Istanbul to Xi'an Trip Notes

Istanbul to Xi'an

Last Modified: 23 Sep 2013
Istanbul to Xi'an
Trip code: KDODC
Validity: 01 Jan 2013 to 31 Dec 2013
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 Georgia, 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
StyleImportant notesEmergency funds
ThemesGroup sizeVisas
ItineraryYour fellow travellersIssues on your trip
Itinerary disclaimerSingle travellersWhat to take
Culture shock rating AccommodationHealth
Physical ratingMeals introductionSafety
Physical preparationMealsTravel insurance
Included activitiesTransportResponsible Travel
KittyGroup leaderA couple of rules
Optional activitiesJoining point The Intrepid Foundation
Money ExchangeJoining point descriptionCarbon offset
Spending moneyJoining point instructionsFeedback
TippingArrival complications
Departure taxEmergency contact
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.
Day 1 Istanbul
Hosgeldinz! Welcome to Istanbul.
The trip begins with a group meeting at 10am.
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.
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.
If you arrive early, and we recommend you do, go and explore this vibrant city. Visit the cobbled Hippodrome which was once the site of ancient chariot races and visit the exquisite Blue Mosque, Istanbul's most recognisable landmark. Whilst entry is free, it is good custom to make a donation of a lira or two after your visit. This is a working mosque and part of its role is to look after the less fortunate in the community. Please note we will be departing Istanbul on day 2 so you have limited time to see all the sights. We do have a range of short trips and sightseeing excursions available to make the best use of your time.
Optional Activities
  • Istanbul - Aya Sofya - TRY25
  • Istanbul - Topkapi Palace (incl. harem) - TRY35
  • Istanbul - Basilica Cistern - TRY10
  • Istanbul - Archaeology Museum - TRY10
  • Istanbul - Turkish Hamam (incl. massage) - TRY100
  • Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Free
Hostel (1 nt)
Day 2 Bush Camp
We spend the morning in Istanbul, and then in the early afternoon head east, stopping at or near Toz Golu where we bush camp for the night.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 3-4 Goreme
Today we drive approximately 330 km to Goreme, where we stay 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.
The following day we have a full day to explore Goreme, including a guided tour of the enchanted valley of Cappadocia.
Included Activities
  • Goreme - Guided Goreme Valley tour
Optional Activities
  • Goreme - Underground City - TRY15
  • Hot Air Ballooning - EUR120
  • Goreme - Open Air Museum - TRY15
Camping (with facilities) (2 nts)
Day 5 Bush Camp
Leaving Goreme behind, today we drive approximately 340 km north-west. We may stop in the town of Zara en route for supplies before finding somewhere to bush camp for the night.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 6 Sumela
Today we drive approximately 300 km to Sumela, where we camp overnight. In colder weather we may continue on to stay in a hotel in Trabzon.
This afternoon, or the next morning, we will visit Sumela Monastery.
Set in the cliffs is the beautiful monastery of Sumela. The monastery clings to a sheer rock wall high about evergreen forests and a rushing mountain stream.
Included Activities
  • Sumela - Monastery
Camping (with facilities) (1 nt)
Day 7 Batumi
This morning we will visit Sumela Monastery if we didn't the day before, and then we'll continue to the border and cross into Georgia. Our first night in Georgia will be spent in the port town of Batumi, in a comfortable hotel.
Situated on the Black Sea coast, Batumi has the feel of a resort town, nicely positioned between the sea and the green hills. It is a great place to relax and there are plenty of cafes where you can enjoy a Turkish coffee, sitting outside watching the people and the ships.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 8 Kutaisi
After a relaxing morning we leave the port town of Batumi and make our way to the ancient town of Kutaisi (approx 140 km). In the afternoon we will visit the medieval Bagrati Cathedral and the Gelati Monastery.
Kutaisi is one of the cradles of Georgian civilisation, and the peopled here are renowned for their hospitality. Kutaisi is also home to the Bagrati Cathedral which sits high on a hill overlooking the town. This immense building was started by Bagrat III in 1003. It is now in a state of ruin, but is still an impressive Christian monument.
