Day 647: Nobody Does It Better

09.10.10:

The bus arrived at the Cambodian border at around 3.30am, and we had to wait until the damn thing opened (at 7am) before we could proceed.  Bit of an odd way of doing things, but the idea is that you sleep on the coach so you’re first over the border in the morning.  The problem is that Saigon is only three hours away from the border.  Maybe if Saigon was seven hours away it would be somehow more sensible, or maybe if the border was open 24 hours, but I guess it beats the bus leaving at 3am.

By 8am we were in Cambodia and flying along on the way to the capital, Phnom Penh. The annoying couple nattered annoyingly for the next few hours, and I was tremendously concerned that my iPod might run out of batteries before they did.

Cambodia will for a long time be stained with the memory of what happened when pint-sized tin-pot dictator/serial killer Pol Pot and his bunch of thicko thugs they called the Khmer Rouge took over the country in 1975.  In the space of just a few years, they had decimated the population, destroyed the economy and enforced starvation on untold numbers of men, women and children.

All in the name of, not progress…, but ANTI-progress.  Yup.  Pol Pot, being a bit of a Luddite, wanted to take Cambodia back to some mythical time in the past when everyone was a happy subsistence farmer.  So anyone who wore glasses or spoke a foreign language was bludgeoned to death with the butt of a rifle.

Now I’ve met one or two people on this trip who share Pol Pot’s romanticised ideal of subsistence farming.  Apparently, it’s what we should all do.  Live in harmony with nature!  Dig for victory!  Save the planet!

I hate to say that these people stupid and deluded: but they’re stupid and deluded.  Subsistence farming is the most wretched way of living in the modern age, because (whisper it loudly) sometimes crops FAIL.

And if the crop fails, what have you got, farm-boy?  A whole heap of nuthin’.  And what can you buy or trade with nuthin’?  Nuthin’.  Now it might be alright if you’re part of a loving, giving community and they give you some free food to keep you going for a year, but what if their crops have failed too?  What if the rains don’t come for an entire region?  You think Dharma is going to do a supply drop on Hurley’s head?

And, excuse me, but what if you don’t want to be a farmer?  I certainly don’t, and neither (obviously) does anyone who chooses to live in a city, which is now most of us humans.  I can’t even keep a pot plant alive for more than a few weeks.

China in the 50s, Biafra in the 60s, Cambodia in the 70s, Ethiopia in the 80s.  Subsistence farming is a great idea.  If you’re a pint-sized sadist who likes to watch children with skeletal legs and swollen bellies collapse face down in the dust.  But why are the simple farmers in Africa always so damn happy, eh?  What’s with those big African smiles?  I just think they are damn happy just to be alive, since there’s a good chance that their parents and many of their brothers and sisters are not.

But I digress.  Cambodia is getting back on it’s feet and although Pol Pot escaped justice by inconveniently dying in the late 90s, some of his cronies are now languishing in jail for their crimes against humanity.  With a influx of tourism and the Chinese keen to develop the area and build new roads, the future could be exceedingly bright for little ol’ Cambodia – as soon as they tackle the child prostitution and endemic corruption.  But that aside, I love Cambodia: the people are warm and inquisitive and the food is a cracking fusion of Chinese and SE Asian dishes.  It’s cheap and cheerful and I could happy spend weeks rampaging around the magnificent Angkor Temples: one of my existing seven wonders of the world.

Before too long we were herded off the bus and stood at the side of the road in a little market cowering under plastic sheeting from the torrents of rain that was pouring from the sky.  Groovily enough, as I was about to buy a can of Coke that was floating in the icy water of a coolbox, a British guy offered to buy it for me.  When I asked why I was the recipient of this remarkable act of charity, the guy, James, told me that he had been watching my TV show in Phnom Penh where he worked as a teacher.

Thanking James and making a mental note that if this level of recognition continues I’m going to have to stop getting so delightfully drunk every time I’m stuck somewhere for the night, I climbed aboard a connecting bus: this one would be heading to Siem Reap, Cambodia’s second city and home to the remarkable Angkor Temple Complex.  The last time I travelled this way, the road was in such a state that it was (perversely) much quicker to take a boat along Tonté Sap River.  Not now though: the road had been sorted out and the journey time between the two cities had been cut in half.

