MONGOLIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

October 2005


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The highlights of this trip were the natural and human landscapes of central Asia and the cities of the Silk Road

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TM, ®, Copyright © 1999 Ulysses-Travel all rights reserved.

Itinerary

  1. SOUTH KOREA (5)
  2. Boat from Inchon to China
  3. CHINA (3)
  4. Beijing to Hohhot (Inner Mongolia) to Erlian (border town) to Ulan Baatar
  5. MONGOLIA (4)
  6. Ulan Bator [Ugi's Guesthouse $10, Pizza della Casa two blocks west of State Dept Store]
  7. Ulan Bator: Gandan monastery (1838) with a 26m Buddha (1996) in a hall (1910) with walls covered with small statues
  8. Olgii (flight $200, hotel $10 for a royal suite)
  9. (Kharkhorin/Karakorum, 370 km southwest of UB, ancient capital built in 1220 of Mongol empire: Walls, Erdene Zuu Monastery of 1586)
  10. (Khovsgol Nuur, deepest lake in Central Asia, near Moron airport)
  11. KAZAKHSTAN (3)
  12. Almaty: Zenkov cathedral [Hotel Doit, near train station, $24]
  13. (Issyk kurgan, 50 kms from Alma Aty, 5th c BC)
  14. (Astana/Aqmola)
  15. (Zailiysky Alatau mountains)
  16. Bus to Shymkent [from Sairan bus station, 12 hours, 1500T=$12]
  17. Bus Shymkent to Turkistan [2.5 hours, 300t, get off when you see the mausoleum to the left]
  18. Turkistan: Mausoleum of Kozha Akhmed Yasaui/ Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi of 1390 [entrance ticket 200t]
  19. Bus to Shymkent and to Almaty
  20. Bus Almaty to Bishkek [3hours, 1,000t=$8]
  21. KYRGYZSTAN (3)
  22. Bishkek [Hotel Semeneu $16 and Intl School of Management $11, Restaurant Adriatico, best Italian restaurant in Central Asia]
  23. Fly to Osh [$50, two three flights a day]
  24. Osh, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, crossroad of several branches of the Silk Road, at the foot of the Pamir with 150 rivers and 100 lakes, and still one of Central Asia's most famous bazaars, home town of Babur (founder of the Moghul empire) [Hotel Alay 252 som = $6]
  25. Bus to Uzgen [40 som = $1, 1h30']
  26. Uzgen/Ozgon/Uzkend, 55kms northeast of Osh: triple mausoleum (northern or Jalal al-Din al Husayn mausoleum of 1152, southern mausoleum of 1186, Nasr Ben Ali mausoleum of 11th c, minaret of 11th c) [from the bus station in Uzgen walk right to first intersection and then right again, then straight for 500m]
  27. (Silk road from Osh to Bishkek: Shirdarbek fortress, caravanserai of Tash Rabat, Tokmak)
  28. (Ala-Archa canyon)
  29. (Lake Issyk-Kul)
  30. Bus from Osh to Kashgar [20 hours, $50]
  31. CHINA
  32. Kashgar (17th c mausoleum of Apak Khoja, 11th c mausoleum of Uygur poet Yusup Has Hajib, Id Kah mosque of 1442)
  33. Fly to Urumqi - Beijing ($200)
  34. Beijing

Notes (2005)

