Globe and Mail (Canada): 'Places That Don't Exist is outstanding television. That's because Simon Reeve, the host/reporter, is endlessly curious and incredibly brave. When we last encountered Reeve he was showing us around "the Stans," countries such as Kazakhstan, that few outsiders visit. It was an excellent series, exceptionally revealing of both the general and specific. Reeve is now one of the great TV figures. A smart and cheerful Englishman, he's a combination of Michael Palin and serious political reporter. Before he started making these odd but fascinating TV programs, he wrote one of the landmark books about al-Qaeda. In this series he visits countries that don't officially exist. Most aren't recognized by other countries or the United Nations and, in many cases you won't find the details on a map.'
Daily Telegraph - 'Exemplary...riveting…eye-opening…superb’
The Times - A ‘consistently informative series…Reeve is an idea guide – brave without being macho, amused without being frivolous and always informative, not least from the sheer fact of his being there with a camera. It is the sort of quality programme you would normally expect to come across only on the BBC World Service’
Travel Weekly - ‘When it comes to adventure tourism, author Simon Reeve is king’
The Mirror – by Jane Simon – “Even if you usually find foreign politics a huge turn-off, there's nothing remotely dry or worthy about Simon Reeve's entertaining tour of breakaway states."
The Daily Telegraph – by Gerard O’Donovan - 'Simon Reeve has an enviable reputation as a journalist (his book The New Jackals is widely acknowledged as the first to warn of the inevitability of an apocalyptic attack by al Qaeda) and an unusually engaging TV style. It takes that lightness of touch to make Holidays in the Danger Zone – a travelogue through troubled, war-torn, largely unknown foreign parts – into a truly involving piece of television. It was there in the last series when he winkled out absurdities as well as the harsh realities of life in former Soviet satellites Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Now he’s taken the idea a step further in Places That Don’t Exist, a fascinating, often amusing trawl through six of the world’s many breakaway states that, despite having governments and economies, get no recognition whatsoever internationally. Last night he braved the very real dangers of utterly dysfunctional (yet UN recognised) Somalia to travel on to the, by contrast, quietly independent state of Somaliland – which despite tranquillity, good government and seeming economic stability, goes entirely unrecognised. From there it was on to the mind-boggling time warp of Transniestria (a drug-smugglers’ paradise that split from Moldova after the Soviet Union’s collapse) and thence to the 56-year-old political time-bomb that is Taiwan. Reeve got to grips with the politics and economics of all these places, but his stories were always told at a human level. Whether buying himself a Somali passport from ‘Mr Big Beard’ or meeting men so poor they’d each sold a kidney, his stories all had terrific resonance. Continues tonight.'
Radio Times - ‘delightful and sharp…first class’
Evening Standard (London) - ‘compelling television, lifted way above a worthy travelogue by Reeve’s obvious, sincere interest in the people and places he encounters’
Sunday Times – Critic’s Choice – “Reeve is an engaging presenter, whose often larky style produces memorable interviews: “What’s your budget, Mr President?” “Whatever we can get.”
Daily Express – by Mike Ward – ***** (Five Stars) – My only complaint about Michael Palin’s travel shows would be there’s rarely a sense that he’s encountering real danger. That’s certainly not true of this new series, featuring the extraordinarily intrepid Simon Reeve, a guy who comes across like a Blue Peter presenter with a death wish. The title means volatile countries that the rest of the world flatly refuses to recognise, starting tonight with Somaliland.
Daily Mail – by Peter Paterson – “Friends and relations of Simon Reeve must fear for his safety as he travels around the world specifically visiting countries that are unrecognised by the United Nations or any other established government.
Some of these breakaway states harbour terrorists, are notorious for smuggling weapons and drugs, specialise in people trafficking, and may be prone to riots and civil wars. They can obviously be highly dangerous places, where Britain maintains no embassy or consulate, so if Simon gets into trouble, there's no one there to help him.
Last night, however, in the second of his Holidays In The Danger Zone: Places That Don't Exist, the only real peril he faced in Moldova, the first of the two countries he visited, was purely social.
It lay in the polite requirement to polish off two large bottles of the local brandy at a single sitting with Moldova's clearly inebriated president while together they toasted the nation's independence day.
In Moldova's neighbour, the tongue-twisting Transdniestria, Reeve was less lucky, finding himself arrested for trying to explore a secret Russian army base (in one of those quirks of international politics, Russia doesn't officially recognise Transdniestria, but stations troops there). He was quickly released, and his crew and confiscated equipment returned to him.
