Top 5 Travel Myths Debunked

Top 5 Travel Myths Debunked

If one were to believe the new supremo of world democracy, Señor Trump, then “fake news” was invented in 2016 in a covert operation by CNN and Mrs Clinton. In fact, “fake news” has been around for a while. As someone who regularly travels to North Korea I can attest to this. Usually, when I tell people I work in said country, I’m often presented with a quick “fact” they have learned, such as everyone having to get the leaders haircut, or that all the insect noises are piped in. Just, no. In no particular order, I have compiled a list of five of my favorites from around the globe.

  1. “The whole of Iraq is a warzone”

Whilst it may be fairly correct to state that a vast majority of Iraq is currently a shit show, (with swathes of the country either fighting ISIS or involved in sectarian violence) this narrative ignores one the forgotten part of Iraq that is Kurdistan, which although technically is an autonomous part of Iraq has in fact enjoyed defacto independence since the first gulf war in the 90's. Whilst Kurds have been one the most marginalized races on Earth, they are now living in semi-peace in their diverse homeland.

 

  1. “China is Communist and authoritarian”

By the time I had first arrived on Chinese shores almost 11 years ago, I understood that China had “opened up”, but still expected some of the core tenets of socialism to exist; free healthcare, education, etc. But, no! The government is far from generous, however business seems to be booming everywhere – from big banks to international corporations, to competitive roadside merchants down to noodle sellers! China officially call it “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the old joke is that the characteristics are capitalism and corruption. And as for the authoritarian element? It’s not a “Nanny State” by any stretch (which anyone facing large hospital bills can tell you). I felt more oppressed by the state in Canada!

 

  1. “Weed is legal in North Korea”

This one grinds my gears. Particularly when I tell people I work in North Korea and they then ask me if I knew that weed is legal there. This story has its origins in Rason, the special economic zone of the DPRK, and whilst there is some truth to the rumours the actual facts are somewhat more boring. In Rason you can buy hemp tobacco (jokily heralded “poor man’s tobacco”). It contains no TCP, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects. So, whilst they do have hemp tobacco, Trustafarian white folk with dreaklocks should remain wary.

 

  1. “Iran is Islamic Fundamentalist”

Iran is Fundamentalist! When I first went to Iran (having previously visited most of the Middle-East) western propaganda had let me to believe I was about to enter some hellhole where women amongst others were heavily oppressed. What I found couldn't have been more different. Let’s start with the facts; Iran is an Islamic Republic, it's no France on the liberal stakes, BUT women do not wear the burkha (they wear the hijab), they wear makeup, drive cars, and there is even a fairly open black market for booze. Also, for anyone that needs to fact check (Mr. Trump, if you’re reading this) Iranians are Shia, not Sunni (Like OBL). Oh, and fun fact: I even saw two transsexuals there!

 

  1. “Bhutan is one of the happiest countries in the world”

And now for the pièce de résistance, and possibly the most overused fake news myth about any country: “Bhutan is one of the happiest countries on earth - they even measure Gross Domestic Happiness”! This chestnut comes from two fronts; firstly, the king of Bhutan said that he felt the happiness of the country was more important than money (a fair point). Combined with Bhutan’s practice of Hollywood's favorite religion, Buddhism, and the press just ran with it. Now, any article you read on the country calls it “one of the happiest countries on earth”. The truth? The UN rank it at 92 (one below Tajikistan) on their official list, and even when measured in other polls it is not a high scorer. The fact is that whilst policies on making people wear the national dress, a king that talks about Gross Domestic Happiness, and lack of TV makes Buddhist groupies go nuts, for the locals its somewhat different, as they face limited healthcare, poor social mobility and impenetrable global isolation. It’s still a great country to travel to mind...