5 Most Horrific Places To Go Backpacking In

Don’t paint yourself a picture of travelling as beaches, hot sun and cocktails please. That’s not backpacking, and in all honesty it’s not reflective of travel as a whole and it’s certainly biased. You’re only seeing the good things. Yes we love the good moments, but on my travels I feel the need to explore the good, the bad and the downright horrific places on this planet. It’s not all good. Nor do we want it to be. Travel should be as reflective as life as a whole. Not everything is good. Pay homage on your journeys. These places scared the living daylights out of me.

A red scary moment in Amna Suraka in Iraq.

A red scary moment in Amna Suraka in Iraq.

If we want to explore the planet, we should embrace the horrors and mistakes from days gone by. Backpacking can be scary. I bring you my 5 scariest places from my journeys. These are horrific places to visit. People died. I did my own thing and headed to these places anyway. I wasn’t always alone on these journeys, but my girlfriend doesn’t like the gory stuff and tends to let me go in alone. I said some prayers along the way and I cherish our life on this planet even more so having seen these places.

“Each cloud that lands on my shoulder sure scares the hell out of me”

scary backpacking

Chilling places from my journeys. The Killing tree in Cambodia.

1. Amna Suraka/Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors, Sulamaniyeh, IRAQ
Currently this place has to rank as the most horrific place I have ever been as the war rages on in Iraq even today. Sure Saddam Hussein may have been caught, imprisoned and kicked the bucket long ago but his ruthless legacy can never be forgotten. Nor should it be. It really happened. Saddam Hussein waged war on his own people. He waged war on foreign lands too, Kuwait and Iran. He was an evil tyrant and everybody knows it. To see the impact of his terror at Amna Suraka was a journey I wanted to make.

sulaymaniyeh iraq amna suraka

Scary travel times – my visit to Amna Suraka/Red Security complex in Sulaymaniyeh, Iraq.

On my visit to Iraq, I had to visit the first ever museum in the country. That museum is Amna Suraka, otherwise known as Red Security. This building and complex was once manned by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and Kurds and Iraqis were detained, tortured and killed in it.

jonny blair iraq backpacking amna suraka

A pondering moment at Amna Suraka in Iraq

There’s an air of horror in the place. There’s a soldier on the door to let you in. There are no other tourists in sight and you have the place to yourself to ponder on. Take time to walk around and have a deep deep think about life. It’s a scary place and I feel for the victims but ultimately this place remains as it is so that people can see what happened here.

Visiting Amna Suraka

2. Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
God forbid we never see the like of this again. The Choeung Ek Genocide Centre is a museum built to commemorate those who were tortured and murdered during Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia/Kampuchea. It’s situated in the place outside Phnom Penh known as the “Killing Fields”.

Scary Backpacking Journeys: Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Cambodia.

Scary Backpacking Journeys: Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Cambodia.

On your walk round this fields you can stop and ponder on how many people were killed here. Ditches in the ground were full of skulls and bones. They reckon 1.4 million people were killed during the Khmer Rouge reign. Totally horrific. There is a killing tree where the evil killers used to smash children against before throwing them in a ditch. Combine your trip to the Killing Fields with a visit to Tuol Sleng (S21) as well.

Visiting the Killing Fields, Cambodia
Visiting Tuol Sleng, Cambodia

3. The Bombed City of Agdam, NAGORNO KARABAKH
Backpackers and tourists entering Nagorno Karabakh are not supposed to go to Agdam as it can be a scary place. Imagine a city of more than 100,000 people which was completely obliterated, bombed and destroyed leaving a population of zero. Some were killed and some fled. But nobody lives there now.

agdam nagorno karabakh

A Nagorno Karabakh tank on my trip to Agdam.

It’s hard to get to on public transport as I found out and in the end, I only toured the edge of the city of Agdam. That was enough for me – I had to hitch hike it back to Stepanakert in fact. Homes that were destroyed, there are signs of war everywhere, tanks roaring past me shouting abuse and just an odd military place. Nagorno Karabakh is a republic with a high military presence. A travel buddy of mine did a proper tour of Agdam by taxi – if you’re interested I can get in touch and share her story. It’s a horrific place though. I had to put myself at ease by visiting it – but on a tight budget and hitch hiking you may not get access to the old city centre.

agdam backpacker

The destroyed city of Adgam, Nagorno Karabakh.

