Part 10 (30 July - 5 September) Kyrgyzstan




After our narrow escape from the clutches of the Kazakh bureaucratic system, we thought it would be easy to travel through Kyrgyzstan. The country is generally stable and not so much plagued by bureaucracy, but more by corrupt traffic police officers.



We spend 2 days in the country before flying back to the Netherlands to arrange our Chinese visa. In this short period we managed to get into trouble twice; the first day Jeroen got bitten by a small black spider near Issyk-Kul lake. It hurt a bit and gave us a scare, but nothing serious. The second day, back in Bishkek we almost got into a fight with some Arnold-sized Kyrgyz taxi driver who almost ran us over. After our Spanish friend Javi made a not-so-subtle remark about it, the Kyrgyz guy went ape, but we managed to get out without spilling any blood. Travel karma says we needed to go home J

Visa run to Holland


The weeks in Holland were quite intense as we had to arrange a lot of stuff; first of all to visit friends and family, hug our cats, get our Chinese visa and, most importantly, buy 6 boxes of chocolate sprinkles and 3 kg of cheese.  We were very lucky with our Chinese visa. 1 week after we obtained the visa, the Chinese shut the door to foreigners, presumably for the G20 summit. Not getting our Chinese visa would have meant a major change of plans as we would have to go round China and ship from Russia to Japan… or something like that… But all went according to plan and 2 weeks later we were on a flight back to Kyrgyzstan.

Return to Kyrgyzstan


We had been in touch with fellow China crossers Wanja and Julia, a young couple on a sabbatical travelling to South East Asia in their VW Transporter van. She is a doctor who just finished her studies and he is an experienced automotive engineer, a great skillset when it comes to overlanding by car. We agreed to meet each other for a drink in Bishkek and ended up travelling together for the next 3 months!


The landscapes in Kyrgyzstan are even more stunning than those in Kazakhstan. Huge lakes against backdrops of snow-capped mountains, you get the picture (if not, read on or watch the Kyrgyzstan dashcam video J) We headed for the country`s biggest lake, Issyk-Kul. Here we were invited by a group of friendly but very drunk Kyrgyzians for a crazy Shashlik BBQ, which came to a very abrupt end when a thunderstorm and massive rain showers chased all of them away. It was a lot of fun while it lasted. 



Considering our terrible physical state after 6 months driving in the car, we were fearing the China / Tibet adventure with planned hikes over 5000m high mountains. So after Issyk-Kul we decided to do some mountain hiking and headed east towards the mighty Tien Shan mountain range and the backpackers town of Karakol. The hike we decided to do was a 3 day beginner trek instead of the 6 day hike to a glacier. Never during our trip have we been so happy with our decision J

Us still being a bit lazy and insecure about our capabilities, the first 5 km we were driven in the back of an old Soviet UAZ truck driven by a local madman. We also met our guide, a nice fellow who spoke no English (English speaking guides were sold out) but who looked experienced. That observation was correct. In fact, he was so experienced that he was always 200m ahead of us, trying to pace us up and down the mountain. Which soon became pretty annoying.


But the hike was amazingly beautiful, the first day took us to a camp at 2500m, only a 400m climb from our starting point at 2100m. A nice way to start, considering we were carrying 10kg+ of camping gear on our backs. The second day went all the way up to 3900m over steep passes and through a hail storm, but with incredible views. Mr. Guide had us cross a wood log bridge over a fast-flowing river about 10 hours into the hike. We were totally destroyed; not the best of ideas. But we survived and that evening we were rewarded with great food and hot springs to relieve the muscle ache of our weak bodies. 

Meet Jenny


The 3rd day of the hike was easy, a nice 4 hour walk back to Karakol, where a taxi would return us to our cars. We had found a nice guest house at the edge of the city where a whole bunch of interesting people dropped by. Among them was a very fit Canadian girl who could best be described as a ‘professional sports adventurer’. She traveled the world to reach goals she set for herself and then writes blogs and books, and talks about this as an inspirational speaker. And she had just started running Kyrgyzstan… Yes you read it correct, this power girl would run almost 1000 km from Karakol to Osh, straight through the country, running an average of 30km per day carrying a 10 kilo backpack. Her name is actually Jenny Tough… look her up at and be amazed!

