Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

13 of the Most Fascinating International Borders in the World

Borders usually clearly delineate two entities apart — whether they be towns, cities, states, countries or continents — but some borders around the world seemingly inexplicably create some interesting anomalies which one would not normally find or expect.

13 of the Most Fascinating International Borders in the World

“Not all international borders are uncomplicated, straight lines dividing one country from another. In reality, a political map shows what a mess these boundaries — often invisible, but occasionally obvious — can be”, according to this article written by Melanie Lieberman of Travel + Leisure. “There are borders expressed as painted lines that divide villages—the line between Belgium and the Netherlands even goes right through homes and cafés—and those that rise up 29,029 feet above sea level.”

Lieberman gives 12 examples of the most fascinating international borders in the world, which are highlighted in this article — not in the same order as in the original article; but rather in a more random order — but please refer to the original article for details about each of these examples.

I also added my own example of international borders — even if it is not as fascinating. Additionally, I have been to a couple of the examples to which Lieberman referred, which I will highlight with my own words.

Fun With Enclaves and Exclaves: United Arab Emirates and Oman

a map of the united arab emirates
Imagery ©2015 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2015 courtesy of Google Maps. Some labeling by Brian Cohen.

The particular enclave and exclave which I visited is where an exclave of Oman is also an enclave within the United Arab Emirates; but within that exclave of Oman is an exclave of the United Arab Emirates, which is also an enclave…

a sign with black text
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…which means that a portion — or counter-enclave — of the United Arab Emirates is located within a portion of Oman, which is located within the United Arab Emirates.

a monument with a large arch and text
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Before continuing with this article, an enclave is a portion of territory within or surrounded by a larger territory whose inhabitants are culturally or ethnically distinct; while an exclave is a portion of territory of one state completely surrounded by territory of another or others, as viewed by the home territory.

a sign with a sign in the background
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Please read this article which I wrote for more details pertaining to my experience.

The Land Owned by No One — and Not Wanted By Anyone

Bir Tawil
Imagery ©2017 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2017 courtesy of Google Maps. Additional graphics by Brian Cohen.

I would like to say that I have journeyed to this fabled piece of forgotten land — or, perhaps, maybe not — but alas, I have never visited the lone trapezoidal anomaly nestled south of what was supposed to be the official straight border along the 22nd parallel of Egypt and Sudan. Neither country wants to claim the barren lawless land of roughly 800 square miles known as Bir Tawil, for to do so would automatically mean the acknowledgement of relinquishing a larger, more fertile and more lucrative disputed piece of land referred to as the Hala’ib triangle, with many miles of coastline along the Red Sea.

The closest I came to Bir Tawil was a scant 275 miles to the north and slightly west in an ancient city known as Luxor — at which I experienced arguably the best service I ever received from a hotel property and near which I visited the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut — of which I still intend to compose reports of that trip back in 2015. To try obtaining directions to Bir Tawil on Google Maps is an exercise fraught with futility, as no viable transportation option is possible.

More information on this curious piece of land is imparted in this article which I wrote in January of this year.

A Wildlife Reserve — In the Unlikeliest of Places

Demilitarized Zone Korea
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

I visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone — which serves as a buffer approximately 2.5 miles wide between North Korea and South Korea — back in October of 2014. Yes, I still have trip reports to write about my experience.

After its establishment 64 years ago, this stretch of no man’s land — which stretches for roughly 155 miles — has eventually transformed into an undeveloped nature reserve which reportedly contains gorals, wild boar, roe deer, endangered cranes and even rare Siberian tigers; and both countries have cooperated to protect the rare wildlife which has flourished here. I personally have not seen any of the aforementioned wildlife.

The Largest Enclave in the World

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Lesotho is a kingdom comprised of approximately two million people which — at 11,720 square miles — is considered the largest enclave on earth; and it is completely surrounded by the country of South Africa. I visited Lesotho in February of 2015…

…never mind that I endured a flat tire which I had to change on my way to Lesotho as well as having to wait four hours in a thunderstorm to cross the border — along with the reason for that long wait. The possibility of being sleepless in Lesotho was quite real; but I finally managed to be in a bed in the room of the lodge which I originally reserved.

The Smallest Republic in the World

Lesotho is not the only independent state completely surrounded by another country. The Republic of San Marino is an enclave completely surrounded by Italy — as is Vatican City — and is considered the oldest and smallest republic in the world.

I visited Italy several times; but I never got the chance to visit neither San Marino nor Vatican City because both were out of the way and I had limited time. However, there are still places in Italy to which I have not yet been — and if I do return, I hope to visit both San Marino and Vatican City in the process.

An Italian Enclave — Which Is Mostly Swiss

Speaking of Italy, “Campione d’Italia has a Swiss dialing code, Swiss emergency responders, and uses the Swiss Franc”, according to Lieberman. “But this is an Italian enclave, surrounded by Switzerland and the Lugano Prealps.”

