Irkeshtam Pass: China to Kyrgyzstan

After 6 weeks backpacking across the huge country of China, we are already more than halfway to our final destination, Istanbul. However, we still have a long time to go and a lot of countries to visit! Today was the much anticipated and very infamous crossing into Kyrgyzstan. We have heard a lot about this border in our research and through word of mouth with others we met in China. Part of the fun of this crossing is that there is no real clear way to do it. There is no railway and a very unreliable bus option, so most backpackers rely on the rumored shared taxi method. Not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we ordered one.

Irkeshtam Pass

By this time we had found 3 other backpackers just as unsure how this crossing worked and decidedly wanted to combine our efforts into a group of 6. Strength in numbers right? Fortunately, one of them spoke Chinese which definitely helped clear up some otherwise very confusing situations. About 100 km from the actual border of China, we met our first of many passport checks. After realizing we were who we said we were, the guards let us through, only to be stopped a few more kilometers down the road for the guards to make sure we hadn’t changed who we said we were. Eventually there was another stop to ‘technically’ depart China. Then we had to change buses to take us through this no mans land to the border of Kyrgyzstan. We were stopped again a few times to make sure none of us had spontaneously joined the ride since our last passport inspection, despite being in one of the most desolate lands I have ever seen. 

Irkeshtam Pass Kyrgyzstan

Finally we made it to what seemed to be the border, or maybe it was just another passport check. We’re not really sure. But what we do know, is that we showed up right at the beginning of their 2 hour siesta. So instead of checking our passports quickly to check that we were still who we said we were, they took a nap. And so we waited… For 2 hours. Once everyone woke up, we were free to move beyond this last checkpoint in China! Then just a ways down he road we come to a tiny little shack in the road with a sad looking barbed wire fence up to my waist. “Welcome toKyrgyzstan!” Says the big burly guard as we wait at the tiny shack. A small van comes to pick us up and drive us 200 meters to the inspection guard who takes our temperature and grants us our second stamp of the journey! We finally made it to Kyrgyzstan!

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The rest of the ride to Osh was beyond beautiful. The sky cleared up a bit giving us heavenly views along the Irkeshtam pass. The surrounding mountains were breathtaking and we even convinced the driver to let us stop to throw a few snowballs! Then we descended a couple hours through beautiful backcountry villages and through herds of cattle, down to the tiny city of Osh. An absolutely incredible drive and a lot less complicated then imagined, especially after leaving China. There was always a car waiting for us, even though we had to change vehicles 4 times!

The taxi to the border cost us 50 RMB ($8) per person. The second bus cost us 100 RMB ($16) per person. The taxi to the Kyrgyz inspection station cost 20 RMB ($3). The final car to Osh cost 1800 Som ($30) per person.

2 thoughts on “Irkeshtam Pass: China to Kyrgyzstan

  1. MamaNobles Reply

    Such an adventure to get across the border. I’m interested in how you determine your route? Who translates? Do you people speak English? How many other people are journeying the Silk Road? Are their hostels? Do you camp? WiFi must be common because you are posting a lot. I need you to do a Q & A!

    1. Faces of Places Reply

      haha! I was awaiting your questions and comments! The route is determined by the places our organization designates as potential new places for teams to go! I am working on my russian, but most people around the world are speaking english these days, and if they arent, someone near by is. Also, we are working with a lot of expats and westerners. There are a few other backpackers we keep running into along the same route, but definitely isnt a hugely popular route for the beginning traveller. And yes we are living like kings compared to the race!! Beds almost every night!!

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