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China Border Crossing

PHOTOS: If you want to see the photo’s full-size, click the photo, it isolates to a new page and click it once again.  Use browser’s “back” to return to blog.
CURRENT LOCATION:  Upper right corner is my Delorme inReach Explorer satellite tracks provided by SPOTwalla.  When activated, it provides a real time track of my travels.  The tab “All-Star Motorcycle Circus & E” opens for more options.  “Adjustments” enables the viewer to select more days of the tracks.

The tracks are archived back to my arrival in Heidelberg, April 16.

Use the zoom slider on the left to open up the map to see our entire route. The two tabs in the upper right “Map/Satellite” switches the map illustration with satellite photos.

GlobeRiders has it’s own BLOG “Silk Road Adventure 2015 LiveJournal!”  There is a complete description of the excursion, rider bios, updates of the ride, and an active satellite location link.
Day 38, Tue 09 June- Sary-Tash to Kashgar, China, 306 km (190 miles)

Last night some of us slept in yurts and the rest in homestay rooms. Woke up to light rain.

After riding in the chase vehicle for a day, a couple riders helped John M re-mounted his windshield and John is back riding with the group.  All-The-Gear-All-The-time pretty much saved John from serious injury!
The road from Sary-Tash to the China border took us over the very windy and snowing Irkeshtam Pass; 2,950 meters (9,680-foot).  The cloud base was low but the drop down through the gorge is spectacular.  This road is an good 2-lane paved with minimal potholes.

The hard cross wind left little snow on the road but in the back of our minds, we were worried about the Kainan, Bence and Shiree who at the same moment was crossing the 15,270 feet Ak-Baital Pass!  We later learned there was 4-6” of snow on the dirt, gravel and rocky pass.  There was a mass accumulation of moto snow naps!

In 2-hours we were at the first border gate.
The Kyrgyzstan/China border took ~7 hours.

We are crossing one of the worlds most remote international border crossing.  The weather was wet.  Light showers on and off.  It was a gray, colorless kind of a day.  Very few tourist come through this border crossing and with motos, this is new for most of the border agents.  It was bureaucracy at it’s finest!

Now don’t get me wrong here. 7 hours is fast for a group of 20+ with motos!  The GlobeRiders China guide, Sim, has all our info including passport photocopies, passport numbers, vehicle proof of ownership, VIN numbers, and was at the border when the doors opened.  Without our guides’ border assistance, this whole crossing could take several days.
i.e. at the 1st China gate, they held the entire group at the gate and allowed one moto at a time to ride 40 m to the check point booth where the rider went inside with passport and vehicle registration.  This checkpoint took 3-4 minutes and when the rider exited the booth, the guard signaled the guard at the gate. The gate guard lifted the gate and allowed 1 rider to ride the 40 m to the booth where he stopped, parked, gathered his paperwork and entered the building.  It was taking as long to ride to the booth and get ready as actually processing us in the booth.
Sorry, no photos of this border crossing.  No photos allow at at the border.

At half of the checkpoints they collects all the passports and with the master spreadsheets expedites our group approval and processing — but we still hurry and wait … and hurry and wait … and hurry and wait …

Our 1st stop was at Kyrgyzstan exit gate.  This was a drop gate and only passport was checked.  We proceeded 5 km to the 2nd stop, the China entry gate to show passport.  There is a 3rd checkpoint then around the corner a 4th checkpoint.
We were directed to park in a very tight 3-row formation in a huge empty parking lot surrounded by empty buildings.  Of course experienced moto riders with fully loaded motos never park where we can’t ride off.  I wait in the back of the pack and park in the 3rd row 5m from where the guard is pointing.  Then we were herded into a waiting room while our passports goes through immigration.
Suddenly, a custom officer came in and shouted some instructions.  A young American lady working in China became our unofficial translator for the next 6 hours.  She said, “They want everyone to sit upright, talk quietly and be our best behavior because the “big boss” was arriving for an inspection.”  At that point all immigration work ceased as the staff and management ran from building to building standing at attention as a line of vehicles drove around the area.
Finally we were processed one at a time through customs.  We were instructed to bring in our entire luggage from the bikes.  I decided to only bring one small bag.  Again they checked passport, China visa, the bag was X-rayed and visually inspected.  Then we went out to our bikes and waited another hour for them to come inspect our bikes and go through all our cases.
Finally we rode in a convoy another 70 km to the 5th and final border station in Wuqia/Uluqqat.  Here there we had our passport, visa & vehicle registration checked.  Then the next window the agent wanted passport, visa, vehicle registration, a detailed agenda of our ride, and all our medications.  This was the agent with the big stamp!  This took 15-20 minute each!  17 people processed, one-at-a-time.
Finally, we were done and standing by our motos.  A couple bays over, all the incoming trucks had to drive through a spray booth.  We could see some of the agents were thinking we should ride our moto’s though the spray booth!  None of us knew what kind of poison/ disinfectant they were using and we wanted nothing to do with the ride through.  After a 20-minute discussion, they called a pickup with a large tank on the back and the driver drove along our motos spraying one side of our wheels.

