5 ‘Fake Countries’ to Visit When Backpacking the World

Backpacking in Fake Countries: Donkey Kong Country

Backpacking in Fake Countries: Donkey Kong Country

As travellers we visit a lot of countries, but it’s also nice to get out there and experience some places that are often called “countries” but yet they are not. It’s actually a huge topic for debate amongst travellers as to what is a country and what is not, I mean is Podjistan a country? Well it must be if the Vatican City is, and if Northern Ireland is not a country, then by default England and Israel also aren’t! This might be controversial and it’s my own opinion, but personally I go by the following 6 rules (if an area ticks 3 or more of these 6 then I personally class it as a country, hence why I see Hong Kong, Northern Ireland and Palestine as countries):

– Issues its own banknotes (Lagoan Isles are in!)
– Is recognised by the majority of its residents as being a separate country (like Transnistria)
– Has its own official national flag (like Adammia)
– Has its own visa regulations (like Nagorno Karabakh)
– Has its own international football team (like Hong Kong)
– Has its own political system (like Sark)

However, I’ve been to these five ‘fake countries’ on my travels, these places are in fact not real countries at all:

1. Antarctica

Emblem of the Antarctic Treaty.

Emblem of the Antarctic Treaty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having had an absolutely amazing time in Antarctica in 2010, I have included this in my list of countries visited, and indeed given it an entire menu bar of its own, but as much as I want it to be, Antarctica is in fact not a country. It is a continent and it doesn’t actually have its own currency, government, flag or national football team (4 of the main things that I believe constitutes whether a place is a country or not).

Jonny Blair's passport stamp for Port Lockroy in Antarctica

I got my passport stamped in Antarctica but only for souvenir purposes – no visas are required as it’s not actually a country!

Places to visit in Antarctica – Port Lockroy, Neko Harbour, Deception Island, Elephant Island.
Visas Needed – None, it’s not a country, but you can bring your passport to get a “souvenir stamp”.
Dangers – Icebergs, freezing and rough waters.
Population – Millions of penguins and over 1,000 researchers.
Currencies – British pounds are used in the British Base, US Dollars are used onboard the boat.

2. Bandit Country

Bandit Country

Bandit Country

Bandit Country is essentially two countries, (an Irish area within a British country if you like) as it’s an area down by the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Being a Northern Irishman myself, I have passed through this fake country many times. It’s a fairly dangerous place.

The name was actually coined by the British Government during the height of the ‘troubles’. Bandit Country is the areas of South Armagh and Fermanagh which, during the period known as the troubles, were in all reality ungovernable by the British Government due to it’s proximity to the border with the Republic of Ireland and the general population of the area, most of whom were sympathetic to the provisional IRA. The areas were infamous for sniper attacks, large bombings and cross border smuggling. The British media therefore gave it the name “bandit country”.

Places to visit in Bandit Country – Crossmaglen, the border, guard posts.

Visas Needed – You will need to be legally permitted into the UK in order to visit.

Dangers – Getting shot at by a sniper is a possibility.

Population – under 100,000 mostly Irish Nationalists and Republicans.

Currencies – Officially they use the British pound (Northern Irish notes are very common) but due to its proximity to the actual border, payment in Euros is becoming more common.

3. Donkey Kong Country

Visa for Donkey Kong Country

Visa for Donkey Kong Country

This is probably the most fake country on this list. I first visited Donkey Kong Country (often shortened to DKC for immigration reasons) back in 1994 on the Super Nintendo. I was able to visit it without leaving my living room – a novelty when you travel, believe me.

Although the status of the DKC has been reviewed in recent times, realistically the only people that class it as an actual country are Nintendo. It is unlikely to ever gain independence.

Places to visit in Donkey Kong Country – While the normal levels provide travel thrills and adventure, the bonus levels are a great tip and you can pick up FREE bananas here.

Visas – No visas are required to visit Donkey Kong Country, however you need to own a computer or console in order to gain access to the country. If your friend owns more than one joypad, you can get guest access (almost like a ‘transit visa’). Once you have completed all the levels, you get permanent access to all parts of the country (similar to gaining ‘permanent residency’).
Population – It has been estimated that the majority of the population of Donkey Kong Country is made up of various species of monkeys. This adds to the confusion of the use of the word “Donkey” in it’s title, something the locals remain tight lipped about.
Dangers – Visits to Donkey Kong Country come with a risk. Visitors have been known to die in incidents such as falling off rope bridges and being crushed by barrels. There have even been reported mine cart crashes.
Currencies – Bananas and barrels are used instead of actual money on Donkey Kong Country.

4. The Black Country

The Black Country

The Black Country

This is perhaps the most interesting one of the list as its a self proclaimed “country” within England based on the Industrial Revolution. Coal is black which gives the region its title and this industry was massive in the area in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The area is in the Midlands of England, encompassing cities such as Wolverhampton and Birmingham. In July 2012, “The Black Country” even produced its own flag.

The Black Country

The Black Country

Places to Visit in the Black Country – They have their own museum here: Black Country Living Museum, you can also visit a Coal Mine

Visas – If you are permitted to stay or visit in the UK, no visa is required to visit the Black Country.

Population – There are currently over 1 million people living in the Black Country

Dangers – Mines can be difficult places to visit in terms of breathing, odours and fumes. Be careful. Aside from that, there is ongoing crime in some parts.

Currencies – The British Pound is now the most commonly used currency. Days of trading coal for other services have passed the Black Country by…

5. The Gold Country

The Gold Country

The Gold Country

Following the Gold Rush in California in 1849, the central and north east part of California has been called the Gold Country. Mineral and Gold mines started the revolution in this region and it has boomed ever since.

I love this website for checking out what’s going on in the Gold Country, in fact it saves me having to research the whole shebang:

Gold Country California Official Site

Places to Visit in the Gold Country – White water rafting, gold mine tours and hiking make for a breathtaking experience. There’s an abundance of things to see and do, aside from the entire Gold history aspect of it all.

Visas – Check the Visa situation for the United States of America – the Gold Country uses the exact same regulations.

Population – Sacramento itself has a population of almost 500,000, the Gold Country region would be well over 1 million (probably).

Dangers – Guns.

Currencies – The US Dollar is most commonly used here, failing that, turn up with a lump of gold and you’ll be fine.

OK so that’s my top 5 Fake Countries for now. There are also those places that I have been that some people don’t class as countries:

Northern Ireland
French Guyana
Hong Kong
Nagorno Karabakh
Lagoan Isles
People’s Republic of Podjistan
San Marino
Druze People

But those will be debates for another day. If you’ve had fun in any of these fake countries, leave a comment and let me know about your experiences! Safe Travels! Don’t Stop Living is condemned to a lifestyle of travel!

Videos of me in or near these fake countries:

Me in Antarctica:

Me in the Black Country:

Me in California the state of the Gold Country:

Me near South Armagh on the border train to Dublin:

Someone else playing Donkey Kong Country:

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