Itinerary | Bishkek to Singapore
People and History
The Silk Road; the trade route where Marco Polo travelled, writing his famous ‘Book of the Marvels of the World’
The Silk Road
More correctly its ‘Silk Routes,’ a term coined by Ferdinand von Richthofen (uncle of the fighter ace Red Baron), naming the trade routes from China to Turkey – and on to Europe. The name does not refer to a road or specific route, as the trade was also undertaken by sea as well as land over vast distances. The route was disrupted during the rise of the Mongol Empire but was reinvigorated by sail during the rise of the European powers and is running again today – by ship, road and rail.
People and Religion
The region has every significant religion in the world, living in relative harmony, including; Muslim [Shiites, Sunnis & Sufis], Jews, Orthodox Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Shamanists – and others
Big grand mosques, mud cities, palaces, fortresses and ruins. Desert architecture using the wind and water in ways to keep houses cool which predates western air-conditioning systems by thousands of years – by using natural flows of wind and water in complex systems, all built by hand. The systems of cooling and water supply are still unmatched by modern western environmentalists using computers and heavy machinery.
Bactrian camels – (two humps) and a lot of horses.
The Asia Overland Route – Bishkek to Singapore
Kyrgyzstan – Week 1 – 2
A land of high mountain passes, grassy plains, alpine lakes & yurts, all in the Celestial Mountains. The begging for us of a strong Chinese influence.
Highlights – High altitude Lake Song Kol and Ala Archa National Park
As big as England with just 5 million people; there is space to wander. We pass to the ‘Heavenly Cloud Mountains’ to camp amongst the nomads in their yurts. You can go walking and horse trekking around Lake Issyk Kul, on to Ala Archa National Park; with forests, glaciers and alpine streams. We visit the capitol Bishkek.
A land of high mountain passes, grassy plains, alpine lakes & yurts, all in the Celestial Mountains. The beginning for us of a strong Chinese influence.
Highlights – High altitude Lake Song Kol and Ala Archa National Park.
As big as England with just 5 million people; there is space to wander. We start in the capitol Bishkek You can go walking and horse trekking around Lake Issyk Kul.
We visit the vast red stone cliffs in Jeti Orguz or ‘Seven Bulls’ and visit the town of Karakol with its beautiful Russian wooden houses and tree-lined streets. Nearby are the Terskay Ala Too Mountains, a wilderness with nomadic shepherds.
Continuing around the lake to Semenovskre Gorge you can go walking and follow the rivers that wind through the national reserve.
On to Ala Archa National Park; forests, glaciers and alpine streams and go camping amongst the nomads in their yurts.
China – Week 3 – 6
China invented everything we like; Chinese food (stir fry and fried rice), chopsticks, fireworks, goldfish, tea, toilet paper, kites, paper money and hundreds of other things.
Highlights –Kashgar, Taklamakan Desert, Turpan Oasis, Gobi Desert, Yellow River, Chengdu city, Giant Pandas, Xi’an Terracotta army, Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City or Palace.
From Kashgar we cross the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts, visit a Buddhist Monastery, Giant Pandas, Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall of China and reach Peking where the best things to see are Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City or Palace.
Cross the border to China over the high Torugat Pass to high plains with nomadic Kygys people with their yurts and horses. Kashgar – is a major trading point on the old Silk Road. Big bazaars, markets and old tombs. Down the Karakorum Highway to beautiful Lake Karakol, nestled in the desert below snow covered mountains.
Into the Taklamakan Desert – a dry massive desert of slowly moving sand. We spend a few days on the northern edge of this long desert.
To Kuqa and the Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves, these caves were carved into the cliff face over a period of 1,700 years; all overlooking the Muzat River, a broad river running through this dry country.
On to the ruins of Turpan, a revitalized oasis town, hot weather and good irrigation produces trellised vine s and the best grapes and raisins in the world. On a nearby plateau are the ruins of Jiaohe; a city destroyed by the Mongols under Genghis Kahn.