While visiting Kutaisi we stay overnight at a either a local hotel or a homestay.
Optional Activities
  • Kutaisi - Bagrati Cathedral - Free
Homestay (1 nt)
Day 9 Gori
This morning is free to explore the charming town of Kutaisi. In the afternoon we make our way to Gori (approx 150 km) where we spend the night at a homestay. This afternoon we will have a guided tour of Gori that includes the Stalin Museum.
With a name meaning 'heap' or 'hill', Gori was an important strategic post in the Middle Ages, but these days is most famous as being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin.
At Gori we will visit Stalin's House and Museum. The museum houses many photographs, as well as some documents, furniture and gifts presented to the dictator. It also houses Stalin's death mask. Outside the museum is the railway carriage which Stalin used for 12 years.
Included Activities
  • Gori - Stalin Museum
Homestay (1 nt)
Day 10 Kazbegi
An early start this morning sees us drive to the spectacularly-located town of Kazbegi (approx 190 km) where we stay at a homestay. Either this afternoon or the next morning we walk up to the Tsminda Sameba Church, also known as Church of the Holy Trinity.
Located near the Russian border, Kazbegi is a small town in north-eastern Georgia, in an area famous for its natural beauty. Although its buildings are mainly Soviet in style, the setting of the town is spectacular with views of Mt Kazbek, and the hill-top Tsminda Sameba Church.
Included Activities
  • Kazbegi - Tsminda Sameba Church
Homestay (1 nt)
Days 11-12 Tbilisi
We spend the morning in Kazbegi before this afternoon driving approximately 160 km to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, where we stay overnight in a comfortable hotel.
By far the biggest city in Georgia, Tbilisi has been the capital since the fifth century AD. Set among hills along the Mtkvari River, it is one of the most attractive cities in the Caucasus. The architecture is a testament to Tbilisi's history - a mix of European, Byzantine, and Middle Eastern styles - with its winding alleys, art deco buildings, and caravanserais. There is plenty to see and do here with a good smattering of churches, museums, political buildings and parks. For great views over Tbilisi climb up to Narikala Fortress and the statue of Kartklis Deda.
Optional Activities
  • Narikala Fortress - Free
  • Tbilisi - Metekhi Church - Free
  • Anchiskhati Church - Free
  • Orbeliani Bath House - Free
  • Tbilisi - Sioni Cathedral - Free
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 13-14 Telavi
This morning we drive to the Alazani valley and on to Telavi (approx 95 km) where we base ourselves for two days. The afternoon is free to explore the area.
Telavi is the capital of the wine growing region of Kakheti, and is situated in the valley of Alazani, near the Gombori Mountains. There are hundreds of different grapes grown here, and each village has its own particular variety. We will hopefully get to see some of the local traditions, including grape harvest, wine making, and, most importantly, the keipi (banquet). We will also visit some of the local vineyards.
Whilst in Telavi we stay at a comfortable homestay.
The following day we visit the sixth century Shaumta Monastery, which is beautifully located on an isolated forest hilltop.
Day 15 Lagodekhi
Today we leave the wine region behind and head towards the Azerbaijan border. We bush camp tonight en route.
Day 16 Sheki
Today we cross the border into Azerbaijan. Once all the border formalities are over we continue our drive to Sheki. Whilst here we visit the exquisite Khan's Palace and the Museum of History. We spend the night in a comfortable hotel converted from an old caravanserai.
Day 17 Gobustan
Today we drive about 210 km to the town of Gobustan where we bush camp for the night. Whilst here we visit the rock art and mud volcanoes that this area is known for.
Days 18-20 Baku
This morning we drive the remaining 90 km to the Azeri capital, Baku. Our itinerary in Baku must be flexible as it is very much determined by the sailing of the local ferries across the Caspian Sea. They are notoriously unpredictable and we will need to adjust our times both in Baku and Turkmenbashi accordingly.
In Baku we stay in a comfortable hotel.
