Traveling Through China as an Overlander

Traveling through China is nothing unseen before. Many bloggers cover their trip to this country. But here, I am going to talk about traveling through China rather differently, more specifically as an overlander. You’re going to find out how this part of the trip unfolded.

The Research

Before starting the trip, I had to do some research, and here is what I found out. First things first, overlanding in China is not cheap. Also, multiple vehicles can share a guide. Yes, you are going to need a guide with you throughout your entire China trip. Furthermore, if you are coming from Mongolia, then you have two choices when it comes to crossing the border: Erenhot to the east and Bulgan to the west.

The Search for Overlanders

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We knew we needed to find someone else to overland with us, so I started looking for people who weren’t only overlanding in China but also had similar plans. To be more specific, we needed people who had timing close to ours and had similar ideas.

Of course, this is overwhelming at first since you have no idea if you’re even going to find such people, but you can use the power of social media. There are many groups on Facebook that are centered on overlanding – so, if you’re looking for people like this, you can always post in said groups.

This helped us find Niels, Lotte, and Giampiero who then came with us for the trip. There was another family that first intended to go with us but then didn’t join the trip anymore due to personal reasons.

Even after you find your travel companions, it is still difficult and exhausting because you have to find a tour company, while discussing the duration, itinerary and so on. Also, you shouldn’t settle for someone whose needs and requirements aren’t the same as yours. Overlanding through China is a unique experience, so you should look for other people. Luckily, our partners wanted the same as we did.

Picking a Tour Company

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This must have been the worst part of the trip because finding a tour company doesn’t happen overnight. It’s actually very time-consuming. If you want to find a good company for your overlanding trip in China, you need to ensure it’s someone that listens to your needs. Also, you are going to need a guide that can deal with the paperwork and anything else necessary.

It took us at least three months to talk with multiple companies because many of these didn’t agree to let us enter in Xinjiang, let alone the camp. So, we had to take them off the list. Companies refused this because entering Xinjiang is way harder, so there’s more work to do for the company. But we found Adventure Tour China, which was the only one that didn’t try to convince us to choose Erenhot.

Planning Your Route

You also need to plan the route, and you have to do it with your group, not alone. One of the things you should decide upon is the border you’ll enter from. Most people into overlanding do it from Erenhot and from Kyrgyzstan.

Our goal was to drive to the very West of China for a 40-day itinerary. So, we managed to drive through different provinces, such as Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, and many others. On the road, we saw a lot of national parks, historical monuments, cities and towns, temples, and a lot of other things.

Thankfully, the tour agency also didn’t try to convince us to spend our cash on hotels or expensive motorways. As such, we had the opportunity to camp. We saw Tibet and slept in a Tibetan house too, which was an unforgettable experience.

Overlanding Adventures

overlanding through China

We finally arrived in China and started our overlanding journey. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows – it took us 5 days to deal with the checks when entering Xinjiang province. They looked through our phones and scanned them – the phones were scanned for about 10 minutes, and even our pictures were checked, together with our computers. My pocketknife got confiscated too. Xinjiang doesn’t allow something that pointy. This is quite funny to think of since our bigger kitchen knives didn’t get confiscated.

Apparently, there are very strict rules about knives in Xinjiang. Not even locals are allowed to buy knives unless it’s under strict rules. They need to have their personal QR code engraved into the blade. Even restaurants are taking matters very seriously, which is why knives used by cooks are chained to the wall. But to talk about everything that went down in Xinjiang alone, we’d need to make another post. Progress is very slow there.

Afterward, we managed to receive our license plates and a temporary driver’s license. We needed our transmission fixed though, so we spent the first 6 days of our China trip in Altai.

Xinjiang is a very protected area, but once you leave it, everything returns to normal. People in China were extremely welcoming, and we had a lot of people taking pictures with us. We camped in multiple small cities, where locals were more than happy to cook us a good meal.

The Bottom Line

The whole trip was amazing all thanks to the overlanding we did through China, so we can honestly say it was a wonderful experience.

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