Backpacking the ‘Silk Road’: an ultimate overview

Backpacking the ‘Silk Road’: an ultimate overview

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Only a few people know this, but when I was in Africa I considered to cancel my ticket to Turkey (and thus the entire Silk Road). I had such a good time and there were so many other interesting countries nearby: Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania… However, three good friends from the Netherlands would visit me in Turkey and I couldn’t let them down. So, I went to Turkey anyway.  And after that, the rest of the Silk Road.

Of course, it turned out to be absolutely amazing!!

If you have been following Bunch of Backpackers through Instagram and Facebook, you already know that I’ve been enthusiast about every single country. In a certain way, the second leg of my trip was even more adventurous than Southern Africa. The Silk Road was more off-the-beaten track, a completely new culture and there were times I was pretty much the only tourist in a region. I loved it. Now after more than 6 months of traveling, I’m back home in Rotterdam, but hopefully you will re-live the Silk Road journey with this post :)

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Homestay Sadat in Tajikistan

Overview Backpacking The Silk Road

Countries visited: Turkey, Greece (day trip), Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan,  Kyrgyzstan and China.

Full Silk Road itinerary: Full itinerary (based on sleeping spots): TURKEY – Istanbul – Selchuk – Pamukkale – Fethiye – Faralya – Butterfly Valley – Kabak – Saklikent Gorge – Kas – Ocagiz – Olympos – Goreme – Ankara – Trabzon – Ankara – Kars/Ani – IRAN – Tabriz – Rasht – Qazvin – Gazor Khan/Alamut Valley – Tehran – Esfahan – Tak-Taku- Golshan – Yazd – Kashan – Qom – Tehran – KAZAKHSTAN – Aktau – Beket Ata – TAJIKISTAN – Dushanbe – Iskander Kul – Allaudin Lake – Kulikalon Bowl – Seven Lakes – Dushanbe – Khorog – Jizeu (Bartang Valley) – Khorog – Darshai – Hisor – Alichur – Murghab – KYRGYZSTAN – Sary Mogol – Turpol Lake – Osh – CHINA – Kashgar – KYRGYZSTAN – Osh – Arslanbob – Sary-Chelek – Bishkek – Kol-Tor/Kegeti – Kochkor – Kol-Ukok – Bishkek

Number of days: 130

Number of photos taken: 2386

Used modes of transportation: Dolmus (Turkish minibuses), hot air balloon, Iran VIP buses with carpet, shared taxi’s, paraglider, big trucks, old Sovjet cars (Lada Niva’s), 4×4’s, motorbikes, electric scooter, kayak, canoe, boat and a horse.

Favorite road trip: 6 days with a 4×4 through the Wakhan Valley and the Pamirs (inc. a 4600m pass) with 4 other girls!

Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan.
Stunning Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan.

Favorite hostels/guesthouses: 1. Orient Hotel, Yazd, Iran 2. Green House Hostel, Dushanbe, Tajikistan 3. Bayrams, Olympos,  Turkey

Favorite camping spots: 1. Allaudin Lake in Tajikistan, where the water changed to a different color every hour. 2. Kol-Tor Lake in Kyrgyzstan, no one else and the most beautiful intense color I’ve ever seen 3. Butterfly Valley in Turkey, you can’t go wrong with camping on a secluded beach (only accessible by boat or very steep hike)

Number of different camping spots: 7

Amount of money spent: 6631 euro (inc. the 700 USD that got stolen)

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Camping at the Kol-Tor Lake in Kyrgyzstan.

Moments of loss: 700 USD got stolen from my bag in Iran. This sucked big time, but it was only money and I did have a very ‘interesting’ afternoon at the Tehran police station (read 6 hours with police car drives with blaring sirens, formal investigations, seeing prisoners etc.)

Number of times sick: 0 (haven’t been really sick, although there were a few times I wasn’t feeling 100%)

Number of times I felt unsafe: I had a few incidents of sexual harassment in Turkey, Iran and Kyrgyzstan. I never felt really unsafe, let’s call them just incredibly annoying and sad.

