Before we embarked on this trip, we found very little blogs written in English that could help us plan our trip as we’ll be crossing Xinjiang to Kyrgyzstan via the land border. So I decided to do up a few posts regarding our trip! This trip is completely planned out by ourselves, without any agency, in case you’re wondering. 🙂 I think what really helped was that we could speak Mandarin, so getting our way around Xinjiang was quite a breeze. As we had quite a tight schedule, we decided to focus more on Kyrgyzstan than Xinjiang this time round.
Air Tickets: SG – Beijing – Urumqi (return) costs $880 with Air China.
Total living expenses: $700 including all accommodations and meals
- Day 1:
Fly from SG to Beijing and domestic transfer at BJ airport to Urumqi.
Tip 1: Keep in mind that your transfer should have at least 2hours in between as you will need to collect your luggage and re check in at a separate counter for domestic transfers. You’ll need to go through security checks again.
Tip 2: Ensure your name is exactly the same as in passport or the immigration officers will not let you pass. Mine wasn’t the same so I had to run to the air China counter at the departures area to get them to verify and put an approval stamp on my boarding pass.
As we only had 1.5h for transit the moment we got out of the plane, we managed to go through the security lane for fast pass of the customs at the arrivals, you can ask an officer to let you go through this lane.
We arrived in Urumqi at 11.45am and took a cab to our hotel (about 40 yuan to city centre at Zhong Shan lu). The public cabs are situated on the left of the domestic airport when you come out of the arrivals.
We stayed in Jinjiang inn for ~250yuan (SGD$49) for a night, there’s an additional deposit of 200yuan. Our accommodation was booked with http://agoda.com just the night before.
We ate beef noodles for lunch at random shop in an alley on the left of our hotel for 12yuan. Quite delish I must say. There was a lot of noodles though, definitely too much for a girl. The people here really live to carbo load.
After settling lunch, we went to nan zhan (Urumqi south railway station) to purchase train tickets to Kashgar for the next day – There were about 5 trains heading to Kashgar from Urumqi in the morning, and we got the train Y962, soft sleeper with one bottom and one top bunk for about 476 yuan. The bottom bunk costs slightly more than top bunk. If you’re travelling in pairs, it is best to take one top and one bottom. Because if you take the bottom bunks only, the locals who take the top bunk may come down and sit on your bottom bunk, which may not be very pleasant.
Following this, we went to the main bazaar by taking bus 16 to 二道桥. There was some performances with the Uyghurs wearing their traditional costumes, lots of dried fruits and nice souvenirs. Apparently Urumqi is the most expensive place to buy souvenirs in the whole of xinjiang though, so we didn’t get any.
At night, we went to ximen lu for street shopping. Nothing too fanciful nor big, just a stretch of road with shops. We went into some random alley and saw push carts selling food, we had some nice squid sticks, there was also many fruit sellers around the area. Before we headed back to our hotel, we had dinner (some spicy noodles) near our hotel for about 18yuan, can share for 2 people.
Some tips about food: A lot of beef noodles everywhere, it seems it’s like staple. Most food is spicy too. There’s also those round flat bread.
Woke up at 8am ish to pack our luggags and got breakfast. Also, bought some instant noodles, a lot of water, some snacks for our 18h train to Kashgar. We arrived at the train station at around 11am and went through several security checks before being done at 11.20am, waited around and managed to board the train around 11.40am.
The soft sleeper train was pretty decent, we only saw foreigners on the soft sleeper though, I think most locals do the hard sleeper. Hard sleeper cabins have 3 bunk beds per side, soft sleeper cabins have 2 bunk beds. I heard that for hard sleeper, you can barely even sit up straight on your bed because it’s very cramped.
- Day 3:
Arrived in Kashgar at 12pm, took a cab for a flat rate of 15yuan to nuer lan hotel
- Day 4 (land border crossing from Xinjiang to Kyrgyzstan):
*note border is only open from Monday to Friday*
Read my detailed land border crossing from Kashgar to Kyrgyzstan here.
Once we arrived in Kyrgyzstan, we took a shared taxi to Osh. Stayed at Biy Ordo hostel & hotel at 78 Masalieva Street for us$27 per night (it’s cheaper to book on booking.com), if you book directly at the hostel/hotel it’s 2000som / night for a double room (no private toilet btw). The location is quite good! Had dinner at their restaurant, very affordable food. You can get a decent meal in Kyrgyzstan for about US$2-3.
- Day 5:
Explored osh city and hiked up Sulaiman Too (Muslim sacred mountain). Took a public bus for the experience (it’s only 10 som) and checked out the bazaar. Do try the cherries in Kyrgyzstan, they are so sweet and by far the cheapest I’ve ever found! US$1 for 1kg worth of cherries!
We also went to Osh guesthouse in the morning to see if they have any tours going to Song Kul then to Bishkek as we read that they do arrange tours for travellers. The tour company they work with is called Asia Budget Travel which was NOT Budget at all. They quoted us 550usd for the private car for 3d2n from Osh to Kyzart then to Bishkek & additional 239 usd for the horse trek to Songkul without including accommodations or meals (extremely overpriced!! Normally accommodations in yurts range from 1200-1500 som) we decided to read online forums and found this local tour agency called Kyrgyz Rider that was highly recommended by a lot of people! We immediately found his Facebook and whatsapped him. [i bought 4gb data from beeline telcom for only 95som (SGD$2), you have to get from the shop itself along Masalieva street! Just say you wanna buy an internet data card for your phone, they will understand what you’re saying]
The guy who owns Kyrgyz Rider was so swift in replying WhatsApp messages and settled everything for us so quickly, his English is really good too so communication was easy.