Yup!  It’s a grey kind of a day!

Thinking we were through, we were directed through another gate and across a weed covered field to another building where we parked and entered a room with a couple of agents.  Again we waited for 30-40 minutes and finally an agent and VIPs comes out with all our passports!

We were warmly welcomed to China.  It took a lot of cooperation and a special permit to allow large format motorcycles into China.  Please be careful and obey all the traffic rules.

We ride across the weed-covered field to a rusty iron gate and when we pass through, the village street opens up in full color … just like the Wizard of Oz!

Now that we’ve entered China, the challenge of long unpaved roads and Tunnels of Death are over.  Our new concerns are to understand China driving laws and riding within/around the restrictions.  Here’s what we know about riding in China now.
1)   Riding large motorcycles is absolutely forbidden for Chinese nationals.
2)   GlobeRiders and any motorcycle touring company have to get special permission (immigration, customs and insurance paperwork & fees) for foreigners to enter and pass through China with large motorcycles.
3)   Foreign riders have to take a Chinese driving test and are issued a Chinese driver’s license, license plate and vehicle insurance.  This took 2 to 5+ days in Kashgar.
4)   Motorcycles of any size are forbidden to riding on the Toll Roads that crosses the entire span of China.
5)   Motorcycles cannot ride up to a gas pump and fill from the pump’s nozzle.  Motorcycles must park outside the station and carry fuel in a large teakettle.
6)   Foreign travelers are required to be escorted with a licensed travel guide.  We are suppose to ride in a group with a guide in front lead vehicle and a chase vehicle with guide in the back.  The group is to ride a specific route with no deviations.
Motorcycles are not allowed on the Toll Road!

China has no large motorcycles.  There are millions of 2-wheeled rides that are electric, mopeds, step-through scooters, and mini-motorcycles below the 250cc range.  Allowing these underpowered mini-putts on the high-speed toll roads would very dangerous with vehicles traveling at 90-130 kph.

We are told that motorcycles are not allowed on the toll roads.  But after the chaotic and dangerous traffic on the National Road, for our own safety, we decide to ride on the toll road.  i.e. An opposing semi-tractor/trailer will cross over into your lane and force you off the road just to avoid a pot hole!

We have to sneak onto the toll road by hiding behind a line of trucks then ride up the right side around the tollgate.  The discovery of our presence at the toll booth is accompanied by a lot of hand waving and yelling and sometimes a uniformed toll operator’s chasing us by foot.

Yet once on the Toll Road, we ride past police with no problems.
Fill-er up!  What … a teakettle??????
Another unique law in China … motor scooters, motorcycles, mini-bikes, etc, cannot ride up to the gas pump and get fuel.  A gas station can get into big trouble if they get caught letting a motorcycle use the pump.  Motorcycles must park outside the gas station, walk to the gas pump to find a large tea kettle, fill the tea kettle full of gas (~6.5 liters/~1.7 gal), pay for the gas (approx. ¥40/$6.45 USD) and carry the teakettle over to the motorcycle and carefully pour the gas into the gas tank.  You must pay the ¥40 each time and you cannot get half a teakettle.
It seems that years ago, a carbureted motorcycle/scooter backfired as the rider started it and ignited the gas stations fumes and KAABLAM!  The station exploded.

The teakettle bragade was inspired for safety but is often more dangerous!

Modern motorcycles with fuel injection do not have that problem.  And once the station understood we needed 20+ liters for a fill up, most relinquished us using the teakettle.

Not only is this procedure very dangerous, fueling 18 motorcycles could take hours.  They let large vehicles have priority to the pump and teakettlers must wait.  A 22-liter/6.8 gal fill-up on the VStrompasourus is 3+ teakettles.  A fill-up of a BMW R1200GSA is 8 gal or 4+ teakettles.

