Uncharted Backpacker

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

There comes a time in every traveler’s story where scooter trips in Thailand don’t cut it anymore, where the average adventure no longer satisfies the thirsty traveler. When travelers open a world map to discuss where they are going next, many quickly disregard many of the world’s most fascinating destinations due to war, politics or simply lack of information. These areas are often talked about with a hush tone over drinks with other travelers.

Many mock those who dare to travel on the edge to these places, but the few who decided to brave the unknown are rewarded with travel at its most authentic and wild. These dark areas on the map are what adventurers are made of. The pioneers of travel did not hold back from visiting these parts of the world, so why should you! This post is my account of dodging bullets, navigating into dictatorships, living in war zones and braving the Axis of Evil!

Afghanistan

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Mazar E-Sharif’s Shrine of Ali

In the early days of travel, Afghanistan was considered one of the world greatest backpacking destinations. Known for its authentic tribal warlords, beautiful scenery and incredibly rich history, (Don’t forget its famous Hash). This all changed when the Russians invaded and brought on 40 years of war, political strife, and terrorism.  Now most only think of war when Afghanistan is mentioned, but even after all of the recent events, Afghanistan’s culture, history, and incredible travel prevails.

I spent just over a month backpacking through Afghanistan. Starting from the north, I crossed the Uzbekistan/Afghanistan border to Mazar E-Sharif. Here I ventured to the well-known poppy field growing province Balkh, and into the nearby Hindu Kush Mountains. The mountains were filled with hidden Buddhist relics, and incredibly hospitable villages.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Continuing south I visited Kabul the Afghan Capital, the Panjshir Valley, and then I took a flight over to Herat in the far west. Kandahar was not possible due to instability and road blocks.

While I was in Afghanistan there definitely had been issues. Car bombs, Kidnappings, and a high Taliban official was assassinated, but saying all this I felt safe here. The Afghan people went above and beyond to keep me safe, and were extremely happy to see me there!

Check out more of my adventure in Afghanistan here!

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DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)

DRC is one of Africa’s most misunderstood countries. Hidden uncharted jungles, thick with Gorillas, lost tribes, and puffing volcanoes, the DRC has the potential to be Africa’s greatest destination. This has not happened due to the DRC’s horrific history. When the Dutch arrived here to “civilize” the nation it came with a price. Millions were killed and put into slavery and when the Dutch decided to leave they left the country divided and destroyed by tribal warlords who assumed there spot in the government.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

The DRC was the very first conflict country that I had been to. I entered from Rwanda into the city of Goma. Goma had an apocalyptic feeling to it. The nearby Mt. Nyiragongo erupted covering the streets in black volcanic lava. This mixed with Poverty, decrepit colonial buildings, and refugee camps, creates a wild and chaotic scene.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Volcanic Crater Near Goma

It can be intimidating at first, but venturing from Goma you enter the unknown. Pygmy tribes can be found in the jungles to the north, jungle river adventures to the west, uninhabited islands to the south, and some of the worlds last gorilla populations in nearby Virunga national park.  I spent about 9 days in the DRC and cannot wait to head back as the situation has improved since I was last there!

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Iran

Welcome to the Persian Empire. Home to stunningly beautiful blue tiled mosques, exotic bazaars, remote deserts, and a culture older than the history books. Iran is quite simply one of the best destinations I have ever been. To be honest it is also one of the safest destinations on this list! But because of media Iran has been considered a risky destination in which to visit.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Shah Mosque in Isfahan

Iran has gone through some very drastic political transitions. Iran was part of the tourist trail when things began to change with the Shah. During the Shah Iran was a American run Liberal Democracy. This sparked the Iranian Revolution lead by Khomeini. The revolution is famed for an American hostage taking in the US embassy. Since then, relations between Iran and the west have not improved much. There is still lots of hostility.

Traveling through Iran independently I was met by some of the most hospitable people in the world. I was never in danger, and even witnessed an anti US/Israel rally. There was one incident where I was picked up by police, only to find out they wanted to show me around town!

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Desert City Yazd in Eastern Iran

I spent over a month in Iran, crossing from Turkey to Tabriz and then onto the Capital, Tehran. From Tehran I went to the centre of the world, Esfahan, before heading south to the ancient Persian Capital Shiraz (Persepolis). Then off to the deserts and Zoastrian temples of Yazd.

I love Iran and cannot wait to go back! Check out more of my Iran adventures here!

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Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan)

Iraq has seen some of this centuries most brutal wars. This nation was known for its exotic spice bazaars, lost Arabian cities, and scorching deserts. Now, most people associate Iraq with the Gulf War, Dictator Saddam Hussein, Isis, and Genocide. Unfortunately this is the reality for many parts of the country. To this day suicide bombings and conflict are a daily occurrence. Unlike neighbouring Syria, there is some stability here. In the North, Iraqi Kurdistan has created its own state within Iraq. Here there are modern and stable cities, stunning peaceful countryside’s, and one of the most fascinating cultures in Iraq! Now it’s even possible to visit Baghdad, but extreme caution should be taken.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, Amna Suraka Prison

I entered Iraq through Iran. This was the Iraqi Kurdistan region. I explored Sulaymaniyah’s buzzing bazaars, Erbil’s ancient fortresses, and beautiful Amadiya up in the mountains. I was also able to travel to Kirkuk in Iraq, and nearby to Nineveh. Unfortunately I did not make it to Baghdad so the danger rating will be based off of my experience to Kurdistan and the small portions of Iraq I entered. Look out Baghdad here I come!

