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Entering Central Asia

Entering Central Asia can be a bit daunting. Many flights arrive in the middle of the night, officials can be unhelpful and you may have to battle a scrum of taxi drivers once you exit the terminal. That said, immigration formalities are increasingly streamlined and you shouldn't face any major issues as long as your documents are in order.

In Uzbekistan it's particularly important to make sure you fill out your customs form accurately, claiming all cash that you are bringing into the country.

Air

The region's main air links to the 'outside' are through the main cities of Almaty (Kazakhstan), Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) and, to a lesser extent, Dushanbe (Tajikistan) and Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan). Tiny Osh (Kyrgyzstan) even has a couple of interesting international connections.

A few cities in Kazakhstan have international links to Europe, and cities in all republics have connections to Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, especially Russia.

Of the many routes in, two handy corridors are via Turkey (thanks to the geopolitics of the future) and via Russia (thanks to the geopolitics of the past). Turkish Airlines has the best connections and in-flight service but is at the higher end of the fare scale, while Russian and Central Asian carriers have the most connections. Turkey also has the advantage of a full house of Central Asian embassies and airline offices. Moscow has four airports and connections can be inconvenient.

Airports

Almaty International Airport A useful gateway to both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek is just three hours by road).

Ashgabat International Airport Less well connected, most reliably by Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines. The newly reconstructed airport opened in 2016.

Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport Has a range of international flights.

Bishkek Manas International Airport Kyrgyzstan's main hub with relatively inexpensive international connections.

Dushanbe Airport The least connected, with most people using Turkish Airlines. A modern and efficient terminal was opened in 2014 and there are plans to build a new airport.

Tashkent International Airport Possibly the most central airport in Eurasia and the busiest airport in Central Asia. The airport is due to get a new international terminal in 2020.

Airlines

The following are the main Central Asian airlines, of which Uzbekistan Airways and Air Astana are the best.

Air Astana (www.airastana.com; airline code KC; hub Almaty) Most flights from Almaty but an increasing number of international flights from Nur-Sultan and some international flights from Atyrau, Kostanay and Aktau.

Air Kyrgyzstan (http://air.kg; airline code QH; hub Bishkek) Limited number of regional flights.

Air Manas (www.airmanas.com; airline code ZM; hub Bishkek) A reliable Kyrgyz-Turkish airline that is part of Pegasus Airlines. Flies to Ürümqi, Delhi and İstanbul, with connections on Pegasus to most European cities.

Somon Air (www.somonair.com; airline code 4J; hub Dushanbe) A handful of regional flights, with flights to Frankfurt and Ürümqi.

Tajik Air (www.tajikair.tj; airline code 7J; hub Dushanbe) Mostly regional flights.

Turkmenistan Airlines (www.turkmenairlines.com; airline code T5; hub Ashgabat) Flights include Bangkok, Beijing, Birmingham, Frankfurt and London.

Uzbekistan Airways (www.uzairways.com; airline code HY; hub Tashkent) A good selection of flights to Europe, Asia and the US.

Departure Tax

Departure tax is included in your air ticket so you won't face any extra charges when you fly out of Central Asia. Turkmenistan is odd as usual, with an arrival tax of around US$14.

Tickets

Finding flights to Central Asia isn't always easy, as travel agents are generally unaware of the region and many don't book flights on Russian or Central Asian airlines.

  • Contact the airlines directly for schedules and contact details of their consolidators, or sales agents, who often sell the airlines' tickets cheaper than the airlines themselves.
  • Consider paying a little extra for a reliable airline such as KLM or Turkish Airlines, rather than a cash-strapped one such as Tajik Air.
  • Always check what time the flight arrives: many airlines arrive in Central Asia in the dead of night.
  • Specialist agencies such as www.alternativeairlines.com can often book Central Asian airline tickets when others can't.
  • Some budget airlines such as Pegasus Airlines and Air Baltic don't show up on online searches, so try those airlines' websites directly.

Visa Checks

You can buy air tickets without a visa but in most places outside Central Asia you will have trouble getting on a plane without one (with the exception of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan).

