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Land

Border Crossings

China shares borders with Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam; the borders with Afghanistan, Bhutan and India are closed. There are also official border crossings between China and its special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau.

Lonely Planet China guides may be confiscated by officials, primarily at the Vietnam–China border.

Kazakhstan

Border crossings from Ürümqi to Kazakhstan are via border posts at Korgas, Ālāshànkǒu, Tǎchéng and Jímùnǎi. Ensure you have a valid Kazakhstan visa (obtainable, at the time of writing, in Ürümqi, or from Běijīng) or China visa.

Apart from Ālāshànkǒu, which links China and Kazakhstan via train, all other border crossings are by bus; you can generally get a bike over, however. Two trains weekly (32 hours) run between Ürümqi and Almaty, and one train per week runs to Astana.

Remember that borders open and close frequently due to changes in government policy; additionally, many are only open when the weather permits. It’s always best to check with the Public Security Bureau (PSB; Gōng’ānjú) in Ürümqi for the official line.

Kyrgyzstan

There are two routes between China and Kyrgyzstan: one between Kashgar and Osh, via the Irkeshtam Pass; and one between Kashgar and Bishkek, via the dramatic 3752m Torugart Pass.

Laos

From the Měnglà district in China’s southern Yúnnán province, you can enter Laos via Boten in Luang Nam Tha province (from Móhān on the China side), while a daily bus runs between Vientiane and Kūnmíng and also from Jǐnghóng to Luang Nam Tha in Laos.

On-the-spot visas for Laos are available at the border, the price of which depends on your nationality (although you cannot get a China visa here).

Mongolia

From Běijīng, the Trans-Mongolian Railway trains and the K23 train run to Ulaanbaatar. There are also trains and regular buses between Hohhot and the border town of Erenhot (Èrlián). Mongolian visas on the Chinese side can be acquired in Běijīng, Hohhot or Erenhot.

Myanmar (Burma)

The famous Burma Road runs from Kūnmíng in Yúnnán province to the Burmese city of Lashio. The road is open to travellers carrying permits for the region north of Lashio, although you can legally cross the border in only one direction – from the Chinese side (Jiěgào) into Myanmar. However, at the time of writing the border was not open to foreign travellers and flying in from Kūnmíng was the only option. Myanmar visas can only be arranged in Kūnmíng or Běijīng.

Nepal

The 865km road connecting Lhasa with Kathmandu is known as the Friendship Highway, currently only traversable for foreign travellers by rented vehicle. It’s a spectacular trip across the Tibetan plateau, the highest point being Gyatso-la Pass (5248m).

Visas for Nepal can be obtained in Lhasa, or at the border at Kodari.

When travelling from Nepal to Tibet, foreigners still have to arrange transport through tour agencies in Kathmandu. Access to Tibet can, however, be restricted for months at a time without warning.

North Korea

Visas for North Korea are not especially hard to arrange, although it is not possible to travel independently so you will need to be on a pre-planned tour. Those interested in travelling to North Korea on tours from Běijīng should contact Nicholas Bonner or Simon Cockerell at Koryo Tours.

Four international express trains (K27 and K28) run between Běijīng train station and Pyongyang.

Pakistan

The exciting trip on the Karakoram Hwy, said to be the world’s highest public international highway, is an excellent way to get to or from Chinese Central Asia. There are buses from Kashgar for the two-day trip to the Pakistani town of Sost via Tashkurgan when the pass is open.

Pakistani visas are no longer available to tourists on arrival (and visas are difficult to get in Běijīng), so the safest option is to arrive in China with a visa obtained in your home country. Check the current situation as this could change.

Russia

The train from Harbin East to Vladivostok is no longer running, but you can take the train to Suífēnhé and take an onward connection there.

The Trans-Mongolian (via Erenhot) and Trans-Manchurian (via Harbin) branches of the Trans-Siberian Railway run from Běijīng to Moscow.

There are also border crossings 9km from Mǎnzhōulǐ and at Hēihé.

Tajikistan

At the time of writing, the Qolma (Kulma) Pass, linking Kashgar with Murghab, was only rarely open to foreign travellers.

Vietnam

Visas are unobtainable at border crossings; Vietnam visas can be acquired in Běijīng, Kūnmíng, Hong Kong and Nánníng. China visas can be obtained in Hanoi.

Friendship Pass

China’s busiest border with Vietnam is at the obscure Vietnamese town of Dong Dang, 164km northeast of Hanoi. The closest Chinese town to the border is Píngxiáng in Guǎngxī province, about 10km north of the actual border gate.

Seven Hanoi-bound buses run from Nánníng via the Friendship Pass; twice-weekly trains (T5 and T6) connect Běijīng and Hanoi (via Nánníng), while a daily train (T8701 and T8702) links Hanoi with Nánníng.

Hekou

The Hékǒu–Lao Cai border crossing is 468km from Kūnmíng and 294km from Hanoi. At the time of writing, the only way to reach Vietnam via Hékǒu was by bus from Kūnmíng.

Mong Cai

A third, but little-known border crossing is at Mong Cai in the northeast corner of Vietnam, just opposite the Chinese city of Dōngxīng and around 200km south of Nánníng.

Train

In addition to the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian rail services, the following routes can be travelled by train:

  • Hung Hom station in Kowloon (Jiǔlóng; Hong Kong; www.mtr.com.hk) to Guǎngzhōu, Shànghǎi, Běijīng
  • Pyongyang (North Korea) to Běijīng
  • Almaty (Kazakhstan) to Ürümqi
  • Astana (Kazakhstan) to Ürümqi
  • Běijīng to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)
  • Běijīng to Hanoi (Vietnam)

A good resource is the website The Man in Seat Sixty-One (www.seat61.com).