The following two days are free in Baku to explore the city.
Day 21 Overnight Ferry
From Baku we will take the ferry across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan. The boat docks at the city of Turkmenbashi. Ferry is perhaps a rather misleading word - rusty, old and tub are words that may spring to your mind - but there is only one way across the Caspian Sea and beggars can't be choosers!
We spend the night in cabins aboard the ferry.
Day 22 Turkmenbashi
Today we arrive into Turkmenistan. We spend the night in a hotel in Turkmenbashi.
Day 23 Geok Tepe
This morning there is time to explore Turkmenbashi before driving (approx 450 km) to the spectacular Kow Ata underground lake. We will have some time either this afternoon or the following morning to explore this lake of clear water naturally heated to about 36°C.
We will bush camp in the area overnight.
Days 24-25 Ashgabat
This morning we have a short drive to Turkmenistan's bizarre modern capital, Ashgabat. The afternoon is free to explore. Whilst here we stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.
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 following day we will head to Ashgabat's famous Sunday Market.
Ashgabat's wonderful Sunday Market stretches for hundreds of acres into the desert. Carpets, camels, clothes, pigs, jewellery, goats, cars, chickens, hats and ex soviet military paraphernalia are all readily available.
The rest of the afternoon is free to explore this unique modern city.
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
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 26 Darvaza
After breakfast we drive out into the Karakum Desert. If time allows we will make a side trip to see the amazing Darwasa Gas Crater. We spend the night near Darwasa where we will bush camp.
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!
Optional Activities
  • Gas Crater - USD10
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 27 Bush Camp
Most of today will be spent travelling as we continue our overland journey across the Karakum. Second night bushcamping en route towards Kunye Urgench.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 28-29 Khiva
In the morning we visit to Kunye Urgench ruins.
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.
Later in the morning we have a short drive to the border with Uzbekistan. Crossing the border around lunchtime, we then continue on to Khiva. We stay in Khiva for 2 nights in a comfortable 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 following day is free in Khiva to explore.
Included Activities
  • Khiva - Guided city tour
  • Konye-Urgench - Ancient City ruins
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 30-32 Bukhara
Leaving Khiva, most of today will be spent travelling. Our destination is the fascinating city of Bukhara where will spend the next 3 nights 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 our second day we will have a tour of 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 walking tour
Hotel (3 nts)
Day 33 Nurata
In the morning we drive to Nurata in the Kyzylkhum Desert. In the afternoon there is the option of a camel ride. We spend the night in a 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 34-36 Samarkand
Morning exploring the Nurata Hills with the option of taking a dip in Lake Ajdar Kul. Afternoon drive to Samarkand where we will stay for the next 3 nights in a small friendly hotel.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Samarkand remains one of the most attractive in Central Asia despite a turbulent history of war and earthquakes.
The city blossomed under Amir Timur, known in the west as Tamerlane, a tyrannical 14th-century ruler. A lover of art, Timur was responsible for the colourful domes and exquisite minarets that now form the city's skyline. Although Samarkand fell into disrepair during the Soviet days, restoration is slowly progressing and the sights here are a photographer's dream.
The next day is free to explore the great sultanate of Timur, Samarkand.
On our third day we will explore Samarkand in the truck, exploring the majestic buildings, monuments and bazaars of this romantic silk route city.
Included Activities
  • Samarkand - Guided city tour
Optional Activities
  • Visit to Shakhrisabz city - USD60
Hotel (3 nts)
Days 37-39 Tashkent
This morning is free for you to explore more of Samarkand, or take it easy and have a lazy start to the day. In the afternoon we will drive on to the old soviet city of 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.
The rest of our time here is free to explore.
Perhaps visit the traditional Chorsu Bazaar. This is a great place to try local food cheap, or even free.
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
  • Tashkent - Chorsu Bazaar - Free
  • History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan - UZS3000
  • Museum of Applied Arts - UZS1200
  • Art Gallery of Uzbekistan - UZS400
Hotel (3 nts)
Day 40 Kokand/Fergana City
Today we enter the Fergana Valley. We will have lunch in Kokand and then visit Kokand's Khan's Palace and Mosque. We overnight in a hotel in Fergana City.