Song-Kul Lake


We decided our next target should be Song-Kul, a high-altitude lake where we could visit local nomads and ride horses. We found an amazing camp spot at a hill overlooking the lake and stayed there for 2 days, enjoying the views, taking incredible photos and of course, riding horses! Nicolette got a headache that really knocked her out and being at 3200m altitude, we feared it might be altitude sickness. Fortunately, Doctor Julia could quickly determine it was her ‘normal’ cluster headache.


Kyrgyz-style horse riding was quite a different experience than we expected. Of the 4 horses we rented (no guide, no cap, just ride J) 1 was quite active and could be kicked into gear with a single word (yes, unlike European trained horses, Kyrgyz horses are voice-operated) and 3 of the horses were dead boring. Upon returning the horses we inquired to why they would not move, and the owner simply replied; “You need a whip for these horses”. We asked why we were not given a whip then. ”Because you didn`t ask for it” Right. J


Off-roading (on roads)


Wanja proposed to continue our travels by taking the long route all around the lake as he was looking forward to put his 4 wheel drive to use. Somehow for him the crazier the road looks, the more he wants to drive it J. This was great for us, we didn`t do much off-roading so far and with fearless Wanja leading, we could gain some much needed experience. The ride was absolutely epic! Amazing views, steep & inclined roads and a couple of river crossings. It took us a couple of hours to do it, but we can highly recommend it to other travelers. 

At the end of the loop around the lake we entered our first non-highway road of Kyrgyzstan, going all the way from Song-Kul to Jalal-Abad (the one in Kyrgyzstan, not in Afghanistan J) It was pretty bad. Lots of potholes, corrugation (wash-boards) and stray animals on the road and with Wanja and Julia driving in front of us lots of dust was kicked up. But the cars held out fine on these bad roads, it is amazing how much abuse they can take!

The drive took us through some beautiful landscapes and rural villages, where people are still nostalgic about the old Soviet times.

 To Tajikistan or to the Nomad games


Traditional nomadic games are held every 2 years in a big sports festival called the Nomad games. Kind of the Olympics for nomadic people. It is a rough affair, the highlight is playing polo with a decapitated sheep carcass.

Because the date for crossing China was approaching quickly, we had to choose if we would go to these Nomad games or into remote and not-so-safe Tajikistan. Nicolette didn’t feel like looking at decapitated sheep being tossed around, so we decided to head south towards Tajikistan, being with 2 cars made us feel up to the challenge!



Osh, an overlanders hub


We headed for the city of Osh the next day, said to be the informal capital of Kyrgyzstan and much more beautiful and alive than Bishkek. Our sources were not lying, the city is lovely. We got our cars prepared for the journey into Tajikistan and swapped stories with the fellow overlanders we met at our guesthouse. 

Peak Lenin


2 days later we were ready, but decided to make a last stop at the base of 7000m high Peak Lenin near the Tadjik border, to get our bodies used to the high altitude. The drive from Osh to Peak Lenin was only 4 hours, and when we arrived, we could not believe our eyes. The mountain range literally rises 4000m up from the plateau and forms a huge white mountain barrier between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There are lots of yaks and marmots (which still carry the black plague, we didn`t know and just found them very cute J). The electronic gas pedal of Wanja and Julia`s car decided to retire here at 3600m and -10°C, but the boys like a good challenge and after 2 days it was fixed. Camping in this area is a very cold but very epic affair, check out the pictures!


Tajikistan here we come!


There are some people cycling the Pamir region in Tajikistan, but not all make it and have to be evacuated. The food is scarce, clean water is non-existent and the altitudes can have a devastating effect on the body. On the way to the border we met an evacuated Spanish guy who lost about 25% of his body weight because of exhaustion and food poisoning… his British travel mate wasn`t doing much better, as he also suffered a mental breakdown…

We understood not to take this part of the world too lightly and prepared ourselves for a real expedition. Tajikistan here we come!

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