Beijing to Istanbul Trip Notes

Beijing to Istanbul

Last Modified: 30 Oct 2012
Beijing to Istanbul
Trip code: KDOYC
Validity: 01 Jan 2012 to 31 Dec 2012
Get ready for a massive overland adventure from the bustling streets of Istanbul to the metropolitan core of Beijing. Travel through some of the planet's most remote, wild and unique wildernesses along the legendary Silk Road into China. Pass through the mountain-scapes of Iran, pitch a tent beneath the stars in the Karakum Desert, and arrive at secluded sections of the snaking Great Wall. From Turkey to Turkmenistan and beyond, this adventure will introduce you to the friendly and hospitable locals who call these rugged lands home. If you're longing for an epic overland odyssey, away from the tourist crowds and through some of the world's last wild terrains, then this epic journey is just for you.
This trip is operated by our experienced local partners Dragoman Overland. Dragoman shares Intrepid's ethos for adventure travel and has many years' expertise in overlanding.
Table of Contents
StyleDeparture taxFinish point description
ThemesImportant notesFinish point instructions
MapGroup sizeEmergency contact
ItineraryYour fellow travellersEmergency funds
Itinerary disclaimerAccommodationVisas
Culture shock rating Meals introductionIssues on your trip
Physical ratingMealsWhat to take
Physical preparationTransportHealth
Included activitiesGroup leaderSafety
KittyJoining point Travel insurance
Optional activitiesJoining point descriptionResponsible Travel
Money ExchangeJoining point instructionsA couple of rules
Spending moneyArrival complicationsThe Intrepid Foundation
TippingFinish point Feedback
To save you money and the hassle of booking multiple trips, this journey is a combination of some of our most popular adventures so your leader and the composition of your group may change.
  • The best value journeys on the planet! On a Basix trip you can expect amazing experiences, but none of the inclusions that you may not want. Which means budget (1-2 star) accommodation, plenty of free time, activities that are optional and the freedom to choose meals to suit your budget. On some trips you may be camping and required to set up your own tent. You'll also have access to a group leader to offer advice and help you uncover the region's hidden gems. On a Basix journey, the way you travel is all a part of the adventure. Depending on the destination and the itinerary, you could find yourself travelling on anything from a donkey to a bus or a private safari vehicle. These trips are ideal for first-time travellers seeking fun and independence with the support of a group leader. They're also ideal for independent travellers looking to make the most of their travel time with minimum hassle and maximum experiences.
Beijing to Istanbul
Days 1-2 Beijing
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China.
The trip beings with an important group meeting at 6pm.
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If your flight arrives too late, we recommend that you consider arriving a day early and book a night's accommodation prior to the trip so you are able to attend. If you are going to be late please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your kitty, insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting so please ensure you have all details on hand to provide to your leader.
The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation's ancient past as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture.
The next morning we take a guided tour of the Forbidden City. The afternoon is free to explore the many sights, sounds and flavours of Beijing.
Included Activities
  • Beijing - Forbidden City
Optional Activities
  • Kung Fu show - CNY180
  • Beijing Opera - CNY200
  • Beijing - Acrobat show - CNY250
  • Summer Palace - CNY40
  • Lama Temple - CNY30
  • Beijing Zoo (including Aquarium) - CNY130
  • Temple of Heaven - CNY40
  • Hutong cycling tour - CNY150
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 3-4 Chengde
Set off on a drive to Chengde. The evening is free to explore this ancient and magnificent town.
Chengde is located in Hubei Province, the heavily populated region that surrounds Beijing. Once a royal city, this 18th century imperial resort town has plenty of historic monuments to boast about. The imperial family would have moved here during the hot summer months, because of the cool and refreshing mountain air. There are many historical sites to explore, including the regal gardens (the largest in China), the Imperial Summer Villa and a profusion of temples. Many of the temples and monasteries have a Mongolian and Tibetan feel, this is largely because of the legacy of Emperor Qinlong, who wanted to assimilate both regions into his empire. In recent years, mirroring the city's history, Chengde has become a very popular weekend retreat for the wealthy of Beijing - and so it's home to some excellent restaurants.
The next day visit Bishu Shanzhuang and the Puning Temple.
Included Activities
  • Chengde - Puning Temple
  • Chengde - Bisu Shanzhuang
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 5 Jinshanling
This morning we drive to the Great Wall. This afternoon there will be time to explore.
Included Activities
  • Jinshanling - Great Wall
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 6-7 Datong
Drive to the city of Datong in China's Shanxi province.
The next day we visit the Hanging Monastery and Yungang Caves.
Visit the Hanging Monastery, which dates back over 1400 years, beautifully located right on the edge of a cliff. The monastery consists of over 40 different halls and is home to an impressive array of bronze, stone, clay and iron statues.
The Yungang Grottoes, are a UNESCO World Heritage complex of 21 caves containing over 50000 statues, some of which are the oldest of this type in China. Looking at the rock art you will be able to pick out influences from an amazing variety of different cultures, including Greek, Persian and Indian.
Included Activities
  • Datong - Hanging Monastery
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 8-9 Wutai Shan
This morning we make our way to the stunning mountainous area known as the Five Terrace Mountains or Wutai Shan. Tomorrow we will have a full day to explore the area.
The sacred mountain Wutaishan, located in Shanxi Province, is believed to be the earthly abode of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri, and for a thousand years it has been a focus of transnational pilgrimage for the Chinese, Tibetans, Mongols, and Manchus alike. This multi-culturalism, endemic of Himalayan art, is reflected in the objects in the exhibition coming from Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, and China, including paintings, sculptures, masks, book covers and features a six-foot wide woodblock print, a panoramic view of Mount Wutai filled with temples and miraculous visions.
While here we visit temples in the area known as the Taihuai Temple Cluster. There are many opportunities for hiking in the area.
Included Activities
  • Wutai Shan - Taihui Temple Cluster
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 10-11 Pingyao
Today we drive to China's best preserved ancient walled town of Pingyao. There will be plenty of time to explore this ancient town during our time here.
A former commercial and military centre of the Ming and Qing dynasties, Pingyao is a well-preserved Han Chinese walled city. Its streets remain in the traditional 'bagua' (octagonal) layout with centuries-old houses lining its narrow streets. The unique and wondrous architecture is the reason for city's well-deserved Unesco heritage listing.
Optional Activities
  • Shuanglin Temple - CNY25
  • Bike hire - CNY20
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 12 Lijiashan
Today we visit the ancient village of Lijiashan, famous for its settlement of cave dwellers. It is still home to more than 600 families.
Lijiashan, located in China's Shanxi province is famed for its cave houses. This remote 550-year-old village, hugging a hillside set back from the Yellow River, has hundreds of cave dwellings scaling nine storeys.
We stay overnight in a cave room.
Included Activities
  • Lijiashan - Black Dragon Temple
Hotel (1 nt), Cave house (1 nt)
Days 13-14 Yan'an
Today we make our way to Yan'an. Yan'an is famous for being the final resting place for those on the Long March, and because the CCP headquarters for a brief period. During our time here we visit the Revolution Museum, and the headquarters site.
When the diminished communist armies pitched up here at the end of the Long March, it signalled the beginning of Yan'An's brief period in the sun. For twelve years from 1935 to 1947, this backwater town was the CCP headquarters. During our time here we will have a chance to step back into history as we explore the area.
Included Activities
  • Yan'an - Revolution Museum & CCP Headquarters site
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 15-18 Xi'an
In the early morning set off on a drive to Xi'an. We arrive late in the afternoon and after checking in to the hotel, the evening is free to explore this diverse and multi-cultural city. A good option is a walk around the night market to buy some last minute souvenirs or catch a cultural show over a dumpling banquet.
The imperial centre of China for 2,000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites. A monument pays homage to the fact that this was the start of the famous ancient trading route of the Silk Road and the city is still surrounded by city walls.
The next morning take a guided tour of the Terracotta Warriors. The afternoon is free to explore Xi'an. Perhaps cycle around the ancient wall or visit the Bell and Drum towers.
The most popular attraction in Xi'an, and the place that has made the city most famous around the world, is the Terracotta Warriors. The Warriors are certainly an incredible archaeological find, discovered by farmers digging a well in 1976 after being buried for thousands of years. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots all standing in battle formation were commissioned by the emperor of the Qin dynasty as part of his mausoleum and a number of pits are now on view to the public. More pits were recently opened so you may even be lucky enough to see archaeologists at work, carefully unearthing and restoring these ancient relics.
Included Activities
  • Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors guided tour
Optional Activities
  • Bell & Drum Towers - CNY50
  • Cycling on City Wall - CNY80
  • Xi'an - Dumpling banquet - CNY80
  • Great Mosque - CNY25
  • Shaanxi History Museum - Free
  • Folk house - CNY15
  • Big Wild Goose Pagoda - CNY80
  • Small Wild Goose Pagoda - CNY50
Hotel (4 nts)
Day 19 Pingliang/Mount Kongtong
In the morning we set off towards Pingliang in China's Gansu Province.
The main reason to visit Pingliang is Mount Kongtong, during our time here we will have the opportunity to explore the mountain.
Gansu Province is in north-western China, between Inner Mongolia and the Huangtu Plateau, bordering Mongolia and Xinjiang. Caravans passed through Gansu on the infamous Silk Road, travelling to and from Europe - so the region has a rich and interesting history.
The streets of Pingliang are lined with wonderful shops and you can spend hours exploring them, but the main attraction of this city is the mountain range, which contains the Kongtong mountains, which has been used as a mythical meeting point in the past. If you have the opportunity to climb this mountain, do so, as the views from the top are beautifully rewarding.
Close to the city of Pingliang is Mount Kongtong, an important sacred site for believers in Taoism. It's usually possible to climb the mountain and you'll be rewarded with magnificent views from the top as you emerge from the rich and verdant vegetation that cover the surrounding hillsides. As you climb, you will ascend through five different "terraces", passing many temples and shrines along the way. The highest peak is known as "The Emerald Screen Peak", rising to 2100 metres above sea level.
Included Activities
  • Pingliang - Kongtong Mountain
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 20 Gansu Corridor, Lanzhou
Today we drive 240 km to Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou. Accommodation is in a comfortable hotel.
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 21-22 Xiahe
In the early morning we head to the enchanting Tibetan town of Xiahe. We will arrive in the early evening and settle in to our rustic guesthouse.
Xiahe has been described as "one of the most enchanting places to visit in China". Certainly it has a wonderful tranquil
atmosphere and a beautiful setting. Many Tibetans come here on pilgrimage - and the combination of the many monasteries, saffron-robed monks, fluttering prayer flags and spectacular scenery make this small town feel very like Tibet as well. Indeed, in all but name, you are in Tibet; Xiahe is right up on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and the population here is over 45% Tibetan.
The second day here is free to explore this beautiful town and surrounding grasslands.