So at 3pm we pulled into the bus station to the south of Siem Reap (meaning “Thailand Defeated” – a reference to an ancient battle on this site) and I was picked up by a kid on a motorbike tuk-tuk who worked for the tour agency I had bought my ticket off.  He gave me some unhappy news: that the connecting bus to Bangkok wouldn’t be leaving until midnight.

What what?  That’s madness… the border is just a few hours away!  It would mean another night sleeping on a bus and I wouldn’t get into Bangkok until 11am the next day.

This was an unacceptable turn of events.  He told me to get some food and he’d see if he could get me on an earlier bus.  So I found a restaurant with wi-fi and set about stuffing my face with tasty seafood fried rice while hurriedly stuffing some blogs up on the website.  After 20 minutes the kid came back – the news was not good.  The last bus to the border left at 3pm.

The stupidity of the situation was quite gobsmacking – why didn’t they just delay the 3pm bus for half an hour and make it connect with the bus from Phnom Penh?  Weird.  Anyway: there’s always a plan B, and despite the kid’s protestations that I’d never make it to the border in time, I secured a shared taxi ride to the frontier.

I made it over the border with the minimum of fuss and found that, contrary to what I’d been told, the border was going to be open for another couple of hours at least.  So I got stamped out of Cambodia (a little miffed about the lack of a transit visa option – $25 for a full tourist visa for just a day was a little OTT) and marched into country 175 – Thailand.

Ah, to be back in Thailand: backpacker HQ.  As far as I’m concerned, if you haven’t been to Thailand you’re not a real backpacker and if you don’t like Thailand you’re not a real backpacker either.  That’s my prejudice and I’m sticking to it.  I love the place – the original Land of Smiles™, cheap accommodation, white sand beaches and go-go girls (if they do actually turn out to be girls).

Sadly, the days of the three month entry stamp are now over and I only got two weeks.  But I’m buzzing through on this trip anyway, so it doesn’t make too much of a difference.  I found a few buses heading to Bangkok, but none of them were going to get in before 11pm.

I had the crazy notion that if I got to Bangkok’s Northern Bus Station quick enough that there would be a late bus heading north to Chiang Mai, or, even better, Chiang Rai – from where I could spring my surprise attack on Laos and Burma.

While I was still negotiating with the bus guys at the side of the road, a coach was departing.

“Bangkok?” I shouted.

The middle aged lady hanging out of the doorway nodded her head frantically.

“Yes, yes – come aboard.”

So I did.  It would have been easier if the bus wasn’t still moving, but this driver was gung-ho for getting to Bangkok.  He sped along the road, gunned it around corners and possibly ran a few red lights.  Must have been late for his dinner.

Which was good for me: it meant that by 9.30pm I was in Bangkok.  However, a lady that spoke English informed me that the last bus to the north left at 8pm and that I’d have to spend the night in Bangkok.

This was not what I wanted to hear and after getting off the bus in West Bangkok I thought about it for a bit: if someone asked me when the last bus or train ran from Liverpool to London I’d have a vague idea, but I wouldn’t know for definite.  There have been more than a few times on this Odyssey in which I’ve been told one thing by the locals only to find the reality is something very different.

Sod it – I’ll take a taxi to the northern bus station.  Even if the last bus up north has gone, I can at least find out what time the first one goes in the morning.

I arrived at the bus station at 9.55pm.

“Where you go?” asked the guy hanging around at the front of the ticket desks.

“Chiang Rai.”

The guy pointed at a nearby desk.

“Ten o’clock. Last bus. Hurry.”

I couldn’t believe my luck.  I bought the ticket and legged it over to the bus platform, grabbing a bag of crisps and a Coke on the way – I had had nothing to eat since Siem Reap.  The bus was pulling out and again I jumped on board while it was moving.

“Chiang Rai?”

“Chiang Rai. Ticket?”

