The world's 10 coolest border crossings

Korean DMZ: a strange holiday destination

The Korean demilitarised zone is an eerie tourist attraction, as Kelsey Munro discovers.

There are few places for the traveller that quite match the excitement, and, on occasions, the intimidation, of the border crossing. To step across a border, sometimes in a forbidding and isolated corner of the world, can be a step into the unknown, to subject yourself at the mercy of a foreign government and a foreign people, to discover a new culture and a new language, to witness a mindset and a whole way of life, all because of just a line on a map.

Borders can be thrilling but also trepidatious. They can be contentious. They can be controversial. They can become the focus of momentous world events. United States President Donald Trump speaks often about his desire to build a wall on one of his nation's borders, while North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un recently made history by stepping across the Demilitarised Zone, the inter-Korean border and a major tourist attraction, becoming the first head of his country to do so.

Travellers are so often forced to cross borders, forced to submit to the will of customs officers and quarantine officials and the various motley crews who tend to hang around border posts and border towns, shady characters who add to the sense of unease in these places. Borders mark an ending but, by definition, they also mark a beginning of the next phase of a journey.

"A border crossing is like a microcosm of what the countries themselves are like," says James Thornton, managing director of tour company Intrepid Travel. "If there's a lot of bureaucracy and control over daily life in a certain country, then the crossing will likely be the same. But if the countries are fairly relaxed or slow, you might find that the border crossing plays by those same rules." 

For travellers, no two border crossings are ever the same. Sometimes these points of entry are deserted outposts in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes they're mid-city hotspots teeming with traffic and noise. Sometime the people you encounter are relaxed and friendly; other times you feel like you've committed a crime, or are about to be accused of one, simply by your presence.

"I find one of the most interesting things about a land border crossing is the no-man's-land in between," says James. "You've passed out of one country, but you're not yet in another country – so where are you, in fact? I always find that a real philosophical time as a traveller, I always question life and what's going on when I'm in those places."

The following is a selection of some of our favourite and most memorable points of entry that will become as much a part of your travel experience as any other aspect of your journey.

THE CONTENTIOUS BORDER

India-Pakistan

Photo: Alamy

India-Pakistan at Wagah-Attari

THE PLACES This border separates India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region.

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THE CROSSING It's not the border that's necessarily interesting here – it's the spectacle. Large crowds gather each day just before sundown to observe a carefully choreographed ritual of pomp and ceremony that would be hilarious if it wasn't so serious. Both Pakistani and Indian soldiers, extravagantly moustachioed and dressed in ceremonial attire, make a show of marching around and then lowering their flags, folding them and brusquely shaking hands with their counterparts on the opposite side before the border gates are swung closed and everyone goes home.

NEED TO KNOW Foreign visitors are welcome to observe this ritual – in fact you'll be fast-tracked to a front-row seat. And it's free. Travellers can also use the border for its intended purpose, although you'll need visas for both countries.

ESSENTIALS See smartraveller.gov.au for the latest updates on both India and Pakistan and the Kashmir region.

SEE ALSO: India for beginners - what you need to know

THE MOUNTAINOUS BORDER

Argentina-Chile

Photo: Alamy

Argentina-Chile, across the Andes Mountains

THE PLACES Although this border stretches 5150 kilometres, the crossing at Hua Hum Pass is the most memorable. 

THE CROSSING There are few more scenically spectacular ways to cross a border than by travelling between Chile and Argentina over the Andes Mountains at Hua Hum Pass. Either side of the border you'll find beautiful mountain scenery, from the rolling green hills of the Lakes District in central Chile to the snow-capped peaks of the Andes near the border itself, and the charming town of San Martin de los Andes on the Argentinian side. Most of this crossing is done by road, winding through the mountains, though a stretch across the high-altitude, glacial Pirehueico Lake requires a car ferry. 

NEED TO KNOW The Hua Hum Pass is open year-round – in summer you'll find spectacular greenery, while in winter it's blanketed with snow. Australians will have to pay a visa reciprocity fee to enter both Chile and Argentina. 