Options include a guided visit to the Labrang Monastery where Tibetan monks can be seen doing their daily rituals and chants. There may also be a chance to go horse riding in the surrounding grasslands visiting Tibetan families and perhaps trying the local Yak butter tea.
Optional Activities
  • Labrang Monastery, Xiahe - USD6
Guesthouse (2 nts)
Day 23 Liujiaxia
Today we continue our journey to Liujiaxia. Overnight in a comfortable hotel.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 24 Bingling Si/Zhangye Bush Camp
This morning we will visit the Bingling Si Caves.
While Bingling Si is one of numerous thousand Buddha caves that can be found in China, these ones are very special. They contain 694 statues and 82 clay sculptures. The highlight of the cave is the 27 metre high seated statue of Maitreya Buddha. Indeed this cave complex is one of the best in China and yet because of its relative isolation, it is less visited than the main Chinese sites.
The caves are a set of Buddhist grottoes are carved into the cliff of a 60 metre high gorge. They are most impressive especially because they are surrounded on one side by the waters of the Liujiaxia Reservoir.
In the afternoon we will drive to towards Jiayuguan, bushcamping en route.
Included Activities
  • Liujiaxia - Bingling Si Caves
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 25 Jiayuguan/Great Wall
Full day drive to Jiayuguan (approximately 400 km). Jiayuguan is the location for the western end of the Great Wall. Tonight will be spent bushcamping at the Great Wall of China.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 26-27 Dunhuang
In the morning we will visit the Great Wall and the old fort.
The town's impressive fort remains a remarkable sight with 17 m-high towers flanking the main gates. We explore it, as well as see some of the remnants of the wall.
Once our visit to the wall is complete we will then head off in the truck towards Dunhuang. This is the perfect base to explore the amazing Maogao Caves tomorrow. Accommodation is in a comfortable hotel.
Dunhuang is one of the largest and historically most important of Gansu's oasis trading towns. Surrounded by fertile agricultural fields, an oasis in an otherwise barren desert, offset by distant sand dunes and mountains, the setting is spectacular and a good enough reason to travel here alone. However most visitors make the long journey to the city to see the
fantastic Buddhist art in the nearby Mogao Caves. This is an extraordinary site even by Chinese standards and yet it's visited by very few tour groups.
We begin our day with a visit to the Maogao Caves. The afternoon is free to explore this amazing town and its surroundings. Options include a camel ride along the sand dunes or perhaps a bicycle ride out to the White Goose Pagoda.
Included Activities
  • Entrance Jiayuguan fort
  • Dunhuang - Mogao Caves
Optional Activities
  • Bike hire - USD5
  • Crescent Moon Lake camel ride - USD20
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 28 Bush Camp
We set off in the truck in the early morning and drive approximately 7 hours towards the oasis town of Turpan. We will bush camp en route.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 29-30 Turpan
We arrive into the oasis town of Turpan in the early evening. The rest of your evening is free. Accommodation is in a comfortable hotel.
Once an important staging post on the Silk Road, Turpan is an attractive oasis town famous for its vineyards, stone fruits, melons and the nearby Flaming Mountains. The country roads on the outskirts are lined with poplars and lovely old mud brick dwellings of the Uyghur people, while the modern 'inner' town has shiny new buildings, spacious streets and public squares.
We spend the next day exploring the surrounding sites including the famous Jiaohe ruins. Accommodation is in a comfortable hotel.
Included Activities
  • Turpan - Jiaohe riuns
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 31-32 Urumqi & The Heavenly Lake
In the morning we drive towards the Tian Shan mountain range, and on to Heavenly Lake. Accommodation at the lake is in yurts for 2 nights. This is a great opportunity for some relaxation time and there may be an opportunity for horse riding around the lake.
Heavenly Lake is a picturesque location consisting of a deep blue lake set on a mountain in a desert. We will stay with the local Kazakh herders in their yurts.
Yurt (2 nts)
Days 33-34 Bush Camp
We leave Heavenly Lake and begin our two day overland journey skirting the edge of the Taklamakan Desert towards Kashgar. We bush camp en route.
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Days 35-37 Kashgar
We arrive into Kashgar early in the morning. There is free time to explore, and we visit the animal market just outside of town, and then the famous Kashgar Sunday Market.
Kashgar is very much a frontier town, quickly developing to take advantage of its geographical location right in the heart of Central Asia. From Kashgar, roads lead into Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and beyond. There are few signs that you are still in China - other than the the country's largest Chairman Mao statue, that is. This once ancient city is quickly modernising. In 2011, the Chinese government started rapid demolishing of the Old Town of Kashgar due to being overcrowded, with poor drainage and vulnerable to earthquakes thus relocating Uighur families to newly built apartments. It’s hard to predict what will be left in this area in the coming years.
Kashgar's main attraction is undoubtedly the Sunday Bazaar. 50,000 people migrate for the day into the town. The Chinese have split the market in two and moved the animal market out of town. This is a must for the visitor, as it exemplifies the daily life of the indigenous people. The noise, smells, the animals, the traders, the junk, toot, cloths, rugs, jewellery, tapes and ghetto blasters. Horses, cows, donkeys, sheep and goats all awaiting the inevitable sale.
You will have plenty of free time to explore the town over the next couple of days, perhaps heading off to the main landmark of the town, the Id Kah Mosque and its surrounding square.
Accommodation is in a comfortable hotel.
Included Activities
  • Kashgar - Sunday & Animal Bazaars
Optional Activities
  • Id Kah Mosque - CNY20
Hotel (3 nts)
Day 38 Karakol
This morning there will be a quick pre-departure meeting in order to explain the next 6 days and collect the next part of your kitty.
We then set off on a stunning journey along the Karakoram highway towards Lake Karakol. This stunning lake and its surrounding mountains are a highlight on this short trip. We camp overnight if conditions allow.
Day 39 Kashgar
The morning is spent at Lake Karakol. Optional activities include horse riding around the lake or short hikes in the surrounding mountains. In the afternoon we will drive back to Kashgar arriving in the early evening in order to prepare for the border crossing tomorrow. Accommodation is in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.
Day 40 Bush Camp
We overland approx 625 km along the Silk Route through the Tian Shan Mountains and over the 3752 m Torugart Pass crossing into China. We will set up a bush camp tonight near the border.
The Silk Route had many different physical barriers to overcome, none more difficult that the vast Tian Shan mountains that separate the kingdoms of the Kyrgs, now Kyrgyzstan, and the land of the Turkic speaking Uyghurs, Chinese Turkestan. The main route through these mountains was and still is through the 3752 m Torugart Pass. This journey is not for the fainthearted as roads are poor but passable. The route is through stunning mountains and is one of the most exciting overland routes in the area. Be prepared for high altitude and cold as en route we will cross the Tuz-Bell Pass at 3574 m and then over the Torugart Pass at 3752 m.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 41 Kochkor
Today we will drive approximately 235 km to Kochkor. Here we will stay for the night with a traditional Kyrgyz family, living with them and finding out about their daily life, food and family patterns. Accommodation is in home stays, accommodating up to 8 guests in each home.
Days 42-43 Bishkek
This morning we will drive approximately 80 km to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. We will arrive in time for the 10:00am pre departure meeting for the next section of this trip, Bishkek to Tashkent. Accommodation tonight is in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.
Bishkek is the relaxed capital of Kyrgyzstan with a pleasant laid-back atmosphere. The city centres around Ala-too Square, previously known as Lenin's Square under the previous Soviet regime. Lenin used to stand in his concrete overcoat in the middle of the square, proudly gesturing towards the mountains. For those interested in their Soviet memorabilia, a larger than life Frunze can also be found still sitting on a bronze horse facing the train station, though his name plaque has been removed - and you can still visit the museum built over Frunze's birthplace. A pleasant place to watch the world go by is Dubovy (Oak) Park, where you'll find a few open air cafes, perfect spot to sit and have a drink and soak up the atmosphere. The century old oaks here and all along Freedom Avenue make Bishkek one of the greenest cities in Central Asia.
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 44-45 Chong Kemin Valley
Early in the morning we set off towards the Chong Kemin Valley National Park. Accommodation will be either in traditional yurts or camping.
Chong Kemin lies within the Tian Shan mountain range separating Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Their peaks reach above the legendary threshold of 7000 m elevation in its rugged run towards China. This spectacular valley is famed for it's natural beauty, abundant wildlife and rich, varied flora. This is the reason why Chong Kemin National Park was founded in 1977.
The valley offers several trekking possibilities from easy short walks along the Chong Kemin River to adventurous and tough hikes over 4000m passes, certainly not for the faint hearted. Recently white water rafting has become a popular activity for visitors in the area.
The following day is free to explore this stunning area. There are opportunities for short hikes, and possibly the change to meet nomadic Kyrgyz families in the surrounding area.
Please note that trips running in May to mid-June, October and November will not camp in the Chong Kemin Valley if temperatures are too low. Instead you will stay in a small village called Semyenovka and overnight in yurts. You will need to remain flexible with these itineraries as temperatures can vary.
Optional Activities
  • Whitewater rafting - USD25
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Day 46 Cholpon Ata/Issyk-kul Lake
In the morning we will drive to Cholpon Ata. We spend the afternoon at the beach, and there is the option of a visit to the nearby petroglyphs. Tonight we stay in local cottage accommodation.
Issyk-Kul is one of the biggest natural water reservoirs in the world at 170 km long and 70 km wide. Issyk-Kul means "warm lake". A combination of extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity means the lake never freezes. Its moderating effect on the climate plus abundant rainfall have made it something of an oasis down through the centuries. Cholpon Ata is one of the small towns on the banks of Lake Issyk-Kul. It is definitely a favourite spot with the locals, who use it as a holiday resort. The area has a number of health resorts and spas and there are some excellent rock inscriptions dating back to 500BC, however most people come here for the beaches. These may not be the virgin, palm fringed beaches of other destinations, but are a great place to relax while visiting this mountain realm.
Optional Activities
  • Cholpan Ata - Petroglyphs - USD1
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Day 47 Karakol
Today we drive to the picturesque town of Karakol, with time to explore in the afternoon. We spend the night in a local hotel.
Karakol is a picturesque town surrounded by orchards and mountains, with a delightful Russian church and gracious colonial houses on tree-lined streets sloping up towards glaciers and pine forests.
Optional Activities
  • Cholpan Ata - Petroglyphs - USD1
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 48-49 Djety Oguz Valley
Morning drive to the alpine trekking region of Djety-Oguz. We spend 2 nights here to give you time for valley and canyon hikes. We will either camp, or it may be possible to stay in local yurts - but this depends on the season.
