Kyrgyzstan From Kyrgyzstan to China through the Irkenshtam Border, from Osh to Kashgar

The ride from Osh

From the central bus station, near the central bazaar, I found a driver (shared taxi) to go straight to Irkenshtam. I got a deal for 1000 soms. But the car broke down just outside of Osh, so I eventually hitch hiked to Sary Tash (tipping 200 soms).
Anyhow, I seriously doubt about those cars that guesthouses and agencies arrange for you for 200 US dollars! So it’s worth trying your luck at the bus station to get a shared taxi!

From Sary Tash, I got a ride from local people for 500 soms to Sary Tash. Again, the amount they first ask for is outrageous, but you got to haggle hard!

IMPORTANT TIP: get some Yuans in Osh. At least 500, you will need them for the shuttle (150) and the last taxi ride (100) to Kashgar, if for the overnight at the border (20) and then food and drinks.

Crossing the border

First of all, you must keep in mind that the border is CLOSED at nights and weekends, on a few public holidays.
So ideally, you have to cross from Monday to Thursday (avoid Fridays, because any delay or unexpected trouble, and you’re stuck for the weekend!) from 9am to 5pm.
To reach the border before 2/3pm you must leave Osh no later than 10am (with a fast car, or 9am with a slower one!), and Sary Tash no later than 2pm. Later than 2pm, overnight in Sary Tash, and leave the next morning to avoid having to find accommodation in Nura or Irkenshtam!

Now there’s another important thing!

When I crossed the border, around 4pm, the officers wouldn’t let me get a ride on a lorry. They wanted me to get on the official shuttle bus from the Irkenshtam (old) border to new border post in Ulugqat, 140km away. This shuttle bus is only once a day at 11am (Kyrgyzstan time, which is also the unofficial time in Xinjiang). This means I had to overnight at the border. They showed me a ‘hotel’ in the barracks that seemed to be the only accommodation for both travellers and staff. No shower, no toilet, and the whole area is a shit hole. They only charge 20 Yuan though.

The ride to Kashgar

If you are luckier than me, you can probably get a ride from one of the many lorries, in a continuous flow from opening to closing.

They forced me to take the shuttle at 11am, for 150 Yuan.

Because the road was under construction, it took us almost 3 hours to get to the NEW border post in Ulugqat. It was probably a lot faster and comfortable on the bus than on a lorry though…

Then from the NEW border post, you have to share a taxi to Kashgar (100 Yuan, 90km, 2 hours approx)

So the thing about the border and the road

When I crossed, the road between the KG border and the CN border was a dirt track, but no construction seemed to be on the way. On the CN side, there is a border post at the highest point of the pass. It looks totally abandoned and insanely run down.

The Chinese are building a new road from this point to a new border post in Ulugqat. This new post is already in operation. So are they going to keep the old one when the new road opens? I don’t have the answer, but I think they will because there are inhabited village between the two, and those people can’t realistically be living in a free zone. Or can they?

Today the situation is as follows: there is a full border check at the old border, including bag search, questioning, passport control and intrusive digital picture browsing of your camera and computer. Then, they do it all over again at the new border, and only there do they STAMP your passport.

So if like me you do have to overnight at the border post — which I don’t really recommend, but in the end it’s quite an epic experience — it won’t waste a night off your Chinese visa, it’s just the free zone.

6 thoughts on “From Kyrgyzstan to China through the Irkenshtam Border, from Osh to Kashgar

  1. Kwítko


    Im just planing my last few days in China and im than crossing borders to Kyrgystan… My visa is very tights so I need to plan carefuly and I wanted to hitchhike or get somehow across the borders, preferably not by a single bus.

    I will probably do the same road as you but reverse, however im bit confused about the new/old borders… I need to get out of china asap, so Im hoping to leave Kashgar and arrive anywhere to Kyrgyzstan in one day. Do you thing is doable? any tips how?
    thanks a lot!

    1. leBigJay Post author

      Maybe if you leave very early from Kashgar, you might reach Sari Tash the same day with luck.
      The main difficulty is transport from the new border post closer to Kashgar to the old one up at the mountain pass. The road is probably still under work, and the mandatory shuttle is only once a day. TRY AND FIND OUT about it cause you might get stuck at the new border post. And then after that there is the no man’s land between the two borders, and then the bit between the Kirghiz post and the road block, and then the road to Sari Tash. For all stages you will need different rides, and there is NO BUS, no TAXI. You’ll have to hitch hike and most of the time negociate the ride…
      Good luck pal!

  2. Sarah

    What would you say the distance is between Osh and China? My grandfather walked from Poland to Osh during WWII, and he now wonders how close to China he got! Thank you!

    1. leBigJay Post author

      Well according to google, it’s 257km by the road, but probably no more than 150km as the crow flies. It took me a whole day to get from Osh to Irkechtam, the border post, and it was quite an ordeal as you might have read! :)

  3. Salluste

    We are planning to cross the Irkeshtam border, from Osh to Kashgar, at the end of this July.
    How did you manage to get the Chinese Visa? Because the Chinese embassy is asking us for a proof of entry (like a booking or a ticket) before delivering the visa. Did you do it in Bishkek or Tashkent?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. leBigJay Post author

      I used the services of a travel agency in Bishkek. They help you make a successful application, and it’s not too expensive. It was somewhere around USD120, and you only have to provide your passport and photo ID. The photo ID requirements are very specific and you will need to make one for this occasion, or have a computer with photoshop…
      My agency was Kyrgyz Concept, 42/1, Isanov St.
      Good luck with Irkeshtam! Hope the road is finished on the Chinese side. :)


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