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Silk Road

Silk Road travel guide

The trans-Asia Silk Road is the stuff of travel legend – whether you plan to follow a small segment or journey all the way from Istanbul to Beijing. Start planning...

The Silk Road is the greatest travel route of all time. Spanning roughly 8,000km from Istanbul to Beijing, the Silk Road isn’t even one distinct highway, but rather a network of spidering tributaries once used by ancient traders to get their goods to and from the Orient, tying the Mediterranean to the Pacific.

Those tributaries take in some of the most fascinating sites of Asia – leaving Turkey to pass through, among others, Syria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and China. Other Silk Road stalwarts – Iraq and Afghanistan – are sadly off-limits for now.

In the 13th century the Silk Road’s most famous follower, Marco Polo, became the world’s first professional traveller. To follow the route set out in his book, The Travels, will take the modern-day explorer some considerable time and planning – but what an adventure!

Planning is indeed key. Crossing this much ground, and this many countries, you will need to have all of your documents in order, which means negotiating a mountain of red tape: practically all of the Silk Road countries require you to have visas, with varying restrictions imposed.

Then there’s your mode of transportation: if you chose to take your own vehicle, that’s more red tape to sort out; buses will be flexible but limiting and time consuming; trains possible for most of the way, but incredibly slow. Some hardy souls chose to cycle – time and comfy shorts essential.

And which route to chose? You could do a small chunk (say Bukhara in Uzbekistan to Kashgar, China) in a couple of weeks for an atmospheric taster; spend three months plotting a course from Istanbul to Xi’an; or take six months for a full-on Istanbul-Beijing jaunt, allowing plenty of time for trekking and riding detours en route.

The Silk Road can be a massive undertaking or a great focus for a fortnight’s trip to a smaller slice of Asia. Get out the map and start scheming… 

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