Category: Central Asia

Dec 21 2009

Finally China, Irkeshtam to Kashgar, China

The weather was very cold up at Irkeshtam, around -10C.

Goodbye to the truck that brought me up

The border only opens at 9am. Walked to the border at 9am and saw the Osh-Kashgar bus waiting behind the trucks.

The bus

After getting my passport stamped at the Krygyz side, got on another truck driven by a friendly Uygur guy to Chinese passport control area 1km away.
Crossing the border

There were a few young Chinese border guards, they were quite friendly and chatted with me. A guard spot checked my bag, looked over the photos on my camera and asked about the type of books I have with me. Security is still tight at the border.

Got back on a truck and traveled around 3km to the Chinese immigration checkpoint. Road on the Chinese side is better and buildings look nicer. When I got to the hall, I heard a familiar Chinese pop song and felt a sense of familiarity with the country after visiting a few non English speaking countries for the passed months. The Chinese border guards told me that I am the first Malaysian who is crossing the pass this year and maybe the last one for the year.

Finally China, this will be my 6th time in China and my first backpacking trip.

I was pretty impressed with the efficiency of the guards. At the counter, there was even a machine with 5 buttons to rate the quality of work of the immigration officer, there are options such as if the officeris too slow or rude… This was so much different from Central Asian countries where border guards were looking for ways to get bribes.

Got through the Chinese border at 10am which is considered quite smooth fast for crossing Irkeshtam pass.
Irkeshtam Pass at the Chinese side

Got on a small truck at 10.30am towards Kashgar (80 yuan~USD$11.5).
Small truck to Kashgar

Snow capped mountain

Mountain goats

Wild horse

Horse carrying hay

Stopped at a small town for lunch and there were only Uygur people at the cafe. I remembered an advice from someone saying not to sound Han Chinese so I spoke some broken Russian I learned from the passed weeks with the owner instead.

The truck driver then told me he was not going to Kashgar, so he put me on another taxi to AhTuShi then got on another taxi to Kashgar. Finally, arrived at Kashgar around 4pm after a 48 hours journey on multiple vehicles from Almaty.

Stayed at Hotel Tuman (30 yuan~USD$7.4 for a room with shared bathroom). 4 out of the passed 5 nights, I had been sleeping on different kinds of vehicles. 2 nights on an overnight bus, an overnight taxi ride and a cold night on a truck so I am looking forward to a sleep on a real bed.

My 30 Yuan room

Good to know that the place I am staying is able to resist bacteria..lol

Kashgar is one of the reason I thought about going through the silk road. I thought it’s an old, traditional caravan town but how wrong was I. The city of around 500,000 people is quite modern and well organized. Most of the buildings in the city looked new and even in Western China I can feel that Kashgar is a very enterprising and capitalist city. There were all kinds of shops, restaurants, many hotels and internet cafes everywhere. People in China are very entrepreneurial and China is sort of a capitalist country under a communist government. However I didn’t expect Kashgar to be the same way before I got here. It’s like if you are planning to open a business, someone might have already thought about it before.

There are many internet cafes in Kashgar but the whole Xinjiang provice can’t get on the internet since the riot in Urumqi in July. Only XinJiang’s internal websites are accessible. Some people might be horrified at the censorship and thought that communist China is violating people’s right to obtain information. However, I don’t think it’s that bad and controlling information is one way to prevent people from spreading rumours and inciting violence. Internet is an double edged sword and it’s easy for even an individual to spread wrong information and to create havoc. It’s also not possible to send sms using cell phone.

China has only 1 time zone but Xinjiang has sort of their own unofficial time which is 2 hours earlier. Even though most signs are in Chinese but not all Uygur understand Mandarin and Uygur speaks Mandarin with a foreigner accent.

Uygur meat seller

Id Kah Mosque

Uygur fast food

City View

Fried noddles for dinner (9 Yuan~USD$1.3)

Being adventurous and tried some lamb internal organs, I didn’t even know which part did I eat

Uygur family

hmm..the logo is a little similar to McDonalds

Didn’t expect Kashgar having a playboy store

Outdoor dancing at 8pm Xinjiang time, 10pm Beijing time. It’s around -5C but still many outdoor activities going on.

