It is always the less visited nations of the world that catch my attention when travelling. Roads less travelled, cities that never get a mention in the “must visit” lists, places my parents or friends would never dream of going.
When it comes to getting out there and choosing what countries to explore, should Ethics play its part? Are certain countries hard to get to for a reason? Can travelling to a corrupt country be seen as supporting a corrupt government or regime? Where do you draw the line between being adventurous and just being darn reckless?
Living within a ten minute drive of one of the most heavily armed borders in the world, that once crossed, lands you in what could well be the most isolated nation on Earth, can be very tempting for an adventurous soul like myself.
For many people, including fellow teachers I work with and probably all my friends back home, this would be viewed as a threat. A downfall of life in South Korea. Playing with Fire. For me, however, I see it as an opportunity. What could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to get an inside peek at a nation secrets and mysteries.
Within weeks of setting foot on Korean soil I had already leapt at a chance to see Punmunjeom and the army base with a group of American soldiers we had befriended in a local bar. It was a bizarre experience to be walking around no mans land….a little slice of American soil within the North/South Korean border.
Now I wonder to myself whether I want to go to North Korea or not. Adventure Korea is running a tour in July I believe for either a one day or weekend trip to a city just over the border. All tours would be heavily guarded and you normally only get to hear the propaganda filled spiel written by Kim Jong Il and his cronies and only get to see sites that will specifically shine a white light on all that is “good” about North Korea (known there as “Best Korea”). That aside, should I even be THINKING about travelling to one of the most corrupt nations on earth, feeding money into Kim Jong Il’s deadly regime?
While I write this my boyfriend is in Burma (now known as Myanmar) where he will be backpacking for 3 weeks or so. The Visa process can be quite tedious (although not as long as attempting to get one for North Korea I’m assured!) and as there are no ATMs in the country, tourists must bring a minimum of 250 dollars hard cash just to gain entry into the tiny nation.
According to the BBC factfile on Burma,
“It’s impossible to go there and not give money to the government. From the moment your plane hits the tarmac, you’re lining the military’s pockets. Much of the country’s tourist infrastructure is developed by the use of forced labour. People have been made to construct roads, airports and hotels, and thousands more have been forcibly relocated to make way for tourist areas. Tourism to Burma is helping to prolong the life of one of the most brutal and destructive regimes in the world”.
I can remember a few years ago hitch-hiking from Kenya to Sudan. Not because I wanted to volunteer there, or report on the devastating civil war that was in full swing but, for a much more selfish and contrived reason…I wanted that stamp in my passport. I wanted to go home and tell my friends and family how I had hitch-hiked to Sudan, had lunch then hitch-hiked back to my school in Kenya in time for work the next day. Not the most ethical travel by a long shot.
So with all this in mind, should the long line of people queuing for visas for Burma at the embassy in Bangkok really be there? Should people with money to burn be forking out 2-3000 dollars for a 10 day tour of North Korea? Should backpackers, myself included, think a little longer and a little deeper before making impulsive decisions to hitch a lift to Colombia or Sudan or Libya? By going to countries like this, are we being selfish and just looking at things from our point of view or does it really make the slightest difference?