We cross the Gobi Desert visiting oasis towns of Dunhuang to visit Ming Sha Hill and the Crescent Moon Pool. Spring water flows into a depression between huge sand dunes, forming a picture postcard crescent-shaped lake.
The Great Wall of China spreads across a great many parts of the country. Jiayuguan Fort built in the Ming Dynasty is the westernmost section lies at the walls most western end
Over the Tibetan Plateau and Yong Jing, and take a ferry across the Yellow River to the Bingling Grottoes and Temple; a series of Buddhist caves and statues cut into the cliff face. Wander through the site by following walkways perched on the cliff face high above the river.
Huanglong National Park or in Chinese; Yellow Dragon Valley there are colorful pools formed by calcite deposits, snow-capped peaks, waterfalls and hot travertine springs. Go hiking and warm up in the natural hot pools. http://www.huanglong.com/
Chengdu is our first really big city in China with something around 14 million people. It’s the capital of Sichuan province and the home of the spicy Chinese food. The Giant Panda breeding centre is here, so if you want to see one of the baby bears up close. The film Kung Fu Panda was set in this city. It’s an attractive modern city and worthwhile spending time to wander around, and to visit the Wuhou Temple & Wenshu Monastery.
To Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors; 8,000 life size terracotta soldiers and horses lay buries for 2,000 years. They are all unpainted as when they are unearthed and exposed to the air, within just two minutes the ancient colourful paint job fades and flakes off. Also you can see a relic of the Buddha, a finger bone at Famen Temple.
Returning to Chengdu we take an overnight train to Kunming or Spring City in Yunnan Province. One of the prettier cities in China with tree-lined boulevards and Tang Dynasty Pagodas and the 8th century Yuatong Temple. In the south of China is Jinghong. A small city on the Mekong River, we often follow the river through Indochina to the Mekong Delta near Saigon in Vietnam.
Week 7 – 8 Laos
We enter Laos, with verdant tropical landscapes dotted with thick, forested hills and sleepy towns and cities. Its rich history and varied culture make it a fantastic country to explore. Our first stop is Luang Namtha, with surrounding jungle and hills with hikes, rafting and overnight village stays.
After two nights in Luang Namtha we head to the old royal capital of Luang Prabang, stopping en route in the small town of Nong Khiaw, on the Nam Ou River set below imposing limestone cliffs with caves and Hmong villages.
In Luang Prabang, our base for the next four nights, we rejoin the Mekong River to explore its many temples. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can hire a bicycle and explore the streets by yourself, visit the Pak Ou Caves take a cooking course or just take a seat in one of the many bars or cafes and watch the Buddhist Monks, local traders and local life unfold in front of you.
South to Vientiane, a relaxed capital city where we get our visas for Vietnam. We leave the city behind us and return to the wilds of Laos as we reach Phu Hin Bun National Park where we take a longtail boat up the river into some spectacular caves and stay in a rustic bush lodge overlooking the river. We continue to follow the river south to Savannaket, a decent-sized town with a sense of faded colonial splendor as crumbling French buildings slowly give way to modern Laos.
Week 9 Vietnam
To Vietnam and Hue, one of countries cultural and religious centres on the banks of the Song Huong or Perfume River. The Citadel – Kinh Thanh and the opulent tombs of the Nguyen Emperors are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and for those interested in more recent history can visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) from the Vietnam War.
We head south to Hoi An, known for its Old Town, crossed by canals and multicultural history as a key trading port throughout Vietnam’s history. There are nearby white sandy beaches We continue to beach hop down to Ho Chi Min City.
Ho Chi Minh City, still well known as Saigon. A busy city with countless motorbikes swarming through its crowded streets and plenty to do for a couple of days. Visit the War Remnants Museum or Reunification Palace, take a day trips to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where the Vietcong dug out an underground network of supply lines during the war and to the Mekong Delta, where this mighty river finally ends its long journey into the sea.
Week 10 Cambodia
Cambodia is a stunning country, which is also home to one of the greatest ancient wonders to be found in the world: Angkor Wat.
We spend three nights in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, and the reminders of Pol Pot’s brutal regime at the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields.
