The Antarctica One Is Really Cool
We asked readers of BudgetTravel.com to show off a little and send us photos of their exotic passport stamps. Here's a slide show of our favorites, plus the stories behind them.
The stamp: Laos
The backstory: In 1999, Cheryl Hannah of Aspen, Colo., was part of a group visiting northern Thailand.
The first-person account: One day our tour guide suggested we cross the Mekong River and spend the day in Laos. He found a local ferry (i.e. a fishing boat with a bamboo roof for shade) to take our group of 16 across. As a child of the 60's, I found just crossing the Mekong River, which I had heard about almost nightly on the news from Vietnam, to be quite an experience. In this area it's a wide, deep, muddy-brown river that the local people still use as a highway for transporting themselves and their goods from Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand downriver.
We were lucky enough to visit on market day, so we all enjoyed wandering past the displays of fruits, vegetables, T-shirts, hardware, plastic buckets, live chickens, dead pigs, and handcrafted goods. We got lunch from one of the market stands: rice, steamed vegetables, and pieces of pork flavored with a unique blend of spices that I've never been able to re-create.
It was hot and dusty, but our guide told us not to drink the water. Since it was the exact shade of the Mekong River (just slightly less cloudy), none of us argued with him! Instead, liquid refreshment consisted of warm bottled beer or fruit-flavored soda pop. Though very few of the Laotians we met spoke English, they all smiled constantly, and sign language worked for most of the day. Our trip back across the Mekong River into Thailand seemed like time travel from the 18th to the 20th century.
The stamp: Turkey
The backstory: Mark Koepping of Portland, Ore., was traveling last year on vacation from Greece to Turkey when he got this stamp.
The first-person account: I was on the Greek island of Kos when I thought of how cool it would be to go to Turkey. Bodrum is just a short boat ride from Kos but a world away. It's another continent--Asia Minor! Bodrum has the ruins of Maussollos, Mausoleum (aka the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus), one of the six lost wonders of the ancient world (the seventh, the Great Pyramid of Giza, is still standing). Bodrum also has a great nightlife. Many Europeans vacation there. From Bodrum, I took a bus to Ephesus, which is just outside Kusadesi. The Roman ruins of this city are spectacular! I also saw what remains of the Temple of Artemis: not much, just a column. The food has spices like nothing I have experienced before. Five times a day the mosques in this Muslim nation announce the call to prayer.
The stamp: Libya
The backstory: Bob Peterson of Carrollton, Tex., got this stamp while working in Libya in 1980.
The first-person account: I worked in Libya for six months for Occidental Petroleum. During my stay in Libya, the U.S. embassy in Tripoli was abandoned and then was burned down (supporting the hostage taking at the U.S. embassy in Iran). It was a tense period diplomatically.
We flew into Tripoli from London. The only other cities with flights to Tripoli at the time were Rome and Geneva, Switzerland. Most of Europe and the Middle East were not on good terms with Libya. The stamps in my passport were applied meticulously one by one at the immigration station at the Tripoli airport. All Arab citizens went first, followed by Europeans, followed by people from anywhere else in the world, and the last people admitted into the country were Americans.
Libya has an amazing history. I saw some of the most beautiful Roman ruins imaginable. Leptis Magna was the summer resort of Cleopatra and the Roman nobility. Much of the city is still intact and untouched by tourists. I also spent time in Benghazi, where many World War II battles took place. Lots of tanks and artillery left by Rommel (the Desert Fox) remain to this day because the dry climate does not induce much rust. We as Americans don't realize how important those battles were. He who has the oil, wins the war. (Not much different today, is it?)
The stamp: Syria
The backstory: Jean Christiansen of Flower Mound, Tex. traveled to Syria in February 2005.
The first-person account: I met my daughter and some of her friends, who were all living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and working at the U.S. embassy there. I flew into Damascus from Qatar and my passport was stamped at the airport. We spent a few days in Damascus at the souks, the mosques, and the shops on Straight Street--the street where Saul was allegedly converted and changed his name to Paul. We also hired a car and driver and went to Palmyra and Crac des Chevaliers. We drove right near the borders of Lebanon and Iraq, but did not attempt to cross.