Outdoor badminton

Outdoor gym

Outdoor Ball room dancing

Square

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Dec 20 2009

Osh to Irkeshtam Pass, Kyrgyzstan

Krygyzstan is still a poor country,
A typical house in the village

there aren’t any big industry in the country. On the road, I saw just animals husbandary but people here loves Mercedes and Audis, those cars were everywhere.

The taxi dropped some people off at Jalal Abad and the driver put me in another taxi to Osh.
View on the way from Jalal Abad

Arrived at Osh around 12pm and altogether, the ride from Bishkek to Osh took 13 hours.

There are a few options going from Osh to Kashgar. To Irkeshtam pass it’s around 240 km from Osh and another 250 kms from the border to Kashgar. Asked around for buses from Osh to Kashgar but no one seems to know about it. Later, I found out that there is another new bus station at the north part of town.
New Long Distance bus station in Osh

Took a cab there since I am rushing for time, paid the driver slightly more since he seemed like a good guy. Found out that the bus from Osh to Kashgar

runs only twice a week, Sunday and Thursday 8pm. The bus ticket cost USD$70+100Som.

There are also travel agencies that will arrange transporation from Osh till Irkeshtam pass for USD$180 per car. Usually they will leave in the day, stay overnight at Sary Tash then head to the border the next day. The road to Irkeshtam is very bad so I guess that’s why it’s so expensive.

Finally, decided to take a shared taxi to Sary Tash at 2.30pm,

managed to get a price of 400 Som~USD$9 after some haggling.

Along the way up the mountains, there were all kinds of animals on the road
Lambs

Cows

Horses

Scenary

Got to a cafe in the mountain

at 6.30pm for dinner, had lamp soup (100 Som~USD$2), this is my first meal for the day.

There were some truck drivers and the taxi driver helped me communicate to them that I need to get to the border. One driver allowed me to get on his truck.
Krygyz’s truck drivers

Tajiks and Krygyz drivers rest stop.

Tajiks look like people from Iran and Krygyzs look a little like Mongol and they sat separately from each other.

The road up the mountain is very bad and bumpy. Normal cars will have problem getting to the pass. Finally, got to Irkeshtam pass at 11.30pm. The driver slept in a guesthouse and I paid him my leftover Krygyz money to sleep in the truck.

It was so cold sleeping in the truck up in the mountain and I almost froze.

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Dec 19 2009

Back to Osh, Krygyzstan

Took bus 120 back to Balaholka

to ask about buses to Urumqi. The bus to Urumqi will only leave Sunday night and not many seats left. Decided to take the route to Kashgar intead of going to Urumqi first. Mainly because I am curious about crossing the Irkeshtam pass from Kyrgyzstan to China. Irkeshtam border crossing is up in the mountains and it’s more challenging to cross the pass than to take an overnight bus to Urumqi. If I do that, I can probably get to both Kashgar and Urumqi a day earlier and don’t have to fly from Urumqi to Kashgar.

Took bus 141 back to Ulitsa Dostyk. As a reminder for me, bus 120 and 141 go to Balkaholka.

Visited KIMEP University. I was planning to visit the finance faculty and asked about teaching opportunities but the university was closed for holiday.

Why Teach at KIMEP?

Started my long journey to Kashgar at 4pm. Took bus 65 to Sayram bus station and waited an hour for the minibus to Bishkek to be full before heading out. It’s a 4 hours bus ride to Bishkek and got there at 10pm. (1200 Tenge~$USD8)

????
Took a taxi to the shared taxi stand for Osh (100 Som). I only take the cab because it’s late and I am rushing for time. Again, a taxi driver tried to scam me by wanting more money. I have been in Bishkek just last week so I know how much does a short ride cost. It’s kind of funny that I had to hold tight to my 200 Som, grabbed his 100 Som before letting go my money.

Got on a shared taxi to Osh around 11pm (1200 Som ~USD$25). It’s a little more than I paid from Osh to Bishkek the last time. The driver drove so slow and he looked so sleepy. I wanted to shake him so bad since I wanted to get to Osh before 10am in the morning.