I did a teakettle fill-up in Turpan (in windy conditions) and decided not to play the teakettle game any more.  I would ride up to a fuel pump, motion fill-up and sit there blocking all other vehicle from filling up.  Once they see we are foreigners and the size of our motorcycles and that we want a complete fill-up, they reluctantly give in and fill the tank.  Other riders compromised by pushing their motos to the pump and after fill-up pushing off the station property.
It’s about 30 km to the Luxemon Qiuibagh Hotel.  It’s a Chinese 5 Star.
Patrick O’s new BMW R1200 GSA has been making scary noises.  Now it really loud!  Fearing a catastrophic lock-up Bob D and Patrick put on their surgery togs and take off the heads.  They are looking for stuff rattling around the heads.   Something is definitely rattling around inside that finely crafted  & engineered Teutonic masterpiece.

Patrick O and Bob D pulling the heads off of Patrick's BMW R1200 GSA.

OK ... nothing was found. Sounds like the damage is inside. Maybe rings? Now what????

Lost Boys Report
Great news this evening.  Today with 250 liters of diesel fuel the industrial front-end loader cleared the road, a route around the bridge was made, the bikes were carried one by one in the front-end bucket across the river.  Our two lost boys learned valuable lessons.  Sometimes bad decisions only get worse!  If you throw enough money at a problem, it will usually get you out of most situations.

Now they were 3 days behind and had 2 international borders to cross.  Their little party consists of Kainan (KTM), Bence (BMW R1200 GSA) and Shiree in a 4WD chase vehicle with driver.

Day 39, Wed June 10 – Kashgar, China, Day 1 of 2
We are in the west most edge of China, riding our motos but are not licensed to drive motorcycles and our motorcycles are illegal without a Chinese license plate.  We spent the next 2 days going through the procedures to get our China driver’s license and vehicle plate.
Past GlobeRiders Silk Road excursions had to take a written Chinese drivers test and were issued a funky home made vehicle plate (that became a collector’s item).  I was looking forward to getting the funky zip tied China license plate.
Our procedure was …

Step 1: Vehicle ID and safety check — First thing Wed morning we riding 50 km to the traffic police office to have our moto’s VIN numbers rubbed onto special paper strips.  This takes 1½ hours for 16 motos.

Step 2: Then we ride back 15 km to a huge vehicle inspection area where we wait in one line for 2 hours then move to a second area for another hour.  Finally, a big stack of paperwork appears and each of our bikes are VIN checked, headlight checked, left & right turn signals checked.  We all pass the vehicle inspection.  We are back at our hotel in Kashgar by 1 PM.

Step 3: In the past foreigners had to pass a written drivers test.  To help us an official driving instructor would come to our hotel and give us a lecture on driving in China.  We started waiting in the lobby for the lecture at 8 PM.  The driving instructor arrived at 11 PM!

She brought one copy of the Chinese Drivers Instruction manual … one copy for ~30 foreign drivers!

The 15 min lecture stated,

“Max speed is 120 kph.

“Drive on the right side of the road.

“And fasten your seat belt!”

Then she wanted to take a group photo with all the bikers, then she left.

No … she did not give us our driver’s license and vehicle plate and there was no discussion about the drivers test.

Hopefully, tomorrow we will be issued China driver’s license and a license plate/card.
Oh, and this is where we found out that driver’s licenses are not normally issued to drivers over 60!  But, but money might take care of that.  And drivers over 70 have to pay $300 extra!
Kashgar Local Sites
The afternoon tour took us to the Id Kah Mosque, Abakh Khoja Tomb, Kashgar Old Town and National Street.

Id Kah Mosque

Id Kah Mosque

Abakh Khoja Tomb

Tombs around the Abakh Khoja Tomb

In Kashgar's Old Town plaza the kids fun ride are military tanks.

Lost Boys Report
Kainan, Bence and Shiree are through the Tajikistan/Kyrgyzstan border crossing.
Day 40, Thu June 11, Kashgar-Akesu, China  465km (289 miles)
Step 4: After breakfast we rode back to the same vehicle inspection area and spent 3 hours in a dirt parking lot waiting for our driver’s licenses and plates.  Theoretically we could not move forward without these items but the wait could be days.  Helge made the decision for the group to continue on to Akesu while the chase vehicle and local guide wait for the China driver’s license and a license plate/card.  We rode on the National Highway but off to our left we could see the Toll Road under construction.
Todays ride started in farmland, lush and green.  The winds start and the rest of the day the entire horizon was a haze with blowing sand.  The Silk Road has many routes.  We are on the northern Tarim route which skirts the northern perimeter of the Takla Makan Desert.  This route takes us through the oasis towns of Kashgar (Kashi), Akesu (Aksu), Korla, and Turpan (Turfan).