ESSENTIALS Public buses run frequently between the Chilean town of Pucon, and San Martin de los Andes in Argentina. See busbud.com.

SEE ALSO: The must-do experiences of South America

THE EPIC BORDER

E144GY Trans Mongolian Train across the mongolian steppe, Mongolia

Photo: Alamy

Mongolia-China

THE PLACES The Trans-Mongolian railway, which encompasses 6300 kilometres of overland travel over 10 days,  across two continents and five time zones, cross from Mongolia and China at the twin towns of Zamyn-Uud and Erenhot. 

THE CROSSING The interesting aspect of this border for those riding the Trans-Mongolian – particularly for train enthusiasts – is the changing of the bogies. Mongolia and China use different gauges of train track, which means all train carriages, with passengers still on board and in a sort of limbo where they've been stamped out of one country but not stamped into the next, need to be lifted up and have one set of wheels removed, and another affixed. 

NEED TO KNOW Australian passengers riding the train will need visas for both China and Mongolia. It's also advised to make a precautionary visit to the lavatory before the bogie-changing, as you'll be locked out of the facilities.

ESSENTIALS Intrepid Travel's "Trans-Mongolian Experience" tour includes this crossing. See intrepidtravel.com.

SEE ALSO: The Trans-Mongolian - an expect train journey like no other

THE DEMILITARISED BORDER

F5DFY1 A South Korean Army soldiers guards the Korean Demilitarized Zone as a North Korean soldier takes photos through a window November 1, 2015 in Panmunjom, Republic of Korea. satmay19coverborders

Photo: Alamy

North Korea and South Korea, at the DMZ

THE PLACES The village of Panmunjom is the only place where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face.

THE CROSSING The subject of recent intense international focus, there's no other border crossing quite like this one, where military personal stare wordlessly at each other across a white line, where sworn enemies maintain an uneasy truce, and where tourists show up to pose for selfies and to step into the dreaded North for a few seconds of fun. The Korean demilitarised zone is a 250km-long, four kilometres-wide strip of land that serves as a buffer zone between the North and South, and the village of Panmunjom is the only place you'll be able to see the two sides meet. 

NEED TO KNOW It's possible to visit Panmunjom from both sides of the border, though more tourists, obviously, see it from the South. To visit, you'll need to book a tour from Seoul several days in advance. Land border crossings here aren't allowed.

ESSENTIALS For information on tours, see visitkorea.or.kr. Check smartraveller.gov.au for the latest travel advice.

SEE ALSO: No pointing, no ripped jeans: The rules for visiting the DMZ

THE POLITICISED BORDER

Mexico-US

Photo: Alamy

United States-Mexico

THE PLACES This 3145-kilometre line stretches from California to Texas, from Baja California to Tamaulipas.

THE CROSSING This is one of the most contentious and publicised borders in the world, thanks in no small part to US President Donald Trump's obsession with building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico. To cross this border at any point is an experience – with more than 350 million legal crossings a year, it's the world's most frequently used. The most popular spot is the San Ysidro port of entry, where a huge tide of humanity makes its way between San Diego and Tijuana.

NEED TO KNOW Crossing from the US to Mexico is a relatively painless process, and you won't need a visa. To enter the US, meanwhile, Australian citizens require an ESTA waiver or a visa; also, prepare to wait a long time, and for your vehicle to be searched.

ESSENTIALS See smartraveller.gov.au for latest warnings and visa information.

SEE ALSO: What it's like to cross the US-Mexico border as an Australian

THE SUBLIME BORDER

C1HB4H View of the bridge over the Batoka Gorge Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe taken from Victoria Falls Zambia SatMay19borders Zimbabwe and Zambia Border Victoria Falls Bridge

Photo: Alamy

Zimbabwe-Zambia at Victoria Falls

THE PLACES The towns of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia meet at this spectacular landmark.