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Dec 18 2009

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Arrived at the bus station at 6am. Waited half an hour for the public bus to start operating and got on bus 65 to the same hostel I stayed at (Dostyk and Sapaev).

The lady at the receptionist mentioned that there are no rooms available. Later in the afternoon, I went back to the hostel again and got a room. Not sure why did she say there was no room because the French guy I stayed with for the passed few days told me that there was an empty bed all along. The fat lady just want to make it tough for me.

While waiting for daylight, went to Kafahat to get breakfast.
Kafahat food court
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Kafahat is a Kazakh franchise and has became a favorite place of mine. I went to the food court almost everyday because it’s clean and cheap. Spoke with an American who is teaching at KIMEP, she told me about a teaching program called Princeton Program which brought her to Almaty. That made me think about looking for a temporary teaching job in Almaty as well. KIMEP is one of the largest University in Central Asia that teaches in English.

Walked around at the south part of town searching for Malaysian Embassy.


I wanted to ask some questions about regarding visa to Pakistan but no one was there since today is still a holiday. The embassy will only open on Sunday to replace Friday as a non working day so to have the continuos holiday from Tuesday to Saturday.

Took bus 6 to Medeu (30 minutes south of the city), which has a big skating ring up in the mountains.

Went to the west part of the city by bus 99 and then met Dariga at Coffeedelia. There are a couple of Coffee Shops but I am not sure why there wasn’t a Starbucks in Almaty yet. There are a lot of franchising opportunities in Kazakhstan and the city has a lot of potential for growth.

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Dec 17 2009

Shimkent, Sayram and Taraz, Kazakhstan

To Shimkent,

????

Arrived at Camal bus station at 7.45am in the morning and the sky is still pitch black. Had to wait until almost 8.45am to see sunlight.
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Shimkent is the 3rd largest city in Kazakhstan. The city is not far away from Tashkent so the city has both Kazakhs and Uzbeks.

Today is still an official holiday so most shops were closed, including the museums.
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Bazaar
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Different parts of cow
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Pig’s leg?
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Took a shared taxi (100 Tenge ~USD$0.6) to Sayram which is a small town 10kms away heavily populated by Uzbeks.
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Mountains around the small town
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Making Camca (Pronouce as Samsa)
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Took another minibus to Taraz at 4pm (3 hours ride, 700 Tenge~USD$4.6).
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Took another overnight bus to Almaty at 10pm. The further away the seats from the front, the cheaper it is. Paid 1200 Tenge for the 8 hours ride.

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Dec 16 2009

Almaty to Shimkent, Kazakhstan

I have been getting a lot of wrong information for the passed few days. After realizing the border with China was closed, I thought about going back down to Krygyzstan and then taking the Irkeshtam pass to Kashgar. However, someone told me that the border crossing with Krygyzstan was also closed.

Went to Sayram bus station in the afternoon taking bus 65 to ask about bus schedule to Shimkent. I was surprise to notice that there were minibus to Bishkek waiting for passengers. Spent some time thinking if I should go to Shimkent or to go to Krygyzstan instead.

To use the Krygyz-China border crossing, I would have to get to Bishkek, take another car to Osh, then to Sary Tash and then to the border. Since it’s late in the afternoon on Wednesday, it will be a little risky if I want to cross the border before the weekend because I might not make it to the border in time. The Irkestam pass only opens from Monday to Friday. If I arrive at the border after Friday afternoon, I would have to wait for a few days up in the mountains.

Another option is to cross to Urumqi and then fly to Kashgar. I was surprised that Chinese travel websites are so advance now and they even have sites similar to travelocity.com and kayak.com in the US.

Decided not to take the chance of rushing to the border because crossing the border up in the mountain on Friday is quite risky. If the border is close, then I will have to waste a few days in the mountain.

Went back to Sayram bus station in the evening and took the 8pm bus to Shimkent (12 hours ride, 1850 Tenge~USD$12.50)

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Dec 15 2009

Almaty 4th and 5th day, Kazakhstan

Spent half a day asking about bus, train and flight tickets because I only realized today that the border will be close for independence day celebration staring from tomorrow. Flight to Urumqi cost more than $300 so it’s out of my budget.