I handed over my ticket, monopolised the five back seats and got my head down for the night.  With a mixture of luck, quick thinking and bull-headed determination I had saved myself an entire day of travel: tomorrow I would knock another two countries off the list.  HELL YEAH!

Day 648: The Golden L-Shape

10.10.10:

BANG!

Before my brain could register where I was and what was going on, the front of the bus bounced a good foot off the ground, jolting my fellow passengers awake.  I braced myself for the bounce to hit the back of the bus, which it duly did, throwing me up in the air.

We had hit something.

Statistically, I was possibly due a crash, so I’m glad this was a tremendously minor affair.  The strange thing was that the driver kept driving – and driving fast.  Maybe it was a hit and run.  But passenger discontent forced the driver to pull over and a group of us shuffled off the bus to inspect the damage.

The panel near the left headlight was a bit smashed up, but aside from that, there was no damage worth writing home about.

“What did we hit?” I asked.

Nobody seemed to want to answer me.  It could have been an animal, but I would have expected more blood and guts.  Maybe it was a massive pothole which appeared without warning, but then why the damage to the front of the bus?  It was all a little odd.  One thing was for sure: I was now wide awake.  I looked at the time.  It was 4.30am.

By 9am we were pulling into Chiang Rai bus station, a good few kilometres south of town.  I jumped on the back of a moto-taxi and had him take me to the city centre.  I legged it into the first tour place I could find and asked about the Golden Triangle Tour.

I had done this exact same tour several years ago and it’s possibly what sparked my interest in border hopping.  It took you to the Lao island of Don Sao in the Mekong River where you could mooch around for an hour in the country of Laos without the necessity of buying a visa.  It then took you to the Burmese border and after you dropped your passport off at the gates, you were allowed to grab a swift half in Myanmar before returning to Thailand no questions asked.

Kinda what I thought they would let me do in Libya and Algeria, only without the beer.

I knew these tour left early, that’s why I ran, but it was too late: the tour left at 9am and it was now 9.20am.  Not that that really mattered because there wasn’t a tour today anyway.

Oh well, in the spirit of independent travel I’d just have to do it myself.  I threw my backpack and my Odyssey bag (containing my laptop and my latest camcorder tapes) into the left luggage area (it wasn’t even a room – it was just an open-air counter) and jumped on the departing local bus to Chiang Saen.  I then spent the rest of the day fretting about all the stuff I’d lose if my Odyssey bag wasn’t there when I got back.

The Golden Triangle takes its name from the bit of the Mekong River where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet.  The ‘Golden’ bit probably derives from the same place as the ‘Golden’ in The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown’ – that rather useful stuff that seeps out of a scarred poppy head – opium, heroin, morphine: whatever the hipsters are calling it these days.  Back in the day (who am I kidding?) this place was famed for poppy production and what would become the staple crop of the British Empire in the East Asian area: Opium.  Yup, that stuff what’s very naughty and illegal even for grown-ups.  That stuff we fought not one, but two wars against China for the crime of making it illegal in China.  That stuff which (together with cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy) funds 99% of all the world’s crime.

Yup.  That stuff.

But I wasn’t here to chase the dragon, I was here to chase my dream of stepping foot in every country in the world without flying.  By midday I was in Chiang Saen bartering my way over the river and back.  I thought the price was a bit steep until I realised that I would be in the riverboat on my own: so there I was, chauffeur driven over the Mekong into Country 176: Laos.

Laos isn’t as well known as Cambodia or Vietnam, I guess it needed a war or a massacre to put it on the map.  The sad thing is that Laos had a war and a massacre, only it was kept secret for many years by the Americans who had merrily carpet bombed the place for the best part of the Vietnam war.  So they endured all the needless slaughter, but didn’t get the publicity or the Oscar winning movies.  A bit like the Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 90s.

A hangover from the Vietnam War era is the vast number of landmines and unexploded ordinance left behind to this day.  Woe betide any hapless backpacker who goes wandering off the beaten track.  Or small child for that matter.  I am quite startled that the American government hasn’t cleared them up yet.  Must have better things to do.  Like start daffy unwinnable wars in the Middle East.