If you have made arrangements to get a visa on arrival, have your Letter of Invitation (LOI) handy at check-in and check with the airline beforehand.

Airline Safety

Aeroflot, the former Soviet state airline, was decentralised into around 400 splinter airlines and many of these 'baby-flots' now have the worst regional safety record in the world, due to poor maintenance, ageing aircraft and gross overloading. In general though, the main Central Asian carriers have lifted their services towards international safety standards, at least on international routes.

Most Kazakh airlines (except Air Astana) and all Kyrgyz airlines are currently banned from flying into EU airspace.

From Asia

From Beijing there are four weekly flights to Tashkent on Uzbekistan Airways and China Southern, five weekly to Almaty and Nur-Sultan on Air Astana and a couple per week to Ashgabat on Turkmenistan Airlines.

Ürümqi in China's Xinjiang province has between two and seven flights a week to/from Almaty, Nur-Sultan, Tashkent, Bishkek, Osh, Dushanbe and Ashgabat, with China Southern offering the most flights. One-way prices are around US$200, but Air Manas to Bishkek often dips below US$100.

Bangkok, Hong Kong, Delhi and Seoul also have useful connections into Central Asia.

From Australia & New Zealand

Most flights to Central Asia go via Seoul (to pick up Asiana or Korean Air flights to Tashkent and Almaty or Air Astana to Almaty), Kuala Lumpur (for Uzbekistan Airways to Tashkent, Air Astana to Almaty), Bangkok (Uzbekistan Airways to Tashkent, Air Astana to Almaty or Turkmenistan Airlines to Ashgabat) or İstanbul.

China Southern is often among the cheapest options, via Guangzhou and Beijing or Ürümqi. One cheap option to Kyrgyzstan is a ticket that connects in Delhi to the Air Manas flight to Bishkek.

For Dushanbe and Bishkek you'll probably have to go via İstanbul.

From Continental Europe

The best fares from Europe to Central Asia are generally with Aeroflot via Moscow or Turkish Airlines via İstanbul. Air Astana offers some good fares to Almaty/Nur-Sultan, from Amsterdam and Frankfurt, or try KLM and Belavia (via Minsk).

Somon Air has a weekly direct Frankfurt–Dushanbe flight, costing around €400/650 one way/return.

From Russia

Budget airlines such as airBaltic fly to Moscow, making it a decent travel option if you are pinching pennies or want to travel overland by train. Remember to figure in the cost and hassle of a visa and transfer between airports in Moscow when comparing costs.

There are daily flights from Moscow to almost all Central Asian cities. One-way fares range from US$220 to US$300. There are slightly fewer connections from St Petersburg. Major Siberian cities such as Novosibirsk also have connections to the Central Asia capitals.

Uzbekistan Airways flies from Moscow to Samarkand, Bukhara, Urgench, Termiz, Andijon and several others several times weekly for around US$230. Aeroflot flies from Moscow to Tashkent, Bishkek, Almaty and Nur-Sultan.

Note that Moscow has two main international airports: Sheremetyevo (www.svo.aero/en) and Domodedovo (www.domodedovo.ru/en). Sheremetyevo is itself divided into several terminals: Terminal B (Sheremetyevo-1), the international Terminal F (Sheremetyevo-2), and newly renovated terminals C, D and E.

At the time of research Aeroflot and Air Astana operated from Sheremetyevo, while Tajik Air, Turkmenistan Airways, Uzbekistan Airways, Somon Air, Manas Air and Air Kyrgyzstan used Domodedovo airport. You will need to get a Russian transit visa in advance if you have to transfer between airports and you should budget at least four or five hours to negotiate Moscow's crazy traffic.

Travel agencies in Moscow include Unifest Travel for rail and air tickets and Central Asia packages, affiliated with the Travellers Guest House.

From Turkey

Turkish Airlines flies from İstanbul to Almaty (daily), Nur-Sultan (two to four weekly), Bishkek (daily), Dushanbe (twice weekly), Tashkent (five weekly) and Ashgabat (daily). The various republics' national airlines also fly once or twice a week.