I was supposed to get out of the country on Monday but stayed another day and now I am stuck in Kazakhstan for another few days. I spent another day here because I tried to get more information about job opportunities in the country and wanted to visit the American Chamber of Commerce. Kazakhstan economy has been growing 8-9% a year before the financial crisis. The country is full of natural resources and it’s right between Russia and China, 2 of the BRIC countries, it’s also not far from India. It’s one of the wealthiest country among the CIS countries and there are many new consturctions going on at the south part of the city Almaty economy. I think the country will have a potential for growth.

City View
The air quality here is quite bad because of the traffic
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Took bus 99 (50 Tenge~USD$0.30) up to Kok Tobe (Cabel car cost 1500 Tenge~USD$10). Kok Tobe is one of the higest spot in the city to get a bird eye view of Almaty.
Kok Tobe

Kazakh Flag and the symbol of Almaty, an apple

Dec 14th Mon

Internet Cafe is slightly more expensive in Almaty compared to other countries.

Went to an Asus computer repair center to fix my netbook but they couldn’t do anything cause it’s in Polish. Electronics are more expensive here. A similar netbook like mine cost almost $500 here. I got my netbook in Poland for $400 but I can easily get one in US for $350. A microsoft Windows XP CD in English cost around $250.

New part of Almaty around AL-Farabi st at the southern part of the city
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Went to Megacenter. One of the bigger mall in Almaty.
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There wasn’t any McDonalds in Almaty yet and I thought it will be a great business to open one.
Opening a McDonalds Franchise FAQ

KFC?
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Strawberry is quite expensive, around USD$8-9 for a box. In US, it will only cost around USD$2.
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Took a wrong bus and went to Sayran bus terminal. A Kazakh guy helped me asked about the schedule to Urumqi. He is friendly but since he doesn’t speak English so some information is lost during our communication. There is a morning bus daily to Urumqi from Sayran and there are also buses leaving from Yalan bazaar which I asked few days ago. I thought about taking the bus from Yalan bazaar the next day since it’s cheaper and leaves at night. However, I only found out the next day that the border will be close for 6 days because of Kazakhstan Independence day celebration.

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Dec 12 2009

Almaty day 2 and 3, Kazakhstan

Dec 13th Sun

Museum (70 Tenge~USD$0.50).
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Tried taking a bus to Medeo, then to Chimbulak which is up in the mountains. Met a Kazakh guy at the bus stop and he invited me to go hiking with him and his 5 years old son.
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Cute little Kazakh boy
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Mini bon fire
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He is a journalist and his background was in anthropology so he told me some stories about the Kazakh people.
The term Kazakh was formed in the 15th century and before then Kazakhs was not a distinct group. In 1468 an internal feud split the Uzbeks into 2 groups. Those who stayed north remained nomadic and became Kazakhs which mean free rider. Those who stayed south became settlers and became farmers. So actually Kazakh people came from Uzbek who wanted to live freely and who don’t like settle life. Some Kazakhs look like South East Asian, like Filipinos, some look like East Asian and some even has blue eyes and blonde hair.

Met some travellers in the mountains and went for dinner at a restaurant inside Ramstor at the south part of Almaty. The southern part of Almaty has more new buildings and looks like a newer part of the city.

Got back to the hostel and chatted with Danier, a Chinese Kazakh and his family in his room.

Dec 12th Sat

Golden boy at Republic Square
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There were’t any Starbucks here but found Gloria Jean cafe. If I have enough capital, I would want to open a Starbucks or McDonalds here. Was going to use their Wi-Fi but there were something wrong with my netbook and spent time trying to fix my netbook. My OS is in Polish so it’s difficult to troubleshoot the problem.

Streets in Almaty.
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Panfilov Park
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Wedding at Panfilov park.
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Zenkov Cathedral, a 19th-century Russian Orthodox cathedral located in Panfilov Park, is the second tallest wooden building in the world. The building wasn’t destroyed during the earthquake because it’s made of wood.
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Darigo showed me around the city and brought me to a Georgian restaurant and met some of her lawyer friends.
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Dec 11 2009

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Dec 11th Fri

Hostel room
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Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world. The country has only one president, Nazarbayev since independence 18 years ago. Kazakhstan is ethnically and culturally diverse, in part due to mass deportations of many ethnic groups to the country during Stalin’s rule. There are more than 100 ethnic group in the country since the country is at the crossroad of Europe, Middle East and Asia. The country is rich with oil, gas and minerals. It is the top 5 countries in the world for oil reserves. It has 2 of the biggest oilfields in the world, Tengiz and Kashagan. The country also has a big gas reserve.

