Coming from: Irkeshtam, Osh Oblast, Kyrgyzstan
Going to: Simuhana and Uluqgat/Wuqia, Kyzylsuu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province, People’s Republic of China
Documents required: Passport, Chinese Visa
Waiting time: 15 min (Kyrgyzstan), 8 h 20 min (China)
Distance from Bern: 13.428 km
Practical information (new!): see bottom of the page
Here’s a more detailed, chronological account.
Day 1 (Sunday):
5:00 pm. A marshrutka (minibus) from Osh, bound for the Chinese border is due to arrive at Sary-Tash. I had spent the weekend there, because the border is closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Tajikistan to the right, China to the left: Road junction in Sary-Tash, Kyrgyzstan.
5:48 pm. The marshrutka arrives. It is full of jolly women on their way back from the Sunday market in Osh. The most hyperactive lady cackles like a hen and holds the whole bus up for half an hour, for some additional Kymyz shopping in a yurt along the road. I meet a fellow foreigner: Kaisa, on her way overland from Finland to Kunming in China, where she is to meet her husband for a trip to Thailand.
7:15 pm. First Kyrgyz checkpoint: Entry into border area. The passports of the two foreigners are checked, but maybe just out of curiosity.
7:45 pm. Arrival at Irkeshtam. The chicken woman turns out to be the innkeep (the word is appropriate here) of the “waggon stay”, the only accommodation at the border. “It is extra for tourists”, she had claimed during the bus ride. Maybe it was, but it was still a green, tank-like metal container with four simple berths and no toilet or sink in sight. But there was a TV! At 2.50 EUR per Person, it was cheap, though.
The two containers in the middle belong to the „waggon stay“. I slept in the green box.
8:15 pm. The foreigners planning to cross the next day gather. Apart from Kaisa and me there is a German on his way running from Hamburg to Shanghai, accompanied by a supportive friend in a VW Beetle, and a 72-year old Swiss on a bike which also aims to reach Shanghai as well. From Wetzikon, in his case. We are all a bit unsure about the situation across the border – the adjacent Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province of China has been in a kind of state of alert since some months. Rumour has it that the President of China is in Kashgar – the first main town after the border – and that the city is locked down, maybe even the border will not open on Monday. The German runner worries about tensions and even killings in Kashgar, but nobody knows details. We need to check once we get there.
Unsure whether they may cross the next day: Truck queue. The „border inn“ waggons to the left.
8:30 pm. Kaisa gets a greasy spoon dinner prepared by the innkeep in another waggon. I renounce – I have had my filling on Central Asian food in the last couple of weeks and am looking forward to Chinese cuisine. But the innkeep sells a good-night-beer also for me.
The „Border Inn“ – not an official name, it is just called „Restaurant and Hotel“.
9:00 pm. Good night, Irkeshtam border. Will I make it to China the other day?
Working on my blog in the „waggon stay“ at the border
Day 2 (Monday):
See part two of this entry.
Transport: A marshrutka (minibus) departs daily in the early afternoon (2 pm in July 2017) from Osh via Sary-Tash (ca. 5 pm) to Irkeshtam. In the evening, it is also possible to hitch rides with Kamaz trucks from Sary-Tash to the border. According to Lonely Planet, there are one or two weekly buses (Monday and eventually Tuesday) linking Osh/Jalal-Abad and Kashgar. The two border posts are 8 km apart. There is no public transport, but it is easy to flag down a truck. From the first Chinese border post (Simuhana) to the second one (Uluqgat), which is 140 km away, there are shared taxis (100 CNY per seat, 50 CNY per bicycle). From Uluqgat to Kashgar, the border guards arranged a taxi for us, so I don’t know about the public transport. But there is certainly a major bus station with regular buses.
Accommodation: Osh and Kashgar both have a wide range of accommodation, from hostels to upscale hotels. Closer to the border, there are several guesthouses/homestays in Sary-Tash (10-15 USD per bed, Muras is the only one with indoor toilets) and one homestay in Nura, 5 km from Irkeshtam. The latter is the option of choice for early birds which do not wish to stay in the waggons at the border. The border waggons are very basic (no water or toilets, just berths in containers, 200 KGS per bed), but their setting is incredible and the experience of sleeping at the very border is great.
Food: Sary-Tash has two cafés which serve food, Altynbek and Akun. The latter is more popular with foreign travellers and also changes money (KGS, TJS and USD, no CNY). Food is very basic (take this as a euphemism) in both places. The lady who runs the waggon stay in Irkeshtam also prepares even more basic food, i.e. fried beef with potatoes. Once in China, the border procedure takes several hours, so bring enough food and drinks – there are several shops in Sary-Tash, Nura and at the border in Irkeshtam. When the procedure is over, food is no longer a sorrow – enjoy Uyghur and Chinese cuisine!
Money change: No options to change money on the Chinese side, although the shared taxi charges 100 CNY. Neither on the Kyrgyz side did I see money changers. But I left very early, so there might be.
Opening times: Only Monday until Friday. The Kyrgyz side opens at 8 am. The Chinese side (+2 hours) is open at that time as well, but has a lengthy lunch break (until 4.30 pm). The border closes sometimes for several days because of Chinese or Kyrgyz public holidays – check in advance!
Links: Irkeshtam pass on Caravanistan.com; check also the border forum of the same site for updates.