Before I embarked on this Central Asia trip, many people were asking:” Why choose to visit Kazakhstan? ” My reply: “Why not?” After coming back from the trip, I have never regret making the choice to visit Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China ( Xi’an & Beijing). This journey of more than 16,527km have been such an enjoyment and eye opener at the same time.
Firstly, here’s a summary of my budget breakdown for this 16 days trip.
As I had only 2 weeks of travel, flights were inevitable in my travel plan. However, should one have more time, you can always choose to take the trains over flights. It will definitely save you more. Should you exclude the flights portion, the total expenditure would be SGD$1,663. For the flight deal, it really depends on when you book your flight : Best time to book flight.
Below are the airlines taken for this trip.
Singapore- Xi’an: TigerAir
Xi’an- Beijing: China Eastern Airline
Beijing- Ulaanbaatar: Mongolian Airline
Beijing- Urumqi-Almaty: China Southern Airline
Almaty- Tashkent- Singapore: Uzbekistan Airline
So let’s start this epic journey!
Day 1: Singapore- Xi’an
TigerAir departs Singapore (where I am living) at 1800HR, arriving Xi’an at 2330HR.
They provide complimentary meals & drinks on board despite being a low cost budget carrier, thumbs up!
Day 2: Xi’an
The ancient capital of China, welcome to Xi’an! A city rich of history and made even more famous by the discovery of the Terracotta Army which held more than 8,000 life sized soldiers. Truly a remarkable UNSECO site, easily reach by public transport. Easily could spent 3 hours at this site covering a must see of 3 different pits showcasing the master craft of the soldiers.
In the night, a visit to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda located southern suburb of Xian City, about 4km from downtown to watch the free sound & light show.
Xi’an practically comes alive at night with the amazing lights glowing brightly under the moonlights! A must visit attraction in the night is the famous bell tower.
Not to forget a visit to the Night Bazaar is a must too in the Muslim Street Corner, witness the buzz and food activities happening!
Day 3: Xi’an – Beijing
Before ending the trip in Xi’an, one need to do the famous bicycle circuit of Xi’an City walls. It takes up to 2 hours to complete.
Day 4: Beijing – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Beijing was a more of a transit point for my trip as there are more flight and train options to enter Mongolia. Since I had visited Beijing before, I have decided to pace it out and cover only the Olympic Park where it is equally majestic for its sheer size.
Day 5: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Upon reaching Mongolia, the temperature drops to below freezing level. In what is billed as the coldest capital in the world, average temperature in Ulaanbaatar during winter can reach minus 40 degree below freezing level.
On the way to the Ger. . .
I had arranged 3 Days/2 Nights trip to stay in the local Ger Camp, its truly an enjoyable interaction with the Nomads.
I had learnt so much about their lifestyle and most importantly, simplicity is a bliss.
First night, I was staying with the family who rears camels and in the midst of the semi-Gobi Desert. Famous for superb hot temperatures in the day and freezing temperature in the night. Had the opportunity to ride the camel in the desert chasing the goats home in the late evening.
Day 6: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Proceed on to visit Kharkhorum City, termed as Mongolian ancient capital which was built by decadents of Chinggis Khaan. The famous Erdene-Zuu monastery…
Followed by an overnight at another local Nomad family, this time they rear horses.
It was truly an adventurous and enjoyable horse, motorcycle ride to chase the goats home.
Day 7: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Coldness woke us up and the next thing I knew was we were going to do goat shearing.
Having learnt so much from these nomads, its time to bid goodbye and head back to the capital, Ulaanbaatar.
Day 8: Taking Trans-Serbia Train (Mongolia- China)
It was definitely an interesting 28 hours ride from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. There are 2 type of classes (hard or soft sleeper) and upper or lower bed with different prices comes into play.
It is important that you have a good sleeping train buddy who will determine your 28 hours journey. I was lucky to have this writer from Turkey to accompany me and we shared with each other different countries experiences. We almost travel around the world with our stories sharing. It was also fun teaching the Europeans in the next bunk some simple chinese phrase before they step into Beijing. Make it fun and your ride will be over in a blink.
Not forgetting the nice scenery as we witness wild horses, animals roaming in the Gobi Desert along the way.
Day 9: Beijing- Urumqi- Almaty (Kazakhstan)
This day would be quite strange, stepping in 3 countries (Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan) within 24 hours. A travel day indeed. Getting from one place to another, rushing to catch flights.
Day 10: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
A visit to the Charyn Canyons is truly worth it. Although I have yet to see the Grand Canyons in USA, but the Charyn Canyon in Kazah have been an amazing sight to behold.
Nothing ever seen before with the backdrop of the “Tian Shan” snow capped mountain range.
We had so much fun with the strong wind too I guess….
Day 11: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
A city tour on my own around the Almaty city, taking the cable car up to Kok Tobe to admire the snow capped mountains. Beside, visit the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, St Nicholas Cathedral, Republika Alany, Central Mosque, Green Market, Zenkov Cathedral.
Day 12: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Next up, the challenge was to take the public transport on my own without knowing to speak the Russian or Kazah language. It was truly an unforgettable ride from the city to the countryside and taking strangers car to my ultimate destination: The Big Almaty Lake
Day 13: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Next up, visit to the “Golden Man” Museum and to the Turgen Waterfalls. It was a 30 mins hike up filled with leeches along the way with the sound of waterfall singing in your ears.
Day 15: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
After the intense of travelling, I have decide to take it slow for the day. Chilling with my coffee in the chilly weather, taking in the sights at the Pedestrian Street, selling posters, musicians buskers on the streets. A visit to the zoo was included too.
Day 16: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Taking the Russian built metro is like going thru an art lesson, very artistic. No photo allowed the guy shouted, but secretly taken.. Unusual for a city metro to be considered as tourist attraction. Truly an art!
Good bye Kazakhstan! With that, I concluded my trip and back to my home base.
To sum it up, I have prepared a YouTube Video on this trip. Watch it below: