support, and a host of other factors…

    Doesn’t all this make Niger a hotbed for international terrorism and a very dangerous place for Americans to be these days?

    No, it does not.

    Since September 11, some 400 Americans — Peace Corps Volunteers, Embassy staff, non-governmental organization employees (CARE, CRS, etc.), and missionaries — have continued to live and work throughout the country without serious incident or threat. There have been no anti-American demonstrations and no hostile media campaigns. Many Nigeriens, from President Tandja to ordinary villagers, have expressed their condolences and have spoken out against terrorism and Islamic extremism. Within its limited means, the Government has been exemplary in responding to our security concerns and in pro-actively discouraging anti-American manifestations or any type of violence.

    I believe that Peace Corps Volunteers living in Nigerien villages are at least as safe from terrorism as they would be in the US, and probably safer.

    Why is this the case?

    First, the Government and the vast majority of the people, while very religious in outlook, are not Islamic extremists. They are proud of Niger’s record of religious tolerance and tend to see Osama bin Laden and his followers as perverting Islam. Moreover, unlike most of its neighbors, Niger does not have a tradition of terrorism or serious religious or ethnic conflict, and even its political turbulence has not involved widespread violence. The Sahara Desert provides considerable (though not total) isolation from the turmoil in Algeria, Libya and Chad. The Islamic extremism and communal violence in northern Nigeria are far closer to Niger’s populated heartland; but thus far spillover has been minimal. And Nigerien leaders generally want a closer and more cooperative relationship with the US (especially including increased aid and investment), not confrontation. They are concerned about conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East, but correctly see them as having little to do with Niger.
    A typical Nigerien “bush taxi,” the only alternative to walking for most Nigeriens, and often for Peace Corps Volunteers as well.

    Another reason for Niger’s relative tranquility in the current storm, I’m convinced, is that 39 years of continuous Peace Corps presence here has built a reservoir of good will toward America and Americans that makes Nigeriens less susceptible than they might otherwise be to the anti-American message of the extremists. It is far easier to induce people to hate an abstraction, an ugly American stereotype, than to hate the friendly young man who lives in your village or the dedicated young woman who taught you English. In addition to those whose lives are touched by the current Volunteers, I’m constantly meeting senior-level Nigeriens who say, “Oh, Peace Corps! Do you know X?” (who turns out to be a Volunteer from many years ago who lived in their village or taught in their school). This effect can’t be quantified, but it’s real.”

  2. Lee
    January 30, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    Which bit was wrong about Niger?

    I think I was spot on.

  3. Rob
    February 14, 2006 at 3:19 am

    I would have said Niger was one of the more solid contenders in that list. A few of the others only made it by the skin of their teeth.

  4. JC
    April 16, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    I don’t forsee going the way close neighbors are doing! ie: Ivory Coast, Sudan, etc.. the remoteless of many places (Algeria, Mali, Tchad and closer to the Sahara Desert than any other nations (lower part of Algeria)/Lybia!.) Makes it very dangerous place indeed!.. with the present incroachment on lands by the sands – and the drought now insuing!.. it is going to be a major setback to the country – as in Somalia when the drought of 91 came about – the world stood by and did nothing until it was too late and by then the populace became uncontrollable once supplies where at distribution points – and then the militia and the tribes with the guns took over – might does make right!.. and then they controlled the economy via brides – black market – and the rest is history!.. hunger is a powerful weapon – that should not be discounted it force regular people to do unreasonable actions – even kill!.. survival instinct takes over!.. and I can foresee that this will be exploited with the powers at be!…

  5. Lash
    May 19, 2006 at 8:42 am

    It is common knowledge that Somalia is the most dangerous country in the world, or high ranking in the top ten. It contains the most dangerous city in the world Mogadishu. Even if you tryed to walk 20 metres you would be shot or captured.

  6. Charles
    May 19, 2006 at 8:46 am

    Hello, oh my god, you are forgeting Somalia. It must be in the top ten, it has the most dangerous city in the world in it, Mogadishu. Remember Black Hawk Down and all that crazy shit.

  7. May 22, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    Charles,

    Read the article again, you donut!

  8. Kraneberry
    June 8, 2006 at 6:41 am

    hey.,. isn’t Myanmar(Burma) more dangerous than Thailand?

  9. Rob
    June 9, 2006 at 4:08 am

    In general, yes, but last year the Tsunami kinda guaranteed Thailand a guernsey based on number of dead tourists alone.

    It would be unlikely to make the list two years running.

  10. athena
    November 21, 2006 at 5:42 am

    In my opinion, The Democratic Republic of Congo has much more right to be on that list than Thailand. I spent six months travelling around Thailand, and I never felt entirely unsafe or vulnerable. The Thai people made me feel exceptionally welcome, and several people went out of their way to ensure my safety.
    In Congo, on the other hand, the few weeks I spent there were a blur of fear and anxiety. Even in the capital, Kinsasha, in broad daylight, I was constantly looking over my shoulder and being hassled by the military. Not once did I feel truly at ease, quite the opposite to my time in Thailand.

  11. mikeskor
    December 5, 2006 at 9:04 am

    I really wished Thailand wasn’t on the list but unfortunately it is. I was considering taking a job at the medical school in Hat Yai in the south but gave up the idea when I found out Hat Yai had multiple bombings of its downtown just this year. And in previous years its airport and train station were bombed by Islamic terrorists. I lived through the terrorist attacks in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia and didn’t feel like going through the fear, constant thought, and changes of routine you submit yourself to after an attack. Ah shit, I still may take the Hat Yai job anyway. Sometimes it feels like the only places I can get work are where other people don’t want to go!

  12. sara
    January 22, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    sudan is one of the safest and most beautiful countries in the world…you people are just ignorant bastards with zero knowledge.Educate yourselves just a little and stop blieving everything cnn tells you.

  13. January 24, 2007 at 4:34 am

    Ignorant Bastards?

    No, no – we’re Polo’s Bastards! 🙂

  14. February 1, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    I think Sara is the ignorant one. Suggest she goes for a wander around western equatoria region at night and reports back to us what it feels like to get an LRA clubbing from a gang of ten year-olds. Or she should go and live in one of the Darfur IDP camps and go collecting firewood by day.

    This is a list of the “worst” not “most dangerous”. But if the cap fits…

  15. Ryan Jones
    February 27, 2007 at 5:10 am

    I know vietnam isn’t the top ten most dangerous, but is it still dangerous there?

  16. February 27, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    I think outside of some UXO in the countryside and crossing the street Vietnam is very safe and friendly.

    I enjoyed my time there very much.

    Best,
    Stiv

  17. Rita Elliott
    March 23, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Compared to many countries in the world, I really felt safe in Vietnam
    I absolutely agree that crossing the street is an harrowing experience. Either you are caught by the trafic or you die from heart failure

  18. Emily
    March 27, 2007 at 12:00 am

    U guys are asswholes. half this shit isnt real

  19. March 27, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    We are not assholes Emily, we are bastards.

    And it is even more real than the mall.

  20. jeff
    September 6, 2007 at 9:53 am

    South Korea should be on this list , near the top . They are the rudest ,noisiest , most obnoxious people on the planet.

  21. September 6, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Jeff check out the 2006 list and we’re certainly up for 2007 nominations.

    I don’t think it’s “worst destination” but like PJ O’Rourk once wrote “Koreans are the Irish of Asia”

    ~Stiv

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