By Joshua Crouthamel
MSN NZ Travel writer
With plenty of talk about the world's 'best' beaches, 'most fabulous' cities, 'number one' destinations and 'premiere' places to holiday, I got to thinking ... where, actually, would be the worst place for me to spend my hard-earned annual leave?
A look at statistics, online travel forums and a peek at the news has led me to compile the following list. I'd say 'see you there!', but I think for both our sakes we're better off staying home this vacation.
Republic of Sierra Leone
This West African country has been plagued by foreign invaders, deep-seeded corruption and years of civil war. Once the heart of the transatlantic slave trade, the shocking history of the place in has been documented in films such as Blood Diamond
, but they fail to even scratch the surface of the hardship faced in Sierra Leone. Today the country has been disgraced with the world's lowest human development index ranking a measure of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment and GDP per capita.
Flipside: cheap diamonds, great football team and cool national flag?
Republic of the Congo
When coup d'états and assassinations occur weekly, you don't know whether you'll be reporting to a private militia or newly-arrived invading troops. Which makes it kinda hard to develop the infrastructure for a booming tourist trade. It also doesn't help to advertise that hotels and the international airport are some of the most dangerous places in all of the Congo. I think I'll keep from bedding down in Brazzaville indefinitely.
Flipside: gorilla spotting, balmy weather and lack of expats?
Republic of Niger
If you're looking for a temperate climate and ocean breezes, steer clear of Niger. Most of the country has been subsumed into the inhospitable Sahara Desert, and devastating droughts have left agriculturalists with sand between their fingers. And though half the population is under the age of 15, the country has the highest infant mortality rate in the world.
Flipside: awesome sand dunes, combination of French colonial and Islamic cultures and desert oases?
Something amiss in Minsk? Talk about an understatement. The country lost a third of its population and half of its economic resources in WWII. And if that wasn't enough, 70 percent of the radiation fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in neighbouring Ukraine spilled over Belarus, leaving a fifth of its total land today unsafe. I tend to try and avoid radioactive hot spots on my hols don't know about you.
Flipside: ancient castles and churches, mysterious beauty and value for the Belarusian rouble?
Timber Creek, NT, Australia
About a three-hour drive from Katherine lies Timber Creek a 'town' that, as far as I can tell, sports two petrol stations (next door to one another) and a handful of trees. But just keep driving Timber Creek bears a striking resemblance to Wolf Creek
; you won't want to spend a night here, let alone an entire week!
Flipside: choice of petrol stations and proximity to Victoria River?
Newark, NJ, US
While it's just five miles from Manhattan, you'll feel a world away from Carrie Bradshaw and her crew when you find yourself in dismal Newark, New Jersey. Dubbed 'the most dangerous city in America' for two years running in the '90s, it's estimated that the murder rate has dropped in recent years due to the thick haze of pollution keeping would-be attackers indoors.
Flipside: gateway to NYC and tax-free shopping?
Republic of Iraq
Known as the cradle of civilisation and the birthplace of writing, Iraq has had a hard row to hoe in recent years. Now dubbed 'the world's second most unstable country' (after Sudan), Iraq's fate is now in the hands of the United States Government. The US far prefers Iraq's other notable second as the country with the second largest supply of oil reserves (after Saudi Arabia).
Flipside: amazing history and not a lot of other tourists?
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Poor Afghanistan. This landlocked desert country smack-dab in the middle of Asia has a colourful history dating back thousands of years, but brutal civil wars have torn the nation to pieces since the late '70s. Currently two-thirds of the population live on less than US$2 a day, and even if you get a travel visa you are strongly advised to have an armed guard by your side 24/7.
Flipside: natural beauty, friendly people and spring equinox festival?
Union of Myanmar (Burma)
Burma has borne quite a burden in recent years. The crippling hands of a military junta has squashed political dissenters arguing for freedom, and Mother Nature has been just as harsh on the Burmese, throwing cyclones and tsunamis their way as well. But it is where the majority of the world's heroin comes from, so junkies on a junket could possibly pass a week's hols in a haze.
Flipside: lovely locals, temples of Bagan and dilapidated colonial seaside resorts?
The Chechen Republic
If widespread lawlessness and ethnic cleansing aren't enough to keep you away from Chechnya, perhaps this warning from Human Rights Watch
director Holly Cartner will: "If you are detained in Chechnya, you face a real and immediate risk of torture. And there is little chance that your torturer will be held accountable." Eek!
Flipside: eerie backdrop and a sense of Renaissance?
Republic of Haiti
Haiti's legacy as the first postcolonial independent black-led nation in the world was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. Unfortunately since that time, a succession dictators and dishonest politicos have ensured the place is the least developed country in the Americas and is home to private militias and terrorist death squads.
Flipside: voodoo priestesses, colonial-era hotels and a tropical paradise?
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
According to Amnesty International
, North Korea has the worst human rights record of any nation a distinction not to be taken lightly, considering the other front runners on this list. About one in 100 North Koreans have reported torture, starvation, rape, medical experimentation, forced labour and forced abortions in detention camps. And as it's impossible to travel the country without a government minder (or two), you'll find it difficult to really get inside
Flipside: mass games and Kim Jong Il cult worship?
Central African Republic (CAR)
Though it is one of the poorest countries in the world, you'll have to budget substantially for bribes when holidaying in the CAR. That said, Lonely Planet
advises that "unless you are mugged often
be able to get by on less than US$100 ($117) a day."
Flipside: pristine forests and tropical climate?
Though breathtakingly beautiful, Georgia might best be avoided just about now. About 68,000 ethnic Georgians are believed to have fled from their homes in August 2008 alone, and though Russia has called a temporary ceasefire, one can never be too sure when it comes to the Ruskies.
Flipside: stunning mountain scenery, ancient villages and a hotchpotch of cultures?
Have your say: what do you think? Do you agree with the above? Where are the world's worst holiday destinations?