What should you do after you’ve wined and dined in Shanghai, hiked the Leaping Tiger Gorge and gotten lost in the Forbidden City? Check out China’s borders. Ideally the border of China, North Korea and Russia.
Koreans are one of China’s official 56 ethnic groups and they have their own autonomous region in Jilin Province which is in the North East of China. This region borders on North Korea and Russia and there are a couple of spots where the borders of all three countries meet. If you are into international borders and seeing different cultures mix, a trip to this area is a lot of fun and highly recommended.
The Road Trip
In China you have to pay highway tolls when you drive between cities which make road trips expensive. Luckily during the October holidays, the highways are toll free so an Australian mate of mine, his Chinese wife, their 4 month old son and I went on a three day road trip from Changchun (capital of Jilin Province) to Hunchun (nearest city to the borders).
Day One – The Road Trip
The distance between the two cities is just over 500 kilometers and would normally take around 6 hours. It took us around 10 hours due to frequent rest stops (baby on board), highway repairs and a misunderstanding with the GPS. We arrived in Hunchun at around 7pm, checked into the hotel and went for a walk. Hunchun is pretty ordinary as far as Chinese cities go and all the large shops were closed so there was not much to see.
Day Two – Borders and Russian Beer
First stop after breakfast was a Russia China border crossing to the east of Hunchun. Access to the border was restricted so all you can do is stand at the Chinese checkpoint and stare at the distant border and some trees and a green roof which is all you can see of Russia. There are a bunch of shops next to the check point that sell all kinds of cool stuff from Russia such as medieval swords and axes (no joke), wooden Matryoshka dolls and beer that comes in 3 litre plastic bottles.
Second stop in the afternoon was to a spot south of Hunchun where the borders of China, Russia and Korea meet. You can only drive as far as Fang Chuan which is a frontier scenic spot with a tourist center in a large replica pagoda. From there you need to catch a tourist bus that drives along a long narrow Chinese road squeezes between Russia and Korea. The bus ticket cost 80rmb and the trip takes around 10 minutes. At the end of the road you get of the bus and take photos of yourself standing next a green wire fence with Russia on the other side. Korea is hiding behind a bunch of trees and not available for photos.
Dinner was at a Russian restaurant in Hunchun that had a nice ambience with free wifi, great service (Chinese staff) and horrible food. One of the things that makes these border areas interesting is that everyone there thinks that you are Russian and speaks to you in Russian. You confuse them if you try to speak to them in Chinese or English.
Day Three – The Trip Home
After a lazy morning with a bit of shopping and a breakfast at another Russian restaurant with equally good service and bad food, we were on the road by midday. There were no delays to road works and the GPS behaved itself so we made good time and the trip back to Changchun took around 6 to 7 hours.
This kind of trip is definitely not recommended if you want excitement, to see amazing sites or don’t have plenty of time on your hands. There are plenty of borders to see and checkpoints but no border crossings where you show your passport, wave goodbye to Chinese border guards and walk across no mans land into Russia/Korea.
The borders are not very picturesque either and there are no towns, cities or even villages on the other side of the border that you can watch from the safety of China. Basically what you’ll get is some very nice scenery, plenty of shopping opportunities for cheap Russian goods and the opportunity to see how three very diverse cultures mix and assimilate.
Train – There are daily trains from Beijing to Yanji and the train trip takes just over 1 day, leaving Beijing at 13:10 and arriving in Yanji at 13:24. The bus from Yanji to Hunchun then takes around 3 hours. The cost of a sleeper ticket is 340rmb.
Plane – There are at least 5 flights a day from Beijing to Yanji and tickets cost around 1000rmb return. You still then need to catch the bus to Hunchun.
Tour Groups – There are tour groups leaving from the larger cities such as Changchun, Jilin and Harbin to Hunchun. Sign up for one of these tours is easy then all you need to do is fly/train to the city, jump on the bus and let your tour guide take care of everything.
Travel between Russia and China – There are plenty of long distance buses that travel between Hunchun and Russia you can catch if you have a Russian visa.
Tour Groups – The easiest way to see the sites around Hunchun is to join a day tour. You can sign up for day tours at the Hunchun long distance bus stop or at any of the many travel agents that are open in Hunchun.