The World's 10 Most Difficult Border Crossings

Some borders feature physical human-made barriers such as barbed wire fences.
Some borders feature physical human-made barriers such as barbed wire fences.

The world has numerous international boarders, many of which are easily traversed by land. However, in some areas of the world, crossing a border by land can carry very serious risks which may even include death. In this article, we take a look at ten borders from around the world where travelers have reported negative experiences, ranging from the mild hassle to the harrowing.

10. China and Kyrgzstan (Torugart Pass or Erkeshtam)

The Chinese border with Kyrgzstan is a difficult one to cross, although not necessarily for the same reasons many of the other crossings make our list. Unlike other areas where civil and political unrest are major problems, at the Chinese/Kyrgz border high altitude poses a challenge to tourists. Improper acclimatization can result in altitude sickness which can be fatal.

Additionally, the border operates on Beijing time, a time zone that is barely appropriate for the border's geographic location in the extreme west of China. If travelers do not time things correctly within the border's reduced operating hours, it is possible to be stuck at the border for days. The area has little food, fuel, and accommodations to offer.

9. Angola and DRC

The boundary line between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola is about 1,560 miles long. It is almost impossible to cross the border due to disputes over several issues including offshore oil ownership and the border region between the two countries.

An estimated 211,000 people were displaced in 2009, due to such disputes which resulted in women being subjected to rape and sexual violence by both the Congolese and Angolan security forces. Civil war in the northern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola's hesitance to issue tourist issues are factors that contribute to this border's difficult reputation.

8. Cambodia and Thailand (Aranyapratht/Poi Pet)

The history behind border tension between Cambodia and Thailand goes back centuries. The most recent clash between the two countries occurred between 2008 and 2011 and concerned the ownership of the Preah Vihiar Temple and its surrounding area. The dispute resulted in the United Nations siding with Cambodia and ordering the removal of all Thai troops.

Crossing the border as a tourist is described as a dysfunctional experience at best. As southeast Asia is an important area for tourists and backpackers, the painstaking experience of crossing it has been agonized over by many travel blogs and books, including Lonely Planet. Hassles include extremely long wait times and corrupted border officers.

7. Pakistan and Iran (Taftan/Mirjaveh)

There is only one legal border crossing between Iran and Pakistan, located at the border cities of Taftan, Pakistan and Mirjaveh, Iran. A route infamous for smuggling, the task of simply arriving at the border city entails at least 12 hours of dangerous driving that requires acute attention. At the border itself, there is a ten foot tall barrier known as the "Iran-Pakistan Barrier", which has been constructed by the Iranian government. The border region also features fortress-style garrisons for troops and police as well as observation towers.

Interestingly, the two countries do not have any border disputes or any other claims of the like. As a matter of fact, Pakistan has not taken issue with Iran constructing a fence on its territory. However, this does not undermine the risks involved with crossing this border. The region remains known for sectarian violence and kidnappings (or in extreme cases, even killings) of tourists is not unheard of.

6. China and North Korea (Dandong)

For years, China and North Korea have enjoyed friendly relations and a lightly guarded border. However, there have been growing security concerns for Beijing since thousands of refugees from North Korea have tried to enter China illegally. An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 North Korean refugees flooded the border during North Korea's great famine.

In October 2006, China started to build a concrete and barbed wire fence on its border part with North Korea. China stepped up efforts to fortify its part of the border since November 2010 following warning of increased food crisis in North Korea. Although Chinese tourists are reportedly still able to cross the border, the situation is completed for all other nationalities.

5. India and Pakistan (Attari-Wagah)

With a length of 1,800 miles, the border between India and Pakistan has existed in its current form since 1947. The region is synonymous with violent disputes resulting in the death and displacement of many people.

In the disputed region of Kashmir, hostilities between India and Pakistan have resulted in the death of about 100,000 people. The Line of Control carries a cease-fire which remains in effect to this day. The Pakistani administration controls two areas of Kashmir while the Indian government controls three. Neither side formally acknowledges the acquisition of the areas claimed by the other. Few foreigners have ever crossed.

4. Panama and Colombia (Darién Gap)

The border between Panama and Colombia is known as the "Darién Gap". It is rumored to be one of the those popular areas of the world for drug smuggling, a fact made possible by its heavy remote rainforest cover that makes activity difficult to monitor.

To add additional difficulty, access to most parts of the border is almost impossible without the permission of Panama's border patrol police known as the Seafront. The border is a major hiccup in traversing the nearly 30,000 mile Pan-American highway. The uneven terrain is practically impossible to navigate, a fact that is worsened if the region is experiencing heavy rains. However, there is resistance to building a road in the agree as it could disrupt Indigenous communities and threaten rainforest vitality.

3. South Korea and North Korea (the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ)

The border between South and North Korea is one of the most heavily militarized border in the world, and needs little introduction. Since 1948, the 38th parallel has marked the borders between South Korea and North Korea. It was born out of an agreement between both sides to move their troops back from the front line, creating a 2.5-mile buffer zone known as the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Although the two nations were agreeing to a cease-fire, no treaty or peace agreement was signed. This means that both North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war. Casualties have occurred on both sides of the DMZ, and have included civilians. Although permission to cross the border is rarely granted to foreigners, it is not unheard of. It does, however, remain rare as it requires permission from both sides.

2. Sudan and South Sudan

Although Sudan was the first country to officially recognize the world's newest country, South Sudan, as an independent entity, relations have been frigid between the two countries since. The border between the two countries is representative of such poor relations, as both Southern Sudan and Sudan claim administration over the Abyei region which is part of Southern Kordofan. The President of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir declared that he would not recognize South Sudan's independence if its government continues to claim ownership over the region.

As a result of disputes over the region, the UN estimates that over 113,000 people have been displaced, making the border region between South Sudan and Sudan the most dangerous places in the world. Overland crossing is virtually impossible.

1. Pakistan and Afghanistan (Durand Line)

The 1,510 mile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan was drawn in the late 19th century by a British diplomat, Sir Mortimer Durand, for whom it was named. The arbitrary border cuts through land area belong to ethnic groups, including the Pashtun and Baloch, many of whom have lived near the border since ancient times. Ever since the drawing of the border, violence has existed. Even today, it is often characterized as one of the world's most dangerous crossings.

Dangers at the border include drone strikes, lawlessness, al Qaeda, and the presence of other militant groups. Afghanistan does not formally recognize the Durand Line as a border. As of 2017, the border remains closed. It is impossible for tourists to cross.


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