We were quoted USD240 for 3 nights of accommodation and 2 days of horse trekking to Song Kul Lake, all meals inclusive with an English speaking guide. (His initial offer was 173USD for 2d1n horse trek to Song Kul + yurt stay, but we needed 2 nights accommodation at Kyzart so he added the extra $$ to arrange a guesthouse for us to stay in) so much cheaper than the previous tour company that quoted us!!
He couldn’t find a taxi for us to Kyzart from Osh, neither could we find something reasonable on our own, so he arranged for shared taxi for us to go from Osh – Suusamyr Valley (1200 som per person), and then a private car for 4000 som from Suusamyr valley to Kyzart.
Alternatively, if we want a direct route from osh to kyzart, he offered USD$220 for a private car, but even he thought it was expensive and didn’t recommend it.
Our hotel in Osh said it will cost around 20000som to arrange a private car for us (also way too expensive!) in the end we settled for the option he gave us, which was to transfer vehicle in Suusamyr.
- Day 6:
Started our day at 9am, reached Suusamyr at 4pm to change driver. Private vehicle picked us up and dropped us at the guesthouse at 7.50pm.
They cooked our dinner!
- Day 7:
Started the day at 9.30am and reached the yurts at Song Kul Lake at 4.30pm
(800 som for yurt stay, 300 som for the meals)
- Day 8:
One of our horses went missing in the mountains so our guide spent the whole morning and noon searching for it! We departed at 3pm and arrived back at our guesthouse in Kyzart at 7.30pm. (Our guide took a short cut so we went back much faster before it turned too dark). The sun sets at 8.30pm. We had our dinner in the guesthouse and decided to head to Kochkor that night so that we wouldn’t have a problem finding a vehicle to bring us there the following day. Our guide was driving to Kochkor so we hopped along and paid him 250 som each. Kyrgyz riders which we booked the entire tour with was nice enough not to charge us with the guesthouse we were supposed to stay with in Kyzart and used that “money” to arrange with a guesthouse in Kochkor. We left kyzart at 9pm and reached Kochkor at about 11.15pm.
- Day 9:
We had breakfast and the boss of Kyrgyz Aman, met us at our guesthouse in Kochkor. He offered a ride out to the bus station and even got a shared taxi for us to Bishkek! If you were to take a Marshtuka it will be about 200som to Bishkek bus station, for a shared taxi it is 250som. We got ours at 300som cause the driver will send us straight to our hotel. The ride is about 2.5 hours to Bishkek from Kochkor.
Stayed at Small Hotel (highly recommend! Very cosy and clean)
Good food at Bishkek: Obama bar&grill. Chicken star.
- Day 10:
Went to Osh Bazaar at 10am, it’s a huge market selling everything. From dried food (plenty of choices to buy raisins, nuts, etc), we bought earl grey tea leaves too! In the afternoon was supposed to be our flight back from Bishkek to Urumqi unfortunately it was cancelled without our notice (WARNING: As a foreigner, DO NOT book with pegasus air / air manas if you don’t wish to be caught by surprise with a flight cancellation. They cancelled it 2 months ago and did not even have the courtesy to email us that it was cancelled nor do a refund for us? We only realised it was cancelled when we arrived in the terminal. We spoke to the customer service who initially refused to do a refund for us, and did not even offer his service to help us book a next flight with another airline. Apparently, it seems like only china airlines can fly into Urumqi now). We ended up booking with china southern airlines for the following morning. If we had the whole of this day free, we’d have spent one night in Issykul Lake from Kochkor before coming over to Bishkek. Or we could do a day trip to Ala Archa on this day as well.
- Day 11:
9.30am flew to Urumqi. Our initial plan was to cover Heavenly Lake on this day if we managed to get the flight on the previous day. I’m just gonna do a short write up here (after researching) on how you can get to Heavenly lake without booking with a tour agent, basically DIY to Tianchi at a much lower cost.
Start early (Tianchi opens at 9am so gauge your own timing), take a long distance public bus from Urumqi to Fukang (about 15yuan for 1-1.5 hours), then from Fukang to the lake with another bus (~5yuan). Alternatively, you can get a shared taxi (for 4 people) at about 150-200 yuan.
When you arrive, the entrance fee (together with a shuttle bus up) will be 215yuan. You’ll have the shuttle bus to take you up to the mountain where the lake is. Once you get off the bus, you’ll need to hike a little to the lake (about 10-15 minutes leisurely, don’t take a tourist car or you’ll get scammed!). You may choose to spend about 2-3 hours at the lake.
- Day 12: fly back from Urumqi to SG.
Urumqi! They sell alot of dried fruits (raisins, dates, etc), we have learnt that it is much cheaper to purchase in Kashgar then in Urumqi.
24 hour train from Urumqi to Kashgar, I would recommend taking a domestic flight which is only about an hour plus, over the sleeper train. I wanted to experience a sleeper train that’s why we took it but it’s really time consuming. View wasn’t that fantastic either!
Bought the packet lunch on board the train for 25 yuan, it was surprisingly nice and tasty!
View outside of the train (very Turpan kinda feeling)
Sights in Kashgar old city.
Kids going to school!
View of land border crossing from Kashgar to Kyrgyzstan.
Walking for 3+ km on no man’s land.
Hiked up Sulaiman Too in Osh.
Dinner at our guesthouse in Kyzart.
Awesome views of our horse trekking from Kyzart to Song Kul Lake.
Song Kul Lake!
This is how our yurt looks like on the inside. They’ll lay the mattresses out for you & give you thick blankets. It’s said to be about 5-6 degrees at night.
Our fairly decent hotel (Small Hotel) in Bishkek, only 27 USD per night with private toilet! Quite good I’d say 🙂