Seven spectacular red sandstone cliffs stand guard over the entrance to the Jeti-Oghuz Valley. Local tradition says that the cliffs were once wild bulls, immobilised by the gods to stop them terrorising local yurt dwellers. The base of this stunning canyon lies on the northern slopes of the Terskei Ala-Too range, surrounded by a broad valley and majestic snow-capped mountains. The valley is a fantastic place for camping and hiking, exploring the valleys and canyon by foot you'll be able to admire the unusual rock formations and alpine peaks.
The second day here is free for hiking and other activities.
Please note that trips running in May to mid-June, October and November will not camp if temperatures are too low. Instead you will stay for 1 night in Jeti-Oghuz in a local hotel and then spend the second night in Altyn Arashan, a hot spring development en route to Karakol again in a local hotel. You will need to remain flexible with these itineraries as temperatures can vary.
Included Activities
  • Jeti-Oghuz - Hiking
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Day 50 Kochkor
In the morning we drive to Kochkor village where we stay in local homes and enjoy traditional hospitality.
While here, we visit a small museum and women's felt making cooperative that produces 'shyrdaks', the felt carpets for which Kyrgyzstan is renowned.
Kochkor is a sleepy little Kyrgyz village and looks very much like the paintings of traditional Kyrgyz life seen in various museums and art galleries throughout the country.
Here we will stay for the night with a traditional Kyrgyz family, living with them and finding out about their daily life, food and family patterns. The Kyrgyz have embraced Responsible Tourism and actively encourage travellers to stay in the homes of local people.
Included Activities
  • Kochkor - Regional Museum
  • Kochkor - Women's Felt Co-op
Homestay (1 nt)
Days 51-52 Song Kul Lake
Morning drive to Song-Kul lake. We have this afternoon and all of tomorrow to explore the area.
Song Kul Lake is one of the loveliest spots in central Kyrgyzstan. The lake and shore are part of the Song Kul zoological reserve. All around the lake are lush pastures favoured by local nomadic herders, who come here in the summer with their animals.
The Kyrgyz have embraced Responsible Tourism and actively encourage travellers to stay as guests in the homes of local people here. We spend a couple of days staying with these shepherds in their felt yurts, learning about their culture and traditions and experiencing their way of life first hand. We might get to see the local men play a game of "ulak-Tartys" (goat polo) or have a chance to ride out with the shepherds on their small hardy ponies, or you might prefer to explore the surrounding area on foot, hiking in the hills.
Please note that trips running in May to mid-June, October and November Will not visit Song-Kul Lake as temperatures will be below freezing. Instead you will stay in yurts on the Southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. You will need to remain flexible with these itineraries as temperatures can vary.
Yurt (2 nts)
Day 53 Bush Camp
Today we start our trip back to Bishkek. We will stop en route tonight and set up a bush camp in the area famed for its natural beauty.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 54 Bishkek
Following a relaxing morning enjoying the surroundings, we will drive to Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, where we spend the night in a comfortable hotel.
Bishkek is a relaxed city of wide streets and handsome houses, and locals boast that it has more trees per person than any other Central Asian city. With plenty of parks and gardens to shelter its inhabitants from the intense summer heat, and many monuments from the country's Soviet past, a walking tour with our local guide is a great way to experience the contemporary face of an ancient nation.
TsUM Department Store in the city centre is renowned for having the best range of Kyrgyz souvenirs for some final shopping. If nightlife is your thing, brave the bouncers to join the throngs of young people at one of Bishkek's raucous night clubs. Check out the National Museum, which can't hide from the fact that it used to be the National Lenin Museum - the upper floors with the collections of Soviet memorabilia and murals are a clear giveaway.
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 55-56 Zhabagly-Aksu National Park
Today we cross border to Kazakhstan. Once over the border we begin our two day overland drive through Aksu National Park. The first evening is spent in the small village of Zhabagly.
Zhabagly is a farming village of around 2,000 and is located just north of the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve. This small village will give you an incredible insight into Kazakhstan's rural life, especially since you will be staying with them in their homes for the night.
The second day is free to explore the National Park, with opportunities for hiking and to visit the canyon. The second night is spent camping near the National Park.
Kazakhstan's National Park, Aksu-Zhabagly, is the last exclave of the wild country in the mountains of South Kazakhstan Oblast and is the oldest in Central Asia. A large proportion of the National Park is covered by forests of Central Asia juniper, high mountain lakes, rivers, and glacier reservoirs and well-preserved flora. The park offers a wide range of activities including numerous short hikes with a break at the Aksu river canyon, one of the deepest in Central Asia and where the views are spectacular.
Included Activities
  • Aksu-Zhabagly National Park
Homestay (1 nt), Camping (with facilities) (1 nt)
Days 57-58 Tashkent
Today we cross the border and drive to Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent.
Tashkent was once the fourth largest city in the Soviet Union. Whilst the historic cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva still retain much of the atmosphere of the ancient Khanates, Tashkent is very definitely a Soviet city, because old Tashkent was largely destroyed by a series of earthquakes and Soviet planners. Having said that, it is still a great place to visit. The city has a clean, modern feel and there is some unusual contemporary architecture here, which makes it an interesting contrast to many other places along the Silk Road. The city markets (especially the Chorsu Bazaar) are well worth strolling around, you can get some excellent souvenirs here as there is a huge amount of Soviet ephemera on sale, ranging from entire Soviet stamp collections, old paintings of Lenin, through to military uniforms. You should also try to plan a journey that involves a trip on the metro, so you can take in the impressive architecture and decoration of the Tashkent underground.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary, meet your new fellow travellers, and collect the next part of your kitty.
Optional Activities
  • Museum of Applied Arts - UZS1200
  • Tashkent - Chorsu Bazaar - Free
  • Art Gallery of Uzbekistan - UZS400
  • History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan - UZS3000
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 59-61 Samarkand
This morning we drive to Samarkand where we will be staying for the next three nights. Whilst in Samarkand we stay in a small friendly hotel.
In the 14th century the city of Samarkand was the capital of the great sultanate of Timur. Thanks to its central location along the Silk Route, the town originally grew prosperous as a crossroads between East and West, creating a melting pot of different cultures and traditions whose influences are still very much apparent event today. Samarkand is perhaps the most romantic and evocative of the Silk Road cities, and crowned by the decorative domes and minarets of the many beautiful buildings here it certainly looks the part. The must-sees include Registan Square, which feels like the centre-point of the city, home to a group of impressively decorated Madressas, Guri Amir and the Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum.
The next day we will explore Samarkand in the truck, exploring the majestic buildings, monuments and bazaars of this romantic silk route city.
Our second full day in Samarkand is free for you to explore the great sultanate of Timur as you please.
Included Activities
  • Samarkand - Guided city tour
Optional Activities
  • Visit to Shakhrisabz city - USD60
Hotel (3 nts)
Day 62 Yurt Stay
Morning drive to Nurata in the Kyzylkhum Desert. After lunch there is the option of taking a swim in Lake Ajdar Kul or going for a local camel ride. Overnight homestay with local Uzbek families in their desert yurt camp amongst the dunes.
Nurata is home to the Nurata mountains and is famous for its old circle patterned Suzani which sell for thousands at auctions. Dating back to the Bronze Age, you can see how amazingly historical this place is with so much knowledge to be gained here. The history doesn't stop there, as there are tenth century mosques and the place where the Chashma Springs formed.
Yurt (1 nt)
Days 63-65 Bukhara
Morning free to explore more of Nurata. In the afternoon we drive on to the fascinating city of Bukhara. We spend the next 3 nights here, staying in a comfortable local hotel.
Bukhara is an atmospheric city alive with its history. Exploring the streets, you get the feeling that this is how Central Asia was before Soviet domination. Bukhara was once a very powerful Khanate, controlling most of Turkmenistan and the surrounding area in years gone by. This has left the city with a rich and interesting history and many of the buildings here are spectacular.Today the government has invested a considerable amount of money into the city, in order to preserve the architecture here, as some of the buildings are considered to be the finest in all of Uzbekistan.
On the following day we will explore Bukhara and the surrounding area, including the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Kalon Mosque, Zindon Prison and Ark Fortress.
The third day here is free for you to explore more of Bukhara and the surrounding area, or to just kick-back and take it easy for the day.
Included Activities
  • Bukhara - Guided city tour
Hotel (3 nts)
Days 66-67 Khiva
Most of today will be spent travelling as we drive from Bukhara to Khiva. We stay in Khiva for 2 nights in a friendly, rustic hotel.
The small historic town of Khiva in Uzbekistan was once the capital of Khwarezmia and the Khanate of Khiva, a central Asian state that existed from the 1500s right through until 1924, when it was fully incorporated into the Soviet Union. The city's long history is fascinating and fortunately much of the magnificent architecture has been incredibly well preserved. The ancient walls that used to provide sanctuary for the travellers on the Silk Route are intact, as is the old town that the walls were built to protect. Many of the buildings are beautifully decorated in classic turquoise tiles. As well as exploring the streets of the old city, make sure you visit the Kukhna Ark & Juma Mosque, Pakhlovan Mahmus Mausoleum and Islam Hodja Madrassa.
The next day is free to explore this wonderfully preserved Khanate town.
Included Activities
  • Khiva - Guided city tour
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 68 Kunye Urgench
Morning drive from Khiva to the border, crossing into Turkmenistan around lunchtime. Afternoon visit to Kunye Urgench ruins. Bushcamping overnight.
Konye-Urgench is situated on the shores of the Amu Darya River and was once the capital of the Khorezm region, which was part of the Achaemenid Empire. The old town is brimming with historic buildings dating back as far as the 11th century, including a mosque, mausoleum and towering 60m high minaret.
Included Activities
  • Konye-Urgench - Ancient City ruins
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 69 Darwasa
Most of today will be spent travelling as we drive across the Karakum Desert. If time allows we will make a side trip to see the amazing Darwasa Gas Crater in local 4x4s.
From Darvaza, it's possible to hire local vehicles to visit the incredible open gas crater that's located nearby. It's a truly breathtaking sight; imagine a huge crater approximately the size of a football pitch, ablaze with a fire fed by natural gas vents, or failing that try to envisage what the entrance to the Underworld would look like, and chances are you'll be pretty close!
We spend the night bushcamping near Darwasa.
Optional Activities
  • Gas Crater - USD10
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 70-72 Ashgabat
Morning drive to Ashgabat, normally arriving mid-afternoon. Whilst in Ashgabat we stay in a comfortable local hotel.
Ashgabat is a unique modern city that has been extensively rebuilt over the last ten years since the country gained independence. Little is left of the original Russian Imperial city as most of it was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1948, today the centre is a unique mix of futuristic and outrageous public buildings that are an extraordinary sight. The earthquake affected every family in Ashgabat and is ingrained in the psyche of the local people. The Earthquake Monument and Museum are well worth a visit, as are the Carpet and the National Museums. If you are into carpets, Turkmenistan is the country to visit, and if you are in Turkmenistan, Ashgabat's Sunday Market is the place to buy them. This wonderful market stretches for hundreds of acres into the desert. Carpets, camels, clothes, pigs, jewellery, goats, cars, chickens, hats and ex soviet military paraphernalia are readily available.