I have been to Switzerland several times — and I was near Italy the first time when I was in Montreux.

A Possible Quadripoint — Or Merely Two Tripoints?

The point where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah which is known as Four Corners Monument is definitively clear — I have not visited there as of yet despite having been to all 50 states of the United States — but there is reportedly only one place on earth where the countries of Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana meet at a single point.

Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana
Imagery ©2017 CNS / Airbus, Digital Globe, Landsat, Copernicus. Map data ©2017 courtesy of Google Maps.

However, a very close look at Google Maps — assuming it is accurate — suggests that Botswana separates Namibia and Zimbabwe from ever meeting by approximately 200 meters or 700 feet somewhere near the confluence of the Chobe River with the Zambezi River. That begs the question: is this a bonafide quadripoint — or is this simply two tripoints situated very close to each other?

Of these countries, I have visited Botswana in February of 2015 — including the capital city of Gaborone in which I stayed at the Cresta President Hotel; and an interesting place called Matsieng Footprints where legend claims life began.

A Very Confusing Twin Villages: Baarle Nassau and Baarle Hertog

“May I introduce two villages: One is a Belgian town called Baarle-Hertog, population 2,306”, according to this article pertaining to how to cross five international borders in one minute without sweating written by Robert Krulwich of NPR. “The other’s a Dutch town called Baarle-Nassau, population 6,668.”

a yellow and black map
Border between Belgium and the Netherlands at Baarle Nassau and Baarle Hertog. Source: By Tos – Own work, Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

Referring to the map, Krulwich wrote “The hunky yellow bit labeled “H1” (for Hartog) toward the bottom is mostly the Belgian town. But notice those little white bits inside the yellow — labeled “N1, N2, N3” — those are little patches of the Dutch town (N for Nassau). The two towns are notgeographically separate. Instead, they’re like M&M’s in a candy bowl. There are 22 distinct Belgian bits, and a dozen or so Dutch bits, and they are sprinkled together; so sometimes you’ve got bits of Belgium inside Dutch areas, and sometimes Dutch patches inside Belgian neighborhoods. They vary in size. The largest is 1.54 square kilometers, the smallest, an empty field, is 2,632 square meters.”

A Misplaced Lighthouse

When I visited Helsinki earlier this year, I was too far away to explore this anomaly at the point where the Baltic Sea gives way to the Gulf of Bothnia called Märket. The uninhabited island was meant to be cleanly split down the middle between Finland and Sweden; but — according to Lieberman — “a Finnish lighthouse, erected on the Swedish side of Märket (when Finland was controlled by Russia) violated the border. To correct the mistake, the border across Märket now zigs and zags wildly.”

The Island Where You Can See the Future

“There are two islands — known as the Diomedes, about two and a half miles apart — right smack in the middle of the Bering Strait”, according to this article written by Haley Sweetland Edwards of Mental Floss. One of them, Little Diomede, “belongs to the U.S., and has a hardcore, weather-bitten population of about 150. The other island, Big Diomede, belongs to Russia and is uninhabited. The space between these two islands marks not only an international border, but the International Date Line as well, making it possible for the folks on Little Diomede to wake up on a Sunday, pour themselves a cup of coffee, and peer across the water to Big Diomede, where it’s already Monday.”

The Tallest International Border in the World

“To trace the international border separating Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region — a part of China — you’ll have to climb the world’s tallest mountain”, according to Lieberman. “This border splits Mount Everest at its summit: more than 29,000 feet above sea level.”

Talk about getting high…

A Third-Order Enclave in the World — Gone Due to the Resolution of the Weirdest Border Dispute

When India and Bangladesh exchanged greater than 160 enclaves, they ended a dispute on Saturday, August 1, 2015 which had lasted almost 70 years. “The exchange between India and Bangladesh means that the world will not only lose one of its most unique borders, but it will also lose the only third-order enclave in the world — an enclave surrounded by an enclave surrounded by an enclave surrounded by another state”, according to this article written by Adam Taylor of The Washington Post. “It’s confusing, so let me spell it out: Dahala Khagrabari, the third-order enclave in question, was a part of India, surrounded by a Bangladeshi enclave, which was surrounded by an Indian enclave, which was surrounded by Bangladesh.”

The article contains a map which should help to clarify the area where the third-order enclave once existed.

The Venbahn: A Disused Railway

“The Venbahn, a former German railway line, ended up in Belgium after the Treaty of Versailles”, according to Lieberman. “At the same time, six German exclaves were created, as well as one Belgian enclave inside a three-way intersection of German roads.”


Travel is filled with many interesting aspects — including anomalies pertaining to borders, which can give an insight into the region which you are visiting.

I am interested in reading your experiences pertaining to fascinating borders of the world — international or otherwise — or at least ones which interest you enough to perhaps want to visit in the future.

All photographs ©2014 and ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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