China/Kazakhstan Korgas Crossing
But my least favourite experience was on an ill-advised border run from China to Kazakhstan while travelling through Xinjiang. Just wanting to cross the border and then come back into China to fulfill Chinese visa requirements, I got stuck on the Kazakh side where any responses to my questions got answered in angry Russian or Kazakh (neither of which I could understand), until finally I got the idea of sticking a few banknotes into my passport, the response to which was being whisked by a very helpful guard through a series of rooms, given a cup of tea while I waited, and then put on a bus back to China. On further trips into actual Kazakhstan (LINK) I found the country great, but the moral of the story, if you’re doing a China visa run maybe stick with Hong Kong!
Ukraine / Transnistria border
Travelling the world can carry many hurdles, border crossings being one of the main sources. Out of all, my least favourite border crossing is into and out of Ukraine. When I first arrived in Ukraine, I was greeted by a huge banner stating ‘’stamp out corruption in Ukraine, do not bribe border officials’’ over the passport control, I was promptly led to a room and relentlessly questioned over whether I was travelling to East Ukraine, I was then advised that this process could be sped up if I paid a ‘’processing fee’’. When travelling to Ukraine recently, I arrived to discover that this banner had partially fell down, symbolic that the anti-corruption campaign had failed. When attempting to leave Ukraine for Transnistria, our group had our bags methodically searched and relentlessly questioned. I was one of the last to be searched, carrying a military style bag, the border guard then pulled open my jacket to see I was wearing an Abkhazia shirt. He immediately became hostile, questioning whether I was a separatist and why I was wearing a T shirt of a separatist rebel country, when Ukraine is fighting a war against the Donbass separatist rebels. I explained it was not politically motivated, I just enjoy visiting the country. He then proceeded to give us a geography quiz on which country we believed breakaway states belonged too, after getting them all ‘’right’’, we were told to get out. Unfortunately, I doubt we made many friends at that border but at least they allowed us to leave.
The Afghan Uzbekistan border crossing has to be one of the more annoying crossings for tourists to cross. So unused to tourists at all, that they assume you must be smuggling something. One can understand why the Uzbeks would be particularly careful for those crossing from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a somewhat lawless place, where one can easily obtain drugs, guns, really whatever desire. However it makes absolutely no sense why they are so incredibly strict when one is leaving Uzbekistan.
On tours, it has taken our group up to 4 hours to just have our bags and persons checked to see that we’re not carrying any contraband. Why would anyone in their right mind take drugs to Afghanistan! or guns! Every single file on your computer is opened, every pants or shirt pocket is turned inside, every hem run along by a guards fingers. Then there’s each individual being taken into a room and asked to take their clothes off. Sometimes it might just be a jacket, shoes or trousers, but sometimes it’s everything.
It certainly is one of the more intimidating border experiences and to make matters worse there is a sense of loneliness and isolation. As you might be the only people to cross the border that day, there’s a huge chance you won’t see anyone else while you’re there. The thought certainly does cross one’s mind that these guards could do anything they wanted to you and there would be no one there to witness it.
Link to either the Afghanistan page, or the Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan Essentials Tour. We don’t actually have a tour crossing this border at the moment.
I’m not a religious man but if there’s any proof that hell exists, it is Poipet. This is a tiny town on the land border between Cambodia and Thailand. While the border itself is not difficult in anyway (simply a matter of getting stamped in and out, or getting your visa on arrival if you’re coming into Cambodia) the long lines, heat and lack of air-conditioning make this place unbearable. A bus ticket from Phnom Penh to Bangkok can be as low as $11, but I will always try and scrounge around for enough change for an air ticket because this place is just awful.