And how we almost went wrong on that… It was last Wednesday that we were ready to take the marshrutka from Osh to Sary Tash, the last town before the Irkeshtam border crossing to China. The driver had stored the backpacks in the backside and we were waiting for the bus to fill up and leave. Just when we were about to leave I got a reply from our Tibetan tour operator that we contacted the day before: “We only have a tour group leaving on the 8th of October”. Oops, that means we have to change our plans. Like now!
Because the things is: we only have a 30-day visa for China. And if we would stick to our plan we would cross into China on the 12th of September. Which means our visa expires on the 11th of October, not enough time to join the 8-day Tibet tour starting on the 8th. And that would probably mean no Tibet at all (or pay a lot of money for a private tour) since you’re only allowed to travel in Tibet on a tour. Our only option is to wait in Kyrgyzstan until the 16th of September before crossing the border. And better to do that in Osh than in the tiny, dusty border town of Sary Tash. So we had to get out of the marshrutka right away. This of course caused some commotion among the rest of the passengers since we couldn’t explain why we had to get out all of a sudden. Then Carina also started to ask the money back and, well, let’s say we don’t know exactly if they let us back on the marshrutka this Sunday… 😉
But this isn’t the only reason why crossing into China, or traveling in China in general, needs a bit of preparation. Because the day before we had applied for train tickets for the 16th from Kashgar, our first destination in China, to Turpan. All sold out. Not only the sleeper tickets but ALL tickets. And not only for the 16th but also the following 2 days. Luckily we had to postpone our China entry. Now the we were just in time for the soft sleeper tickets on Thursday the 19th. Otherwise we probably had to take a more expensive flight or else be stuck in Kashgar for 3 more days.
Then the last but probably the most important reason: national holidays. When there’s a national holiday in China half the country starts to move around so train tickets, tours and hotels are all difficult to book. And prices go up substantially too as we found out from our Tibetan tour operator. We had asked them about the possibilities of joining another tour group starting a week earlier. Normal price is 720 USD per person, during the national holiday it’s 1250 USD. So before you plan a trip to or in China, check the National holidays. We are happy that we found out about it just in time and were still able to adjust our plans. But maybe we have been a bit naïve too and got used too much on how things work in Kyrgyzstan. Here you just show up with your backpack at a bus station or bazaar (most of the time that’s the same place) and tell someone where you want to go. Then the word goes around and after a bit of hassling about the price you’re in a shared taxi or marshrutka. No advance planning needed. Perfect. But China needs another approach. The good news is that we are indeed booked on the Tibet to Nepal Tour from the 8th until the 15th of October AND we also booked 1st class tickets on the Tibet train from Xi’ning to Lhasa which uses the world’s highest railway, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. How cool is that! The train tickets have to be confirmed still but our tour agent was quite confident so we have good hopes. And now we also have confirmed soft sleeper tickets for the Kashgar-Turpan leg, which were sold out on our first attempt. I guess everything ended up well.
So the China & Tibet plan for the next month is probably gonna be something like this:
Exciting new plan! We’re really looking forward to it.