Similar to the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Fergana is a modern city, far-removed from the ancient Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. The town is located in the Fergana Valley, a broad bowl thousands of kilometres wide surrounded by far off mountain peaks. Nearly 90% of people who live here are indigenous Uzbeks and the communities here are typically very welcoming and hospitable. A very fertile area, the land is highly cultivated and used to produce fruit, vegetables and cotton. The textile industry thrives here and there are some exceptional craftspeople weaving beautiful fabrics. It may be possible for you to visit a local factory or workshop where you will be able to see how silk and other fabrics are still hand-woven and dyed here.
Included Activities
  • Kokand - Khan's Palace & Mosque
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 41 Arslanbob
This morning we leave Uzbekistan and make our way to Kyrgyzstan. We travel in private cars through the Fergana Valley before rejoining our truck and crossing over to Kyrgyzstan. We then continue our journey to Arslanbob in Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley, where we spend the night in a local guesthouse.
Days 42-44 Kyrgyz Ferghana Valley
We spend the next three days overlanding through the stunning Kyrgyz Fergana Valley. We take it slow, stopping at beautiful lakes and streams, and meeting the local Takik and Kyrgyz people. We camp out, sometimes staying with a local family.
Please note that trips running in May to mid-June, October and November will not camp if it is too cold. Instead these trips will stay in local guesthouses. We need to remain flexible with these itineraries are temperatures can vary.
Bush camp (no facilities) (3 nts)
Days 45-46 Song-Kol Lake
After a morning driving, we reach Song-Kol Lake. The afternoon is free to explore the area with options including hiking, riding on ponies and playing goat polo. Tonight we stay with local shepherds in their felt yurts.
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.
The next day is a full free day at Song-Kul lake for further activities. Second night staying in yurts.
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 we will stay in yurts on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. We will need to remain flexible with these itineraries as temperatures can vary.
Yurt (2 nts)
Day 47 Kochkor
In the morning we drive to Kochkor village. 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 48-49 Djety Oguz Valley
This morning we will 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 camp tonight.
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 next day is free in Djety Oguz for hiking and other activities. Again we either bush camp or stay in yurts.
Please note that trips running in May to mid-June, October and November will not camp if temperatures are too low. Instead we will stay for 1 night in Djety Oguz in a local hotel and then spend the second night in Altyn Arashan, a hot spring development enroute to Karakol again in a local hotel. We will need to remain flexible with these itineraries as temperatures can vary.
Included Activities
  • Jeti-Oghuz - Hiking
  • Animal market
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Day 50 Karakol
Drive to picturesque town of Karakol, with time to explore in the afternoon. Overnight in 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.
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 51-52 Chong Kemin National Park
Early in the morning we set off towards the Chong Kemin Valley National Park where we will spend our nights 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, including opportunities for short hikes and possibly the chance 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 we will stay in a small village called Semyenovka and overnight in yurts. We will need to remain flexible with these itineraries as temperatures can vary.
Optional Activities
  • Whitewater rafting - USD25
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Days 53-54 Bishkek
Free morning for hiking and exploring the area. Late afternoon we have a short drive to Bishkek where we stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.
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)
Day 55 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.
Day 56 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 57 Kashgar
Drive the remaining distance to the border and cross into China. We will arrive into Kashgar in the evening. Accommodation in Kashgar is in a comfortable hotel.
Day 58 Karakol
In the early morning we set off on a stunning journey along the Karakoram highway, our destination is Lake Karakol. This stunning lake and its surrounding mountains are a highlight on this short trip. Accommodation tonight is in yurts surrounding the lake.
Days 59-61 Kashgar
Today we drive back to Kashgar.
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.
Early the next morning we visit the animal market just outside of town and then the famous Kashgar Sunday Bazaar.
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.