Spent all afternoon riding in a mild sand storm. Many of the locals wear a nose/mouth mask.

We knew that the next 5-6 days were going to be hot.
Butting up to the southern edge of the Takla Makan Desert is the famed Gobi Desert.  Our Silk Road route continues through southeast through Hami (Kumul), Dunhuang, Jiayuguan.  All these skirt the southwest edge of the Gobi Desert.
Lost Boys

Kainan, Bence and Shiree are at the Kyrgyzstan/China border crossing.  They are riding hard to catch up.

Day 41, Fri June 12, Akesu-Korla, China  534km (332 miles)
Today was one of the longest ride days, 332 miles.  It was also starting to warm up.  High temps were in the mid-90s.  What a dramatic change.  Two days ago we were riding in a snowstorm!
We passed through more desert-like terrain with shrub and rolling hills.  The newly constructed toll road running parallel to us was still totally blocked.  Chinese road construction is excellent.
We finally get our China driver’s license and vehicle plate.

Left: China Drivers License; Right: New card for vehicle plate

China vehicle insurance papers

What a disappointment!  The vehicle plate has been replaced with a little plastic card the size of the driver’s license.  Everyone over 60 got their driver’s license and Gary S, the only rider over 70 got his $300 back!

Side Note:  We’ve been riding 5 days in China with no DL or plate on all kinds of roads.  There is usually a document check at each providence/state crossing i.e. Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi.  Anytime we get stopped we show passport and international drivers license.  The LEO has no idea what to do with us and once they find out we are an international group, it turns into a roadside photo op with the police and they wave us on.  On very rare occasion on the Toll Road, we are escorted off but no ticket or cash penalty.

Lost Boys Report

Kainan, Bence and Shiree are through the China border crossing.  They are a day’s ride behind

Day 42, Sat June 13, Korla-Turpan, China  388km (241 miles)
Todays ride to Turpan is clear blue skies, a little wind and temps in the mid-90s.  Turpan is one of the most remarkable oases along the Silk Road.  It lies 154 meters below sea level.  Turpan is Uygur (wee-grrr) culture.  The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. It was the center of Buddhism before turning to Islam in the 8th century.
We are at the Tuha Petroleum Turpan Hotel, No. 230 Wenhua Road, Turpan, China  N42 56.755, E89 11.339
The Lost Boys have returned to the flock!

Day 43, Sun June 14, Turpan, China – Tourist Day

In the morning we walked the ancient city of Jiaohe, a Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) garrison that was destroyed by Genghis Khan.
In the afternoon we visited the Karez Well Underground Irrigation Channels, over 5,000 km long.  The first was constructed more than 2,000 years ago.  This was an ingenious way water was brought from the mountains to the Silk Road communities along the Takla Makan Desert.  This ample supply of water was key to Turpan becoming a major R&R point for all caravans on the silk road.

Karez underground tunnels brought water from the mountains to the desert villages.

This model shows the vertical shafts of the karez irrigation channels.

Cut away of actual irrigation tunnel

Finally we saw the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, the flaming Mountains, and the Emin Minaret

Turfan Imin Minaret

Turfan Imin Minaret

Turfan Imin Minaret

Tonight’s dinner included traditional Uygur folk music and dancing.

Ian, Patrick, Ken, Bence, Kerry, James


Dean, Gary, David, John, Chris & Helge

In this folk dance, John R, Ken S, David D, and Gary S are all courting the lovely maiden.

Gary S courts the young maiden with his duck dance moves.

Gary S wins the maidens hand.

Tomorrow we ride from Turfan to Hami, China.  The distance is only 250 miles but … it will be one of the hottest days at 110°F.  Normally we depart from the hotel around 9AM.  Gary & I decide to leave at 7AM to ride in the early morning cool.

We are entering the Gobi desert region and reportedly one of the hottest areas in the world. We only have 250 miles today be we double up on bottles of water.

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3 comments to China Border Crossing

  • John H

    Dean,

    Thanks for sharing such an interesting trip!
    You are truly a fortunate man to make the most of such an opportunity.
    Enjoying the reports and photos immensely!

  • Magnificent adventure Dean! Thanks soooo much for sharing. Great local insight on these seldom discussed scenes.

  • Tim

    Great adventure

    I am planning a trip in August of 2016, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Would like to ask about the special permits required to pass through the Chinese boarder for motor-bikes. I was told that to pass through the two boarders you would need to have a permit. There is a small road usually between two boarders and to pass on this a special permit is required. Can you tell me anything about this, how to get, cost,

    Best

    Tim A. Tuttle

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