Most religious experiences: 1. Visiting and spending a night with a group of pelgrims in the underground mosque’s of Beket-Ata in Kazakhstan 2. Joining the evening prayer and iftar with thousands of muslims in the mosque of Qom during the holy month of ramazan in Iran

Coolest active days (exc. hikes): 1. Rock climbing in Olympos, Turkey 2. Horse riding for 2 days in Kol-Ukok, Kyrgyzstan 3. Kayaking over the Sunken City in Kekova, Turkey

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New friends in Iran

Favorite meals: 1. Breakfast in the family-run Lykya Guesthouse in Ocagiz, Turkey 2. Food at the night market in Kashgar, China 3. ALL the (fresh) breads in Central Asia

Least favorite meal: The dry, white, gigantic baguettes in Iran.

Moments of frustration: Visa stuff! My Iran authorization code took twice as long as usual and my Turkmenistan visa got rejected all together. Some border crossings were also tiring (especially China-Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan-Tajikistan)

Favorite markets: 1. The Afghan cross-border market in Khorog 2. Animal markets in Osh (Kyrgyzstan) and Kashgar (China) 3. The bazar in Tabriz, Iran

Favorite historical places: 1. Ani in Turkey. 2. Samarkand in Uzbekistan 3. Ephesus in Turkey.

Craziest-looking landscapes: 1. Cappadocia, Turkey 2. Pamukkale, Turkey 3. The canyons around Beket-Ata in Kazakhstan

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Afghans at the cross-border market in Khorog, Tajikistan.

Moments of shock: Thinking someone offers you a chocolate toffee ball in the bus, but it turns out to be ‘Kurut’, a Kyrgyz salty yoghurt ball!!

Best hikes: 1. 3D/2N hike Allaudin Pass in Tajikistan 2. 3D/2N hike Kegeti-Kol-Tor Lake in Kyrgyzstan 3. Parts of the Lycian Way with Turkish (new) friends.

Favorite new hobbies: 1. Trekking. I did my first treks with full equipment (e.g. carrying all my camping gear, food etc.) and LOVED it. It’s physically challenging (and therefore fun) and you go where no cars can go! 2. Tavla! In Turkey I finally learned how to play (the Turkish version of) backgammon 3. Thriller books. I’m more into cult books, fantasy and classic literature, but during this trip I tried my very first ‘thriller books’ and quite liked them!

Classic adventure moments: Hitchhiking, rooftop sleeping, sunset viewing, visiting nomads in Iran and Kyrgyzstan, wild camping, dancing in cars, star gazing, joining pelgrims, kayaking over Sunken Cities, getting lost, trekking 3800+ meter passes & being alone in the wilderness.

Number of books read: 8

Pamukkale in Turkey
Pamukkale in Turkey

Random moments of kindness: Getting offered countless cups of tea’s, food (inc. ice cream!), rides and places to stay.

Moving experiences: 1. Visiting the MSF women clinic in Tehran (drug abuse, prostitution) 2. Meeting Syrian refugees in Turkey 3. Visiting the ‘fishermen town’ of Moynak and learn about the Aral Sea disaster in Uzbekistan.

Unusual accommodations: 1. Staying with Mohammed (receptionist hostel) and his beautiful family 2. Tree house in Saklikent Gorge, Turkey 3. Cave in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Best gifts: 1. A plastic flower pen from a fellow bus passenger 2. A wooden walking stick (made on the spot) from a family in Jizeu, Bartang Valley 3. A cup from a fellow couch surfing member.

Most interesting cultural experiences: 1. Hanging out with new friends in Iran 2. Visiting a horse festival in Kyrygzstan 3. Visiting nomads in the Zagros Mountains in Iran.

Typical for the entire Silk Road: (Sometimes overwhelming) hospitality.

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Homestay in Kol-Ukok, Kyrgyzstan

Stuff that I didn’t miss during my travels: 1. A computer! I think I spent <10 hours behind a computer (in internet cafe’s) in the last 4 months. 2. Whatsapp. I deleted my Whatsapp App on the first day of my trip and it was lovely quiet. 3. Light pollution at night ;) The ‘Milky Way’ was even better visible in Central Asia!