There are also cheap flights from İstanbul's smaller Sabiha Gökçen airport to Bishkek and Almaty with Turkish budget airline Pegasus Airlines.

One-way flights to İstanbul cost from around US$200 from most Central Asian capitals.

Air Astana flies from Baku, Azerbaijan to Almaty and Nur-Sultan, and from Tbilisi, Georgia to Almaty. There are also flights from Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan, Armenia to Aktau two to three times weekly. Uzbekistan Airways makes the connection from Baku to Tashkent.

From the UK

The best return summer fares to Tashkent are around £500 with Uzbekistan Airways (direct), or a bit more with Turkish Airlines via İstanbul.

The cheapest flights to Bishkek are currently with the budget Turkish airline Pegasus Airlines, which has fares as low £300 return from London Stansted. Be aware that Pegasus has a reputation for losing travellers' luggage and that transfers at İstanbul's Sabiha Gökçen can be time-consuming. Check also about cheap flights to Osh with Turkish Airlines.

Fares to Almaty are about £400 return on Turkish Airlines via İstanbul, on Aeroflot via Moscow or Air Astana via Nur-Sultan.

The best flights to Ashgabat are with Lufthansa or Turkish Airlines at around £700 return. A cheaper but harder-to-book option is Turkmenistan Airlines (www.flyturkmenistanairlines.eu), which flies weekly to Ashgabat from London and also four times a week from Birmingham. Most passengers are headed either to/from Amritsar. For cheap fares contact Amritsar Travel (www.amritsartravel.com).

The best way to Dushanbe is on Turkish Airlines via İstanbul but discounted fares are hard to come by.

From the USA

From North America you generally have the choice of routing your trip via İstanbul (Turkish Airlines), Moscow (Aeroflot) or a major European city (with KLM, British Airways, Lufthansa etc). Stopovers can be lengthy. From the west coast it's possible to fly to Almaty or Tashkent via Seoul on Asiana or Korean Air.

Uzbekistan Airways flies from New York (JFK airport) to Tashkent (via Riga) once a week, an 18-hour flight.

East Site (www.east-site.com) offers discounted Central Asian fares, including on Uzbekistan Airways.

Land

Bus

From China, there are one or two sleeper buses a week (Monday and Thursday) from Kashgar to Osh (¥275, eight hours) in Kyrgyzstan, via the Irkeshtam Pass. It's also possible to take a series of minibuses and taxis, or hire a car.

Kashgar agencies such as Uighur Tours (www.kashgartours.com), Old Road Tours (www.oldroadtours.com) and Kashgar Guide (www.kashgarguide.com) can arrange transport to the Torugart and Irkeshtam passes.

Foreigners are not allowed to take the twice-weekly bus between Kashgar and Bishkek, via Naryn and the Torugart Pass. Mandatory prearranged vehicle hire and permits for four people from Kashgar to Naryn costs around US$320 from Kashgar to the border, plus an extra US$120 from the Torugart to Naryn. Thus figure on around US$220/120 per person in a group of two/four from Kashgar to Naryn. It's slightly cheaper in the opposite direction.

Further north, direct buses run from Ürümqi (¥440 to ¥460, 24 hours, daily) to Almaty. Fares from Almaty cost US$48/20 in tenge to Ürümqi/Yining. You can also take local buses (from Yining) and shared taxis to and from the border at Khorgos.

There are also direct buses from Ust–Kamenogorsk (US$54, 28 hours, three weekly) and Semey (US$55, 32 hours, three weekly) in Kazakhstan to Ürümqi.

Car & Motorcycle

The new Western Europe–Western China (WE–WC) highway offers the easiest driving option from European Russia into Central Asia via Kazakhstan. The route runs from St Petersburg to Moscow, Kazan and Orenburg, then across Kazakhstan to Almaty and into China at Khorgos.

