the people square

a community serious about adventuring

The Countries That Don’t Count

When traveling, what really constitutes a country not counting?  Is it the little time spent there, the lack of experiences or the not even leaving the airport?

Singapore: We spent only one day in Singapore, but we meant to go there, we saw the sights, and it’s Singapore, how much more time do you need when it’s raining….no, pouring out.  I had a birthday there and the Hostel bought me a birthday chicken sandwich, I’m telling my sister’s grandchildren about that, I’m counting Singapore!  Here are some of the countries we’ve been to but I wouldn’t say we’ve been there.

The long walk from the Syrian border back into Turkey

Syria:  This one actually hurt as we tried to get into Syria but where rejected for not having a visa.  Visas are required, according to Syria’s website, but according to numerous online accounts, and word of mouth accounts they’re easily obtained on arrival at the land border, although bakshish (bribe or tip) may be required to grease the door.  We thought we’d try our luck traveling over-land from Antakya, Turkey.  Oh yeah, did I mention that we tried to switch our passports from our American/UK ones to our Canadian ones?  They didn’t like that when they could not find our Turkey exit stamps, and seeing as they kind of knew where we were coming from…we were screwed.  No backshish was going to sway this amateurish move (totally my idea). The long walk back to the Turkey border in the December cold got us thinking about somewhere warm.  One rip-off taxi ride later we were at Antakya’s beautiful new one room airport headed for Istanbul for the night and Thailand in the morning.  Still dreaming of going to Syria, hope we’re not black-listed!

5am at the Sofia train station in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria:  We passed through Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, en route to Thessaloniki, Greece.  We were stuck inside the train station for several hours, early in the morning, waiting for our next train.  It was Christmas time and the decorative tree was lovely.  Bulgaria is not included on the Euro-rail, so we had to exchange for some Bulgarian money, Lev, to get our ticket onwards.  This transaction left us with extra Bulgarian currency to spend, tough to do it at four in the morning without a single English speaker around proved challenging.  We found a shop that sold several different pastries. We spent every Stotinki (100 of these makes one Lev) we could and headed off to our train.  The first one was pretty good, flakey pastry with a filling similar to cottage cheese.  Those creative Bulgarians!  We had five different pastries, sizes and shapes, and all the same taste and same cheese in the middle.  We had to laugh as we froze in our train compartment on our way out of town.  Saw some interesting sights as the sun came up: broken water main drenching a city park, wagon on fire, two dogs…er….seen enough, thanks Bulgaria.  Saw some sights, tried the food, and doesn’t count!

Visa run boats from Ranong, Thailand to Kawthaung, Burma.

Burma:  Living in Patong Beach, Thailand for over two months meant that we had to get out of Thailand a couple times.  A trip to Malaysia and Singapore took care of one trip out; the other had to be a border run for Myanmar (Burma).  A fairly well organized trip, that the Andaman International School that I was attending set up for us.  Early morning pick up took us several hours to the port town of Ranong .   From there we got on a ferry that took us to a small island that has the Andaman Resort and Casino (no affiliation with my school) and is part of Burma.  We docked, dropped off our passports, got in a bus, went to the resort at the top of the hill where we were served lunch and a beautiful view, all part of the package.  After lunch we bussed back to our freshly stamped books, took some pics of the monkeys at the dock and headed back across the water to Thailand.  Back on land and one line up later we had our new Thai stamps and were headed back to Patong Beach.

Qatar: Doha airport is awesome.  We passed through on our way from our disappointment in Syria on our way to fun and sun in Thailand.  Free Wi-Fi, free internet terminals and some of the best people watching ever.  We had about 6-7 hours to kill so we got to see a lot of people come and go.  The best moment was when we had the constant flow of Indian guys cleaning all around the place, several African ladies sitting across from us, a couple Arab business men next to us and a few Chinese guys across from them.  Everyone checking each other out, only able to communicate with smiles: until we were able to bond due to our combined disgust over the Chinese guys horking loudly and spitting on the ground.  No need for words with the look on all of our faces, especially the guys cleaning!

Slovenia:  An overnight train from Venice, Italy to Zagreb, Croatia had us traveling though Slovenia.  We knew we weren’t going to get much sleep, thanks to all the border stamps, in and out, so we didn’t buck up for the nice bunks.  In Eastern Europe there are still border stops and searches un-like in Western Europe.  Slovenia: stamp in the book, but never saw a blade of grass!

South Korea:  Seoul, Korea has a nice airport that I was able to spend some Korean currency that I had accumulated over the years from my tip jar as a bartender.  The three hour layover on the way to Jakarta after ten months in China may have made it seem nicer than it was.  My friend, and teammate in the Shanghai hockey league, Mike Tarnow, flew the same day as we did but booked late and got stuck with a 13 hour layover.  He along with his co-workers headed straight for the bar district and had a great time during their layover.  Kind of makes me wish we’d booked our tickets later too.  That’s how to make it COUNT!!  Good job Mike!!

***Updates to come from Kiev, Ukraine and Kuwait City, Kuwait***

If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them. You don’t even have to write in English! I will reply to all comments in any language :)

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