As the Soviet Union evaporated, Moldova and Transdniestria were one united country nestling beneath the Iron Curtain. Then the majority population, Romanian by descent, decided they wanted closer ties with the West: those in the east, bordering Ukraine, objected, and a civil war erupted.
The upshot, after 1,500 people on both sides were killed, was the creation of Transdniestria in the east, and a truncated Moldova in the west: neither acknowledged by the rest of the world.
While Moldova marks its independence day with goose-stepping girl soldiers in uniforms lifted straight off a tin of Quality Street, Transdniestria, celebrating a few days later, retains troops in Sovietera uniforms marching under a gigantic statue of Lenin in the main square of the capital.
Has no one told them that embarrassing effigies of the Soviet Union's founder have largely been removed from public display even in Russia?
Reeve makes excellent company for armchair travellers, dashing about everywhere, asking sharp questions, and poking his nose into all sorts of corners of these officially non-existent countries.
In Moldova, for instance, he found a tiny village in the countryside where 32 men have each sold one of their kidneys to Westerners desperate for transplants.
In a country where the average wage is less than Pounds 2 a day, Pounds 2,000 for a kidney may seem a princely sum.
However, it doesn't seem to go all that far: one villager who saw but could not speak to the 40-year-old woman who received his kidney - she was unconscious at the time, awaiting her operation - spent the money on a cow, the renovation of his house, a washing machine and new clothes for his children.
'That was it - it's all gone,' he told the film crew with remarkable cheerfulness.
A million Moldovans, it's estimated-have left the country in search of work abroad: ironically, given the reason for the civil war, many go not to neighbouring Romania, but to Russia.
When the final parting of the ways between Moldova and Transdniestria occurred, the latter found itself in possession of most of the industrial plants it previously shared.
Exporting Transdniestrian steel is somewhat difficult when you're not recognised by other governments, but thanks to a porous border with Ukraine, exports still flow out of the country - including, if rumours are true, arms to places like Chechnya and strife-torn parts of Africa.
And here in Transdniestria, without having to sacrifice a kidney, it is the son of the president who has grown rich, his manifold possessions now extending to a fine new football stadium and a Mercedes showroom.
But his father's foreign guests at the independence day ceremonies were a sad lot: they all came from countries, like Transdniestria, that don't officially exist.
The Daily Star – by Mike Ward – What’s Hot To Watch Today – Where are you going for your summer holiday this year? I’m guessing it’s probably not the East African state of Somaliland. That’s because (a) it’s a little bit volatile, and (b) it doesn’t officially exist. I mean it’s there all right, but it’s one of many countries that the rest of the world refuses to recognise. And it’s also the first stopping-off point for adventurer Simon Reeve in the new BBC2 series Places That Don’t Exist. Although this is very much a serious documentary series, it’s also surprisingly entertaining stuff, because Reeve comes over like a cross between Michael Palin and Richard Bacon. Since he’s visiting the sort of countries where people carry machine guns as casually and routinely as Brits carry mobile phones, you sense that he and his crew really could be putting themselves in danger at any moment, especially as not everybody he stumbles across seems to appreciate having a television camera poked in their face.
Daily Mail – by Nigel Andrew – ‘Unmissable – Simon Reeve’s vivid account of the situation in Somalia/Somaliland makes the blood boil. Here are two nations, one of them in a state of lawless anarchy and economic collapse, ruled over by ganglords; the other – whose people fought for Britain in World War II – maintaining civic institutions and the rule of law on virtually no money and against enormous odds. The former nation is Somalia, the latter is Somaliland – and there are no prizes for guessing that Somaliland is the one that ‘doesn’t exist’, the one that the rest of the world (including, of course, Britain) refuses to recognise. It would be good if this brave programme stirred a few consciences. Shaming’
Daily Express – by Mike Ward – ***** (Five Stars) – 'My only complaint about Michael Palin’s travel shows would be there’s rarely a sense that he’s encountering real danger. That’s certainly not true of this new series, featuring the extraordinarily intrepid Simon Reeve, a guy who comes across like a Blue Peter presenter with a death wish. The title means volatile countries that the rest of the world flatly refuses to recognise, starting tonight with Somaliland. When he asks his guide about the last time he faced any real trouble, violence-wise, the guide’s response isn’t exactly reassuring: ‘I was just hanging around with a journalist,’ this chap recalls, ‘and we were attacked.’ Me, I’d be wanting my Mummy.