THE CROSSING It's known as the "Smoke That Thunders", and you'll understand why the minute you lay eyes and ears on the truly spectacular Victoria Falls. More than 1000 cubic metres of water per second crash down from a height of 100 metres at this point straddled by both Zimbabwe and Zambia. The best views of the falls are from the Zimbabwean side, and a bridge connecting the two countries makes it easy for those staying in Zambia to skip across for the day. (A nod should also go to other waterfall borders: Iguacu Falls, which separates Brazil and Argentina, and Niagara Falls, separating the US and Canada.)

NEED TO KNOW Water levels are highest from February to June, making it the most popular time to visit. The Kaza UniVisa covers Australian citizens for entry into both Zambia and Zimbabwe. See smartraveller.gov.au for more.

ESSENTIALS Plenty of overland tour companies stop at Victoria Falls, including Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), G Adventures (gadventures.com.au), and Acacia Africa (acacia-africa.com).

SEE ALSO: One metre from death: A dip in the world's most spectacular pool

THE HIGH-ALTITUDE BORDER

China-Nepal

Photo: Alamy

THE CROSSING China-Nepal

THE PLACES This border is marked by one impressive landmark: the top of Mt Everest. 

THE CROSSING Few people realise that the highest point on Earth is also the world's highest border crossing: China and Nepal meet 8848 metres above sea level, at the tip of Mount Everest. There is, of course, no official border post at that heady altitude, and there's never a queue to cross either, given so few people ever make it to the summit.

NEED TO KNOW The Everest climbing season is very short, and generally only runs through May. To make it to the China-Nepal border you'll need a great deal of skill, experience, and daring. Good luck.  

ESSENTIALS While the summit is probably a step too far for most people, Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com) and World Expeditions (worldexpeditions.com) run treks to Everest Base Camp.

THE POLAR BORDER

Polar

Photo: Alamy

Australia, Norway, Chile, Great Britain, France, New Zealand and Argentina all share a border in Antarctica

THE PLACES Although there are no towns or cities here, there is one point that marks the meeting place of these seven countries' claims to Antarctic territory: the South Pole. 

THE CROSSING Few people will ever get to set foot on the point where all seven of these claims meet. However, an increasing number of travellers are visiting the Antarctic Peninsula, a disputed part of the continent that's claimed by Chile, Argentina and the United Kingdom. This finger of land points north towards South America, and is the ideal port of call for Antarctic cruises, where passengers can go ashore to see penguin colonies, to hear glaciers crack and calve into the ocean, and to visit scientific research stations set up by various nations.

NEED TO KNOW There's no actual border to cross between these territories, and no visas to worry about. The best time to visit, of course, is in summer, when the days are long and the weather not too inclement. 

ESSENTIALS Plenty of cruise companies, from Scenic (scenic.com.au) to APT (aptouring.com.au), Chimu Adventures (chimuadventures.com) to Intrepid (intrepidtravel.com), run expeditions to Antarctica. 

SEE ALSO: Qantas jumbo jet takes off for Antarctica

THE CROSS-TOWN BORDER

Netherlands-Belgium

Photo: Stephen Eustace

Netherlands-Belgium

THE PLACES Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands, and Baarle-Hertog in Belgium.

THE CROSSING A hideously convoluted border separates the Dutch town of Baarle-Nassau and the Belgian exclave of Baarle-Hertog. The latter is actually a series of tiny pockets of Belgium that dot the landscape of its Dutch neighbour, like a Belgian archipelago in a sea of the Netherlands. Fortunately there's no "hard" border between these two countries, so the only way to divine whose territory you're currently standing in is to look for the white crosses set into the pavement, which denote each chunk of border.  

NEED TO KNOW Given the open nature of this border, anyone can visit at any time, skipping between the two countries an unlimited number of times per day. 

ESSENTIALS See belgium.be or holland.com for more information. 

THE OUTPOST BORDER

Canada-US

US-Canada at "Jim's Corner"

THE CROSSING This border connects Minnesota in the US with Manitoba in Canada at a place called Northwest Angle. 