Stepping foot in Don Sao brought back great memories of doing this same trip eight years ago, only that time I continued on to Laos and spent an absolutely awesome week there trundling down the Mekong and hanging out in the remarkably laid-back capital, Vientiane.  Not this time though, but I was here now and saw no reason to rush.  I ambled around the village: overflowing with tourist trinkets and tat, and managed to find a little spot for some lunch – spicy pork noodle soup – delicious!

One of the things that all the shops sell is snake whisky, or should I say snake and scorpion whisky – no, it’s not a brand name, it’s a local spirit with the (hopefully) dead body of a snake plopped inside, and in the snake’s mouth, a scorpion.

Dare me to try a tipple?

Oh, go on then…

*Gulg*

Urk.  Tasted like watered down whisky with some mud from Glastonbury thrown in for good measure.

“What’s in that one?”

“Oh – that’s tiger penis.”

“What?”

“Tiger penis.”

“That’s what I thought you said.  Oh dear.  You put the willy of one of the most endangered species on earth into an alcoholic drink?”

“Yes.  Wanna try?”

“Alright.”

Hmm… another fine concoction of low quality whisky and mud.  Don’t look at me like that – from the looks of things, the thing in question had been in that jar for a long long time.  They’ve probably been using the same one since 1973.  It was supposed to make me more ‘virile’ (whatever that means) but as (at this rate) I’m not going to see Mandy for another six months, any magical properties the mystic tiger penis possessed was somewhat wasted on your humble narrator.

But if I were you, I’d stick with the Viagra, nature boy 😉

After food and whisky I headed back to the Thai side of the river and from there attempted to jump on a – let’s hope I spell this right – sawngthaew – a small van with two wooden benches in the back facing each other.  Annoyingly, the last sawngthaew to the Burmese border left fifteen minutes before I got there.  Pondering whether there is another profession in which you knock off at two in the afternoon (teaching…?!) I was left with the only option of getting the local bus over halfway back to where I started from and heading to the border from there: this was turning into more of a Golden L-Shape.

I didn’t get to the border until 4pm, and by this time they were gearing up for shutting the bloomin’ thing at five, so I had to get my skatey skates on.  This border is quite a cute one and they do something I SO SO WISH they did elsewhere: you wanna see a bit of Burma?  Fine: hand over your passport and a bit of dosh and you’re welcome to stay for up to 14 days, as long as you don’t stray too far from the border.  Oh and we’ll keep your passport in this drawer for safe keeping.  Have a good day y’all!

SO THEN BURMA: Ah yes I hear you cry from the bottom of your wishy-washy liberal hearts, I’m not supposed to go there am I?  Well, tough: I’ve got to visit every country and that’s what I’m going to do, and I didn’t hear any objections when I visited the similarly brutal backwards dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, China, Haiti, Congo, Guinea, Comoros, Iran, Mauritania, Libya, Angola etc: you know, all them countries where any form of protest will wind up with you most likely labelled and ex-parrot, pushing up the daisies and joining the choir invisible.

I actively support tourism to all of these places cursed with gruesome and ridiculous governments for two simple reasons: 1. carefully spent money helps local businesses and people and 2. your very presence shows the people there that there is another way… and possibly light at the end of the tunnel.

Incidentally, does anyone know the capital of Burma…? If you said Rangoon you’re WRONG… it’s called Yangon now.  But if you’re a smart-alec and you said Yangon you’re still just as WRONG.  The potty junta that runs Burma moved the capital to a Countdown Conundrum in the middle of nowhere called ‘Naypyidaw’ a few years ago.  True!  Naypyidaw!  Look it up!

Anyway, I’m no moral relativist: I think what is shitty and horrible for one person on this one planet would be shitty and horrible for most other people on this planet too.  AND YES I THINK WE HAVE ‘IT’ RIGHT IN THE WEST AND PLACES WHERE LIFE IS NASTY, BRUTISH AND SHORT HAVE GOT ‘IT’ VERY WRONG.  End of.  Others disagree, but then they probably see their fellow humans as a fascinating but separate sub-species whom the gods have deemed it necessary to suffer their way through life in order to serve the greater good of ‘culture’ (ah – that old and wanky lie).  I say f— that, ‘culture’ is a transient amoral happenstance that should never EVER trump universal human dignity, freedoms or rights.  The next time somebody rabbits on at you about respecting other people’s beliefs or cultures (usually whilst defending some daft barbaric practice or stone-age justice system), after you finish laughing you’d do well to point out the strongly held beliefs of the Nazi party in the 1930s where not ones that any decent human being would ‘respect’.