Phnom Penh is a busy city neon signs mixed in with French Colonial buildings, it’s a great city to just wander around and enjoy great food and nightlife.
Leaving Phnom Penh we stop for two nights in Battambang city on the banks of the Sangkae River. This city has some more great temples and Buddhist shrines to explore, including the Bamboo Railway.
From Battambang by boat, motoring along the Tonle Sap Lake up the river to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. This abandoned temple is the world’s largest religious monument. The Temples of Angkor are massive and it’s easy to get away from the crowds and wander the far reaching sites alone.
Week 11- 12 Thailand
From the border crossing to Bangkok, the sea level capital of Thailand. Bangkok has plenty to keep us occupied, from very modern shopping malls full of western brands to ancient palaces and monuments. We visit the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We spend three nights in Bangkok, so there is time explore the many canals on a Khlong Tour, visit one of the weekend Floating Markets, or walk down Khao San Road.
From Bangkok we head west to Kanchanaburi, famous for the Bridge on the River Kwai. Built by Allied prisoners of war during the Second World War the bridge was made famous in the film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’. It is possible to cross the bridge, and visit the allied war graves.
After two nights in Kanchanaburi we overnight bus to down the peninsula to Surit Thani and start our beach week on the tropical islands.
From Surit Thani we take a ferry to one of the off shore islands; Koh Phan-gan or Koh Samui. Relax on the beach do a full moon party, go scuba diving, and great island night life.
Beach week in Thailand is not included in the trip price, so you decide where you want to stay and go on the islands.
Week 13 – 15 Malaysia, Indonesia & Singapore
Back to Surit Thani on the mainland and on to Malaysia. Malaysia is a very well run ex British colony with a real ethnic diversity of Indigenous Malays Chinese and Indians. Our first stop is Penang, for two nights before flying to Medan, just across the Strait of Malacca to Sumatra, in Indonesia – this flight is not included and is booked on the spot.
It is Sumatra’s lush jungles, one of the richest ecosystems in the world, steaming and rumbling volcanoes and blue crater lakes which make this part of the world fascinating and so different from everything else experienced on the expedition to date.
As we head into the interior of the world’s sixth largest island our destination is Lake Toba, high in the volcanic peaks and home to the Batak. The lake covers an area of 1707 sq km and we head for the island in the middle of the lake called Pulau Samosir which is almost the same size as Singapore. The island offers many different options but the best way to experience it is to head off and explore the countryside; go swimming, trekking, learn Indonesian cooking.
In the jungle of Sumatra at Bukit Lawang is an Orangutan feeding station, one of many to help these impressive primates feed as so much of their jungle home has been cut down for logging and human settlement.
With feeding stations the orangutans don’t upset the locals human beings by raiding their fields. From the feeding station you can walk through the jungle to visit the orangutans in their own forest homes
The capital of Sumatra is Medan; we spend time in this particularly Indonesian city before flying back to Malaysia
Georgetown on Penang Island was formerly the Malayan base for the historic East India Company, it’s a great spot to take a wander amongst the colonial buildings and see the impressive street art. Great food; with Indian, Chinese and Malay.
From Penang we cross the Malaysian peninsula to the island of Pulau Perhenthian; great for snorkelling and diving, with turtles and little friendly sharks just off the shore.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia. There is the colonial area around Merdeka Square, the chaos of Little India and Chinatown with its famous Jalan Petaling market. Go to the top of the very very high Petronas Towers, though for the best views of the city, KL Tower is only a short walk away.
South to Melaka, an historical trading post with a mix of Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and British culture and peoples. Take a boat trip on the Malacca River, explore the museums, temples and churches, climb the hill to St John’s Fort or take a trip out to the Melaka Zoo.
Our last few days on the trip are spent in Singapore. It’s well planned and easy to get around with massive shopping malls where you can spend the day watching films, eating and going for a swim on the beach at Sentosa Island. Then to the Raffles Hotel to try the mixed cocktail of Gin, Cointreau and pineapple juice; commonly known as a Singapore Sling.