Today is free to explore the town, perhaps heading off to the main landmark of the town, the Id Kah Mosque and its surrounding square.
The town's main landmark is the Id Kah Mosque and its surrounding square, from which dusty old lanes lead off, crammed full of shops, food stalls and Uyghur locals living a lifestyle virtually unchanged for a hundred years.
Take advantage of the proximity to Pakistan by having a meal of curry and chapattis at a Pakistani café, play a round or two with the lads handing out at the open door pool tables on Id Kah Square, get lost meandering down lanes and alleyways, stopping at stalls selling tandoori-baked bagels or mulberry juice, learn some funky moves at a Uyghur disco or visit some of the city's holy sites.
Optional Activities
  • Id Kah Mosque - CNY20
Hotel (3 nts)
Days 62-63 Bush Camp
We leave Kashgar and begin our 2-day overland journey skirting the edge of the Taklamakan Desert bushcamping en route.
Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nts)
Days 64-65 Heavenly Lake
We drive towards the Tian Shan mountain range, and on to Heavenly Lake. Accommodation at the lake is in basic 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 66-67 Turpan
We arrive into the oasis town of Turpan in the morning. Here we spend 2 days exploring the surrounding sites including the famous Jiaohe ruins. 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.
In free time during the evening, choose to join the locals on the square for socialising or visit one the night market for all the flavours of the region and plenty of interaction. There's also a cultural show held at a nearby hotel where you can witness the fast-paced drumming and dancing traditional to the Uyghur people (and don't be surprised if you are asked to join in!)
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 68 Bush Camp
We set off in the overland truck in the early morning and drive approximately 400 km towards the ancient Silk Road town of Dunhuang. We bush camp tonight en route.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 69-70 Dunhuang
Today we drive the remaining 350 km to Dunhuang, arriving in the early evening. The evening is free to explore Dunhuang. Accommodation tonight 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.
Today we will visit the Mogao Caves in the morning. 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.
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 71-72 Bush Camp/Great Wall
Full day drive to Jiayuguan (approximately 400 km), Jiayuguan is the location for the western end of the Great Wall. The first night will be spent wild camping at the Great Wall of China.
In the morning we will visit the Great Wall and the old fort. Once our visit to the wall is complete we will head off in the truck towards Liujiaxia bushcamping en route.
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.
Included Activities
  • Entrance Jiayuguan fort
Camping (with facilities) (2 nts)
Days 73-74 Liujiaxia
We drive approximately 500 km up onto the lower slopes of the remote Tibetan plateau towards Liujiaxia. Accommodation tonight is in a basic local, friendly hotel.
The next morning we visit the Bing Ling Si caves near Liujiaxia.
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.
Hotel (1 nt), Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 75-76 Xiahe
This morning we set off 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.
Today 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.
Guesthouse (2 nts)
Day 77 Lanzhou
We drive 240 km to Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou. Accommodation is in a comfortable hotel.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 78 Pingliang
We overland to Pingliang. Pingliang sits at the edge of the beautiful Kongtong Mountain. If time and weather permits there is a chance to visit the summit of this holy mountain. Accommodation is in a comfortable but basic hotel.
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.
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 79-80 Xi'an
Today we begin our overland journey to Xi’an. we arrive late in the afternoon and settle straight into our comfortable hotel that is located right in the heart of this ancient city. After checking in the evening is free to explore, perhaps walking to the night market to buy some souvenirs or catching 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.
This morning we travel on the truck to the place that has perhaps made Xi'an most famous around the world - the site of the Terracotta Warriors. It takes around an hour to get there and we'll hear all about this incredible archaeological find. Once the guided tour is over we will travel back to Xi'an.
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.
The trip finishes this afternoon, and there is no accommodation included tonight. We recommend that you do not book a flight out until at least early evening, in case there are any delays returning to Xi'an.