The next morning we visit Ashgabat's famous Sunday market. The afternoon is free to explore.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary, meet your new fellow travellers, and collect the next part of your kitty.
Included Activities
  • Ashgabat - Sunday Market
Optional Activities
  • Carpet Museum - USD5
  • National Museum - USD10
  • Ashgabat - Sunday Market - Free
Hotel (3 nts)
Day 73 Shirvan
We set off early in the morning towards the Iranian border. Once all formalities are over we make our way to out first stop, Shirvan. Accommodation tonight is in a basic hotel.
Shirvan is famed for its natural beauty due, in no small part, to the presence of a Atrak river. This gives life to the tranquil gardens, small waterfalls and natural springs. Shirvan has a long history, Zoroastrian graves show that it was habitable before Islam, However, the city has been reconstructed according to new architectural styles in recent years. Due to its proximity to Iran's northern borders the town has Turkic influences of both local dialect and customs.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 74 Damghan
We drive 291 km towards Damghan. Optional visit to the Jamrh mosque, one of the oldest in the world. Accomodation is in a comfortable hotel.
Damghan was an important city in the Middle Ages, capital of the province of Qumis. Today it is a sleepy, historic town. It's main attraction is the claim to have what may be Iran's oldest surviving mosque - the Tarikhaneh Mosque that was constructed in the 1st century after arrival of Islam. There are also several ancient minarets and tomb-towers in Damghan, similar to those built in Mazandaran province, across the Alborz Mountains to the north.
Optional Activities
  • Jamrh Mosque - Free
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 75 Garmeh/Dasht-e Kavir Desert
Drive 384 km into the heart of the desert. We may have the chance to visit Mesr or Aroosan villages and the surrounding sand dunes along the way. Accommodation is in a hotel in Khoor.
Khoor is a small village located in the central desert of Iran, (known as Dashte-Kavir in Persian). Close by are the central mountain ranges of Iran which create for a stunning and isolated landscape. The town’s only water supply and therefore lifeline comes from a spring that flows out of the foothills of the mountains quite close to the heart of the village. This is the only source of life for the beautiful gardens and date palm orchards that make this oasis such a special place. The oasis has an old world feeling to it - as if live has been the same here for several hundreds of years.
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 76-77 Yazd
Leaving Tehran, we drive on to Yadz, this beautiful tranquil old town is the home of Iran's oldest religion, Zoroastrianism. We will be in Yadz for 2 nights, staying in a friendly local hotel.
The ancient desert city of Yazd was a major stop on the caravan routes to Central Asia and India during the Silk Road period - Marco Polo visited the city on his way to China - and it retains a rustic feel. It's also the heart of the Zoroastrian religion. This religion, which dates back over 4000 years, is one the world's oldest and was Iran's state religion before the arrival of Islam.
Yadz is unique for its intriguing architecture, which has been perfectly adapted to the harsh weather conditions of the surrounding desert. Wind towers, or badgirs, are a feature of most of the buildings in the old city - they trap even the gentlest of draughts and direct them into the houses below for cooling.
The next day is free in Yadz to explore the town and surrounding area.
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 78 Zein-o-din Caravanserai
Today is a 80 km drive to Zeinoddin Caravanserai. We will visit the Zoroastrian tower of silence en route. Overnight is spent in separate rooms in this traditional fort like building.
A night's stay in a caravanserai is a wonderful chance to relive the age when merchants travelled the remarkable Silk Road. Most of the rooms remain unchanged from days gone by, with carpets covering raised brick floors, and heavy curtains rather than doors separate rooms from the hallway. Like Silk Road travellers before us, we'll experience a rich red sunset while the night sky fills with stars.
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Days 79-80 Shiraz
This morning we have a tour of the ruins at Persepolis.
Darius I built the city of Persepolis around 500 BC as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid empire; and its wealth and opulence became legendary. It was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, but even today its past splendour is easily appreciated from the ruins that remain. In ancient Persia, Persepolis was called Parsa which means "The City of the Persians".
Afternoon drive from Persepolis to Shiraz. We will be staying in Shiraz for two nights at a friendly local hotel.
The very name Shiraz evokes images of ancient Persia: exotic, tranquil gardens, lavish mansions, colourful woollen rugs, art, philosophy, poetry and of course, the famous Shiraz red wine (although it's no longer found here).
Shiraz is also a renowned centre of learning and boasts many of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country. Known as Iran's cultural capital, this city was home to two of Persia's most famous poets in the 13th and 14th centuries, Hafez and Saadi, whose mausoleums are found here.
If you're interested in seeing the work of some young Iranian artists, stop off at Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk, near the Orange Garden, as many of the beautifully decorated rooms here are used as galleries. Wandering the streets here can be an enjoyable way to discover the city, getting lost in the bazaar and admiring the impressive architecture, particularly some of the incredible mosques and shady gardens.
The next day is free for you to explore Shiraz, with the possibility of visiting the King of the Lamp Tomb and the Vakil Bazaar. Wandering the many markets and bazaars here will also give you a wonderful insight into the Iranian way of life. Second night in friendly local hotel in Shiraz.
Included Activities
  • Guided tour of ancient ruins of Persepolis
Optional Activities
  • Hafez Tomb - Free
  • Vakil Bazaar - Free
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 81-83 Esfahan
Most of today will be spent travelling as we drive from Shiraz to the friendly and awe-inspiringly beautiful city of Esfahan. We will be staying here for 3 nights allowing us plenty of time to explore, basing ourselves at a friendly local hotel.
Esfahan, the pearl in the Persian crown, is quite simply one of the finest places in the Islamic world and a visit here will leave you breathless. A 16th-century rhyme called it 'half the world' and after spending a few days here, you might agree. There's an abundance of fine Islamic buildings, most of which are covered with the blue mosaic tiles Iran is famous for. There's also an enormous bazaar, which is perfect for shopping for exquisite Persian carpets, tranquil gardens, picturesque bridges and superb palaces.
The following day we will tour the main sites in the city with our local guide. We will visit the Blue Immam Mosque, Ali Qapu Place,and the Jameh Mosque and Bazaar.
The third day here is free to explore Esfahan.
Included Activities
  • Esfahan walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Jameh Mosque - IRR5000
  • Ali Qapu Palace - Free
  • Iman Mosque entrance and guided tour - Free
Hotel (3 nts)
Days 84-85 Tehran
We have a 439 km drive to Tehran. This afternoon there will be an optional walking tour of Tehran's old town, visiting the historic square and National Museum. While in Tehran we stay in a comfortable hotel.
Iran's capital is exciting, noisy and chaotic. Home to 15 million people, Tehran is where the country's true national identity is found. Expect to see women wearing full-length chador competing for space with young and hip girls in figure-hugging manteau and headscarves. Also expect to be stopped by friendly locals who love nothing more than to chat with you about anything and everything.
The next day here is free to relax and explore the city.
In your free time you shouldn't miss the Golestan Palace, this extravagant fairytale of a building was historically the royal Qajar complex, the seat of the Shahs of Persia. The many museums here are also well worth a visit if you're interested in learning more about the history and culture of Iran, in particular the National Museum, Carpet Museum of Iran and Niavaran Palace Complex. Tehran is also home to the Iranian Imperial Crown Jewels, also called the Imperial Crown Jewels of Persia, claimed to be the largest, most dazzling and valuable jewel collection in the world. The collection includes crowns and thrones, 30 tiaras, jewel-studded swords and shields and a vast number of loose precious gems, including the emeralds, rubies and diamonds. The Jewels are on display in the Iranian Central Bank. For a completely different perspective on Iran today, The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art features the works of great artists such as Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.
Included Activities
  • Tehran walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Iran National Museum - Free
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 86-87 Bush Camp
Today we will drive roughly 280 km to Zanjan, We will wild camp overnight.
Zanjan is located in the north-west of Iran in a region known locally as the 'Iranian Azerbaijan'. Zanjan city is the provinces capital and lies roughly 330Km of Tehran. This thriving town is know throughout Iran for its beautiful handicrafts such as knives, traditional sandals called charoogh and malileh. Zanjan is also known for its stainless and sharp knives and can be found today in the lively bazaar and its many shops along the main streets. However perhaps its most famous exports are the stunning carpets that come from this region. Many villagers are traditional carpet weavers so this certainly would be a great place to bargain for that Persian rug you have always dreamed of.
The following day we drive 360 km to Kandovan, an ancient volcanic village. We will camp the night here.
Kandovan is one of Iran's hidden gems. The landscape around Kandovan has been shaped by volcanic eruptions and is similar to the more famous Cappadocia in Central Turkey. In this unusual spot, locals live within the caves and it is certainly one of Iran's more off the beaten track destinations.
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Day 88 Dogubayazit
Today we leave Iran behind and cross the border into Turkey. Our destination is the pleasant small town of Dogubeyazit. Depending on how long it takes us to cross the border, we will probably arrive in the early afternoon, allowing you some time to relax and explore the town. If time permits, we will be able to visit the Ishak Pasha palace and Turkish baths. Tonight we will stay in a small local hotel.
Dogubayazit is a small town in eastern Turkey situated at the foot of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark reputedly came to rest after The Flood. On a hill behind Dogubayazit, is the Ishak Pasha palace. This fortress was built from 1685 and was home to a Kurdish chieftain. In its heyday, it stood complete with huge golden gates, which remained in place until a Russian raid in 1917. They are now housed in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.
Optional Activities
  • Hot Springs, Dogubayazit - USD9
  • Ishak Pasha Palace - Free
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 89-90 Bush Camp
Heading west, we overland through rural Turkey, heading towards Goreme. We spend these two nights bushcamping.
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Days 91-92 Goreme
Leaving our bush camp we continue our drive towards Goreme, arriving in the afternoon. We will stay here for 3 nights giving us two full days to explore the area. Whilst in Goreme we will camp at a well-equipped campsite.
In the heart of Cappadocia, the town of Goreme lies in a fantastic region of cones, needles and columns, fashioned by nature from the soft volcanic tuff rock. It's honeycombed with caves scooped out to make churches and dwellings that are known as fairy chimneys and castles. In times of peace, the people in this region lived on the land but in times of war or persecution they took to living underground.
We now have a full day to explore Goreme, including a guided tour of the enchanted valley of Cappadocia. Second night staying at campsite with good facilities.
Included Activities
  • Goreme - Guided Goreme Valley tour
Optional Activities
  • Hot Air Ballooning - EUR120
Camping (with facilities) (2 nts)
Day 93 Tuz Golu
Drive from Goreme towards Istanbul, stopping off at Toz Golu en route. Tonight we will be bushcamping.