In the end, beliefs are not, and should never be held up as, sacrosanct.  That’s what I believe and if you don’t like it or respect it, GOOD FOR YOU!! Now we’re getting somewhere!

So I bought a Myanmar beer and damn well enjoyed it, moreso since I had now knocked 177 countries off my list of 200… with just 23 more to go, maybe I too was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

I was in Burma for all of half an hour, and by now I was experiencing a tremendous sense of deja-vu.  Possibly because I had done exactly the same trip and drank a Myanmar in exactly the same café (get to the roundabout and turn right) eight years ago.  It feels nice to be on familiar terrain again: with the exception of The Philippines and East Timor, I have been to every country in South East Asia before.

So then it was a race back to Chiang Rai in Thailand to get there before the last overnight bus left for Bangkok at 7pm.  I flew on the back of a motorbike-taxi (losing my hat on the way – had to stop and get it back) to the bus station for the 5pm bus, only to find it had just left – the next one would be at 6pm.  “Unless you want to run for the 5pm one” said the helpful chubby lady, pointing at the 5pm bus that was just leaving the station gates.

That’ll do.

On the rickety old local bus I managed to blunder into Chiang Rai town at 6.50pm, which didn’t give me much time to head over to the main bus station (a few miles away): what gave me even less time was the fact that, much as I worried all day, my bags were not in the cloak ‘room’ when I returned.  But I didn’t have to worry so much as I figured the reason for this was that the cloakroom was closed.  I would have to come back tomorrow.

Quite why you would close the cloakroom before 7pm when the bus station was still being used I’ll never know, but after a frantic few minutes, not helped by the hyena-like laughter of some annoying teenager who thought this the funniest thing he’d ever seen or heard of (don’t judge too harshly, Graham – Mr. Bean is unfathomly popular around these parts too), I was shepherded by a helpful guy with the most f—ed up looking skin condition I have ever seen into the main ticket area (just closing) and the guy behind one of the desks handed my bags over amidst a huge sigh of relief from this hapless adventurer.

With that I jumped in a nearby tuk-tuk, waved money about and asked the driver to get me to the main bus station pronto-forthwith-quickquick-and-don’t-spare-the-horses.  He told me I had got in the wrong tuk-tuk – there was some kind of queuing system (which looked nothing like a queue).  Gathering my bags I darted over to another tuk-tuk and hoped that this guy would actually take me somewhere, which he did (for a price).

Arriving at the main bus station at 7.05pm, I prayed I wasn’t too late for the last bus to Bangkok and low-and-behold I wasn’t: There was one at 7.10 and another at 7.30.

Yay!

But they were both full.

Boooooooooo!

This was doubly rubbish and annoying as my bus last night in the reverse direction was all but empty.  Why I didn’t buy my return ticket this morning I’ll never know.

But if there is one thing that The Odyssey is all about, it’s making the best of a bad situation, so I elected to take a another  bus a fair chunk of the distance towards Bangkok: to Chiang Mai (not Rai), a good few hundred kilometres south of here.

It was just before midnight that my bus pulled into the magnificently SQUARE city of Chiang Mai and as there were no buses to continue my stupendously quick jaunt around Indochina, I pulled into the local backpackers for the night.  A cosy affair filled to the brim with crusties and globetrotters: my kinda place.  Met a bloke from Old Swan in Liverpool who used to walk past my house every day on his way to Cardinal Heenan high school on Honey’s Green Lane and managed to upset, offend or amuse my fellow wayfarers until the wee small hours.

It was a good good day.