Included Activities
  • Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors guided tour
Optional Activities
  • Cycling on City Wall - CNY80
  • Bell & Drum Towers - CNY50
  • Great Mosque - CNY25
  • Small Wild Goose Pagoda - CNY50
  • Folk house - CNY15
  • Shaanxi History Museum - Free
  • Terracotta Warriors - CNY150
  • Big Wild Goose Pagoda - CNY80
Hotel (1 nt)
      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
      It is not really worth trying to buy local currencies before you travel. Do also bear in mind that many countries have strict regulations about the amount of their own local currency you are allowed to import - if you are found with amounts in excess of the allowed amounts, it may well be confiscated!
      For obvious security reasons we hesitate to recommend you bring lots of cash with you, a sensible mix of cash, travellers cheques and ATM cards is best. However, most of our past passengers have said they wished they had been told to bring more cash. Apart from the convenience of being able to change money in many more places, you will sometimes get a much better exchange rate for cash. Note that for trips in Central Asia it's virtually impossible to use traveller's cheques or find ATMs. We therefore recommend that you bring cash in US$.
      You should take a mixture of denomination notes. Banks and money-changers in most countries will now only accept bills with a metallic strip running top to bottom of the bill and which are dated from 2003 or later. You should not take worn or damaged notes, or any that have been written on. Cash machines are available in some areas but are not always reliable therefore we recommend that you do not rely on them as your only source of cash. Credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express are the most commonly accepted, but be prepared for very high commission charges.
      Please do not rely on cards for daily use, as they are not always accepted outside of larger towns and cities. Please bring a mixture of small and large denominations as in more remote areas it can be hard to change amounts over $50.
      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
      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.
      This is a tough trip and should only be attempted by people who are prepared for cold, discomfort and trip alterations. We'll be travelling through high remote mountains, with weather or road conditions affecting our itinerary.
      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.
      Visas for this trip can take many weeks to be issued so book early. Central Asia visa support letters are included in the trip price.
      NB: These are not the actual visas. Visa costs are a separate to the trip price.
      In 2013 the important month of Ramadan will be in progress from the 9th July through till the 7th 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.
      Please note that the itinerary for this trip has changed since the brochure was released. The government travel warning on the southern region of Kyrgyzstan has been lifted and we are again able to visit the Fergana Valley region. As a result we will no longer be visiting Kazakhstan.
      Some destinations visited on this trip do not have consulates in Australia and New Zealand. We recommend that travellers from these countries book the WESTBOUND itinerary of this trip where some visas can be obtained en route.
      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:
      Single travellers
      Our group trips are designed for shared accommodation and don't involve a compulsory single supplement. Single travellers share with people of the same gender in accommodation ranging from twin to multishare. Some of our itineraries have accommodation booked on a mixed gender share basis and where applicable this will be specified in our Trip Notes. On a selection of our trips, you have the option to pay a single supplement to ensure that you have your own room (where available). Please note that this only applies to accommodation during the tour - pre-trip and post-trip accommodation will be booked on a single room basis.
      Hotel (28 nts), Bush camp (no facilities) (16 nts), Yurt (5 nts), Camping (with facilities) (5 nts), Homestay (4 nts), Guesthouse (2 nts), Hostel (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 1000.00
      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
      All Intrepid group trips are accompanied by one of our group leaders. The aim of the group leader is to take the hassle out of your travels and to help you have the best trip possible. Intrepid endeavours to provide the services of an experienced leader however, due to the seasonality of travel, rare situations may arise where your leader is new to a particular region or training other group leaders.
      Your leader will provide information on the places you are travelling through, offer suggestions for things to do and see, recommend great local eating venues and introduce you to our local friends. While not being guides in the traditional sense you can expect them to have a broad general knowledge of the places visited on the trip, including historical, cultural, religious and social aspects. At Intrepid we aim to support local guides who have specialised knowledge of the regions we visit. If you were interested in delving deeper into the local culture at a specific site or location then your leader can recommend a local guide service in most of the main destinations of your trip.
      Joining point
      Orient Hostel
      Akbiyik Caddesi no:13
      Joining 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.