Lake Tuz is the third largest lake in Turkey, and the phrase "Tuz Golu" means "Salt Lake". In the summer there is up to 30 cm of a salt layer on the dried lake, but as the winter months come in, it is dissolved by the waters of the lake that are fed from channels and streams around the area. The salt is important to the Central Anatolia Region, because it can be extracted and sold in local markets.
Included Activities
  • Visit to Lake Tuz
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 94-96 Istanbul
Today we will arrive in Istanbul, the only city in the world that straddles two continents. Whilst we are here we stay in a friendly local hostel with good facilities.
Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, so it will come as no surprise that this vast metropolis is home to a beguiling mix of different cultures and traditions, blending the influences of both east and west. Originally founded by Greek settlers over 2000 years ago, Istanbul originally went by the name of Byzantium, then Constantinople when the Romans made it the capital of their eastern empire. Today, intriguing Istanbul is a bustling mega-city with a population of over 12 million people and a rich history and food scene waiting to be explored.
The following day is a full day free to explore Istanbul and an optional walking tour is available.
The third day in Istanbul is departure day. There are no activities planned and you may depart at any time.
Optional Activities
  • Istanbul - Archaeology Museum - TRY10
  • Istanbul - Aya Sofya - TRY25
  • Istanbul - Ancient Cistern - TRY10
  • Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Free
  • Istanbul - Topkapi Palace (incl. harem) - TRY35
  • Istanbul - Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts - TRY10
Hotel (2 nts)
    • Ulaanbaatar to Istanbul (CDONC)
    Itinerary disclaimer
    Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Trip Notes a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. For the latest updated Trip Notes please visit our website:
    Please note that while we operate successful trips in this region throughout the year, some changes may occur in our itineraries due to inclement weather and common seasonal changes to timetables and transport routes. This can happen with little notice so please be prepared for modifications to the route.
    We must emphasise that the routes, activities and places visited described in these trip notes are intentions and are meant as a rough guide only. We intend following the route detailed but exact night stops cannot be guaranteed. It sometimes happens that we decide to make a change to our basic planned itinerary. This may be for a variety of reasons - climatic, road or bureaucratic conditions may demand it. Or it may be because we find a better, more interesting route. While actually en route, unexpected hospitality, a local festival or a great place to chill out can determine our exact route and itinerary on any given trip.
    Overnight stops and driving distances each day may vary to best suit the needs of the group.
    Culture shock rating

    Expect some culture shock. You'll be exposed to signs of poverty and access to services may be sporadic. The food will be quite different to home and English speakers harder to find. Respecting the local culture will make it easier to fit in and really experience the location.
    Physical rating

    This trip will raise your heartbeat. Moderate physical activities are included and a good level of fitness is required.
    Physical preparation
    In these parts of the world you'll need to be healthy enough to cope with extremes of climate; from hot deserts through to the cold of high mountain areas.
    Overland travelling can be demanding - long, rough travel days and dusty conditions can be challenging to some. You'll need to be fit enough to help every day with the camp chores (cooking, washing up, general camp set up) as well as putting up, and taking down your own tent. There are some long driving days and some early morning starts. The step-up into the overland vehicle, while not overly high, can become tiring. You need to judge if you are physically fit enough to haul yourself up and down the step at least 8-10 times a day.
    Included activities
    Included activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary, all other activities are optional and at your own expense. If you choose not to participate in the included activities on this itinerary, the cost will not be refunded.
    On this trip it's compulsory to contribute to a kitty. The kitty is an on-ground payment put into a central fund and overseen by travellers and the crew. It helps fund accommodation, camp meals and some included activities. Kitty amounts are subject to change to reflect local price increases. Please check our website for the up-to-date amount 48 hours prior to your trip commencement.
    Your kitty will be collected when you arrive for your trip, either on day 1 or, if on a combination trip, in stages throughout your trip.
    You may pay your kitty in a mixture of US Dollars cash and the rest in local currency (amount and type of currency to be agreed by the leader at the start of the trip). Most of our travellers chose to bring a cash passport with them for withdrawing local currency (you can visit for further information on these). This is a very secure way of carrying your money whilst travelling. You treat them exactly like an ATM card and draw out local currency from an ATM to give to your leader within each country.
    If you do choose to pay part in local currency your trip leader will confirm the current exchange rates with you so you will know exactly how much to hand over.
    Travellers cheques have become increasingly difficult to change around the world with passengers and our leaders experiencing huge frustration and numerous hours spent trying to find a bank which will change travellers cheques. For this reason we no longer accept them on our trips.
    Kitty does not cover food while staying in hotels and hostels.
    We constantly monitor local price changes and exchange rate fluctuations that could affect kitty expenses. Final kitty contributions are likely to be different from those quoted in the brochure or at the time of booking so you must check the final amount just before departure.
    As our kitty is flexible the indicated amount is indicative only. Follow the link below to view the kitty amount for your departure date.
    Optional activities
    A selection of optional activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. Prices are for entrance only and don't include transport costs to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. It may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination. Optional activities aren't necessarily endorsed or recommended by Intrepid nor included in price of this trip. If you do any optional activities, you do so at your own risk and it must be clearly understood that your participation is your own decision and doesn't form part of your contract with Intrepid. You may be required to sign/complete a waiver form or a receipt for some optional activities.
    Money Exchange
    The official currency of Turkey is the Turkish Lira (TRY, although prior to 2005 the currency code was TL).
    ATMs are common throughout the main cities and these are a safe and convenient way to withdraw money. Credit cards are also widely accepted. Cash in any of the major currencies (EUR, GBP and USD) is easily changed. Travellers cheques in major currencies (EUR, GBP and USD) can be changed at selected local banks but it can be time consuming and subject to high fees.
    The official unit of currency is the Iranian rial (IRR), but locals almost always talk in terms of tomans, a unit equal to 10 rials.
    Iran is very much a cash economy. This means travellers can rarely use debit or credit cards or travellers cheques while in Iran. There may be rare occasions in tourist-orientated shops that credit cards are accepted, otherwise cash is the main method of trade in Iran.
    US dollars and euro notes are the only hard currencies accepted by Iranian banks and money changers (please don't bring British pounds as it's very difficult to find banks that will change them). Having those notes changed into Iranian rials is a fairly simple exercise. Please make sure that all the bills are unmarked and undamaged in any way and were printed since 1996. New and fresh notes are preferred in most banks. You'll get a slightly higher rate for larger notes (50 and 100 notes) but also bring plenty of smaller denominations (5, 10, 20 etc).
    Upon arrival at the Tehran airport there are a few places where you can change money. However we do not recommend that you change your money in the Airport because the rate you will get is dramatically different to what you will get at a money exchange downtown. If you need to, change just a small amount at the airport on arrival and the rest at a money changer in the city. There are quite a few located along the main street near the hotel. Ask your leader to take you to one.
    Please note that if you run out of money while in Iran it can be difficult, expensive and time consuming to find banks that can transfer money over to you. Before leaving for Iran, calculate how much money you think you'll need in either US dollars or euros and take that with you, plus a bit extra. This should cover all optional activities, meals, special clothing requirements, some souvenirs and other items. If you're a big shopper (and there are so many great things to buy in Iran, especially carpets) we recommend you bring more. Please take into consideration the safety issues of carrying so much cash with you - bringing a money belt with you is absolutely essential. Thankfully Iran is one of the safest countries that you'll probably ever visit and crime against foreigners is virtually unheard of.
    Banks and money changers can be found in most of the places that we visit throughout the country. The largest Iranian rial note is the IRR20,000 note (approx US$2) but the IRR10,000 notes (approx US$1) are far more widely used. Thankfully new 'Iranian travellers cheques' make dealing with such large numbers of rials much easier. It's a lot safer and easier than carrying around huge wads of notes. It's especially useful for people who may need to spend up big on that special gift (carpets!). These cheques are available in 1 million and 500,000 rial denominations and can be organised easily in most Iranian banks. Changing them back into Iranian rial notes is trouble free. Note: you can't change Iranian rials into hard currency outside of Iran.
    The official currency of Turkmenistan is the manat (M). It’s set at a fixed government exchange rate, but traded for far less on the black market. As ATM's are virtually non-existent, you're best to exchange foreign currency once inside the country. Don't bother with travellers cheques - they're not accepted anywhere. The black market is easy and accessible to foreigners, and the only place you’ll get a realistic exchange rate.
    The official currency in Uzbekistan is the Uzbekistan Som (UZS).
    This can only be obtained in Uzbekistan. Conversion of UZS back into other foreign currencies may prove difficult.
    Banks are rarely able to exchange foreign currency so you should ask the advice of your hotel or leader for where to change money. There are also many private money changers in Uzbekistan but if you choose to use them you must be sure to check the rate and your change carefully.
    Major credit cards are rarely accepted in shops and restaurants even in bigger cities. Some banks in Tashkent will allow cash advances against a credit card but cash withdrawals are subject to a 5% or more service charge.
    In Tashkent you may be able to find ATMs that accept international cards and use them to withdraw local currency; however these should not be relied on as your sole financial source. Some souvenir sellers and tourist restaurants may accept USD or EUR as payment but all other purchases in Uzbekistan must be made in local currency.
    Please note that you must declare ALL currency (including travellers cheques) on entry to and exit Uzbekistan. Failure to do so accurately, or exiting the country with more currency than when you entered may result in delays, fines or the additional sums being confiscated.
    The official currency in Kyrgyzstan is the Kyrgyzstan Som (KGS).
    This can only be obtained within Kyrgyzstan. Conversion of KGS back into other foreign currencies may prove difficult.
    There are many private money changers in Kyrgyzstan, but if you choose to use them you must be sure to check the rate and your change carefully. Major credit cards are rarely accepted in shops and restaurants even in bigger cities. Some banks in Bishkek will allow cash advances against a credit card but cash withdrawals are subject to a 5% or more service charge.
    In Bishkek you may be able to find ATMs that accept international cards and use them to withdraw local currency; however these should not be relied on as your sole financial source. Some souvenir sellers and tourist restaurants may accept USD or EUR as payment but all other purchases in Kyrgyzstan must be made in local currency.
    The official currency in China is the Yuan or Renminbi (CNY). 1 renminbi (yuan) = 10 jiao (mao).
    We strongly advise against bringing travellers cheques as in China they can be extremely difficult or impossible to change.
    ATMs are widespread, so the easiest way to access cash on your trip is to bring a credit card. Please check with your bank about overseas withdrawal fees before you depart. Some banks will allow a cash advance against a major credit card which will incur a service charge of 5% or more.
    Currency exchange is available at major banks and some hotels. The easiest foreign currencies to exchange are USD and EUR, however please be aware of the security risk of carrying large amounts of cash. In any case, some money should be taken as cash in case of emergencies - we recommend around US$400 per person. Commission is sometimes charged for currency exchange. Check the rate before you exchange and carefully check the amount you are given and ask for a receipt.