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Fairy Tale Like Amadiya, Iraq

In my opinion Iraq will one day become one of the worlds top travel destinations! Check out more of my Iraq adventure here!

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Libya

Quite possibly the most exciting, but little-known countries in the Sahara. When people say Libya, most know it for Gaddafi and its recent Revolution. There is so much more to Libya however. Berber Tribes of Yefren, the archaeological masterpiece that is the city of Leptis Magna, Tuareg people deep in the desert, and one of Africa’s most enthralling cultures.

During the dictatorship of Gaddafi, a few tourists could venture into certain parts of the country under organised tours, but after his death and the revolution, the country has seen political turmoil and constant terrorist activity. This has kept Libya far from the tourist radar for years.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Old City, Ghadames, Libya

In 2015, I had the rare opportunity to live and work in Libya for six months. During this time I traveled deep into the Saharan cities of Yefren and Ghadames, The Roman cities of Sabratha and Leptis Magna, and the Capital, Tripoli. Because of my journey here, Libya holds a special place in my heart. The people of Libya and their kind nature has remained the highlight of that trip.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Tripoli Bazaar, Libya

Libya is quiet a dangerous destination. Anywhere I went I did so because I had friends who either knew people or had guns to protect us. Often fighting broke out on the streets in front of me putting me right in the middle of the chaos. Libya is far from ready for tourism, but when it is get ready to dive in!

Check out more of my travels within Libya here!

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North Korea

The most secretive nation in the world. North Korea also known as the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) is one of Asia’s last impenetrable destinations. No traveler can make it here without a hugely overpriced tour. These are the rules determined by the government of North Korea.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Talking Politics on the DMZ, North Korea

Of all the countries on this list this destination has captured the most headlines in recent years. Tensions between the comical Donald Trump and Dictator Kim Jong Un are heating up quickly. The threat of nuclear war is often thrown between these two, and Sanctions continue to be thrown upon North Korea.

This year I got the opportunity to visit parts of this country very few have seen for 2 whole weeks! Exploring the capital Pyongyang by bicycle, hiking to Buddhist temples in the mountains, surfing on the eastern coast, and braving the DMZ during Trumps visit to South Korea.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Kim Il-sung Square Pyongyang

North Korea was quite fascinating to say the least. This retro nation is one of the world’s last destinations that has remained authentic to its roots. I highly recommend visiting here even though you must be on a tour and will remain under constant (and I mean constant) supervision! I give it a low danger rating as there is very little threat of your safety when you are constantly being told what to do.

See more of North Korea’s wacky and wonderful on my North Korea Trips here!

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Pakistan

Pakistan really should be better known. Visas are easily obtained and the majority of the county is stable. The north is home to the incredible Himalayan mountain scenery, and the cities are oozing with exotic atmosphere. There is also an abundance of hidden mountain valleys that are home to lost Greek tribes who claim their ancestry to that of Alexander the great! Put this altogether with Punjabi, Pashto, and Tajik populations and you have one of Asia’s most fascinating destinations.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Posing Like a Local in Chitral, Pakistan/Afghan Border

Pakistan is plagued by an image problem. Often being blamed for many of the world terrorist attacks, and having plenty of its own issues close to home which get plastered all over the world’s media. When it comes to travel, Pakistan is actually quite a safe destination!

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Hunza Valley, Pakistan

I crossed from China into Pakistan Northern frontiers a couple years back. I explored the valleys of Chitral staying with Kalash tribes, and then went into the Khyber Region via Peshawar before crossing into India through Lahore. I also got the opportunity to be one of the few who have visited the SWAT Valley! I never really felt in danger here, and when there was any form of a security threat the government issued me a heavily armed escort, for free! The Khyber was dangerous, but I had to sneak in here as the government forbids travel to this region.

See my month long adventure into Pakistan Here!

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Papua New Guinea

Looking for a jungle adventure that includes cannibalistic lost tribes, primeval jungles, and uncharted lands, well look no further! The island nation of Papua New Guinea has plenty of adventures to be had. To this day there are news headlines telling stories of cannibal tribes, tribal war over women and pigs, and new species of animals being found in this lost Eden. Adventure here doesn’t come easy however!

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Huli Wigmen, Mt Hagen Festival, PNG

Papua New Guinea has always been split by the hundreds of tribes who call this place home. As history shows these tribes have never quite “got along” with one another. Taking this into account with the fact that Papua is one of the least developed nations on earth and you have a bit of a risky destination to travel.

Many come here with a packaged tour which is heavily organized, but I came here independent for one month. Travel here is hard! There is no internet, barely any accommodation, and little to no information for most remote areas.

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

Spirit House in PNG’s Sepik Region

I crossed from the Indonesian side of Papua and visited the Mount Hagen show, mud people in Goroka, beach paradises in Madang, and rented a truck which I drove straight into the remote upper Sepik regions. Papua is wild, but with the right planning you can get here safely, but not comfortable!

Traveling the Axis of Evil – War Zones, Conflict Zones and Dictatorships

I gave it a fairly dangerous rating as my truck was almost high jacked twice and while in Vanimo a tribal man speared a police officer at the market…. I told you, Papua is wild! Check out more of these adventures here!

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Stephen Gollan

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past nine years of traveling I have done. Now at over seventy countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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