When we set out in April 2010 we were well aware that Europe was the easy part. We had ample time to reach our goal of Istanbul and with six months to our disposal we could afford to cycle around in circles and off in tangents before winter. Now with three months before we start cycling again our planning has become a little more intent. For this part we’ve got two big countries to cross – each of which could suck up six months on their own – and the tricky little complication of travel visas.
Dealing with differing visa arrangement is like setting up a domino fall – you can do as much preparation as possible but a piece of fluff on the carpet or other external forces can halt your game. Its not quite as difficult for our trip as people who are heading through the silk route, but restrictions on where you can get visas and what visas you can get will mean that we’ll only know for certain how much ground we can cover in each country a little before we get there. We’ll cover off the visa information in a future post.
With a few bottles of Efes to hand we sat at the kitchen table last night discussing the best possible scenario, and also looking at some of the changes we’ll have to make if we can’t find a way around some of the barriers in front of us. Justin has put together an overview of the various time we can spend in each country depending on the visa we get and then read on below for an overall sketch of the next leg of our trip.
We’ll leave Istanbul in early April and make our way by ferry to Russia. There might be a ferry that goes directly from Istanbul to Novorossysk in Russia but we could also spend a few more weeks in Turkey cycling East to Trabzon and catching a ferry from there to Sochi which is slightly further down the coast.
We’d ideally like at least two months in Russia from late April to late June. We’d like to explore the Caucasus region, could train to Moscow and sneak in a visit to St Petersburg or leave the big cities alone and instead divide our time between bicycles and trains until the Mongolian border. The country is way too big to get any more than a sampler of it but the Altai Region, some smaller Russian towns in the upper reaches of the Volga, Lake Baikal and Tuva are all on the list depending on visa restrictions.
Visa issues: Can’t renew 1 month tourist visa in country. Need to apply for business visa 45 days before visit, ideally in home country. Will ask Russian Consulate in Istanbul if this is possible.
Two months would be great in Mongolia as well. In an ideal world we’d enter Mongolia in the west, spend a month heading towards Ulaanbaatar, pick up Chinese visas in the capital and head directly south to the Chinese border. If visa rules prevent this we’ll catch transport to UB so we can renew the shorter visa, pick an area to tour for a few weeks before cycling south. This is one of the countries we’re most looking forward to on the trip and we’d love to do it justice by spending a good chunk of time in it.
Visa issues: Most Mongolian tourist visas are issued for one month, extendable for two months if you reach UB within 7 days of the start of your trip. We’ve seen rumours of being able to get a visa issued for up to three months if you have tour agency support but hard to find detailed information about this.
We’re hoping to extend a one month visa once in China for a second month. From Mongolia we’re looking to head south, with a brief stop in Beijing before heading inland again. Like Russia we’ll use local transport to see a little more of the country while we’re there. We’re keen to get a sample of different regions of this immense land and also have a number of tourist sights we’re keen to hit, including giant pandas, great wall, terracotta army, leaping tiger gorge. We’re already excited about the food as well.
Visa issues: Whether you get your visa extended appears to be at the whim of the province where you apply so we’ll have to be a bit careful about where we end up when this needs to be renewed.
All of that adventuring should leave us a healthy six months or more to visit South East Asia before returning to New Zealand around March 2012. That is if everything goes to plan.