Updating Asia Overland Route Outlines for the 2016 AMH and it’s great to report that as a biking destination it getting easier and more accessible while giving you everything from Arctic tundra to equatorial lagoons and some of the best high mountain riding this side of the Andes.
Over forty pages of detail in the new AMH 7. Pre-ordering details coming soon.
Pictures by David Smith from pathlessridden.com
Starting with Russia: once you get your long, multi-entry visa dipping in and out of the full 10,000-km width of the motherland becomes possible. Sanctions imposed following the Ukraine war mean Brits and maybe others need to submit to full fingerprinting on visa application, but once you’re in, you’re in, and can cross into Ukraine (away from the Donetsk region), and even into recently annexed Crimea, if fully transit similarly contested Abkhazia if you’re want to get into Georgia whose territory that was. And at the other end of Russia Mongolia remains wide open with three borders into Russia and then your ferry out of Vladivostok to South Korea or Japan.
Back in Georgia, no visas needed. It’s one final fling of European easy living before things might turn a bit oriental. The whole Armenia / Azerbaijan border matrix you can work out for yourself (or read about later), but Azerbaijan is still limited by it’s five-day TVIP which makes catching the unscheduled ferry (about $250 all up) to either Turkmenistan or up to Aktau in Kazakhstan a bit stressful. And in Turkmenistan it’s another 5-day transit rat run.
The good thing is the southern Russian republics of the north Caucasus, such as South Ossetia, Dagestan and Chechnya are safe enough now so you can dodge the dodgy Caspian ferries by crossing from Georgia or Azerbaijan into Russia and make a beeline for Kazakhstan border. Or nip down into Iran (see below) if you’ve ticked all the boxes.
Kazakhstan now gives you 15-days visa free travel, enough to cross its not-so-scenic girth either back into Russia or down into Central Asia. The drum on the Stans is fuel is still hard to come by in Uzbekistan, drunks are a scourge but the landscape isn’t in visa-free Kyrgyzstan and the mountains of Tajikistan will blow your mind. For a couple hundred dollars you can still nip into Afghan Wakhanistan to say you’ve been there, just like you can into Iraqi Kurdistan between Turkey and Iran (and for much less cost).
Since 2014 Brits need an escort in Iran (as do Canadians and Americans), but with the recent rapprochement with the UK there’s a good chance that requirement will end for Brits. And in fact it’s quite likely Iran will go visa free in the next year or two.
For Pakistan the Taftan to Lahore escort prevails, but once there you can still slip away up into the KKH and even over into China (a 5-day transit over to Kyrgyzstan goes from around $1500). The work on viaducts and tunnels to get round Pakistan’s Attabad Lake has been recently completed; no more perching your bike on a boat.
As for China itself, there was a hot topic on the HUBB about escort regs being dropped, but that loophole seems to have been sewn up. Now there’s instead talk of reducing the masses of paperwork which makes months to sort out – but the escorts remain.
The big news is that Myanmar transits between India and Thailand are the norm now, expect about $100 a day for the 12-day B&B tour. Yes, it’s an escort like in China, but the price is much more reasonable and organisation quick.
In the rest of Southeast Asia not much has changed: Laos and Cambodia easy; Vietnam still not happening on your own bike. Malaysia’s is the road to Singapore – still a pain to get in with your own bike so why bother, while in Indonesia it’s just the Javanese traffic you have to deal with, and then the deep quarantine hose down to get the bike into Ozzie.
And the Bad News…
SNAFU in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and likely to remain so for a while. North Korea too. Syria has affected overland access more to North Africa than Asia, so if you’re trying to get to Egypt currently it’s ferry to Israel, into Jordan then ferry to Sinai (stay south, north is dodgy). Arabia’s mostly inaccessible overland due to the Saudi transit.