Days 649-650: To The Ends Of The Earth

11.10.10-12.10.10:

After two hours kip (I actually didn’t bother using my bunk – the communal area of the backpackers did just as well), by 7.30am I was shovelling breakfast into my fat ginger gob and by 9 o’clock I was on the bus to Bangkok.  The wheels on the bus went round and round, round and round, round and round as I tore south through the country like some kind of angry Scotsman.  Only without the girly skirt.

Arriving at Bangkok in the evening, I once again skirted the manic city I know and love and snapped up a ticket on the last bus to Singapore – country 179 – which if you’d care to glance at a map of the area (or, even better, work from memory) is on the other end of country 178 (Malaysia) and just a short ferry ride away from country 180 (Indonesia).

Buying a thru-ticket from one country into another via a third country is a pleasure I haven’t experienced since I was in Europe, and the concept of ticking off not just Malaysia, but Singapore AND Indonesia before breakfast on Wednesday was a treat like no other – especially given it would knock my countries-to-go total down to a seemingly manageable TWENTY.

TWENTY!!!

I might – whisper it softly – I MIGHT FINISH THIS INFERNAL CHALLENGE YET!!!

I awoke on the Tuesday morning after a fairly pleasant night’s kip to find that we were still in Thailand.  My, it’s a tall and thin country, and I was truly going from top to bottom.  Around lunchtime the coach breached the frontier into Malaysia, me holding up proceedings by spending the last of my Thai Baht on some KFC at the border.

Malaysia passed in a daze: we sped through the Cameron Highlands without even stopping for a cup of tea and a scone; we even bypassed the capital, the wonderfully named Kuala Lumpur, and by the evening we were on course to hit Singapore before sunrise the next day.

Don’t feel jibbed that I didn’t take in more of Malaysia, I’ll be back in a few days… well, I’ll be back in Malaysian Borneo… countries 181 and 182 lay that way.

THE ODYSSEY WORLD VISA GUIDE

One of the things that holds back many people from travelling is the prospect of wasting time and effort attempting to get into countries that would quite prefer it if you didn’t bother.  However, it is a false presumption.  In more than 150 countries worldwide you can turn up without shelling out $$$ for an invitation first.

So here’s a comprehensive list of the visa requirements for British Passport Holders for every country in the world, although it may come in useful for other nationalities as well.

I’ve split the world into four main categories: No Visa Required, Visa On Arrival, Prior Visa Required and Letter of Invitation (LOI) Required.

No Visa Required: You beauties!! Note the (very) high prevalence of prosperous, confident and democratic countries in this list.

Visa on Arrival: Not quite as good as no visa at all, but much, much less hassle than:

Prior Visa/LOI required: Crikey. What a bitch. Don’t turn up without a visa to any of the countries on this (mercifully short) list of grubby and inhospitable nations.  They will fly you straight back home again at your expense because you didn’t ask their f—ing permission first.  So go queue outside their ostentatious embassies in the pouring rain for hours, pay them a bundle of fivers and then wait and wait and wait for the privilege of visiting their stupid godforsaken country.

I find the whole process quite demeaning – it’s like having to write to someone to ask if you can attend their wedding – take the hint man, take the hint – these countries are obviously not much interested in you, or tourism in general.

Many of these countries hilariously require an onward ticket, some want you to write a begging letter to come in, others want a letter off your employer or even copies of your bank statements… remember this is not to LIVE THERE, this is just to VISIT FOR A FEW DAYS.

The worst of the worst require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) – I’ve cast these down into the very lowest rungs of hell.  Not only do you have to pay extortionate amounts of money to Ambassador Ratbag for the stamp, you also have to pay someone in the country to ‘vouch’ for you.

I would actually like a list of all of the illegal refugees and economic migrants pouring out of our rich democratic nations and claiming asylum in… Nigeria? Papua New Guinea? TURKMENISTAN?? Seriously? WHAT?

I hold Australia in particular contempt for this policy – it is the ONLY rich westernised power on an otherwise quite hellish list of paranoid basketcases.

Oh, and by the way, Aussie tourists are granted a SIX MONTH stay in the UK, upon arrival, for free.  So, Australia, when you ask me in your rasping nasal tones where the bloody hell am I – I guess I’m in a country that welcomes me with open arms rather than a punch in the face and a bill of sale.