Although driving a car or motorbike is an excellent way to get around Central Asia, bringing your own vehicle is fraught with practical problems. Fuel supply is uneven, though modern petrol stations are springing up throughout the region. Prices per litre swing wildly depending on supply. Petrol comes in four grades – 76, 93, 95 and 98 octane. In the countryside you'll see petrol cowboys selling plastic bottles of fuel from the side of the road, often of very poor quality.

The biggest problem is the traffic police (Russian, GAI). Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have police skulking at every corner, most looking for excuses to wave their orange baton and hit drivers (local or otherwise) with a 'fine' (straf). There are no motoring associations of any kind.

The state insurance offices, splinters of the old Soviet agency Ingosstrakh, have no overseas offices that we know of, and your own insurance is unlikely to be valid in Central Asia. You would probably have to arrange insurance anew at each border.

Readers have recommended Campbell Irvine (www.campbellirvine.com) as one company in the UK that can often arrange overland vehicle insurance.

Many Kazakh cities have motorbike clubs which will often welcome foreign bikers – and in some cases drivers. Almaty is easily the best place in Central Asia for getting motorbike repairs. The website www.horizonsunlimited.com is a good resource for bikers.

If you are thinking of driving out to Central Asia, then consider doing it for charity as part of the Roof of the World Rally (www.charityrallies.org/rotw) or Tajik Rally (http://adventure-manufactory.com/en/tajik/tajik-home).

Train

Classes

A deluxe sleeping carriage is called spets-vagon (SV, Russian for 'special carriage', abbreviated to CB in Cyrillic); some call this spalny vagon or 'sleeping carriage', myagky (soft) or 1st class. Closed compartments have carpets and upholstered seats, and convert to comfortable sleeping compartments for two.

An ordinary sleeping carriage is called kupeyny or kupe (which is Russian for compartmentalised). Closed compartments are usually four-person couchettes and are comfortable.

A platskartny (reserved-place) or 3rd-class carriage has open-bunk (also known as hard sleeper) accommodation.

Obshchy (general) or 4th class is unreserved bench-type seating.

With a reservation, your ticket normally shows the numbers of your carriage (vagon) and seat (mesto). Class may be shown by what looks like a fraction: eg 1/2 is 1st-class two berth, 2/4 is 2nd-class four berth.

From China

Completed in 1992, after being delayed almost half a century by Russian–Chinese geopolitics, is a line from China via Ürümqi to Almaty and Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan, joining the Turksib for connections on to Siberia.

The 1363km Silk Road train between Ürümqi and Almaty leaves on Monday and Saturday evening and takes about 32 hours, which includes several hours at the border for customs checks and to change bogies.

Sleeper tickets cost ¥892/1020 for hard/soft sleeper in Ürümqi or US$113 for kupe (2nd-class or sleeping carriage) class in Almaty. Book trains at least a few days ahead.

The weekly Nur-Sultan–Ürümqi service (39 hours) was not operating at the time of research.

From Russia

There are three main rail routes into Central Asia from Russia:

  • From Moscow via Samara or Saratov, straight across Kazakhstan via Aktobe and Kyzylorda to Tashkent (3369km), with branch lines to Bishkek and Almaty (4057km).
  • From Volgograd to Atyrau, Qongirot (Kungrad), Uchquduk, Navoi and Samarkand to Tashkent.
  • Turkestan–Siberian railway or 'Turksib' (see www.turksib.com for timetables) linking the Trans-Siberian Railway at Novosibirsk with Almaty.

Several other lines enter northern Kazakhstan from Russia and meet at Nur-Sultan, from where a line heads south to Karaganda and Almaty.

Most trains bound for Central Asia depart from Moscow's Kazan (Kazansky) station. Europe dissolves into Asia as you sleep, and morning unveils a vast panorama of the Kazakh steppe.

You will need to check visa requirements carefully. Trains from Moscow to Tashkent demand a Kazakh transit visa and trains between Russia and Kazakhstan might require a multiple-entry Russian visa. Trains to/from Dushanbe are impractical because you will need a Kazakh, multiple-entry Uzbek and possibly even a Turkmen visa.

