Asia 2008 - Facts and Information
Planning and Travel
Background information

How it all started and what our plans were

ASIA INDEX 2008

SIBERIA INDEX
 Irkutsk Streets
 Irkutsk Churches
 Taltsy Museum
 Listvyanka
 Circum-Baikal Rlwy
 Trans-Mongolian Rlwy

MONGOLIA INDEX
 Ulaan Baatar
 Choijin Lama Temples
 Bogd Khan Palace
 Gandan Monastery
 Terelj National Park
 Khustai National Park

CHINA INDEX
Beijing Index
 First Impressions
 Forbidden City
 Temple of Heaven
 Beihai Park
 Confucius Temple
 Lama Temple
 Jinshang Park
 Great Wall

Pingyao Index
 First Impressions
 Pingyao Sights
 Rule of Law
 Walls and Beyond

Xi'an Index
 Walls & Streets
 Muslim Quarter
 Xi'an at Night
 Shaanxi Museum
 Forest of Steles
 Banpo Neolithic Vill
 Famen & Qian Ling
 Terracotta Army
 Terracotta Army Mus

Lanzhou Index
 Lanzhou - General
 Binglin Si Grottoes
 Kumbum & Xining
 Qu Tan Monastery

Along Silk Road Index
 Wuwei & Zhangye
 Matisi Grottoes
 Wenshu
 Jiayuguan

Dunhuang Index
 Dunhuang & Mogao
 Yumen Gate & Ya Dan

Turpan Index
 Turpan & Emin Minaret
 Jiaohe
 Tuyaq & Gaochang

Kashgar Index
 Train Turpan-Kashgar
 Kashgar
 Karakoram Highway
 Awat Market

KYRGYZSTAN INDEX
 Torugart Pass to Naryn
 Naryn to Karakol
 Karakol
 Jeti Oghuz Valley
 Karakol to Bishkek

FACTS/INFO INDEX

First thoughts
This trip first came to mind when we were making a list of places we would like to see before decrepitude caught up with us. On the list were The Great Wall, Mongolia and Lake Baikal.

A half-baked idea began to form of flying to Beijing then returning all the way to Scunthorpe via train. Some early discussions with Intourist gave the information that starting off in Beijing was not a good idea as we would begin the trip with jetlag and it made more sense to travel west to east which would mean that the time differences would not be noticed. So west to east it became. Eleanor kept suggesting the Terracotta Army (but was told that was too far from Beijing for this trip) and muttering about the Silk Road (too hot). So Scunthorpe - Irkustk - Ulaan Baatar - Beijing by train then fly back it became.

About this point it began to dawn on Michael that if we were going all the way to Beijing we may as well do something on the way back and he'd always rather wondered what those various small Central Asian countries with -stan at the end were like. One of them, Kyrgyzstan, actually had direct flights to UK and could be accessed by road from China. There was also a growing realisation that travelling for five days across Russia on a train from Moscow to Irkutsk would probably do our heads in. This idea was readily approved by Eleanor as it got her both to the Terracotta Army and along the Silk Road.

A little further research showed that between Beijing and Xi'an is a small walled town called Pingyao which seemed worth a visit. Then one day a brochure came through the post talking about the new railway into Tibet and we thought that as we were, so to speak, passing the door we ought to drop in. By now we were talking to Audley Travel (where we owe Tom Stapleton a debt of gratitude for fielding our many questions and putting up with our frequent requests for changes) who had already produced an itinerary for the short trip.

The itinerary
We contacted Tom and told him that we wanted something rather different and a lot longer and which eventually looked liked this:

Fly from UK to Irkutsk
Train into Mongolia
Train to Beijing
Train to Pingyao
Train to Xi'an
Train to Lhasa
Drive to Gyangze and back to Lhasa
Train to Lanzhou
Fly to Dunhuang
Train to Turpan
Train to Kashgar
Drive into Kyrgyzstan via Karakol to Bishkek
Fly to UK

And so it was fixed. Except it was not to be. A few months before we went there was unrest in Tibet and the region was closed to foreign tourists. We began to develop a contingency plan in case Tibet did not reopen but eventually Audley said they would not send us there as they did not expect it to reopen in time, which it didn't. We had a hole of over a week in the itinerary.

PlanB
So the contingency plan became Plan B. This saw us flying from Xi'an to Lanzhou where we would spend just over a week driving in a loop via Tianshui and Pingliang back to Lanzhou where we would revert to the original. We were disappointed about missing Tibet but the alternative was quite exciting as it would get us off the tourist beat into some of the 'real' China. Now while we were in Beijing the terrible earthquake in Sichuan struck, but apart from some tremors in the capital which we did not feel we thought it would not cause us any problems. We were wrong.

Plan C
The morning we were due to leave Lanzhou to start on Plan B our guide arrived at the hotel and said that there had been aftershocks and some panic in the area we were heading for and the agency in China did not consider it safe for us to go there. And so Plan C came into being. We were very lucky indeed that Peter Huang, our young guide, had the vision to suggest that instead of flying we would go by car along the Silk Road to Dunhuang. This would involve a lot of driving but we would get to see some interesting places off the tourist beat. It turned out to be an inspired suggestion and gave us some amazing experiences.

What we finally did is explained in more detail later.

Some of the logic
One of the issues we had to consider was timing. We were leaving in spring. We did not want to be in Siberia, Mongolia or Tibet too early because of cold. Early May in China is holiday time. June begins to get hot and wet in June. The further we went in China and Kyrgyzstan the hotter it would be - and we don't like heat. Too early and the Torugart Pass into Kyrgzstan might have been closed due to snow. Eventually we settled on a late April departure from UK which would get us back into UK in mid-June. In terms of actual dates these had to work around our two trips on TransMongolian trains which only run on certain days of the week, the days when Torugart pass was open and BMI flights home from Bishkek. In the event we got two days less in Mongolia and one day more in Kyrgyuzstan than originally planned because of changes to the rail/air schedules.

We wanted to use overnight trains where possible rather than fly. We felt this would avoid wasting time getting to and from airports and flying during the day. It would let us leave in the evening, travel while sleeping and arrive in the morning. It might be a bit more interesting too. We wanted to ensure that we had a comparment to ourselves. Our experiences are reported later.

Given the distances involved in flights, especially on the first leg to Irkutsk, we were prepared to invest in Business Class seats. On the one flight in China it was so cheap to do the same and it gave us a bit of slack with baggage allowances.

We were prepared to put a bit of slack into the schedule to allow us some time to ourselves to wander in a few places.

 

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