But look on the bright side, there are 150 (other, better) countries which don’t make you beg for permission to pop in for a visit…

Here’s your at-a-glance VISA MAP OF THE WORLD:

World Visa Requirement Map
World Visa Requirement Map For British Passport Holders

NO VISA REQUIRED (WOO!)

AMERICAS
Antigua & Barbuda
Argentina
Bahamas
Barbados
Belize
Bolivia
Brazil
Canada
Chile
Colombia
Costa Rica
Dominica
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
El Salvador
Grenada
Guatemala
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras
Mexico
Nicaragua
Panama
Paraguay
Peru
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
Uruguay
USA (but you do need a prior visa if you arrive on private boat or plane)
Venezuela

EUROPE
Albania
Andorra
Austria
Belgium
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy
Kosovo
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Moldova
Monaco
Montenegro
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
San Marino
Serbia
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
UK
Ukraine
Vatican City

AFRICA
Botswana
Burkina Faso
Lesotho
Malawi
Mali
Mauritius
Namibia
Rwanda
Senegal
Seychelles
South Africa
Swaziland
The Gambia
Tunisia
Morocco

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Bahrain
Iraq (Kurdistan only, entered from Turkey)
Israel
Japan
Jordan (if you enter on the ferry from Egypt)
Kuwait
Oman
Palestine
Qatar
South Korea
Taiwan
The Maldives
UAE
Yemen

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Brunei
Fiji
Kiribati
Malaysia
Marshall Islands
Micronesia
New Zealand
Palau
Samoa
Singapore
Solomon Islands
Thailand
The Philippines
Tonga
Tuvalu
Vanuatu

VISA ON ARRIVAL

AMERICAS
Cuba (well, I got a visa on arrival, but I came on a yacht…)

EUROPE
Armenia
Turkey

AFRICA
Benin
Burundi
Cape Verde
Comoros
Egypt
Kenya
Mauritania
Mozambique
Sierra Leone
Tanzania
Togo
Uganda
Zambia
Zimbabwe

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Jordan
Lebanon
Nepal
Sri Lanka
Syria

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Burma (but only valid for border regions)
Cambodia
East Timor (though no longer available on land border with Indonesia)
Indonesia (though not available on land borders with East Timor and PNG)
Laos

That’s over 150 countries where you can get in without asking prior permission.  Now here’s the naughty list:

PRIOR VISA REQUIRED

AMERICAS
Suriname (letting the side down there somewhat)
Cuba (but I doubt they’d turn you back)

EUROPE
Belarus (no surprise there – they still have the KGB)

AFRICA
Cameroon
Central African Republic
Chad
Congo
Cote D’Ivoire
Democratic Republic of Congo
Djibouti
Eritrea (best obtained in Jeddah – next day delivery)
Ethiopia (best obtained in Nairobi – same day delivery)
Gabon
Ghana
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Liberia
Madagascar (but it’s free, so can’t complain)
Niger
Sao Tome & Principe
Sudan (best obtained in Cairo – same day delivery)

ASIA
Afghanistan
Bangladesh
Bhutan
Burma (for travel into interior)
China
India (AND now requires you to leave for 60 days between visits!)
Iraq (for travel beyond Kurdistan)
Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia
Tajikistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Australia*
Papua New Guinea
Vietnam*

*visa obtainable on arrival at airport with prior permission over internet

LETTER OF INVITATION (+ PRIOR VISA) REQUIRED

AMERICAS
N/A

EUROPE
Azerbaijan (no LOI required if visa bought in Georgia)
Russia

AFRICA
Algeria*
Angola*
Equatorial Guinea*
Libya (AND you must pay for a ‘guide’)
Nigeria*
Somalia*

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Iran
Kazakhstan
North Korea
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia*
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Nauru

*To make matters worse, these visas can only be obtained in your country of origin (although it is possible to get a Nigerian visa from Ghana and an Algerian visa from Mali if you’re lucky).

Right.  That’s it.  If there are any mistakes/updates/excuses you’d like to make (this is pretty much all off the top of my head), please comment below.