4. The Genocide Museum, Yerevan, ARMENIA
Spare a thought for little Armenia. It should have been a world superpower. The land they owned, the population they had. Armenia is not small fish that’s for sure. Horrifically though the Turkish tortured, maimed and murdered over one million Armenian in the early part of the 20th century. This fact is often brushed aside and even as a long term traveller, I didn’t quite realise the terrifying nature of this ordeal.

armenia tragedy genocide museum

The tragedy of the Armenians – clear to see at the Genocide Museum in Armenia.

Until I visited the Genocide Museum in Yerevan of course. The horror is clear for all to see. Next to the museum are trees donated by other members of the UN and a flame that never goes out. Really shocking and horrific tale.

yerevan genocide

At the Genocide Museum in Yerevan, Armenia.

5. The Rising Sun Bar, Greysteel, NORTHERN IRELAND
In October 1993, on Halloween night, masked UFF gunmen burst into this bar in County Londonderry dressed in boiler suits shouting “Trick or Treat”. It was no trick and it was certainly no treat. They opened fire on innocent locals celebrating Halloween.

greysteel bar rising sun

The Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel, Northern Ireland.

My friend Chris Ragg once worked just down the road, in Eglinton and I drove past the pub many times. On one occasion I plucked up the courage to park outside and was going to go inside for some food and drink. Something scared me and told me not to. I’ve been haunted by the UFF Greysteel massacre for years now. Just because I grew up in Northern Ireland with all this going on around me.

An Ulster Freedom Fighters Mural in my home country - Northern Ireland.

An Ulster Freedom Fighters Mural in my home country – Northern Ireland.

As I continue to travel around the world I will be aiming to visit a few more grotesque and horrific places as it’s part of the lifestyle in my opinion. Dachau and Auschwitz are the obvious European places I haven’t made it to yet, Rwanda and Congo will be equally scary. This year I’ll be in Central America. No doubt there are some tributes and museums to the horrifying events in Nicaragua and Honduras down the years.

Some videos:

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29 thoughts on “5 Most Horrific Places To Go Backpacking In

  • Those places all look as interesting as they are scary. Personally I would like to experience a trip to all of those places.

  • Too right Suki – they are all top spots to visit on your journeys. Anyone that spends their travel life drinking cocktails on beaches, ignoring the sadness and pain of war is kidding themselves. We need to see and experience these places as well as paying our respects so that these types of atrocities never see the light of day again. I’d recommend all 5, as well as the others that didn’t make my list. Safe travels. Jonny

  • I definitely agree that travel shouldn’t always be sunshine and roses. Sure, the beach is lovely, but if you travel to find out more about what the world is really like, you can’t ignore the hasher stuff.

    I remember visiting some of the First World War battlefields a few years ago, and being shocked that there’s still ground that’s unsafe to walk on because of unexploded shells, almost a century later. That and the number of graveyards along the sides of the roads, everywhere you went. It’s almost impossible to comprehend.

    A very hard-hitting post, so thanks for posting.
    Katie recently posted…Postcards from CastletownMy Profile

  • This is certainly dark and scarey stuff. You are correct about Armenia, it was horrifying. The tensions still lie under the surface and the Armenians continue to seek a formal Turkish acceptance and apology.

    I’ve been to Auschwitz and that is as far as it goes for horrifying places from history, unless Anne Frank’s house counts too?

    As always Jonny this is what makes your travel so unique and interesting. You go where others don’t and tell it as it is.
    The Guy recently posted…5 Places I’d Like To Return ToMy Profile

  • Very interesting post, Jonny! The Killing Fields and and Genocide Museum in Yerevan were truly horrific but real eye-openers too. I’d personally add to the list the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with pictures of melting people drawn by children who survived the A-bomb explosion and the Auschwitz Museum located very near my hometown and the first that kind of “sight” I have seen in my life.
    Hitch-Hikers Handbook recently posted…All you need to know about renting a scooter in South East Asia: How I crashed one and what the consequences wereMy Profile

  • Thanks for the comment The Guy – I have also been to Anne Franks House but I feel I wouldn’t include it in a list like this – it’s a different story and a more positive story to me I think. These are more places of “mass death in the same spot”, oddly I’ve been to Poland twice before and never Auschwitz but I hope to get there sometime.

