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Find out about the 14 countries bordering China: their key facts, China's relationship with its neighbors, cross border histories, map, and travel possibilities.
Considering its magnitude, it is no wonder that China borders so many countries, with a total land border length of 22,116 km (more than halfway round the planet). Due to the vast distances, however, the immediate neighbors of the ‘Middle Kingdom’ vary greatly in culture and geography, though some still share many of China’s unique cultural heritages. Crossing the borders in any direction can highlight the extraordinary influences China and its neighbors have had on one another.
China borders 14 countries. Some of the countries listed below serve as very attractive destinations for both travel and business, as well as entry hubs into China.
Starting from the Southernmost neighbor, a breathtakingly beautiful strip of land overlooking the Pacific; serves as one of the most popular destinations for tourists coming out of China. With white sandy beaches, serene rivers surrounded by green hills, and incredible culinary specialties, Vietnam is accessible by air, sea and land, with the latter being a highly recommended choice whether by bus, train, or even by foot, as the scenery witnessed in the bordering Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi have long been a highly-recommended choice for travelers.
Vietnam and China’s history goes back a long way, as Vietnam’s borders were once extended to present-day Guangxi Province. Their proximity has allowed for frequent cultural and ideological exchanges, such as religion (Buddhism), and political (Communism). Ethnically, the similarities go even deeper, with the Hmong people of Vietnam being close descendants of the Miao people belonging to Southern Chinese regions, as well as the Yao ethnicity with inhabitants on both side of the border.
The close cultural relationships of the two has allowed for centuries of flourishing exchanges in business and tourism. Vietnam has unique and vibrant travel destinations, including Ha Long Bay in the North of the country, which homes thousands of limestone hills, karsts, and isles submerged in turquoise waters, resembling China’s very own limestone formations in Guilin. The sandy beaches of Vietnam offer magnificent views, and countless of water-sports and activities, as can be seen in China’s Yalong bay located in Sanya, Hainan.
For more on travelling to Vietnam, see our Asia travel brand Asia Highlights’ Vietnam Travel Guide.
To the East of Vietnam, rests a small landlocked country in the center of the peninsula. The absence of sea ports should not be considered a drawback, however, as the nation has plenty to offer in terms of places to visit, and is a valued member of the Indochinese peninsula. Laos, like many of its neighbors, shares historical ethnic links with China, particularly in the Yunnan region.
There, religion may be more apparent, and adds a distinctive touch to the scenery; with tranquil temples engulfed in the green and inviting natural landscapes. As in Vietnam, Laos draws a lot of its religious and ethnic customs from China.
For more on travelling to Laos, see our Asia travel brand Asia Highlights’ Laos Travel Guide.
The largest mainland Southeast Asian country, famous for its spirituality and religious (Buddhist) landmarks, Myanmar is the third and last to border with Yunnan province. Myanmar has historically been a very strategic transportation and trade hub for Asian and European forces, and served as a supply route into China under the British Empire in World War II. Its relationship with China has for long been a valued asset, serving as a key ally in political affairs, and as an extensive trade partner in the region. Myanmar is also home to some of the most unique scenery in the region, famous for its glided pagodas in the natural charm of flowy landscapes, as can be witnessed in Bagan.
For more on travelling to Myanmar, see our Asia travel brand Asia Highlights’ Myanmar Travel Guide.
The kingdom of Bhutan is a very small peaceful country in the Himalayan mountain range, bordering Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Despite its small size, Bhutan has never been colonized, and served as a reputable station for trade on the historic Silk Road. Despite some diplomatic disputes regarding territory, Bhutan’s tourism industry is becoming increasingly sustained by Chinese tourists.
Before the ease of conventional travel and transportation, Bhutan was mainly accessed from China through the Southern Silk Road or Tea Horse Road; an ancient trade route linking Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet, reaching as far as the Middle East. The road, as the name suggests, was mainly used for the trade of Tea from China (Han people), with horses from Tibet.
With a front-seat view of the “Peak of Heaven” and the rest of the Himalayan mountain range, the small kingdom of Nepal nests some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Like Bhutan, Nepal borders the Tibetan region of China, and has similarly retained its independence from Chinese and Indian control. Historically, however, it has been a central piece in the controversy surrounding territorial conflicts. Besides the chance to see the astonishing modest life of the local communities, the main attraction of course, is to gaze at the enormity of the majestic Mount Everest.
Despite having a physically challenging border between them, China and India’s history goes back almost as far as the two nations’ existence. Religious ties between the two giants were some of the earliest forms of connection, and have had very strong lasting effects to date. Buddhism was originated here, and made its journey to spread across China with the help of pilgrimages, mainly around Mount Kailash in Tibet; a magnificent and sacred site for four Indian religions: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Bon.
Unfortunately, the religious affiliation was not enough to retain peaceful relations throughout history, as the two were involved in a number of disputes and wars, namely the Sino-Indian border dispute over the sovereignty of Aksai Chin, located in either the Chinese province of Xinjiang, or in Jammu and Kashmir province of India.
Despite the disputes, these areas are frequented with border-crossings, rushing to see the extraordinary scenery of the region, particularly that of Ladakh; the remote and sparsely populated region near the border, and Uttarkashi; a town on the banks of the river Bhagirathi. Both these areas near the border offer splendid natural beauty, and are ideal for trekking.
Today, the rivalry of the two most populous nations has been reduced to an economic developmental nature, and not one of violence. Friendly relations are still not in their prime politically, though business and tourism are frequented between the two.
Resonant of the territorial disputes with India, Pakistan has also had its fair share of rope-pulling with China. Today, Pakistan shares a relatively small border with China in the Himalayan region, where the historically disputed region of Kashmir resides, and to this day carries with it the difficult political matters regarding the borders of these three nations.