These days kupe fares between Moscow and Central Asia cost about the same as a flight; only platzkartny (hard sleeper) fares are cheaper than flying. A kupe berth from Nur-Sultan to Moscow costs around US$200.

Popular Routes

Train connections between Russia and Central Asia have thinned out in recent years but are still a favourite of migrant workers, tourists and drug smugglers. The following are the most popular fast trains from Moscow:

Tashkent (numbers 5/6, three weekly, 66 hours)

Nur-Sultan (numbers 71/72 and 83/84, every other day, 55 hours)

Bishkek (numbers 17/18 and 27/28, two weekly, 76 hours)

Trains out of Moscow have even numbers; those returning have odd numbers.

Numbers 7/8, which ran every other day between Moscow and Almaty (80 hours), were cancelled in 2017 but might be reinstated.

Other offbeat connections include the Saratov–Nukus–Tashkent (twice weekly) route. There are other, slower connections but you could grow old and die on them.

Online Resources

For a useful overview of international trains to/from Central Asia see www.seat61.com/silkroute.htm.

For online timetables and fares, try the following websites.

www.poezda.net/en

Russian Railways (http://pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en)

Purchasing Tickets

To buy tickets from Moscow try the following websites:

G&R International (www.hostels.ru)

Real Russia (www.realrussia.co.uk/trains)

Russian Railways (http://pass.rzd.ru)

Way to Russia (www.waytorussia.net)

Silk Road By Rail

Silk Road romantics, train buffs and nervous flyers can cross continents without once having to fasten their seatbelt or turn off their cell phones. The 'iron Silk Roads' to Central Asia don't have quite the romance or the laid-back feel of the Trans-Siberian Railway, but they allow Eurasia to unfold gradually, as you clank through endless plains, steppe and desert.

From Moscow you can watch Europe turn to Asia on the three-day, 4000km train trip to Tashkent or Nur-Sultan. From here you can add on any number of side trips to Samarkand, Bukhara or even Urgench (for Khiva). Then from Almaty it's possible to continue on the train to Ürümqi in China and even to Kashgar or Hotan.

From Ürümqi you can continue along the Silk Road by train east as far as Beijing, Hong Kong or even Lhasa or Saigon, making for an epic transcontinental ride. It's not always comfortable and it will take some time, so why do it? Because like Everest, it's there.

From Iran

No international trains currently run to or from Turkmenistan, though there are several future possibilities.

A line connects Mashhad in Iran with Ashgabat in Turkmenistan, but no passenger trains run along this line at present.

A new railway line between Bereket in western Turkmenistan and Gorgan in northeast Iran is open, with a second line from Bereket to Zhanaozen (Uzen) in western Kazakhstan. This could be a wacky option across Turkmenistan between Iran and Kazakhstan, but we haven't heard of passenger services starting yet.

Sea

The Baku (Azerbaijan) to Turkmenbashi 'ferry' route (seat US$30, cabin US$50 to US$60, 12 to 18 hours) across the Caspian is a possible way to enter and leave Central Asia.

There are also irregular cargo boats every week or 10 days between Baku and Aktau (US$80, 24 hours) in Kazakhstan. One of these ferries sunk in October 2002, killing all 51 people aboard.

  • For the Baku–Turkmenbashi boat, once on board you'll likely be offered a cabin by a crew member, for which you will pay around US$50.
  • The best cabins have private bathrooms and are comfortable, although some can be cockroach-infested.
  • Boats leave around four times a week in both directions, but there is no timetable. You'll simply have to arrive and wait until the ship is full of cargo.
  • Leave a couple of days (longer for Aktau) left on your visa in case the boats are delayed, which is common. Some travellers have found themselves waiting for a couple of days to dock in Turkmenbashi, using up valuable time in their fixed-date visa.
  • Stock up on food and water beforehand, as there is little or no food available on board. Crossings can end up taking 32 hours or longer.

Tours

There are lots of reliable travel agencies inside Central Asia that can help with the logistics of travel in Central Asia – whether it be visas, a few excursions or an entire tailored trip.