The Times – TV Choice – 'Simon Reeve travels to those parts of the world that not only go unnoticed by the media but officially don’t even exist – Somaliland, for example, which has broken away from the murderous anarchy of Somalia, on Transdniestria, an arms-manufacturing Soviet-style satellite whose keen nostalgia for the Moscow of 20 years ago led it to split with Moldova. Reeve is an idea guide – brave without being macho, amused without being frivolous and always informative, not least from the sheer fact of his being there with a camera. It is the sort of quality programme you would normally expect to come across only on the BBC World Service.'
The Independent – Pick of the Day – 'Simon Reeve must have a devil of a job getting travel insurance. In this enlightening series, previously screened on BBC4, he travels to countries that are not recognised as independent states by the rest of the world. He starts off his often hazardous tour in Somaliland, which split from its more dangerous neighbour, Somalia, in 1991. On his intriguing journey, Reeve visits mass graves and some ancient cave-paintings, and has an encounter with a foreign minister delivering babies. This is a worthy bit of programme-making, introducing us to places and people that we would never otherwise have met.'
The Daily Telegraph – Pick of the Day by Chris Riley – 'Riveting and eye-opening: Simon Reeve’s superb series, visiting countries outside the umbrella of the international community, gets a BBC2 airing after its BBC4 debut. Tonight’s journey begins in Somalia – anarchic, violent, warlord-riven but at least a proper state – before reaching Somaliland, free now after a bitter war with its neighbour, a places of (relative) stability and order, or working traffic lights and democratic government, which of course is recognised by no one.'
Evening Standard – Pick of the Day – by Pete Clark: ‘This is the first in a new series presented by Simon Reeve, a man of boundless enthusiasm for visiting the typye of places that you or I would pay good money not to go near. That is probably not a fair comment to make about his first subject, Somaliland, although I justify it because to get there, you have to travel through Somalia, which is one of the biggest hell-holes on earth. Somaliland, by contrast to its larger neighbour, is a civilised country with a working government and traffic lights. Unfortunately, despite once being a British protectorate, it is no longer recognised by the rest of the world. This makes ifts finances precarious. Reeve asks the president, ‘What’s your annual budget?’ ‘Whatever we get!’ he replies with an engaging grin. It seems their only earner is one of the longest runways in the world, built by the Russians, and now rented by the Americans as an emergency Shuttle landing strip. A genuinely eye-opening series.’
Radio Times – ‘RT recommends…the week’s best television and radio’ – 'Short and sweet, cheap and cheerful, these travelogues are the opposite of the grand tours we’re used to seeing on TV. Our guide is genial young writer Simon Reeve, who sets off for places so obscure they don’t even officially exist: places like Somaliland in East Africa. Don’t whatever you do, confuse Somaliland with its next-door neighbour Somalia, famous for Black Hawk Down, warlords and general lawlessness. Somaliland is very different: it might not count as a nation, but it has traffic lights, a zoo, and even a government. We know as much because Reeve casually walks in on a cabinet meeting and has a chat with the country’s president that goes like this: “What’s your national budget?” – “Whatever we get!” Reeve manages to blend the surreal, the funny and the tragic elements of his journey without seeming flippant, which is quite a feat. The end result is delightful and sharp.'
TV Times – Pick of the Day – 'A series that gives us a walk on the wild side without having to leave the comfort and safety of our own homes… Intrepid author and traveller Simon Reeve takes us through more unusual countries in the world – places you won’t find in a standard travel brochure. He starts in Somaliland, a relatively stable nation of 3.5 million people, but which is not recognised by the rest of the world.'
TV Quick – Don’t Miss – 'Intrepid adventurer Simon Reeve returns with a new five-part series, in which he travels to breakaway nations and independent countries not officially recognised by the rest of the world. These countries – whose passports and postage stamps aren’t even accepted outside their borders – can be extremely dangerous places to visit, as Simon finds out. In the first show, Simon goes to Somaliland (an independent state of Somalia). Despite having its own government, poverty is rife. Simon’s horrifying experiences include annoying gun-wielding Somali security officers, being electrocuted in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, and discovering al Qaeda terrorists in jail. Later in the series, Simon finds himself detained as a spy in the former Soviet state of Transdniestria, where the KGB still snoops on the citizens.'
