Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy new travelling year 2010!

I started this blog few days shy of the coming of a new year.
It wasn't purposedly done like this, but the thought of the incoming year make me feel like I should be doing something about the trip in 2011.

I just wanted to bid you a happy new year full of great travel experiences.

I myself will be travelling in Greece, Scotland and probably Morocco in 2010, my last trips before the Great Asian Journey.
Kind of a rehearsal.

Certainties & uncertainties

I continued my research on possible routes through the countries and found more about it.

Truly, there is an open border from Myanmar to India, despite of WikiTravel not being decisively positive on this:

Crossing into or out of Myanmar proper by land varies between difficult and impossible.

A land border crossing exists between India and Myanmar at Moreh/Tamu. While there have been confirmed reports of some travellers crossing into Myanmar from India, with their own transport as well as with permits arranged in advance, the general consensus is that obtaining all the necessary permits is very hard. At the least, a foreign (a person who is neither a citizen of India nor a citizen of Myanmar) will need to get a Indian permit to visit the state of Manipur, and an MTT permit to enter or leave Myanmar at Tamu. Travellers may also need a permit to travel from Tamu to Kalewa, although there are unconfirmed reports that this is no longer required.

Generally about getting a visa to Myanmar:

Some additional restrictions, requirements or conditions may be applied to applications - reports have included a need for a detailed itinerary, a detailed job history, etc. be prepared for some unusual questions (either on the forms, or from the Consulate staff) when applying for your visa.

The period of validity for the visa is rather wide:

Tourist visas are issued for a single entry, valid for two months from the date of issue. The visa is good for a stay of up to four weeks (from date of entry). Successful applicants will also be issued an "Arrival Form".

My point is that I will have to get used to the fact that there are borders that I won't know the way to cross them till I am there. That doesn't mean I must be discouraged by this, nor oblivious to these troubles...

On the other hand, I have read reports that said that is it possible and frequent hopping from one embassy to another, obtaining the needed visas for the following countries, not necessarily issued in your home country before the trip, then.
For instance, the Myanmar arrangements could be done in Bangkok.

Knowing this, I will probably depart home 'only' with the visas for Belarus, Russia and China (not neccessary for Japan, Korea, Thailand, Georgia, and in Nepal, Armenia and Turkey issued at the border), so I'll try getting the ones for Mongolia and India in China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and/or Myanmar in Thailand (there is a boat service from Yunnan to Thailand, with no Laos or Myanmar visas required), and so on. This will obviously lengthen the journey, but it is the only way to do it effectively.

I already wrote about the procedure to get the Russian and Belarussian visa, so the next step is the Chinese one. I am not sure about it yet; I will call the Chinese embassy to question several matters, like the advertised 'three months multiple entries' visa is easily granted and whether I could enter China from Nepal somehow (as an independent traveller or getting a tourist group, and its visa, right in Nepal).

Then Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan) poses another challenge.
If I could re-enter China from Nepal I will head North, West and then East up to the Kyrgyz border (hitch-hiking or hiring local drivers if public transportations are not available), but I have no idea what requirements are needed to get the visa for Kyrgyzstan. I would be able to ask about this in Urumqi, most probably, but then I won't know till I'll be there, again. I'm positive about Kyrgyzstan and I don't think it will be hard getting in, and then paying for the visas of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan there.

Turkmenistan is another matter:

It has a reputation for being one of the more difficult to obtain. The hoops you'll need to jump through vary by nationality, but often involve needing to apply in person at their consulate in your home country, and letters of invitation from someone within Turkmenistan.

It is between Uzbekistan and Iran, so I will have to cross it (or take a plane out of there, which seems quite easy from Tashkent international airport, but not sure if there are flights to Iran, actually).

In case I gave up traversing Central Asia, my only way to Iran from India would be Pakistan (as quickly as I could), whose visa is easily obtained (in India?), apparently.

I am positive about Iran too and visas don't seem to be hard to obtain, but they're mostly issued at airports as I read:

In 2006 the rules for obtaining a tourist visa changed and it has become much easier for nationals of many countries to get in to Iran by obtaining a visa at the airport. Visa are issued at the Imam Khomeini and Mehrabad airports in Tehran, and also the airports at Mashad, Shiraz, Tabriz and Isfahan. The visa is valid for up to 17 days and costs US$50. You will receive the forms on arrival.

Extending a tourist visa is very easy and can be done in most cities.

Anyway, I must remember to bring with me some passport-sized photos for all these visa forms!!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Forbidden Passes

These days I'm searching intensively for all the related information... mainly because I want to assure the viability of the trip.

But the more I search the more difficulties I find.

The proposed itinerary got obsolete just after the first half an hour of information gathering; there are many borders that aren't that easily crossed.

I'd mention three examples:

- Crossing between Myanmar and the Indian subcontinent doesn't seem to be possible, at least not for ordinary or independent tourists.

- Apparently there is not way out from India to China (I couldn't find any references). The only possibility would have been entering Nepal from India, and then from Nepal to China but that road is only allowed to Chinese or Nepali and to package group tourists (this could be solved if I get into one of those groups in Nepal, but maybe planning should be done in advance).