    The Armenia story is truly chilling. I spent about 2 hours in the Genocide Museum and almost everything I read was new information.

    I have my own horror stories from Venezuela but didn’t include it. A few other spooky places missed out – Port Arthur in Tasmania is another one, as is the Hector Pieterson shooting episode in South Africa.

    Safe travels,

    Jonny

  • Hi Hitch Hikers Handbook, Thanks for the comment – of course there are a load of other places that could go on this list – I’ve only included places I’ve been as you’ll have guessed. Those places sound worth a trip – I haven’t made the Hiroshima Memorial or Auschwitz yet. They sound disturbing but having seen the places in Cambodia, Amna Suraka and Agdam I could stomach it. Might need a large whiskey after and pray that we never see the like of that again. Safe travels. Jonny

  • Thanks for the comment Katie – I appreciate it, I love diversity on my travels and having grown up in a conflict zone (Northern Ireland) there’s always a part of me that needs to visit these places and pay my respects no matter how gruesome or horrific they may be. Safe travels. Jonny

  • Great article Jonny, as others have stated I would find these places “interesting”, but not in the usual way I would find a historical sight or museum interesting – I believe it’s important to remember the horrific things that have happened throughout history – If we just remember the good times, we would never learn or develop as a species.

    I’ve been to various battlefield sites and memorials in France and Belgium – The sheer scale of the world wars always shocks me, so many lives lost.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences once again!

  • Thanks for the comment Paul – I agree – there’s more to travel than beaches and cocktails and I for one, need to visit battlefields, war zones and horrific places on my journeys. It helps us understand the history too. Safe travels. Jonny

  • This is such an interesting post. I have really ‘enjoyed’ visiting places like the District 6 museum in Cape Town and the House of Terror in Budapest. It’s great a broad understanding of the history of the places you visit. I would love to visit Iraq some day. Safe travels. Jude, one-small-corner.com, Northern Ireland.

  • Hi Jude,
    Thanks so much for your reply and if my readers don’t mind my bias, it’s even better to hear from someone also from Northern Ireland!! You have a travel blog too?? If you want to email me and get it included in the Top 10 Northern Irish Travel Blogs list for next year? I’ve been running the list 2 years in a row before. Safe travels. Jonny

  • Re-reading this article 5 months later and now knowing how horrific the ISIS situation has been in Iraq (and Syria) this Summer only adds more to the perspective of your visit to Saddam’s House of Horrors. Especially when some of the top guys in ISIS once served under Hussein when he was still in power. I hope your friends in Iraqi Kurdistan are safe!

  • You’re definitely right there Ray. It’s a real shame and not the safest place to go anymore sadly. I hope the people of Kurdistan and Iraq find their freedom as it’s a fantastic place they live in – wonderful landscapes there. Safe travels. Jonny

  • Hi Johnny!!! Regarding your comment about Agdam (in NKR), recently I ventured into the city by foot, hitchhiking on the main road that links Askeran and Martaker is a piece of cake (though nobody should try to be drop just at the entrance of the road that leads to Agdam to not arise any suspicion). Once on the M12 the walk is gentle and safe, lot of civilians coming and going, in about an hour I made to the mosque and climbed the minaret, once up the militars (there is a little cuartel) gazed me and ask me show my phone, name etc but all and all they were friendly and respecful.
    In abstract the way to Agdam is totally posible in a low budget (no taxi, no bus, guide etc) at least for the moment.
    Thanks for sharing your stories, and particularly this one as I got to know about Agdam thanks to your blog..

  • Hi Julianito, thanks so much for your comment. Yes, at the time the place was full of army and heavily manned. It’s amazing you got into the former real city centre. My biggest regret was not seeing the football stadium, I noticed later that the team, FC Karabakh now play in the Azerbaijan League. A really odd place to visit. Safe travels. Jonny

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