An easy bicycle ride from Bishkek and how we got our Chinese visa in Almaty. Bicycle touring Central Asia, and overland crossing rom Kazakhstan into China
From Bishkek to Almaty, the apple city. We’re back bicycle touring in Kazakhstan after 7 months. To keep on following the Silk Road we need a visa for China, not the easiest thing to get in Central Asia.
Bicycle touring from Bishkek to Almaty
We leave Nathan, Bishkek and Kyrghzstan. We have to get back in Kazakhstan to get our Chinese visa. Cool, we’ll take advantage to see some part of this country we hadn’t the opportunity to visit last year.
After about twenty kilometers we arrive at the border with Kazakhstan, the cross is easy because fortunately we lined up with the cars. Otherwise the pedestrian path, which is caged between fences would have been a nightmare with the bikes.
It would have taken at least a couple of hours, there was a lot of people.
The landscape is always itself, Kazakhstan as we remembered it, steppe, just a little bit more grassy here. It’s hot, but nothing compared to last August.
The first day, we can’t do more than 53 kilometers, and we are tired… and there wasn’t even any uphill… chips… to long without cycling.
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On the second day, however, thanks to a tailwind (first time in our lives) we manage a respectable 88 km. We camp near the road. This is the only advantage of the steppes, you can put the tent right where you want.Third day, Sunday, just a hundred kilometers from Almaty, also called Apple City. We cycle 80 and hitch-hike 20. The application for the visa can be delivered only on Monday or Wednesday morning, so we would have lost two days if we hadn’t arrived on time. And here we always have only 15 days visa free.
We arrive at a hostel in the dark, it’s 22.30. The room is tenge 3000 per person (15 Euros). Quite pricey, but we expected that in Almaty. It ‘a luminous city, full of banks, “reptilianity” and huge cars, everything is brand new.
We buy frozen dumplings stuffed with potatoes at the closest “magazin” and smetlana (sour cream) to dress them. They are just good, we take a shower and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning we have to be at the agency of Serik by 9AM.
Chinese Visa in Almaty
We take the photos for the visa to a photographer near Serik agency, which looks straight out of a cartoon.
Photos should be exactly as they want at the Chinese consulate. The rules are strict to the millimeter. Such as those that I had already are not acceptable because my hair covered the ears.
We bring everything to Serik, we must leave him the passports and the down payment. Total cost 22 000 tenge per person ($118). He leaves us photocopies of out passports and a handwritten letter in Russian, to be read by the police if we’ll be asked for documents.
Serik contacts (Chinese visa agent in Almaty): Serik Nurlanbekov@gmail.com 0077 77 1623 535 Abylai Khan Avenue 34 (corner of Mametova street) office 103
Opening schedule of Chinese consulate in Almaty: monday-friday-wednesday accepting documents: from 9:00 to 11:45 withdrawal: 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm
We arrive around 8pm, luckily this time we found hospitality through Couchsurfing.
Our host is Muktar, an unemployed physician. His house is small, he normally sleeps on the sofa bed, but he leaves it to us and sleep on the kitchen floor.
We get a much-needed shower while Muktar prepares us one of the Kazakh national dishes, fried eggs and potatoes, which we greatly appreciate, we’re really hungry!
We get up early, at 7 Muktar is already up, he is waiting for the brother who will come with his son by bus from Taraz to buy an apartment in the city. His brother is a teacher of geography. He does not know if his brother will stay here again tonight so we do not know if he could host us again this evening.
We go to Serik’s agency, where we finally collect our deserved Chinese visa!
Being Uzbek for (un)fortune
We walk a bit around the city waiting for news from Muktar, even in a big and important city like this, wild marijuana grows everywhere. Almaty is nice and somehow laid back, a lot of trees and shade and broad sidewalks.
Unfortunately Muktar can’t accommodate us, but we are lucky enough to find another Couchsurfing guy who, moreover, lives nearby. His name is Alexander and is a Russian Uzbek. He lives here since about a year and works as a computer programmer. Earns about 1000 Euros per month while in Uzbekistan he would have earned 300.
His story is similar to many youths from former Soviet Union: he and his family just happened to live in Uzbekistan when the Union collapsed, so they were given an Uzbek nationality, even though they didn’t speak a word of Uzbek.
He cooks for us some stuffed mushrooms, very good, and we prepare a “pasta alla norma” (obviously without ricotta salata).
He explains how is so difficult for Uzbeks to obtain any visa, they can basically only go to former Soviet Union countries. He says that, if he wants to go to Italy, maybe it could take him 4 or 5 year to obtain a visa. Obviously if you’re rich, everything is different.
He also sleeps in the kitchen, but in a sofa bed and us in another sofa bed in the living room. The apartment is large and yet even here there is no bedroom. Maybe they all use sleep on the sofa in Almaty.
An unexpected rendez vu
The next day we would like to leave for China, but we meet David. He’s a South African guy who’s traveling the world with his old Land Rover, four years on the road.
We met him the first time last year in Georgia. He plans to go Mongolia, and this could solve our doubts toward our Mongolian plan: we could go with him for a leg.
One month visa free is not enough to cross from the Xinjiang border in the far west to Ulan Batar, but by car everything is different. And we really like the guy, could be great fun with him.
Anyway the car is broken and he’s struggling to fix it. He must get spare parts shipped from England, radiator and do not know what else. Meanwhile he also broke his ankles and is now on the mend.
We stay one more night, we load the bikes on the car’s rack and go to the hostel where David stays, he sleeps in the tent next to his car in the parking. The hostel is in Almaty but in the mountains, 1200 meters high. There’s a climbing school attached, with a climbing wall inside and a gym the guest can use for free.
There is also a British girl who David is dating, she lives with a family of rich Kazakhs, paying her something like 2000USD per week to speak in English with their child for four hours a day!
We take a room here, we spend the evening with David, Steven from Caravanistan, and his wife Saule, we have good times together playing ping pong and chatting.
Finally they enlighten us as to why this city is called Apple city, it seems that the apple tree is a native of this area and there are huge apples here. Alma, in Kazak, means apple.
Hitchhiking from Almaty to the Chinese border
The day after we leave, after 20 kilometers we arrive at a good spot to start hitch hiking. We have to go exactly where we were a few days ago.
hitchhiking day 1: – Empty van, perfect, fast. – Half empty van, too fast, the driver prepares us also a sign that says our destination. – We take a bus to Shelik.
We make about ten kilometers on the bike and go back to sleep in the same place of a few days ago when we were going to Esik lake, under a nice tree.
hitchhiking day 2: – Half loaded van of laundry soap. – A truck, truck drivers are two, a Russian and a Kazakh. They make us sit on the bed behind the seat and tell us that if we see the police have to draw the curtains. Now we know how it works. But however most of the police just want their bribe.