Blog achievements: Even though I didn’t ‘blog’ during my travels and only gave updates through Instagram and Facebook, Bunch of Backpackers did quite well! I was mentioned on the famous Matador Network as Female Instagrammers Who Keep It Real and I reached more than 10k followers on Instagram.

New things on my ‘travel wish list’: walking the Lycian Way, cycling the Silk Road, glacier hiking, climbing peak Lenin, rafting in Nepal, visiting Georgia/Armenia/Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan

New things on my general ‘wish list’: A Lada Niva 4×4 car!

Best things of coming home: Seeing family and friends, city cycling, Sony head phones, re-discovering my house and clothes, doing sports again & chocolate sprinkles.

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Khiva, Uzbekistan
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For Pinterest!

Like Southern Africa, the ‘Silk Road’ is one of those destinations that is less popular with backpackers, but so worth visiting. I hope that, after reading this overview, you consider one of the ‘Silk Road’ countries as your next destination? Or if you have a bit more time, maybe even all countries ;)?

Also check out the first half of BoB’s Epic Adventure: The Southern Africa overview

I’m back in Rotterdam, busy with work, sports and seeing friends and family again! However, more posts are coming up soon (favorite photos, costs, tips, itineraries)!! I hope you enjoyed ‘BoBs Epic Adventure‘! 

17 COMMENTS

  1. Manouk, zo mooi om te lezen hoe jij het reizen ervaart en beleefd. Mede door jouw blogs staat de zijderoute bij mij bovenaan mijn lijst voor 2017.
    Dank voor het delen van de mooie ervaringen

  2. I am just dying to read every word you will write about this trip! Your Instagram has been one huge tease. The places you visited were so beautiful and every single one of them is on my bucket list.

  3. Wow, amazing trip you won’t forget. Ever. :) I have such great memories of Kyrgyzstan, I’m sure we’ll return and Uzbekistan is also high on the wishlist. But we’ll keep it for when our kids are a bit older and more ready for travel off the beaten track. For now I just enjoy your beautiful photos. (and booked tickets to Georgia, where I hope for some adventure similar to the silk road, just with shorter distances and a bit more easy to travel)

    • Hi Yvonne, yes Kyrgyzstan was pretty amazing! Great that you’re going to Georgia. I’ve heard SO many good stories about it. I really like to go there myself as well!! Thanks for reading!!

  4. Wauw, wat een super gave reis heb je gemaakt! Het lijkt me een bijzonder mooie trip om op terug te kijken. Via instagram zag ik al zo nu en dan hele mooie foto’s voorbijkomen en nu heel leuk om er iets over te lezen. Ik geloof dat ik er een paar landen op mijn wishlist bij moet zetten ;-)

    • He Tessa, wat leuk dat je ook mijn Instagram hebt gevolgd! Haha ja, zeker op de wish list zetten! Lastig he, zo’n wish list die steeds langer wordt ;)? Dank voor het lezen!

  5. Hi Bob,

    We have been following your Instagram…and every single picture was awe-inspiring. I can’t believe that 6 months have come to an end! Those memories that you will cherish forever.

    We are now looking forward to all the hot updates in depth regarding the countries visited…if you are doing it so?

    I actually have a lot of questions….regarding this amazing trip, but I will keep it separately from the comment. I will send you an email instead. :)

    Keep up to good spirits! :)

    Telma Louro

    • Hi Telma!

      So happy to hear that you enjoyed my photos on Instagram :) Yeah, I have lot of ideas for articles, so more soon! Feel free to shoot me an email! I’ll gladly answer all your questions! Happy travels!!

      Manouk

  6. I guess from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan is far enough. Your Silk road itinerary is awesome. I just wondering, how much momentous memory do you have during this travel? Hoping to see you on your next adventure. Good job.

  7. That’s such an incredibly cool itinerary! What an amazing trip that would’ve been! I really enjoyed exploring those places with you through your photographs on Instagram!

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