    Please note that due to restrictions on currency conversion for foreigners in China it may not be possible to change left over CNY back into foreign currency, so please plan your budget and spending money well by withdrawing/exchanging what you need as you go.
    The official currency in Kazakhstan is the Tenge (KZT). As we are not in Kazakhstan long and with few opportunities for shopping your leader will advise you on exchanging currency or making purchases.
    Spending money
    Every traveller is different and therefore spending money requirements will vary. Some travellers may drink more than others while other travellers like to purchase more souvenirs than most. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to allowing for drinks, shopping, participating in optional activities, and tipping. Please also remember the following specific recommendations when planning your trip.
    If you're happy with the service you receive, providing a tip - though not compulsory - is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, it's of great significance to the people who will take care of you during your travels, inspires excellent service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across many Intrepid destinations. Please note we recommend that any tips are given directly to the intended recipient by a member of your group, rather than collected and passed on by the group leader.
    Departure tax
    All departure taxes should be included in your international flight ticket.
    Important notes
    Due to a British government travel warning, from September 2012 this itinerary will no longer be able to visit Iran. It will instead travel from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and then through Georgia to Turkey. Passengers already booked to travel in 2012 have been notified. The new itinerary for 2013 will be published by November.
    Please note this Intrepid trip is operated by our experienced local partners Dragoman Overland. Your departure will be run in a Dragoman vehicle with a Dragoman crew.
    The minimum age for this trip is 18 years old and bookings for minors, even if accompanied by a parent, cannot be accepted.
    An export certificate is required to take carpets and anything else considered antique out of Turkmenistan. Export certificates are available from the Carpet Museum or this can be arranged through the seller. It is also important to catalogue and declare to Customs any carpets or anything antique looking - even if clearly from a different part of the world - that you bring into Turkmenistan with you.
    You should carry an identity document at all times while in Tashkent and in Ashgabat. Requests to produce proof of identity, for example by the police, are frequent.
    Please note that in order to confirm your booking on this trip we require a scanned copy of your passport prior to travel.
    Please note that the itinerary for this trip has changed since the brochure was released. Unfortunately due to government travel warnings we are unable to visit the southern region of Kyrgyzstan including Osh on our itinerary, which will also mean us missing the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan. The itinerary will now concentrate more on the Northern region of Kyrgyzstan. We will now visit Kazakhstan for 2 nights en route to Uzbekistan, finishing this section in Tashkent as per our itinerary. This does mean however that a Kazakh visa will now have to be obtained for this trip.
    In 2012 the important month of Ramadan will be in progress from the 20th July through till the 18th August, and the Eid ul-Fitr festival will be held directly at its conclusion for 3-4 days. Ramadan is a festival of sacrifice where the devout refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. During Ramadan business hours are shortened, including opening hours at some tourist attractions. Alcohol is not permitted during daylight hours and many restaurants will be closed. While you should expect some delays and inconveniences during this period, the month is a fantastic opportunity to travel in a Muslim country and witness this unique period, particularly the nightly celebrations when the sun sets and the fast is broken. Please note that although the Eid ul-Fitr festival can also be a fascinating time to travel it is a period of National holiday. Most government offices and businesses will be closed and some tourist site opening hours may be impacted.
    Group size
    Maximum of 21 travellers per group.
    Your fellow travellers
    As you travel on a group trip you will be exposed to all the pleasures and maybe some of the frustrations of travelling in a group. Your fellow travellers will probably come from all corners of the world and likely a range of age groups too. We ask you to be understanding of the various needs and preferences of your group - patience with your fellow travellers is sometimes required for the benefit of everyone's travel experience. Remember too that you have responsibilities to the group. If you are requested to be at a place at a certain time, ensure that you don't keep the rest of the group waiting. We have found time and time again that the very best trips we operate are those where the dynamics within the group work well - this takes just a little effort on your part.
    Due to privacy reasons we are unable to provide you with contact details and any personal information about your fellow travellers booked on your trip prior to departure. However you can download Intrepid's FREE Meet Up app to chat with your fellow travellers before your trip. Meet up, discuss your upcoming trip and share the excitement of planning for your adventure. For more information visit:
    Hotel (60 nts), Bush camp (no facilities) (18 nts), Yurt (5 nts), Guesthouse (4 nts), Camping (with facilities) (3 nts), Homestay (2 nts), Cave house (1 nt)
    The type and variety of accommodation is determined by conditions on each of our routes. Each route is different - on some we use a mixture of campsites and wild camps; on others we also use hotels.
    Where it's not practical to camp (ie: in towns and cities), we use hotel accommodation and eat out in local restaurants. The frequency and regularity of hotel stops depends on the route and area.
    Campsites will range from rather basic to those with excellent facilities, including swimming pools, restaurants and bars. In some cases it may also be possible to upgrade locally to bungalows, lodges or even tree-houses. One of the highlights of overlanding is that in more remote areas we will wild-camp. This allows us to get far away from the tourist crowds to some beautiful, secluded spots. We will also arrange as many village or local homestays as possible, allowing us to get close to indigenous populations and ensures our money stays within local communities.
    Meals introduction
    While travelling with us you'll experience the vast array of wonderful food available in the world. Your group leader will be able to suggest restaurants to try during your trip. On our camping trips we often cook the region's specialities so you don't miss out. To give you the maximum flexibility in deciding where, what and with whom to eat, generally not all meals are included in the trip price. This also gives you more budgeting flexibility. As a rule our groups tend to eat together to enable you to taste a larger variety of dishes and enjoy each other's company. There's no obligation to do this though.
    All meals when camping
    Please budget for additional meals and expenses while on your trip. Our suggestion is based on past traveller feedback but you may choose to spend more or less.
    USD 1900.00
    Your kitty covers the cost of any meals while staying at camp sites.
    Overland vehicle
    Roads can be very rough which makes for long, slow travel days. It's all worth it however for the spectacular scenery and novelty of truck travel.
    Group leader
    On all of our Dragoman-operated Overlanding trips you will be accompanied by two Western crew members who are responsible for the group and the overall organisation of the trip.
    While not being guides in the traditional sense you can expect them to have a broad knowledge of the places visited and to offer suggestions of things to do and see. In East and Southern Africa we will also have an African camp master/cook who is in charge of running the camp and organising all of the meals. Their knowledge of the local produce makes shopping at the markets great fun and you will learn how to prepare and cook some unusual dishes. In the rest of Africa, South America and the majority of Central Asia and China we use local guides who may stay with us for just a few hours or will actually travel with us for some or all of the journey. In these cases they become a third crew member and are able to offer their local knowledge as well as a real insight into the lives of the local people. Our crew are chosen for their leadership skills, and most importantly have a passion for the region and its people.
    We endeavour to provide the services of an experienced leader and crew; however, situations may arise where your leader is new to a particular region or training other group leaders
    On any Overland trip, there are a number of tasks that need to be done. Our overland trip leaders will organise the group into smaller groups of two or three who will take turns in the daily shopping and cooking, vehicle cleaning, disposing of rubbish, etc. There are also a number of other jobs that need doing e.g. collecting water and firewood, luggage loading, supervising the kitty and food stores, which may be assigned to particular people or on a rota system according to group size, make-up, and so on. You must come prepared to 'pull your weight' and share in these duties; you will become very unpopular with other group members if they have to do your share. The more you put into a trip, the more you'll benefit.
    Joining point
    Hu Guo Si Hotel
    125 Huguosi Street
    Phone: +86 10 6618 1113
    Joining point description
    In the ancient part of the city close to Gong Wang Fu prince garden, Bei Hai Park and the Forbidden City.
    All rooms have private bathroom, air-conditioning and TV. There is also a restaurant on site.
    Joining point instructions
    From the airport you can take the shuttle bus to Xidan. The full route takes about 10 minutes and costs CNY16. From the stop you can walk approximately 2km north to the hotel, or take a taxi.
    Alternatively you can take a taxi. It is recommended that you take an authorised taxi from a taxi station, which are located outside terminals 1 and 2. A taxi should cost up to CNY100.
    Arrival complications
    We don't expect any problems (and nor should you) but if for any reason you are unable to commence your group trip as scheduled, please contact your starting point hotel, requesting that you speak to or leave a message for your group leader.
    If you have pre-booked an airport transfer (where available) and have not made contact with our representative within 30 minutes of clearing customs and immigration, we recommend that you make your own way to the starting point hotel, following the Joining Instructions in these Trip Notes. Should this occur, please apply to your travel agent for a refund of the transfer cost on your return.
    No refund is available on missed transfers or portions of your trip owing to a different flight arrival or delayed flight arrival. Any additional cost incurred in order to meet up with your group is at your own expense.
    Finish point
    Orient Hostel
    Akbiyik Caddesi no:13
    Finish point description
    The Orient Hostel Istanbul is ideally located close by to the Topkapi Palace, Saint Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Yerebatan Cistern, Hippodrome, numerous museums are only 200m away, the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Cemberlitas, and Beyazit are an easy walk. It is also in a easily accessible location to transport and public services. Please note the rooms are small at this hostel.
    Finish point instructions
    If you have pre booked a departure transfer, please inform your leader and they will notify you of your departure transfer time.
    If you are making your own way to the airport the hotel will be able to help book you an airport shuttle or taxi. Please ask at reception.
    Emergency contact
    Dragoman 24 HOUR EMERGENCY NUMBER Tel: +44 (0) 1728 862 222 This is an answer-phone. If calling outside UK office hours for non urgent questions, please leave a message. There is a number provided to call for a 24 hour manned mobile, in case of genuine emergency. For further emergency contact details go to:
    Emergency funds
    Please also make sure you have access to an additional US$400, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
    Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
    We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
    This trip visits multiple countries for which visas can be difficult and time consuming to obtain. Please ensure that you have enough time to apply for all visas you require before booking this trip.
    You will need to plan very carefully how and where you will obtain your visas as some Central Asian destinations may not have an embassy in your country. Some countries also require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) in order to apply for your visa. Specific information about visas for each destination on this trip can be found in the Trip Notes. Please remember that while Intrepid, Dragoman and The Visa Machine are able to provide some advice about visas, it is the responsibility of the individual traveller to ensure that all correct and necessary information and documents are supplied on time for their own Letters of Invitation and visa applications. While it is possible to apply for visas independently, some travellers choose to use a visa service or agent for the process. Your booking agent can advise of a reputable service.
    We strongly advise booking this trip on its own or taking it at the beginning of your broader travel plans as the already complicated visa process will only be further complicated by trying to get visas on the road.
    This trip travels to one or more countries which may require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) in order to apply for your visa. Please check the country specific visa information below to see if this requirement affects you and your trip.
    In order for Dragoman to apply for the LOI on your behalf through our partners The Visa Machine you will need to do the following immediately after booking:
    1. Complete & submit the following form:
    2. Email the following documents with your full name in the subject of the email followed by "Dragoman LOI":
    * Clear, colour scanned copy of your passport (+ passport PHOTO scan for Turkmenistan LOI)
    * Letter of Employment or Study (Uzbekistan LOI). This must be a letter from your employer or place of study on a business letterhead that states clearly that you are travelling for tourism purposes only. If you are retired or self-employed, please indicate this on the form above.
