Yeah I've been there though I'm not sure how useful my experience will be.
I went there in 2000, for 10 days. A buddy of mine was invited out for a visit by an acquaintance of ours who was serving in the Irish army there .. and I tagged along. This was literally a few weeks after the Israelis withdrew from South Lebanon so it was a little tense. We stayed in West Beirut (I don't think there is much reason to stay anywhere else as you can get almost anywhere in the country and back from Beirut in a day).
I short, if you have any interest in the recent history of the Middle East it's a fascinating place to spend some time. The standard cliche is that it's like a war zone without the war, which has some truth to it. Beirut at the time was a buzzing place and from what I hear it is back that way again now. We went to a nightclub in the Christian part of Beirut the first night we were there and you could have been in Milan or something. And then, outside the nightclub there is a six-story bombed out apartment block.
We were brought around the place by our Army friend who, I think, was a little paranoid about letting us out of his sight. I don't think he really had any reason to be so though, it seems pretty safe (unless of course the Israelis decided to start bombing the place again).
We visited quite a few places around the country, thanks to our friend and his UN landrover - Bekaa valley, the south, Tyre (which amazingly has a giant Roman colleseum (?) where they filmed the chariot race in Ben Hur) and so on. We got questioned by a member of the Syrian secret police but that was nowhere near as exciting and dramatic as I like to let on sometimes. We nearly got arrested for taking photographs of a sensitive building in Beirut also. All part of the fun.
We finally managed to slip the lease of our friend one day and hire a taxi driver to take us over the border into Syria to visit Damascus. It's worth a visit. Beautiful mosque.
I don't know whether to really recommend it -it really depends what you are looking for. It's quite ugly in most places. For example, the once idyllic Med coastline is pretty much ruined by crazy apartment block building that makes the Costa's of Spain looks like models of taste and restraint .... but on the other hand if you are the sort of person who get's a kick out of seeing a giant painted banner draped across the road with a picture of the Ayatollah Khomeni on it and a slogan saying "we will toast our victory with the blood of our enemies" on it then you'll probably have a whale of a time.
Thanks Hugh, that's really useful. I had a few friends who lived there in the nineties so I know a bit about it but I don't know anyone who's been there in recent years. I'm love visiting historical places and I'm also trying to learn arabic at the moment so I thought somewhere in the Middle East might be cool to visit for a week or so. I'm not particularly looking for a beach holiday or anything. I'd like to go to Damascus but it's a lot dearer to fly there than to Beirut (or at least it seemed so when I was checking prices). Do you remember roughly how much you paid to go there by car?
To arrange it, we went to this hotel near where we were staying. Someone told it the guys at reception would organize it for us. It worked out pretty expensive I think. I am guessing that we made a deal with the guy for around 100 dollars.
However, we didn't have visas for Syria but were told it is generally fine if you just turn up at the border. Our driver negotiated things with the border guards for us and it cost us another 100 dollars (I think) to get into the country. Whether our driver was pocketing most of this or splitting it 50/50 with the border guards, who knows?
Anyway, driver guy was quite a character. He regaled us with stories about his life in Beirut during the war, brought us to a cafe for a snack where I had to eat one of the most disgusting things ever, and also drove us right through the souk in Damascus honking and cursing at people all the time to get out of the way. So it was probably worth it ....
I was in Lebanon in 2002. I recommend it highly - it is somewhere I would love to go back to. It is great if you like things like eating nice food, seeing ancient ruins, or being in places that recent historical things have happenned*.
The Roman era ruins are incredible... Tyre and Baalbek should be things that everyone feels they have to see.
*I remember thinking "wow, brilliant, that's the sports stadium under which they buried the victims of the Sabra-Shatila massacare" as our taxi brought us in from the airport.
That was terrifying to watch. It’s horrific.
Went there two or three years ago and it’s a beautiful country with the friendliest locals but the army and police were terrifying.
There were 3 checkpoints on the road leading right to the airport. The taxi driver had to have the inside lights turned on and I had to hold up my passport as they had their their guns pointed at us while we drove the 150 meters to the next checkpoint.
The guy at immigration was hitting on me and I was so freaked out I thought he was trying to catch me out and arrest me.
I went to the Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps there and it was so much worse than I’d seen on the news. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
I’d love to go back and help out but there are people 1000x more qualified and able, so I just send money when I can instead.