Trip Difficulty: moderate
Season: October
Length: 31 days
  • Pictures of this trip
  • Best time to visit Kazakstan is spring and fall
  • Mongolian Tugrug $1 = 1120 Tg (Average room price: $10)
  • Kazakhstan Tenge $1 = 135 T (Average room price: $25)
  • SOM of Kyrgyzstan $1 = 40.90 SOM (Average room price: $10)
  • Visas (one of the few regions of the world where visas are considerably easier if you are a USA citizen):
    • Mongolia: no visa required for USA citizens (only country that is exempted)
    • Kazakhstan: USA citizens can request a tourist visa for $125 (other nationalities might need invitation letters etc)
    • Kyrgyzstan: USA citizens can request a transit visa for $25 as long as they have a visa for a neighboring country
    • China: all citizens of all countries must apply for a visa, and a special one if going through Tibet, and to apply in person (visas are not issued by mail)
  • Transportation from Beijing (China) to Ulan Bator (Mongolia)
    • Train from Beijing to Ulan Baatar (27 hours, $200) runs mo,tu,we. There is also a daily bus from the Russian market of Yablo in Beijing (also known as Mishuai Uen).
    • The train from Beijing to the capital of Inner Mongolia, Hohhot/Hukot (274y, 10h20') leaves from Beijing's West Station. From Hohhot bus station (the buiding next to the train station) one can take a bus to the border town of Erlian (6h, $8). From Erlian one takes a taxi for the 7kms to the border ($5) and to the Mongolian border town of Zamen Uud/Chamud. From there one can take the 5:40pm trail to Ulan Baatar (15 hours, $12).
    • Bus from Beijing to Chinese border town Erlian: 15 hours. Train from Mongolian border town Zamen Uud to Ulan Bator leaves daily 17:00 and arrives the following morning around 10:00 (frequent sand storms in the Gobi desert!):
  • Mongolia to Kazakhstan:
    • If you are really stubborn, it is possible to travel overland from Mongolia to Kazakhstan. First get to Olgii (western Mongolia, in the Altai mountains, 1650 km from ulan Bator). By "mini-bus" it takes 3-4 nights and 4-5 days driving on unpaved road. There is also a flight to Olgii, three times a week (mo, we, fr) for $185. These flights are always full. From Olgii there is a bus via Pavlodar to Astana, capital of Kazakhstan. It runs three times a month: it takes five days in each direction. It costs $50. A truck takes the passengers to the Mongolian border pass Ulaan Baishin, then they cross the Mongolian and Russian border, and then a Kazakhstan couch takes them to Almata.
    • There is a flight from Ulan Bator to Olgii, three times a week (mo, we, fr) for $185. These flights are always full. The flight from Olgii to Ust-Kaminagorsk to Almaty costs $200 and only flies on wednesday. Basically, every wednesday one can fly directly from Ulan Bator to Astana via Olgii. But it might be a good idea to fly monday to Olgii, spend two days on the Altai mountains and then fly to Astana. (In october 2005 one was forced to spend one day in Olgii, as the flight to Almaty was on tuesday, thus one day after the monday flight from UB to Olgii).
  • English is widely spoken in all capitals by the young middle class, especially Almaty.
  • Russians (the people) and communism (the ideology) are not well received in this part of the world
  • Most buildings of the Soviet era are being demolished, thus erasing seven decades of life in these lands. Future generations will not know how Soviet hotels worked and looked like.
  • Almaty is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Cheap hotels are far away from downtown.
  • Kazakstan is still a nightmare as far as visas go. Foreigners must register within five days at an OVIR office (which, of course, is very difficult to locate and is closed most of the time). Unless you have infinite time, money and patience, don't go to Kazakstan and Uzbekistan.
  • Kyrgizstan is the oasis of civilization in Central Asia. Visas are handed out at the airport and no formality is required. You can fly to Bishkek (2006) from London, Istanbul and Moscow.
  • Both in Kazakstan and in Kyrgyzstan finding places is not easy because street names are rare, and are in cyrillic anyway, and names have been changed from Russian to the local language.
  • Both in Kazakstan and in Kyrgyzstan it is still normal to flag down a car instead of calling a taxi
  • Keep buying toilet paper: it is as rare as it was under communism
  • It is possible to fly directly from Bishkek to Urumqi two days a week (thu and sun), but the flights are often full ($200)
  • From Kyrgyzstan to China one can use the Torurgart Pass (from Bishkek to Kashgar) or the Irkeshtam Pass (from Osh to Kashgar). The bus for the latter leaves from the new bus station, which is a few kms out of town (take bus 42 to go there), and runs only once a week (we at 20:00) and costs $50 (you buy the ticket at an office upstairs the day before). It takes 10 hours at the border, a random number of hours to cross the border, and four hours to reach Kashgar.
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  • TM, ®, Copyright © 1999 Ulysses-Travel all rights reserved.