- Getting into Central Asian countries (namely, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) from China is challenging. Transportation is scarce, but apart from that, one should get to Urumqi (in Xinjiang or East Turkestan/Uighurstan) almost from Central China, and from there to Kashgar (1000 km away, in the Kyrgyz area of China), about 60 to 100 km from a border crossing with Kyrgyzstan.
There are a number of border crossings between China and Kyrgyzstan, but only Irkeshtam and Torugart are used, the former not usable by tourists (only for Chinese and Kyrgyz) and the later accessible to tourists if they're being driven through by a local (and a need for a special pass/visa).

Except those, not small, gaps passing from one country to another without taking planes could be done in my itinerary. I will have to think a workaround (quite literally) for those, then.

I'm not writing anything about the (pan)American trip that will take place after the Asian one, but it will be thoroughly easier (for instance, the only part not crossable by road in the whole continent is a gap of about 100 km between Colombia and Panama).

Entering RUSSIA

As I told before, getting the visas is what worries me the most now.

I checked yesterday all the matters about them on the WikiTravel, and what I read didn't reassure me at all:

Obtaining a Russian visa is a costly, time-consuming, and often frustrating process. Most visitors should start the process at least two months in advance, but it can be done in a few weeks if you are willing to spend a little extra.

Great, isn't?

Well, I had already been warned about this, so it's not so surprising.
I couldn't remember why, but while reading all the requirements for the Russian visa I had a familiar feeling. In the end, I remembered that I had been trying to get one in order to visit Saint Petersburg when I travelled to the Baltic states and Finland, but I declined, considering it too difficult just to spend a couple of days there.

Actually, loads of people get in and out of Russia everyday so it shouldn't be such a hard matter... if you're ready to pay for it and waste some days of your life in bureaucracy.

Recently I learned about the personal invitation process by which it's seemingly easier to get it. I know Russian people who could invite me, but probably they themselves don't know the required bureaucracy, and that doesn't free me from the obligation of requesting the visa once I get the invitation.

If you have friends or relatives in Russia you could ask them to sponsor you for a private/homestay visa. They would need to seek an invitation through their local Passport and Visa Division of the Federal Migration Service (formerly OVIR). The problem with these invitations is their tendancy to take a least a month to process. The inviting individual also becomes solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalized heavily if something were to go wrong.

An invitation is required compulsorily anyway.

The positive side of things is that I will only enter once Russia and leave it once (hopefully) and won't be there for more than 30 days, all of which makes things really easier.

I have read too that buying Transsiberian tickets could be accomplished more efficiently in Poland, Czech Republic or even Germany than in Moscow (I suppose if you're not Russian), so I'm a bit confused about this.

One important thing to keep in mind is that I should declare all kind of valuable (or that seem to have some value) when I enter Russia, because otherwise I may not be able to get them out of the country when I leave.
I plan to bring at least a videocam and a musical instrument.

Registering in the country seems to be obligatory too:

You must register your stay within three business days of arrival in country, and within three days of arriving in each new city. If you have an active itinerary and are not staying in any one place for three days, you must register at least once in the first city you visit. Your sponsor (the one who issued the invitation) is responsible for registering you.

And, last but not the least, one shouldn't lose the migration card that is received at arrival (you need it to get out of the country):

Not being able to present a migration card when leaving Russia can result in fines and can potentially result in a wait of several days while the authorities decide what to do with you.

Entering Belarus (a country that shares some kind of super-entity together with the Russian Federation) seems to be easier, since no invitation is required, but you must also pay for the visa and fill all the documents in (including a medical insurance). I will only stay there for a few days (I have no idea what to see yet).

The Russian and the Belarussian visas must be asked for in advance, that is, in your home country, so no frontier visas are issued (too bad).

One important fact about VISAS is that they've got a FIXED DATE on them, which means that you cannot enter the country BEFORE the ENTERING DATE and you cannot leave the country AFTER the LEAVING DATE, even by minutes of difference. And this disquiets me the most.

Ok, let me explain it: that is absolutely not a problem in the case of Belarus and Russia, because they will be at the beginning of my trip, so I will precisely know when I will enter and more or less when I will leave it.
That won't be the case for some other countries. Shit!
A tourist visa normally only lasts 30 FIXED days (up to 90 days in some Asian countries, though), during which you can enter, be and leave the country (but note that most of the issued visas are single-entry).

So regardless of what you think about the complicated process to get a Russian visa, it won't be my biggest problem.
The biggest one actually is not knowing when exactly I'm going to enter countries like Myanmar, that I will reach after being travelling through Russia, Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand and maybe Laos.
That wouldn't be a problem if visas were issued at the frontier points, but that is not so common.

I will post more on different visas for other countries, but I think that the hardest ones will be those from Myanmar, Vietnam, etc.
Japan and Korea are ridiculously easy to get in, Thailand welcomes its foreign visitors too, China is not so hard either (I can pay for a multiple entries visa up to 90 days without problems, apparently), nor India.

