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© John Smith
Don't step on them!!!
No seriously, both Armenian and Azerbaijan forces mined the East front of Nagorno-Karabakh heavily in the 1991-1994 conflict. Many areas have since been cleared, but there are still a lot of land that is mined. The safe areas are those with a blue HALO Trust sign saying "cleared", while you want to stay clear of the areas with the red mine sign.
Border crossing Vietnam / China
The difference between the Vietnamese border town of Lao Cai and Hekou on the Chinese side is quite immense. Crossing the bridge from Vietnam to China, you leave behind the joking have-all-the-time-in-the-world Vietnamese only to be met with stern looks and Chinese efficiency on the other side. The huge billboards with Chinese advertising facing the Vietnamese side of Red River leave you wondering who it is for, since nobody on the Vietnamese side speaks or reads Chinese. Beside all the facilities a traveller needs : banks, restaurants, hotels and a bus station, there also are the odd stores (like porn shops) catering for the border crossers. Hekou is packed with border traffic going or coming from Vietnam and can be an annoying place if you have to stay the night. Nobody speaks anything other than Chinese except for a few dodgy characters who seem to live of ripping off the few travellers passing by. You only spend time in Hekou, if you have to.
Forbidden Kyrgyz-Chinese border
Border crossings these days tend to be little more than formalities. They rarely pose any real challenge and more often than not might even go unnoticed. This is certainly not true for the Torugart Pass. This crossing, bridging a very remote part of the Kyrgyz-Chinese border, is truly remote. But the major draw for many travellers is the fact that it is technically illegal for foreigners to use. However, there are ways around this. If a traveller is on a "tour" (a car with a pre-arranged guide, with a driver to the border and another driver to meet you on the other side), the pass may be used. This involves a series of permits, transport connections visas and other logistical challenges which spice up the typical border crossing routine. There might not be any better endorsement than beautiful, remote and illegal.
Sary Moghul village and Lenin Peak (7,134 m)
Kyrgyz - Tajik border region
Sary Moghul village is less visited than its neighbour Sary Tash, which lies 30 km away on the Pamir Highway connecting Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. However, the detour here rarely disappoints. The area offers spectacular views of year-round snowy mountains, including Lenin Peak (7,134 m), Kyrgyzstan's second highest and the world's easiest mountain to scale over 7,000 metres. You can trek to the top of Lenin Peak with no actual climbing or need for ropes, the only problems being altitude sickness and very unpredictable weather. Even if you're not a mountaineer, Sary Moghul is well worth a visit in itself. The people here are very strict Muslims. Unusual for Kyrgyzstan, when the call to prayer begins, you will see even young children in the streets drop to their knees to prostrate themselves. People observe Ramadan strictly even when it falls in summer, depriving themselves of food and water all day while they work in the fields in blistering heat. There are plenty of trekking opportunities to lakes, yak herders' yurt encampments and mud-built farmsteads in the surrounding mountains.
Up the Mekong River by speed boat
The Golden Triangle
Travelling on the Mekong River can be other than a lazy cruise if going by speed boat. Sitting in the tiny flimsy boat, you doubt it will hold up to the continuously hammering into the ripples on the river surface, but luckily the roaring noise of the oversized engine will blow all common sense out of you. After a while, you will get used to the madness and enjoy the amazing scenery of dense jungle hanging over the river, small fishing villages and shiny pagodas in the distance. It is a wild experience to travel into the heart of the Golden Triangle with Myanmar on one side and Laos on the other.
Border to Malawi
Entre Lagos is one of those dusty border towns that are fun to have experienced, but not particularly fun to be at. It's a confusing mess of ramshackle houses, empty buildings and sandy lanes. The Mozambican immigration is at the railway (which is apparently not in use) and from there a dirt trail follows the rails to the Malawian immigration a couple of kilometres away. The view over the plains from the rails are spectacular and a stark contrast to the otherwise bleak border crossing. It is possible to sleep, eat and change money in Entre Lagos, but the first two will no doubt be an experience.
Crossing over the Parana River from Posadas, Argentina to Encarnacion, Paraguay, you get the feeling that you have crossed into another world. On the Argentine side the buildings are tall and shiny, the streets alive with people, lights and music and the roofs topped with bars overlooking the river. However as soon as you step off the bus after crossing the very elaborate Puente Roque Gonzalez de Santacruz Bridge, clutching your newly acquired Visa, the streets turn a red, dirt colour and the effectiveness of the Argentine garbage removal system disappears. With many border crossings in South America the landscape and scenery separating the two countries is quite similar and the feeling of entering a new, foreign state lacks. However crossing from Argentina into Paraguay gives you the feeling that you have caught the bus one stop too many leaving civilization behind you.
If you want to travel like a local through South America then this is the bus route for you. The Trans-Chaco Hwy is one of the only sealed roads that leads north out of Paraguay. Trying to find a timetable/ticket office for the route to Sucre, Bolivia from either Asuncion or Filadelphia, Paraguay is hard enough. The key to this journey is to be very, very patient. From Mariscal Estigaribbia (closest town to Bolivian border) the bus arrives at 4am and doesn’t leave until 5:30am due to passport control consisting of one man, grumpy from being woken up. From here the bus has the potential to stop 6 times, four of these stops for immigration, security checks and so on and the other two for break-downs. Make sure you give yourself a couple of days as the trip can take anywhere from 6hrs-36hrs considering how many times the bus breaks down.
Joint Security Area
Want to peek into North Korea? It's possible to take a tour from Seoul that takes you into the Joint Security Area, which is right on the border between North and South Korea. You can actually cross the border while inside one of the blue negotiation houses that spans across the border. South Korean guards will keep a stiff eye on you, while North Korean soldiers are watching carefully from their side. You have to sign a contract before you are allowed into the last zone, where you state that you will not sue in case of shooting or kidnapping, and you cannot wear denim or anything remotely provoking for the North Korean (?). The wicked thing is that you can visit the same blue house on a tour from the North Korean side.
For hardcore overland travellers, getting from Central Asia to the Caucasus can be a challenge. To the north lies Russia which poses the near impossible task of getting visas while on the road. To the south is Iran, which some nationalities have serious difficulties getting into at all. That leaves crossing the Caspian Sea as the only alternative. Luckily, the Turkmen seem to have figured this out. Cargo ships leaving the port of Turkmenbashi headed for Baku, Azerbaijan will take passengers (for a fee). Information is scarce as there are no schedules. And on a 5-day Turkmen transit visa, waits of days at the port could be a serious issue. But for those with a bit of luck, the boat trip makes for some serious bragging rights.