    Submitting this information for your LOI is the responsibility of the traveller. Please complete the Visa Support form as soon as possible after booking. Any delays in returning this form, along with the associated documents, will have a knock on effect to the amount of time you have in applying for the actual visa.
    Please be aware that LOIs can take up to 30 days to be processed and can only be applied for 3 months before entry in order to remain valid. The Visa Machine will be able to advise you on the expected time frame in which you will receive your LOI. You must indicate where you will apply for your visa on the above form and any changes in this information will result in your LOI being delayed so please plan carefully.
    Once the LOI has been processed a copy will be sent to you. You can then begin the process of applying for your visa. LOIs are valid for a 3 months period so you must apply for your visa within 3 months of the LOI being issued.
    LOIs are generally included in the trip price unless otherwise indicated, however remember that these are NOT the actual visa. Visas are the responsibility of the traveller and separate from the trip price. Costs will vary depending on your nationality and place of application.
    On occasion visa applications or LOIs may be rejected. The reasons for the rejection may or may not be disclosed. While Intrepid, Dragoman and The Visa Machine have no control over such situations and cannot be held responsible, should this occur we will do what we can to help you continue your trip or arrange alternative travel plans.
    The visa process for Iran and countries in Central Asia can be quite complicated and time consuming. We highly recommend that you use the services of a qualified visa agent for the process. Your booking agent can advise of a reputable service.
    Most nationalities require a visa for China. You must obtain your Chinese visa in advance. It is not possible to get a visa on arrival or en-route. You will need a Single Entry Tourist Visa valid for 30, 60 or 90 days depending on the duration of your trip.
    Please list the destinations you will visit in China in chronological order on your application form. Do not mention Kashgar, Turpan, Urumqi or Tibet anywhere on your application form. While these areas are not off limits to travellers, they are considered politically sensitive, so including these on your visa application could lead to significant delays or your visa being denied.
    Name of Host/Inviting Organisation:
    Jason Tours
    Sichuan China YTS, 2nd Floor
    19 Dongchenggeng Street
    Chengdu 610031
    +86 28 8907 5414
    * Most embassies request a Hotel List be submitted with your application. A few nationalities may require a Letter of Invitation (LOI). These can be requested from Dragoman by emailing
    * Photocopy of your passport
    * Passport size photo (up to 4)
    * Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements
    Tibet permits are be arranged en-route with the help of our local partners. If you are travelling on an itinerary that visits Tibet you will need to email the following documents to as soon as possible after booking and no later than 2 months before your departure:
    * Clear, colour scanned copy of the personal details page your passport
    * Clear, colour scanned copy of your Chinese visa
    Please be aware that these are politically sensitive areas of China which have in the past been closed to foreign travellers without warning. A change in the political situation can also lead to unforseen delays in issuing visas and permits. We aim to keep our travellers as up to date as possible with any changes, however these are often made without any official announcement by authorities and as such are out of our control.
    Many nationalities no longer require a visa to travel to Kyrgyzstan for up to 60 days, including Australia, Belgium, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, USA and Switzerland. Other nationalities should check with their nearest embassy. Nationals of other countries not listed should check their requirements at their nearest embassy. A LOI is rarely needed, but should it be required by your embassy please follow the instructions for applying through The Visa Machine. If you do require a visa we strongly advise that you obtain it in advance.
    ALL visitors to Kazakhstan require a visa. An authorisation letter is not required to obtain a visa for Kazakhstan. However, depending on your nationality you may require what we call a letter of guarantee and hotel confirmation that will be supplied to you by Dragoman.
    Please complete the Central Asia & China visa form and return it to, indicating where you will be obtaining your visa.
    Visa and other entry and exit conditions change regularly. Please check at your nearest Embassy or Consulate for up to date information on obtaining a visa or contact a visa agency such as Travcour UK.
    Visa processing time:
    - Applications for visas submitted in person will be processed within 3 working days.
    In order to apply for a Kazakhstan 30 day single entry tourist visa, you will need to provide your embassy with the following documents:
    1. A letter with a request to issue a visa addressed to the Consular Section of the Embassy of Kazakhstan (supplied by Dragoman). Please, indicate the purpose of your trip, your contact in Kazakhstan, the dates of your planned trip, and places to be visited.
    2. Printed hotel booking confirmation (Supplied by Dragoman)
    3. A completed visa application form (one per person). All fields must be completed; otherwise your application can be refused.
    4. A valid passport (a photocopy will not be accepted) which should have at least one blank page for a visa. Your passport must be valid for at least six months longer than the validity of the requested visa.
    5. One passport size photo of the applicant which should be stapled to the marked space in the upper right hand corner of the application form.
    6. Payment should be done by card, cheque/ postal order payable to the Embassy of Kazakhstan (no cash) - This costs approximately 35 GBP.
    All nationalities should check with their respective embassies for more information and costs.
    - On some trips you used to be able to obtain your visa en route in either Bishkek or Tashkent. This is no longer possible and you must now obtain your visa in advance.
    NAME OF HOST - for the application form:
    Wild Nature
    House 14
    Taldybulak St
    All visitors to Uzbekistan require a visa. Most nationalities will need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) in order to apply for your visa. Citizens of Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, UK & USA do not currently need a LOI to apply for a tourist visa if applying within their home country, however this information is subject to change at short notice so we recommend checking with the embassy before you apply. If applying outside of your country of residency, a LOI will be required.
    How and where you apply for your Uzbekistan visa will depend on how you enter the country.
    For those travelling to Uzbekistan overland on a WESTBOUND itinerary (ie. coming from China or Kyrgyzstan) it may be possible to apply for your visa in Beijing or Bishkek. Please ensure you have enough time to apply for the visa in these destinations and check the embassy opening days and hours. The following website may have useful information and traveller reports about applying for visas at these and other embassies:
    Travellers arriving into Tashkent International Airport can obtain their visa on arrival at the airport ONLY if there is no Uzbekistan embassy in the country where your flight is arriving from (not your country of residence). You will require a printed copy of your LOI that includes your exact flight details in order to board your flight so please ensure you supply this information to The Visa Machine. Costs will depend on your nationality (currently approx US$100) and payment must be in cash. It is not possible to get a visa on arrival at any land border.
    * Supporting flight documents are required at time of booking for Visa on Arrival for Uzbekistan
    In all other circumstances you must obtain your visa from an embassy before you travel and must indicate specifically where you will apply on the The Visa Machine LOI form. Uzbekistan visas are date specific, so please check carefully which dates you will enter and exit the country. Normally you are unable to apply for your visa more than 3 months before entry. Uzbekistan embassies where you may be able to apply for your visa include: Beijing, London, Istanbul, Bangkok, Brussels, Washington, Berlin, Jakarta, Amsterdam, Singapore, Paris. Some embassies may have an online visa application form. The following website may have useful information and traveller reports about applying for visas at these and other embassies:
    You will need to apply for a Single Entry Tourist Visa.
    Address in Uzbekistan:
    Grand Orzu Hotel
    27 Makhmud Tarobi Street
    +998 71 120 8877
    Inviting Party:
    Golden Travel
    Grand Orzu Hotel
    27 Makhmud Tarobi Street
    +998 71 120 8883
    * Letter of Invitation (LOI) – depending on nationality and place of application
    * Photocopy of ALL pages of your passport
    * Passport size photo (up to 4)
    * Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements
    All visitors to Uzbekistan must register with the local department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs within 3 working days after arrival. When staying at a hotel, you will be registered automatically. Please ensure you keep any registration documents issued by the hotel until you exit the country.
    All visitors to Turkmenistan require a visa. You will need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) in order to apply for your visa.
    How and where apply for your Turkmenistan visa will depend on how you enter the country.
    Travellers arriving in Turkmenistan overland on a WESTBOUND itinerary can obtain their visas at the land border on arrival. Please indicate this as the place where you will apply for your visa on the The Visa Machine LOI form. Costs will depend on your nationality (currently US$55-$85) and payment must be in cash. There is also usually a tax imposed on land arrivals of approx US$14.
    Travellers arriving into Saparmurat Turkmenbashy International Airport can obtain their visa on arrival at the airport. You will require a printed copy of your LOI that includes your exact flight details in order to board your flight so please ensure you supply this information to The Visa Machine. Costs will depend on your nationality (currently approx US$85) and payment must be in cash.
    In all other circumstances you must obtain your visa from an embassy before your travel and must indicate specifically where you will apply on the The Visa Machine LOI form. On arrival in Turkmenistan you will be required to fill out an immigration card which must be kept for your entire journey. Turkmenistan embassies where you may be able to apply for your visa include: Beijing, London, Istanbul, Tashkent, Almaty, Washington, Berlin, Paris. The following website may have useful information and traveller reports about applying for visas at these and other embassies:
    You will need to apply for a Single Entry Tourist Visa (G)
    Name(s) of Host/Sponsor/Contact:
    Ayan Travel
    Magtymguly Avenue 108-13, 14
    +993 12 352914
    Address in Turkmenistan:
    Ak Altyn Hotel
    141/1 Magtymguly ave
    Ashgabat 744000
    +993 12 363700
    * Letter of Invitation (LOI)
    * Photocopy of your passport
    * Passport size photo (up to 4)
    * Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements
    Independence Day in Turkmenistan is on October 27th. The government usually imposes restrictions on the issuance of the LOIs and visas during the month of September for all those travelling to Turkmenistan in October. If you are planning to travel to Turkmenistan in October please ensure your visa application is submitted well in advance.
    IRAN: Iranian visas are issued in a two step process:
    1. An authorisation code for your visa must be issued by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
    2. A visa for your passport must then be obtained at an Iranian Embassy once the authorisation code has been issued.
    For your nearest Iranian Embassy please check the Iranian Ministry of Foreign affairs of Iran website:
    Authorisation code/Visa Approval number and Iran Invite Number all have the same meaning but can be displayed as different names on different forms
    Step 1- How to apply for your authorisation code:
    Please immediately fill in the visa authorisation form sent to you by our sales team at the time of booking. If you are arriving early or staying on afterwards this needs to be written on your application form. As you are technically the responsibility of our Intrepid operator for your entire stay, only Intrepid-booked activities/accommodation are able to be nominated as part of this visa application. If you don’t receive this form at the time of booking please enquire with your agent. We recommend your flight to Iran should be as close to the starting date as possible. We also recommend your flight dates should be changeable in case of delays at the embassy issuing the visa. Return the visa authorisation form together with a scanned copy of the first page of your passport via email to and immediately.