The people behind the website Caravanistan (www.caravanistan.com) can arrange tours in conjunction with local tour operators.

Stantours (www.stantours.com) is another Kazakhstan-based operator that can arrange travel throughout the region.

If you have a deep interest in the region, Martin Randall Travel (www.martinrandall.com) and Steppes Travel (www.steppestravel.com) run tours to Central Asia led by lecturers, writers and other experts.

The following agencies outside the region can arrange individual itineraries and/or accommodation, tickets and visa support.

Australia

  • Passport Travel (www.travelcentre.com.au) Silk Road by rail tours.
  • Sundowners Overland (www.sundownersoverland.com) Small-group and independent tours into Central Asia. In Australia.
  • Uzbek Journeys (www.uzbekjourneys.com) in Australia.

Europe

  • Kalpak Tours (www.kalpak-travel.com) Swiss-based.
  • Indy Guide (www.indy-guide.com) Linking travellers with local travel agents and guides. Swiss-based.

UK

  • Regent Holidays (www.regent-holidays.co.uk) Offers tours and can cobble together an individual itinerary.
  • Scott's Tours (www.scottstours.co.uk) Hotel bookings, visas and more.
  • Wild Frontiers (www.wildfrontierstravel.com) Tailor-made tours with an emphasis on adventure.

US

  • Mir Corporation (www.mircorp.com) Independent tours, homestays and visa support with accommodation.
  • Red Star Travel (www.redstartravel.us) Organises tours, individual itineraries, accommodation, train tickets, visa support with booking.
  • Silk Road Treasure Tours (www.silkroadtreasuretours.com).

Border Crossings

Whether kicking back on a Silk Road train trip to China or opting for an adventurous mountain crossing to Kashgar, several of Central Asia's border crossings rank as regional highlights. Others, unfortunately, can be a chaotic, tiresome nightmare. Avoid the pitfalls with some preplanning.

Top Choices

  • Most Scenic Border Crossings

Ishkashim, Wakhan Valley (Afghanistan–Tajikistan)

Torugart Pass (Kyrgyzstan–China)

Irkeshtam Pass (Kyrgyzstan–China)

  • Most Remote Border

Temirbaba (Turkmenistan–Kazakhstan)

  • Biggest Border Headache

Torugart Pass (Kyrgyzstan–China)

  • Currently Closed

Penjikent (Uzbekistan–Tajikistan)

Karamyk/Jirgital (Kyrgyzstan–Tajikistan)

Qolma (Kulma) Pass (Tajikistan–China)

Border Crossings to & from Central Asia

Central Asia is like a giant colander, pierced by a huge range of border crossings, from snowy mountain passes to desert crossings, and ferries across the Caspian Sea to bridges over the Oxus River.

When crossing international borders to or from Central Asia, you essentially have the choice of using international through transport or using separate local transport on either side of the border. Through services such as the train or bus service between Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Ürümqi (China) are convenient. The main downside is that you often have to wait for hours at the border as a whole bus or trainload of passengers go through immigration and customs. Most passengers are local traders and so have giant bags that customs officers root around in until they find a bribe.

At most other borders you'll likely arrange a taxi or shared taxi to the border, go through border formalities on both sides and then arrange onward transport on the other side. It's only tricky if there's a gap of no man's land that you have to cross, such as at Uzbekistan–Turkmenistan crossings, or the Irkeshtam Pass in Kyrgyzstan.

Border Crossings Within Central Asia

Central Asian republics share some extremely convoluted borders. During the Soviet era most of these existed on paper only, but since independence they have solidified into full international crossings so make sure you have the necessary visas.

Except for a few transborder connections between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, there's little through transport between republics these days, so at most crossings you'll have to take a bus, taxi or shared taxi to/from the border, walk across the border and arrange onward transport on the other side. Shared taxis run to and from most borders from the nearest town, but only in daylight and with most traffic before lunch. Transport is generally only a problem at the most remote crossings.

