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Asia’s most dangerous destinations – Part 1

July 12, 2012 - Jo Lane

BRIAN CRISP from the Australian Sunday Mail’s Escape did an assessment recently of the top 12 most dangerous countries for Australians to visit. While this was interesting in itself, I decided to look only at the Asian countries on the list.

Using Smarttraveller as the reference, Australia’s official travel advisory body, it was interesting to note that only Afghanistan, warranted a “Do Not Travel” listing for Asia – the highest security level offered. Of course that Afghanistan is listed is hardly surprising.

In the level two category “reconsider your need to travel” in Asia there were two listings –  the Kyrgyz Republic and Pakistan. However in the third level of caution – “exercise a high degree of caution” – was Bangladesh, Burma, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand and Uzbekistan.

Thailand Tourist Killed

Two Thai suspects of killing an Australian woman on a Phuket street in broad daylight last month are paraded by police. Pic: AP.

As Crisp did, I thought of my experiences in these places – I’ve been to seven of the 12 “high degree of caution” Asian places and am due to visit another next month. It was interesting, having been to some of these places, to see if the risks are indeed valid and/or if they would prevent me from considering traveling there again.

Let’s take a look, starting with those in the level two category. “Reconsider your need to travel” is defined by smarttraveller as:

There is a high level of risk in the country/area. This may be due to a very high threat of terrorist attack or a volatile and unpredictable security situation. If you are already in a destination where we advise you “reconsider your need to travel” and you are concerned about the security situation, you should consider leaving.

Kyrgyz Republic

A summary taken from smartertraveller:

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel in the Kyrgyz Republic because of the volatile and unpredictable security situation, especially in the south of the country. There is also a risk of terrorist attack, and high levels of serious crime.

The security situation remains fluid and subject to change at short notice, there is potential for violence. If you do decide to travel to the Kyrgyz Republic, you should exercise extreme caution.

You should avoid demonstrations, street rallies and public gatherings as they may turn violent.
We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek and Kyrgyz-Tajik border areas (in the south and south-west) and the Ferghana Valley. The security situation there is volatile and there are frequent incidents of violent crime, varying levels of civil unrest and reports of terrorist activity. The affected area includes the cities of Osh, Jalalabad and Batken. Landmines are also a risk in uncontrolled border areas.

Lonely Planet also issues a warning:

Travel Alert: The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommends against all non-essential travel to some areas, please check with your relevant national government.

My experience: None. But read Lonely Planet (again) and they rave about it:

Kyrgyzstan may be small, it may be often overlooked but, just like the players in a game of kok boru, this tenacious nation packs a powerful wallop and may yet run off with the prize as Central Asia’s most appealing and accessible republic.

Might put it on the travel list when things improve.

Pakistan

A summary taken from smartertraveller:

We strongly advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Pakistan at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, sectarian violence and the unpredictable security situation.

Australians in all parts of Pakistan should avoid any large gatherings and demonstrations as they may turn violent and could be targeted at perceived western interests.

Kidnapping and assassination of foreigners remains a threat throughout the country, particularly in Baluchistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North West Frontier Province) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

There is a very high threat of terrorist attack against places in Pakistan that are frequented by Australians and other Westerners. Possible targets include diplomatic missions and other premises in the diplomatic enclave, hotels (particularly hotels catering to Westerners), restaurants, clubs, religious sites and places of worship, shopping centres or shopping areas, banks, airports and educational facilities including universities and international schools. These attacks could include Western or Australian interests and occur at anytime, anywhere in Pakistan.

My experience: None, however I’ve glimpsed Pakistan from China and India and it is high on my list of places to visit. I also have met numerous travellers who have raved about their experiences. The India/Pakistan violence is another issue of concern for travellers (covered in the section below). This is covered in a slightly light handed fashion by Michael Palin’s Himalaya series about the nationalist displays at the India/Pakistan border which are definitely worth seeing:

Bangladesh

A summary taken from smartertraveller:

There have been a number of terrorist incidents in recent years in Bangladesh. Security agencies continue to apprehend people connected to terrorist organisations. Further attacks are possible, including against Western interests. There is a risk foreigners could be caught up in attacks directed at others.

Violence has traditionally been characteristic of Bangladeshi politics.

Criminal violence and armed robbery are common in Bangladesh.

My experience: None but it does seem accounts of Bangladesh in the news are usually on account of political violence or disaster. However it might be worth noting this account from Lonely Planet on that score:

In late 2007 a rumbling occurred deep in the tropical waters of the Bay of Bengal. Within hours of Cyclone Sidr smashing into southwest Bangladesh, the world’s media and aid organisations were on the move and Bangladesh was about to find herself wrenched back out of obscurity and once again presented to the global community as a classic ‘basket case’ (as Henry Kissinger once described the country) of disaster. The pictures and stories that emerged from Bangladesh at that time portrayed an entire nation on its knees, but this was only a half-truth for within hours of the storm hitting, the majority of the country was back on its feet and operational. This wasn’t the first time that Bangladesh had been dismissed as a no-hope nation, and it probably won’t be the last.

Burma

A summary taken from smartertraveller:

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Burma because of the uncertain security situation and possibility of civil unrest.

Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Protests and organising assemblies of people are illegal in Burma. You should avoid all demonstrations and street rallies as they may turn violent. You should avoid taking photographs of demonstrations, the military or police as this may not be tolerated by the Burmese authorities.