Unlike India, however, Pakistan has sided with China on multiple issues in the past, which have allowed for today’s strong ties between the two, and has consequently enabled the formation of the Chinese mega-project “Belt and Road Initiative” — the modern day reincarnation of the history-filled Silk Road — in which Pakistan serves as an unequivocal participant. The Karakoram highway on Pakistan’s side, stretches across the wonderous Karakoram mountain range, and connects to China National Highway 314.
In the Wakhan Valley of the Pamir River, resides a 64-kilometer-long border between Afghanistan and China. Yet another pitstop of the ancient Silk Road, Afghanistan has served as a strategic component in political affairs between China, Russia, and British India.
Today, the relations with China are friendly and stable, and the two share a spectacular range of nature reserves on both sides of the border, despite not having easily accessible roads crossing the border. This obstacle is bound to change, however, as Afghanistan too is subject to be a beneficiary of the Belt and Road Initiative, which is expected to not only boost the local economy and interconnectivity, but perhaps even help the nation retain its ancient title as the “transshipment point of commerce”.
A small and relatively poor fragment nation of the USSR; what Tajikistan lacks in wealth, it makes up for in its rich array of minorities and ethnic groups. Bordering China’s Xinjiang province, the nation serves as a melting pot of cultures and religions which have descended down from the other big names in the area. Along the border, the Pamir mountain range can be admired. This is one of the most notable attractions in the country, which besides its beauty, also contributed its ranges as another major station on the incredibly significant Silk Road. There are to this day Tajik minorities across the border in Xinjiang.
Despite its current state of poverty, Tajikistan is taking drastic steps in reducing it, with the past 15 years seeing a rate of poverty reduction placed among the top 10 in the world. This rate is likely to increase even more as the Belt and Road Initiative will pass through here as well.
Many of the features of Tajikistan are also reflected in the small nation of Kyrgyzstan, where ancient cultures and empires have been preserved for centuries in the mountainous terrain surrounding it. Like the Tajik minority, many members of the Kyrgyz minority have settled in Xinjiang as well. At the northern border of Xinjiang province, this landlocked country has a major road linking China over the Turugart Pass.
For a recommended tour of Xinjiang, see our 7-Day Xinjiang Silk Road Highlights Tour!
This large oil-and-gas-rich country is another remnant of the Soviet Union, which borders Xinjiang province. The Kazak people and culture have deep roots and tribal affinities in Xinjiang, dating back to the 15th century Silk Route — a birthing place of many ancient Turkic tribes — before the Russian influence of the 18th century. During that era, Xinjiang was shared by the Kazakhs and the Uyghurs — the largest ethnic group.
Today, about two million Kazakhs have found homes in Xinjiang and in the Tianshan Mountains. In terms of travel, the region attracts visitors from both countries, who can enjoy the local activities of hiking, horseback riding, or an overnight sleep in a traditional yurt.
Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has successfully achieved its goal of maintaining equal and good relations with both China and Russia, and today has a flourishing trade relationship with China.
Arguably the two biggest players in political affairs in the region, China and Russia’s history is long and complex, as are their shared borders. The Western section, which is small in size, borders with Xinjiang, while the bigger Eastern section borders Heilongjiang province, the northernmost province of China.
The two sections are separated by Mongolia at their center, but together make up the world’s sixth longest international border. The Eastern section possesses 26 border crossings, including three (soon to be four) cross-border railways, with the most notable being the Trans-Siberian Railway crossing Manchuria. China and Russia, with all their complexities involved, remain very strong friendly allies and trade partners.
A historically troubled relation between China and Mongolia, combined with extremely difficult-to-define geographical features, have led to the “ambiguous” border separating the two. Much of the large terrain of Mongolia is almost uninhabitable due to the extreme conditions, and nowadays many members of the ethnic Mongol minority have chosen to reside in China’s Inner Mongolia and other Northern provinces.
Inner Mongolia sees waves of tourism pouring in from China and the world, to experience life in the open grasslands typical of the region.
The region boasts remarkable history as well, such as the birthplace of the Yuan Dynasty, the largest and first-foreign-led dynasty. The Yuan empire was established here by Genghis Khan and his descendants. China was ruled by Mongol peoples for over 300 years, under two different dynasties, Yuan (1279–1368) and Qing (1644–1912).
The threats of invasion posed by the Mongols, were one of the leading concerns which led to the construction of the Great Wall.
The common worldwide perception of North Korea is unsurprisingly unfavorable. What many don’t realize, however, is that for China, North Korea is not as “restricted” as may be believed. Trade and business are quite common ground for the two neighbors, and there is also quite an active tourism industry of travelers going into North Korea from China.
In border city Dandong of Liaoning Province, North Korea can be easily seen across the Yalu River, where this year (2019) marked the opening of the long-awaited “Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge” which connects the two. This city also once marked the East end of the Great Wall of China.
Among the many official Chinese minorities, the North Korean minority (Chaoxian) has a very dominant populous in many regions of China, particularly in the Northeastern provinces of Liaoning and Jilin (especially in Yanbian), where millions of descendants of North Korean ethnicities reside.
Despite such a large area to cover, China’s borders today are some of the most secure in the world. Despite all the complicated historical relations, China has established and maintained peaceful relations with its neighbors, allowing for mutual partaking in travel and business opportunities.
The influences that ancient Chinese culture has had on its neighboring regions have allowed for spectacular subcultures and traditions to evolve. This influence is still taking place today with projects such as the One Belt One Road initiative, which will undoubtedly continue the mutually beneficial exchanges happening across these borders.
We are in the process of covering international transport across more and more of China’s borders, and we have a continuously expanding presence in our surrounding countries. Through our Asia Highlights website, we can help you discover your next dream travel destination.