I wonder if all these visas could be requested in the Consulates here in Bilbao (there won't be all of them, obviously), because it seems probable that I will have to spend at least two weeks in Madrid (a city that I particularly dislike) submerged in this bureaucracy...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Funny how things work.

Today I have probably bought the trekking boots that I'll wear during this mind-blowing trip.

It is a kind of a link of my present with this planned future.

My old trekking boots were bought in June 2007, just before I departed to Iceland, and they've accompanied me not only through those lands of ice, but also to those in Gascony, Graub√ľnden, Bayern, Sardinia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Karelia, Aland, Leon, Zamora, the Pyrenees, Bulgaria, Berlin, Norway and Ireland (not to mention the local mountains here in the Basque Country).
I couldn't find a better companion for my journeys in the wild.

Now, almost three years later, they've got a hole upon the thumb toe of the right foot and they deserve retirement.

Information needed

While preparing this world trip two challenges must be faced simultaneously:

- Fixing the route and what to see in every country/region
- Searching the info related to visas, dangers, transports and climate/weather

One cannot be dealed with without the other one.
That is, I can't know for sure where I am going to go to from where if I don't know that it is possible to get there from that place (transports exist, frontiers are open, area not dangerous, weather not harsh, etc.)

That said, I will try to gather all those pieces of information about every country on my list so I can figure out how to make it safely and effectively!

I will post the data as soon as I get it (right now I'm worried about all the visas, sinceresly, the very first difficulty to pass over).

If any of you, readers, has got any of this about any country, I'm ready to listen, as well as any suggest.

Some about transports

Truth is that the original idea of this trip was to reach Japan by crossing the whole of Siberia and then taking a ferry from Vladivostok to Japan (it takes 2 days):
Port of Fushiki, apparently:

at the West coast just accross the land from Tokyo.

As the Transsiberian railway is a well known route and frequently used, that's no problem so.

This first part of the trip is the one that I've got clearer in mind, because I know what I want to visit in Russia and then in Japan (then I will take a ferry to South Korea, but I don't know much about Korea yet).

The very first step is getting to Russia.
I thought for some time to do this by train from my hometown (Bilbao, near the French border of Spain):
Bilbao > Paris > Berlin > Warsow > Minsk > Moscow (not strictly this route, but I think it's the most likely).
But being Europe this could make the trip more expensive from the start (and given the long way ahead this doesn't seem practical); trains aren't especially cheap here.
On the other hand, this could give me the chance to experience the land journey to the Far East.

Then I thought about flying to Kaunas (Lithuania), where I have been before, and where there are cheap flights to, Russia being easily reachable from here.

I don't consider visiting Saint Petersburg on this trip, that could be done at any other time.

However, since I haven't been to Poland or Belarus, starting this trip visiting those two appears as an attractive alternative to warm up before the real journey.

Once in Russia I will spend some days in Moscow (I've got friends there) and take the Transsiberian from there.

Some stops on this railway are worth a visit, notably Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk.
(Notice that the full railtrip without stops lasts 9 days in a row).

Monday, 28 December 2009

Proposed itinerary

Ok, that's roughly the itinerary that I've got in mind.

I have classified the countries that I might like to visit according to priority.

Necessary, unavoidable or the main ones:
Russia, Japan, (South) Korea, China, Myanmar (Burma) and India.

Optional, but likely to visit too:
Mongolia, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Turkey

Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Bhutan

I'd fancy visiting them, but could be done in a different trip:
Polarus, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaiyan, Armenia, Georgia.

And finally I discard these ones:
North Korea, Malasia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan, Afganistan, Iraq

due to safety reasons for many, and others just because they're out of hand (islands and so).

Kazakhstan... oddly enough, I consider it too vast and uninteresintg to explore (but I may be completely wrong, of course), and out of the proposed route.

Any tips are welcome :)

First post: a Dream

So this is the first time posting on this new blog.
Welcome readers, friends and curious alike.

First of all, I should apologise in advance for wrong spellings, poor wording and bad grammar in general, because English is not my mother tongue (I am Basque) and this is my first blog in such language.

I decided to write in English so that the info here contained will reach more people, and because many of my sources will be only available in English.

Anyway, I haven't told yet what this is going to be about, so I'll tell you in one word: Travelling (in upper letters and the wide sense of it).

More specifically, it's about a long time desired dream-trip that will eventually become reality in the near future (Spring 2011).

I remember myself daydreaming about travelling from Europe to Asia and back a few years ago, quite in an utopical way, but I recently gripped firmly the idea again and I began to set everything for this to become possible: one year, one trip, departing from Europe, whole of Asia, no planes, no retourning by the same route.

Having visited by now most of what I have deemed interesting countries and places in Europe, I almost got no option left than heading to the awaited destination: Asia, starting in the Transsiberan railway.

Most of the posts here will cover now all the searching for the needed information and the arrangements before the trip; I think it could be a challenging work and of course, an unvaluable help once I'm on the road.

Let's start the journey! Only one year and a half lies ahead!