From Wikipedia,
” Kazakhstan has the second largest uranium, chromium, lead, and zinc reserves, the third largest manganese reserves, the fifth largest copper reserves, and ranks in the top ten for coal, iron, and gold. It is also an exporter of diamonds. Perhaps most significant for economic development, Kazakhstan also currently has the 11th largest proven reserves of both oil and natural gas.”

Kazakhstan is thought to be one of the original homes of the apple and the name Almaty means rich with apple.
Almaty is a city of around 1.5 million. It was the capital of Kazakhstan from 1929-1997 and most recently, the capital was moved to Astana because the President wanted the country to be closer to Russia. Almaty looks modern and I think it’s the most developed city in Central Asia.

Almaty is quite cold and the temperature was around -10C.

Took bus 120 (50 tenge) at Ablay street to Yalan Bazaar
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at Balakolkha which is located outside the city center. Asked around for bus information to Urumqi and Yining.

Sleeper bus to Urumqi
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There are many Chinese shops around the bazaar.
Had Chinese dumplings for breakfast.
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There were many Chinese, Ugyurs and Kazaks traders at the market.
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City Pics
Mosque
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Zelyoni Bazaar meaning green market has fresh vegetables, dairy products, and meat.
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Jhibek Jolu street, sort of like the shopping street of the city
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Had coffee with Dariga at Medley Cafe and at night Aiganym invited me to Soho bar/restaurant. The place is for mostly expatriates and has live music.

Dinner at Kafahat, a food court which later I become a regular customer of the shop
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Night view
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Dec 10 2009

Bishkek to Almaty, Kazakhstan

Dec 10th

Went to the Kazakhstan embassy in the morning to get back my passport. Took 4 marshrutkas to the embassy because I got on a wrong marshrutka. It’s funny that the guy in the embassy still remembered me since he didn’t give me receipt when I submited my passport.

Bishkek

Met Farizat, a friend I met few days ago at the American University in Central Asia and she brought me a restaurant which has one of the best laghman called Faiza (take bus 35 towards the north west part of the city, on Jibek Jolu).

Went to Tsum (meaning central department store in Russia), a big department store to find someone who can fix my camera but unfortunately that person was not there.

I planned to go to Almaty the same day after getting my passport, so took bus 35 to the bus station at 2.30pm and waited for 2 hours for the minibus to be full before leaving for Almaty (4 hours, 200km, 300 Som~USD$7).

After an hour on the minibus, we reached the border of Krygyzstan and Kazakhstan. Crossing the land border of Krygyzstan-Kazakhstan wasn’t that difficult and was quite fast. Arrived at Almaty Sayran bus station at 9pm. I didn’t realized that it was Sayran bus station until later. Since the public transportation system in Almaty shut down after 9pm, I took a taxi to the 3rd Dormitory which was listed as the cheapest option under lonely planet. It’s actually a university dorm which is open for travellers.

I made a silly mistake and paid the driver 4000 tenge~USD$26 (1USD~150 Tenge) instead of 400 tenge that was agreed upon. He didn’t say anything and I even thanked that guy for the ride. I realized my mistake when the dormitory receptionist told me to pay her 1000 tenge~USD$6.70 for the first night. I immediately rushed out but the driver was gone. This reminded me of a Japanese trader who bought stocks for the wrong price, with more zeros than the correct price.

Met some Chinese students at the hostel. They are not Han Chinese, but Chinese Kazakhs who live in China. In Chinese, they are called Ha.
Chinese Kazakh family
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There was an uprising against Russia in 1916 when Russia tried to mobilized Kazakhs for World War I. Many Kazakhs moved to China in around 1916 after Russia violently surpressed the Kazakhs uprising and killed hundread thousand people.

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