WHY GO THERE Northwest Angle is an exclave of the US in Canada, which essentially means it's a small chunk of America that's stuck in Canada, connected to its home country only by the Lake of the Woods. For Minnesota citizens to go see their friends in "The Angle" by road, they have to drive into Canada, and then back again into US territory, via a border that is completely unmanned. Visitors are expected to call into "Jim's Corner", a small shack by the roadside, and phone customs agents from the US or Canada to let them know they're coming in (or leaving). 

NEED TO KNOW Australian residents with valid passports and visas are free to cross into Northwest Angle any time they like, provided they make a call to the relevant authorities from Jim's Corner. 

ESSENTIALS The only way to cross this border is on a self-drive trip. See visittheusa.com.au or Canada.travel for more. 

SEE ALSO: Avoid Trumpland - the Canadian equivalents of America's tourism highlights

FIVE FILMS THAT FEATURE BORDERS

TRAFFIC (2000)

Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning tale of life on the US-Mexico border is a pretty brutal affair, tracking the drug trade that Donald Trump continues to obsess over. The film skips back and forth across the border, portraying drug users, drug enforcers, drug traffickers and even the politicians who make the laws that control them. 

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

This 1963 film, starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough, is the true classic of the genre. It's based on the escape by British POWs from a German camp during World War II, and focuses on the escapees' various and often failed attempts to cross a into Allied territory. 

THE TUNNEL (2001)

This German film is loosely based on true events in Berlin after the separation of the city, when a group of former East Germans grouped together to build a tunnel under the wall and affect the escape of about 30 of their family and friends. It's an amazing depiction of an amazing time.

BABEL (2006)

Though Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's sprawling film follows several storylines, one of the most engaging involves a Mexican nanny who decides to take the American children she's caring for across the border to a wedding in Tijuana. It's a faithful depiction of the struggles people in this area face.

THE BRIDGE (2011)

Though it's not a movie, this co-produced Swedish-Danish TV series deserves a shout-out not just for its high entertainment value as a crime thriller, but for its depiction of the Sweden-Denmark border, which is actually a large bridge connecting the two countries. 

FIVE STATE BORDER CROSSINGS WORTH VISITING

CAMERON CORNER, AUSTRALIA

The meeting point of South Australia, Queensland and NSW is known as Cameron Corner – named in honour of John Cameron, who surveyed the NSW-Queensland border in the 1870s – and there you'll find very little but a store offering a few essentials and beds for the night, plus a little marker to let you know where you are.

FOUR CORNERS MONUMENT, US

US

The Four Corners Monument marks the unique meeting point of four US states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. There's no formal border crossing procedure here, of course, just a small plaque offering the chance to take a selfie while spread-eagled across four territories.

BORDEN ISLAND, CANADA

The uninhabited Canadian island of Borden lies at 78 degrees north, deep within the Arctic Circle, at a similar latitude to Svalbard in Norway. And even here, on a tiny, 2795 square kilometre island – that's smaller than Australia's Kangaroo Island – there's a border, splitting Canada's Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Northwest Territories owns the largest chunk.

THE KENTUCKY BEND, US

Only 18 people live in the exclave of Kentucky Bend, a tiny part of Kentucky that's surrounded on all sides by Missouri and Tennessee. The area is at the tip of an oxbow loop in the Mississippi River, and was claimed as Kentucky territory due to uncertainties in the plotting of the course of the river back in the early 1800s.

THE TOLEDO STRIP, US

The Toledo Strip was small ribbon of disputed land that separated Ohio in the south and Michigan in the north, and was the subject of the Toledo War in 1835-36. Though few shots were ever fired, Michigan was eventually forced to relinquish its right to the strip, in return for a claim over the Upper Peninsula. As copper and iron deposits were later found on that peninsula, it turned out to be a major win for Michigan.

See also: The 10 hardest countries for Australians to get into

See also: The world's most powerful passports

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