The frequency of bomb attacks in Burma has increased, including in Rangoon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw. Attacks have occurred or have been planned in areas frequented by tourists and expatriates, including shopping centres, supermarkets, markets, hotels, transportation hubs, on public transport, including taxis, and other public places. Further attacks could occur at any time.

My experience: I’ve been to Burma a few times and yes, I’ll be back. I’ve travelled into areas experiencing civil conflict and to border regions with China, Laos and Thailand that are warned against if you read further on Smart Traveller. There’s certainly a strong military contingent in these areas but I never felt unsafe but I was sensible and sensitive to the situation. I wouldn’t recommend visiting these areas. Safety seemed no different than in other Asian states in the major cities but there certainly are rumblings and warnings you hear from other travelers and locals. This has been addressed in some other posts, as has the ethical debate for travellers about whether to visit Burma or not.

Bagan temple plain. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

From Tony Wheeler’s Bad Lands:

Suu Kyi continues to languish under house arrest, another uprising was quashed with ferocity in 2007, and the disastrous Cyclone Nargis in 2008 gave the government the opportunity to prove, yet again, that they can score 10 out of 10 for oppression and economic incompetence, but zero when it comes to providing useful assistance to their people.

Lonely Planet:

You no doubt know that Myanmar is a troubled land. In 2011, following the previous year’s election, a quasi-civilian government was sworn in and Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest. The tourism boycott that persuaded many to steer clear of the country for over a decade has been lifted. It’s still up to you to decide whether it’s time to visit. Keep in mind that the long-suffering people are everything the regime is not. Gentle, humorous, engaging, considerate, inquisitive and passionate, they want to play a part in the world, and to know what you make of their world.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Summary from smarttraveller:

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) because of the restrictions placed on foreigners and the very different laws and regulations on your behaviour. See Local travel and Laws for details.

DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-il died on 17 December 2011. Australians in the DPRK should continue to monitor developments closely because of the risk that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could escalate with little warning.

Relations between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and DPRK were very tense following an exchange of artillery fire on 23 November 2010 across the Northern Limit Line, a disputed border, in the West Sea (Yellow Sea) off the coast of DPRK. We advise against travel to the Northern Limit Line Islands.

From Tony Wheeler’s Bad Lands:

Meanwhile in North Korea, Kim Jong-il underlines that there’s more than one crazy out there, alternating between threatening rants and holding out his begging bowl to the same people he’s been menacing. On the other hand there have been some faint signs of the North Korean population realising that their loving father figure isn’t quite as astoundingly competent as he claims – a disastrous demonetisation scheme in 2009 prompted public outrage.

My experience: None.

East Timor

A summary taken from smarttraveller:

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in East Timor because of the uncertain security situation and the possibility of civil unrest. The situation could deteriorate without warning.

The second round of the Presidential election is scheduled to be held on 16 April 2012. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held on 7 July 2012. There may be an increase in political tension in the lead up to these national elections.

You should avoid demonstrations, street rallies and other large public gatherings as they may turn violent.
Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety and security risks.

Medical facilities are extremely limited and evacuation, at significant expense, is often the only option in cases of serious illness or accident.

My experience: I’m heading there next week and for the first time I actually registered on Smartertraveller.

India

A summary taken from smarttraveller:

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in India at this time because of the high risk of terrorist activity by militant groups.

Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks. Terrorist attacks could occur anywhere at any time in India with little or no warning.

Possible targets include public places in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities, areas frequented by tourists (such as hotels, markets, tourist sites and transport hubs), Indian security and political interests and other locations identified under Safety and Security: Terrorism. Major secular and religious holidays could provide terrorist groups an opportunity or pretext to stage an attack.

A number of terrorist attacks in India have resulted in significant casualties. For example, in 2008, over 170 people were killed and more than 300 were injured in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks targeting places frequented by Westerners in Mumbai. Australians were among the casualties. More recent attacks causing significant casualties have occurred in Varanasi in December 2010, Mumbai in July 2011 and New Delhi in September 2011.

Violent protests and demonstrations occur frequently throughout India. Australians are urged to avoid protests, to monitor international and local media, and to follow the instructions of local authorities.

Parts of India are subject to earthquakes, flooding and cyclones. In the event of a natural disaster it is likely that severe disruptions to services may occur. See under Natural disasters, severe weather and climate for more information.

Due to the risk of harassment and assault, women travelling alone should take particular care in all parts of India. See under Crime for more information.

Note: There is a long list of warnings further to this summary that is well worth reading if you plan to visit India.

There was a high military presence on this road in 1999. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

My experience: I’ve been to India countless times and lived there for a two year period during the worst of the skirmishes with Pakistan in the late 90s and early 00s. I even visited neighbouring states with Pakistan during this time. Problems: zero. But there was a lot of military around and obviously the troops were on high alert. Most of the problems I’ve had in India have come from food/water hygiene, in the form of sexual harassment and petty theft. I’ve probably used up most of my nine lives on various forms of road traffic in India as well. It’s not the safest place to travel but I will be back later this year.

You can read Part 2 of this series here.

Note: This article does not advocate visiting places deemed unsafe on travel advisory lists. Travelers should make sure their insurance covers any destinations they visit and any high risk activities they might engage in.

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