China to Kyrgyztan : Fun times at the border
Kashgar, China to Osh, Kyrgyztan. 14 hours, 4 different vehicles, 2 hours of ‘discussions’ with Chinese immigration and some very bumpy roads. Goodbye industrial China, Hello to the untouched mountains of Kyrgyztan!
Kashgar to Wuqia
Most travellers crossing the border from China to Kyrgyztan set out from Kashgar China. It’s a great place to meet other travellers going your way, apart from having some company banding together with a few others will also help with the negotiating vehicle prices along the way. On this particular morning 6 of us set out together, which turned out to be a great number for the trip
There are two border crossings from China to Kyrgyztan, this one is the Irkeshtam pass, which you don’t require any special permits for.
So at 8am we set out on a 20 minute walk to the local bus station in Kashgar. Wikitravel and all our guide books said that we should go to the international bus station, but the hostel assured us we could get a bus from the local bus station. We couldn’t. So a quick taxi trip across town to the international station where there are also no buses. There are however shared taxis (minivans) from here. We negotiated a price of 30 yuan each, waited for a few more passengers (they leave when they’re full) and set off on a smooth 2 hour trip to the immigration checkpoint just outside the town of Wuqia
Lesson Number 1: The Internet is right! As of now (June 2013) there is no bus to Wuqia – despite whatever hostel may tell you. Go directly to the International bus station.
Fun times with Chinese Immigration
The Chinese immigration point at this crossing is about 5 hours before the actual border. Upon arriving we where approached, as usual by taxi drivers offering there services at what seemed like quite high rates. We brushed past them to go through immigration, intending to sort out transport on the other side of the checkpoint. Now wikitravel states that ‘immigration officials will assist you to find a taxi or a truck’. This should read, ‘Immigration officials will now unhelpfully insist you cannot get a ride with a truck, because it is unsafe, and that you MUST have arranged an agreement with a taxi driver before before they will let you pass through immigration. There is also only 4 licensed taxis, only 1 of which was there. Which meant we must arrange a price with this man, and are in no position to bargain because there is no competition. Trying to tell immigration you have agreed with someone outside won’t work – they will insist on meeting the driver.
The discussion between us and them about the unreasonableness of the situation and price went on for well over an hour. I have to say the unfortunate juniour official who had to deal with us was very friendly and tried his best to be helpful. I felt bad for him when his grumpy female superior came out and screamed at him for his inability to get him to deal with us.
It really was just another example of Chinese beauracracy at work. They insisted out negotiation with the taxi driver was out of there hands, yet it was there decision to stop letting people pay truck drivers and only licence 4 taxis that caused the problem
Eventually I think everyone got sick of us and the taxi driver agreed to a marginally lower price. After having our passports checked by 3 different counters we where allowed out.
Lesson 2: If you don’t want to argue for hours to save a small amount of yuan – just pay the guy. If your all a bunch of massive penny pitchers like we where – be prepared to wait them out a while.
Journey to the border
After finally clearing immigration we started the journey to the actual border. It was a lot longer and rougher than I had expected, over 4 hours of mostly dirt roads and a lot of dust.
Lesson Number 3: On reflection the price we paid for the car was pretty fair given the conditions and we may have wasted time with all that arguing
The actual border – China
Finally! The actual border crossing. Due to the Chinese putting immigration some 5 hours from the actual border this has to be one of the more drawn out borders in the world. We got out to have our passports checked one more time and then were told buy the Chinese army cadres to wait while they arranged trucks for us to cross the 7kms of no mans land. They then resumed there posts and did nothing about finding us a truck.
After a while we asked them what why we where waiting, and could we just walk? Apparently we can’t walk because there are people out there with guns and it’s very unsafe and the border is closed for lunch or something and we’ll get a truck whenever it opens again. So we found a place that sold beers, and sat around waiting for the border to open
Lesson Number 4: Taking friends with you is useful for more than just bargain the price of taxis down – you will have people to have a beer with while your waiting to cross borders
Upon crossing the invisible line into Kyrgyztan, things magically changed. The road was a smooth and new, dust stopped flying and a crystal clear blue stream trickled along the road. Eastern European country style houses appeared and the air actually felt cleaner – I’m not making it up!
Kyrgyztan immigration was an extremely simple affair. No forms, no delay. If your from one of the 44 countries that is on the visa free entry list, just a quick stamp in the passport and your in.
Lesson Number 5: For all countries out there with painful immigration – it IS possible to just process people in a few minutes each without any hassle. Speak to Kyrgyztan if you need advice.
Border to Osh
The nearest main city to the border is Kyrgystans second largest city of Osh. There will be vehicles waiting the other side of immigration to take you there. We where able to bargain a good price of 5000 soms for the taxi and where on our way.
The scenery on this trip is spectacular. The Pamir mountain range rises up beside you fronted with rolling pasture hills, dotted with yurts and sheep and farmers on horse back. The snow topped mountains made for some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen in a long time. If you cross the border late, it is possible to spend the night in Sary Tash instead of heading straight to Osh. The view is so spectacular that this trip really should be done in the daytime. I think I’m going to like Kyrgyztan.
Lesson Number 6: Make sure you do this leg of the trip in daylight hours – it’s well worth it. Oh, and also if you take a picture of the shipping container they’ve turned into an army checkpoint, make sure the solider doesn’t see you or he will make you delete it.
If you don’t want the hassle of all of the above, there is an international bus that leaves Kashgar twice weekly and will take you all the way to Osh for 550 yuan ($90). The prices here are indicative as they all depend on your negotiating skills. I would imagine they would be much harder to negotiate with smaller group numbers.
Shared Taxi Kashgar -> Wuqia – 30 yuan ($5)
Taxi Wuqia -> Border – 600 yuan ($100) for the car ($16 each)
Kyrgyztan Border – Osh 5000 som ($100) for the car ($16 each)
In total just under $40 each, which is a significant saving on the bus if your willing to put up with a few car changes.
What’s been your favourite or least favourite border crossing?