      Joining point instructions
      Ataturk International airport is situated 25 km west of Istanbul's city centre. The airport has several banks, and ATMs open 24hrs for either withdrawals or cash advance. The quickest and easiest way to the hotel is by taxi - there are ranks outside the arrivals terminal. Insist they use the meter. The fare during the day should be approx. TRY30 but up to double that for a night time journey. Airport buses leave every 30 minutes between 6.00 and 23.00 but only go as far as Aksaray (10ytl). From here you could catch the tram into Sultanahmet or you could hail a taxi.
      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.
      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.
      Most nationalities require a visa to visit Azerbaijan. Most also require a LOI in order to apply although this can depend on where your application is made. Visa rules for Azerbaijan are constantly changing and embassy staff often find it hard to keep up with or know how to interpret them. We recommend checking the following websites for reports and up to date information: &
      The following information was current at the time of writing. You will need to check with the embassy where you will apply for specific information and costs.
      It is no longer possible to get a visa on arrival at Baku Airport or at any land border into Azerbaijan. All travellers must apply for their Single Entry Tourist Visa to Azerbaijan in advance.
      From March 2013 Azerbaijan has introduced an e-visa system. This is an online process, with the visa emailed to you as a PDF attachment that you will need to print out. This visa enables entry to Azerbaijan at any border point, land or air and is issued strictly for the dates your documents show only. The e-visa costs US$100 and takes up to 15 days to be processed and requires submitting the following documents:
      *Clear, colour copy of passport in JPEG format
      *Clear, colour copy of applicant’s photo size 3x4 cm in JPEG format
      *Flight reservation details if arriving or departing by air
      *Confirmation of hotel booking – This can be requested from Dragoman by emailing
      *Completed e-visa application form in WORD format
      Please note that while this is a very new service, we advise all pax to apply for the e-visa rather than applying at an embassy.
      There are 2 options for obtaining the e-visa:
      1. The Visa Machine
      The application process can be started by going to the following address:
      The application cost is $80US plus £20 admin fee.
      2. Direct to an Azeri travel agent
      An alternative option is to use Azerbaijan24, an Azeri travel agent. Please follow the link to find instructions on completing the application form independently:
      The application will cost $100US.
      Organisation, juridical or physical person inviting you to Azerbaijan:
      Mirvari Travel Ltd.
      Istiqlaliyyet str. 23
      +994 12 492 09 45
      Address of the place of your stay in Azerbaijan:
      Azeri Hotel
      Icheri Sheher
      Asif Zeynally street 39
      AZ1000, Baku
      (unless otherwise indicated on your LOI)
      * Letter of Invitation (LOI), additional official documents depending on the embassy
      * Photocopy of your passport
      * Passport size photos (up to 4)
      * Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements
      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 do not currently require a visa for Georgia, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK, USA & all EU member states. However, all nationalities should check with the nearest embassy for the latest visa information as this may be subject to change at short notice.
      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.
      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.
      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.
      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.
      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.
      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.
      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!
      One of the advantages of overland travel is that the vehicle provides a very real level of security when travelling. There's no doubt that a properly equipped overland vehicle, with safes, fully lockable doors and windows is an obvious advantage when travelling in much of the world.
      Any personal effects that are left on the truck, even if they are stored in the safe, are left at your own risk and Dragoman cannot be held responsible for any damage or theft that may occur.
      The safety of our passengers, leaders and operators is a major priority. With this in mind we monitor world events very closely. By the very nature of the adventure travel that we take, there are risks and hazards that are inherent in our itineraries. Dragoman makes operational decisions based on informed advice from a number of sources:
      - The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice
      - Reports from other travel companies and local suppliers
      - Leaders reports from off the road
      - Local contacts we have built up over 30 years of experience.
      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:
      We recommend that you dress respectfully at all stages of the trip especially when in and around religious sites. In Central Asia both men and women generally dress very conservatively by covering their legs and shoulders. Women are advised to cover their heads when entering functioning Orthodox churches and mosques, while men should remove their hats.
      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:
      Carbon offset
      Carbon Offset C02-e 3280.00 kgs per pax.
      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.