    Please ensure all details are correct before sending. Any errors may result in your visa being denied or delayed. It’s vital that you provide us with an email contact at the time of booking. On occasions our local operator may contact you directly regarding the information provided for the authorisation code processing. Our local operator in Iran will process visa authorisation applications with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Visa authorisation generally take 3-5 weeks depending on your nationality (up to two months for US citizens).
    When approved, your visa authorisation code will be faxed to the Iranian embassy processing your visa (nominated on the authorisation form). Our Iranian operator will also notify you of your authorisation code via email. Once the code is received please apply for your visa directly with the nominated Iranian embassy (see Step 2 for further instructions). The process is complete once your passport is returned with the Iran visa stamped inside.
    While not common, there are occasions where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejects a visa application for a variety of reasons (usually unknown to us). Unfortunately we have no control over the success of your application and have little recourse if it’s rejected.It’s not uncommon for Iran authorisation codes to be submitted very close to the actual time of travel. Obviously this can be an anxious period but again unfortunately we have little authority to speed up the process. If you haven’t received your authorisation code within 10 days of trip departure contact us to make alternative travel plans
    Step 2 - How to obtain your visa stamp:
    Once you have received your emailed authorisation code from our local operator, immediately apply for your visa with your nominated Iranian embassy. You’ll need to provide a visa application form (usually you can download it from the embassy website), your passport, the visa fee, photos and insurance policy. Some consulate may have different requirements that you must check out beforehand. The cost of an Iran visa varies between US$60-80 depending on your nationality. Please check with your nominated embassy for visa costs. For women we recommend they provide a photo with their hair covered by a headscarf (not a hat). If you wish to personally collect your visa at the designated embassy you must also arrive wearing a headscarf. In order to collect your visa from the consulate, you must carry your travel insurance policy that covers you whilst in Iran. In our experience the turnaround time for your visa to be stamped in your passport and returned to your home address is normally within a week, but can take longer. Please check with your nominated Iranian embassy for their opening times and processing times for visas (some embassies will say that it takes up to a month). Please note that Iran embassies and consulates worldwide may only open for 3 or 4 days a week and have very limited opening hours. If possible, visiting the embassy personally can speed up the process (even to one day). Visas are valid for three months from the time of issue. We will do our best to secure your authorisation code, however the final decision rests with the government of Iran, therefore we cannot guarantee when and if a visa will be granted. If you have any questions regarding this process, please feel free to email Visa Notes:
    Please check that the embassy issues you with a tourist visa and not a business visa (the stamp in your passport must state that the visa is a tourist one). If you’re issued with a business visa, hotels will charge you the business travellers rates which are often far higher than the tourist rates.
    2. A visa will be flatly refused if your passport contains evidence of travel to Israel. Note: this is not confined to just an Israeli stamp in your passport. You will be refused an Iranian visa if there’s an Egyptian entry or exit stamp from the Egyptian/Israeli border (at Taba or Rafah) or a Jordanian entry or exit stamp from the Jordanian/Israeli border (at Wadi Araba near Aqaba, Sheikh Hussein bridge or King Hussein bridge, otherwise known as the Allenby bridge) in your passport. Even without actually having an Israeli stamp in your passport, these exit or entry stamps prove that you have visited Israel and entry into Iran will be disallowed.
    3. Upon arrival in Iran, women not wearing an Islamic headscarf, long sleeves, covered shoes and a loose fitting skirt or pants may be refused entry into the country (to avoid this problem bring a thin full-length raincoat with you if you choose to buy a manteau after you arrive). A manteau is a loose-fitting trench coat that comes down to just above your knees and is required by law to be worn by all women in Iran. Men must also be conservatively dressed, wearing long trousers upon arrival, or they too may be refused entry.
    4. The Iranian Foreign Ministry usually closes over the Iranian New Year period (approx 12 March to 2 April) and will not receive visa applications over this time. Please have your visa application in well before this date.
    Australia: Yes - on arrival
    Belgium: Yes - on arrival
    Canada: Yes - on arrival
    Germany: No - not required
    Ireland: Yes - on arrival
    Netherlands: Yes - on arrival
    New Zealand: No - not required
    South Africa: Yes - on arrival
    Switzerland: No - not required
    United Kingdom: Yes - on arrival
    USA: Yes - on arrival
    Visa costs can change depending on the political climate of the region. For Turkey, an entry visa is required for citizens of the following countries (not limited to this list):
    - USA (US$60),
    - Canada (US$60 on arrival; CAD$75 for advance application)
    - U.K. (US$60; GBP45 for advance application)
    - Australia (US$60 on arrival)
    - Austria, Belgium, Canada, Holland, Ireland, Israel, Portugal & Spain (varies from US$10-100)
    The visa costs can change at any time and with little notice depending on the political climate of the region.
    A valid passport is sufficient for citizens of most other countries including New Zealand, Argentina, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland for stays up to 3 months. All other nationalities please check with your nearest Turkish embassy.
    Generally visas can easily be attained on arrival although sometimes the lines for these can be quite long. Visas obtained on entry must be paid in cash in US$ or EUR so ensure you have some on hand. It is also possible to pay by Credit Card however passenger feedback suggests this is not very reliable. Depending on your nationality, visas are either valid for 3 months or 1 year.
    Issues on your trip
    While we always endeavour to provide the best possible holiday experience, due to the nature of travel and the areas we visit sometimes things can and do go wrong. Should any issue occur while you are on your trip, it is imperative that you discuss this with your group leader or our local representative straight away so that they can do their best to rectify the problem and save any potential negative impact on the rest of your trip.
    We recognise that there may be times when your group leader/local partner may not be able to resolve a situation to your satisfaction - if this is the case, please ask the leader to speak to their direct manager.
    You may also choose to provide details in your online feedback, which we ask you to complete within 30 days of the end of your trip. But we do ask you to be aware that it is very difficult for us to provide any practical help after the trip is complete.
    What to take
    What you need to bring will vary according to the trip style you have chosen, the countries you are visiting and when you are travelling. Generally speaking you should pack as lightly as possible. On the vast majority of our trips you are expected to carry your own luggage and although you won't be required to walk long distances with your luggage (max 30 minutes), we recommend keeping the weight under 10kg / 22lb.
    Most travellers carry their luggage in a backpack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice if you travel lightly. Smaller bags or backpacks with wheels are convenient although we recommend your bag has carry straps. You'll also need a day pack/bag to carry water and a camera etc for day trips.
    You can find Intrepid's Ultimate Packing List on our website. It should be used as a guide only and isn't intended to be a complete packing list.
    Please bring a sleeping bag (4-season is recommended - check what the weather will be like over the dates you are travelling), sleeping mat and a pillow as these items are not provided.
    Consider bringing your own water bottle to refill along the way. The sale of bottled water contributes to an enormous environmental problem around the world. In addition to the water in bottles, the production of a 1 litre plastic bottle takes 2 litres of water and 200ml of oil. A large proportion ends up in limited landfill or discarded in waterways and natural environments. Although it can be difficult to avoid bottled water when travelling, please consider water purification techniques such as iodine or micropur and use the water dispensers which are provided at some of our accommodation. When unable to avoid bottled water it is better to buy the largest available and distribute into your smaller bottle for the day
    All Intrepid travellers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveller is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/or the rest of the group, Intrepid reserves the right to exclude them from all or part of a trip without refund.
    You should consult your doctor for up-to-date medical travel information or for any necessary vaccinations and anti-malarial requirements before departure. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses) as they may not easily be obtained at the locations on this trip. For legal reasons our leaders and guides are prohibited from administering any type of drugs including headache tablets and antibiotics. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
    Many national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest travel information before departure. Please refer to our website's safety page for links to major travel advisories and updates on safety issues affecting our trip.
    We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, air tickets, cash and other valuable items. Leave your valuable jewellery at home - you won't need it while travelling. Many of our hotels have safety deposit boxes, which is the most secure way of storing your valuables. A lock is recommended for securing your luggage.
    Your leader will accompany you on all included activities, however during your trip you'll have some free time to pursue your own interests, relax and take it easy or explore at your leisure. While your group leader will assist you with the available options in a given location, please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your Intrepid itinerary, and Intrepid makes no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgement when selecting an activity in your free time. Please also note that your group leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it's deemed necessary due to safety concerns.
    For more details on the type of conditions and safety standards you can expect on your trip, please refer to Intrepid's operational safety policy on our website. We recommend that you take a moment to read through this information before travelling, and would appreciate any feedback on how well it's being implemented in the field:
    While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.
    Depending on where you come from please note that drivers in this part of the world may drive on the opposite side of the road from what you are used to. Look both ways before crossing any road. Traffic can be a little more chaotic than you might be used to at home. Be aware!
    Please be aware that local laws governing tourism facilities in this region differ from those in your home country and not all the accommodation which we use has a fire exit, fire extinguishers or smoke alarms.
    Where we use a local partner to fully operate one of our itineraries, we use the travel advisory of the country where that operator is based rather than the Australian DFAT advisory. This itinerary is operated by our local partners Dragoman, and as such will follow the British Government (FCO) Travel Advice. To view these travel advisories please log on to:
    Travel insurance
    Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.
    When travelling on a group trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and the insurance company's 24 hour emergency contact number has been seen by your leader.
    If you have credit card insurance your group leader will require details of the participating insurer/underwriter, the level of coverage, policy number and emergency contact number rather than the bank's name and credit card details. Please contact your bank for these details prior to arriving in-country.
    Please go to our website for links to various travel insurance providers:
    Responsible Travel
    We believe strongly in low impact or rather positive impact tourism. Broadly speaking this means that we try to minimise the negative aspects of tourism on the local cultures and environments that we visit and highlight the positive aspects. Please visit our website for further details and suggestions on how you can be a responsible traveller:
    A couple of rules
    Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of the world but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers. Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter and in particular, the local people who make our destinations such special places. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy. Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or if they use prostitutes.
    The Intrepid Foundation
    Since Intrepid Travel commenced operating in 1989 we've been committed to giving something back to the communities we visit. One way has been through our support for local humanitarian, development and conservation projects. Many of our travellers want to contribute something too. Whilst it is often tempting to give hand-outs to those less fortunate, this has the potential to promote a culture of begging and dependency. Handouts are not a sustainable way for individuals or communities to live. That’s why we established The Intrepid Foundation – to make it easier for travellers wishing to give back to communities in an effective and meaningful way.
    The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit fund offering a selection of excellent grassroots organisations which you can contribute to. All donations to The Intrepid Foundation will be matched by Intrepid Travel dollar for dollar (up to AU$5,000 per donor and a total of AU$400,000 for all donors in each financial year). And every cent gets there as Intrepid Travel pays for all the administration costs. Donating is simple and secure. Please ask your group leader for information on the projects we support through The Intrepid Foundation or go to our website:
    After your travels, we want to hear from you! This is so important to us that we'll give you 5% off the price of your next trip if your feedback is completed online within 4 weeks of finishing your trip.