The Daily Telegraph – Pick of the Day – by Simon Horsford - 'Simple travel adventure/tourism doesn’t come easily to Simon Reeve and, after his excellent Meet the Stans series, he goes in search of breakaway states ignored by the rest of the world. First up is Somaliland, although on the way he stops off in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, where he buys a Somali passport from a man called Mr Big Beard and finds a reminder of America’s abortive intervention with the cactus-covered wreckage of a Black Hawk helicopter. Somalia’s government and law enforcement agencies are in disarray, yet it is an officially recognised country. Neighbouring Somaliland which is relatively stable – the streets even have traffic lights – is not. The president tells Reeve the national budget consists of “whatever we can get”. In Moldova, Reeve goes fishing with the president, hears that the breakaway state of Transniestria is a hotbed for terrorists and weapons smuggling and finds a village where the men have been selling their kidneys to Westerners. Transniestria itself turns out to be a throwback to Soviet times (it broke away because it wanted to stay close to Russia rather than the West). It has its own stamps, money and government and the KGB still monitors one’s every move – as Reeve discovers. Meanwhile, in Taiwan, he visits the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101, tries snake blood (with honey) and meets the country’s answer to Blue.'
Radio Times – Today’s Choices – by Geoff Ellis – “Simon Reeve is our guide in a fresh run of the series that not only brings edgy, political reporting to the travelogue; it also ventures to parts of the world that TV rarely penetrates. This time, the theme is non-countries – the breakaway states that haven’t been recognised by the international community. Somaliland (in Somalia), Transniestria (in Moldova), and Taiwan off China offer fascinating contrasts. It’s a first class series, but why do we get three countries in one marathon programme? There’s another hour-long helping tomorrow.”
The Herald - by Ian Bell - 'When you have to conduct your journalism under armed guard, the chances are that you are not covering a flower show. Simon Reeve bears scant resemblance to Rambo, but he wandered around a Mogadishu market to the sound of AK47s being cocked, the only white man in town, as though strolling in his local park. I don't know what the BBC pays him; I doubt that it's enough.
Think of the insurance, for one thing. A little reported fact concerning the invasion of Iraq helps, for example, to explain why media outlets were keen to have journalists "embedded" with British and American troops: it kept the premiums down. Imagine, then, the reaction at the Pru when Reeve rolled up and said: "I'd like to go to 'one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world' please. Oh, and it doesn't actually exist."
Holidays in the Danger Zone has often been brilliant, if overlooked, in the past. This time around Reeve has excelled himself. There are close to 200 "official" countries on the planet, but dozens of unrecognised nations trying to break away from some neighbour. Hailing from such a place myself, my interest was guaranteed. When your homeland is invisible, it creates an interesting state of mind.
Reeve has a knack, meanwhile, for introducing his audience to their own ignorance. I thought I knew about Somalia and Mogadishu - Black Hawk Down and all that - but Somaliland was news to me. As it turns out, the latter is the good bit, stable and democratic, while the official part is a lawless hell-hole. The good bit also boasts a peach of a president. "What's your national budget?" Reeve inquired. "Whatever we get, " said the leader of a nation that receives UN aid but no UN recognition.
In Somalia itself, the biggest export is "rusting scrap metal", swords turned into ploughshares on a cash-and-carry basis. If they want to stay in business honest entrepreneurs have to hire their own private armies - possibly not the ideal solution - and if they want a passport, they have to buy one from an amiable thug known as Mr Big Beard. On paper, at least, the enterprising Reeve is now a Somali diplomat. It could do worse.
Back in the good bit, a smiling government has turfed its local warlord out of his mansion and attempted to establish useful institutions such as a police force.
Abandoned by the rest of the world since the previous botched American intervention, it is muddling through, an object lesson in what George W Bush might just about recognise as nation-building.
Not content with that little lesson, however, Reeve then proceeded to a nation which I thought he had just invented.
Moldova I could find on a map (just around the corner from Romania) but Transneistria? It sounds like a Soviet camper van. Who founds an entire country because they would rather have links with the Ukraine than with Romanians? Some people have funny ideas about what constitutes a big deal.
Taiwan was Reeve's final oddity. Its situation is not particularly complex. Briefly put, if it ever tries to become a real country, China will bomb it to bits, the US will retaliate and the 21st century will have the war the Washington neocons have really been waiting for. As it is, the locals seem nice enough and Reeve, beyond question, is a very fine reporter.'