Borders between the Central Asia republics are subject to political tensions and can close suddenly in the event of demonstrations or violence. The Uzbekistan–Tajikistan border is particularly susceptible to closure so check beforehand.

General Tips

  • You'll likely have to change money at the borders. Most don't have formal exchange booths so you may have to use money changers. Check rates online or at banks in the nearest towns before making a crossing.
  • Bring small, clean bills to change money at the borders and if you are unsure of the rate only change as much as you need to get you to the nearest town, as rates are often lower at the border. Most taxi drivers at the border will take US dollar bills.
  • It's a good idea to isolate the $50 bill you want to change before arriving at the border, so you don't have to dig around in your money belt and see all your $100 bills spill on to the floor.
  • Make sure you go through customs and get a customs form on arrival. This is especially important when entering Uzbekistan, where you should declare all money and fill out two customs forms to avoid trouble later.
  • Some borders are open 24 hours, and most close at dusk. Aim to cross before midafternoon to ensure onward transport.
  • If crossing to China, avoid crossing on the public holidays of either country (or even Russia for the Torugart).
  • Chinese national holidays fall on 1 January, 8 March, 1 July, 1 August, the spring festival (some time in February) and the days following the major holidays of 1 May and 1 October.
  • Russian national holidays fall on 1 and 7 January, 8 March, 1 and 9 May, 12 June and 7 November.
  • Beware that the Torugart and Irkeshtam border crossings with China are closed at the weekend.
  • If crossing a border on a train, bus or, especially, boat bring enough food and water for potential delays at the border.
  • In general always be patient, friendly and calm at borders.

Major Border Crossings into Central Asia

1 Iran–Turkmenistan

Crossing

Gaudan/Bajgiran

Means of Transport

car

Comments

From Mashhad to Ashgabat; change transport at the border.

2 Iran–Turkmenistan

Crossing

Saraghs

Means of Transport

car/rail

Comments

The best bet if you want to head straight for Mary/Merv.

3 Azerbaijan–Turkmenistan

Crossing

Turkmenbashi

Means of Transport

boat

Comments

12 to 18 hours on an unreliable cargo boat. Try to upgrade to a cabin when on board.

4 China–Tajikistan

Crossing

Qolma (Kulma) Pass

Means of Transport

taxi

Comments

Normally closed to foreigners but a few travellers reported crossing in 2017, so check.

5 China–Kazakhstan

Crossing

Khorgos

Means of Transport

bus

Comments

Direct sleeper buses run from Ürümqi (24 hours) to Almaty, or take the train to the border and then a bus on to Yining in China.

6 China–Kazakhstan

Crossing

Dostyk/Alashankou

Means of Transport

rail

Comments

Twice-weekly direct trains between Almaty and Ürümqi.

7 China–Kazakhstan

Crossing

Maykapshagay/Jeminay (Jimunai)

Means of Transport

bus

Comments

Little-used crossing but direct buses between Ürümqi and Ust-Kamenogorsk.

8 China–Kyrgyzstan

Crossing

Torugart Pass

Means of Transport

car

Comments

Tricky to arrange and relatively expensive as you must hire your own transport in advance on both sides. Closed weekends.

9 China–Kyrgyzstan

Crossing

Irkeshtam Pass

Means of Transport

taxi/bus

Comments

Twice-weekly bus between Kashgar and Osh (US$40) or take a taxi. Closed weekends.

10 Uzbekistan–Afghanistan

Crossing

Friendship Bridge Termiz/Hayratan

Means of Transport

taxi

Comments

Security is a major concern on the Afghan side. One hour from Mazar-e-Sharif.

11 Tajikistan–Afghanistan

Crossing

Ishkashim

Means of Transport

taxi

Comments

Incredibly scenic; for access to Afghanistan's Wakhan Valley.

12 Azerbaijan–Kazakhstan

Crossing

Aktau

Means of Transport

boat

Comments

Passenger-carrying cargo boat with no fixed schedule goes roughly once a week in summer, once every two weeks in winter; takes 18 hours or more.