Connecting East and West through an intricate maze of trade routes first established thousands of years ago, the legendary Silk Road stretches for over 4500km, from the Japanese Peninsula all the way to the Mediterranean, in Europe. Crossing breathtaking mountain passes and mesmerizing deserts, and passing exceptionally well-preserved ancient towns, the Silk Road is the route through Central Asia that spearheaded the exchange of culture, products and ideas across two continents and a multitude of countries. Europeans bought Chinese silk and Persian spice from the east, as well as sugar, porcelain and salt, whilst trading luxury items such as gold, cotton and ivory.
A journey along the Silk Road, nowadays, offers a mesmerizing insight into a world that blends modernity with ancient kingdoms. The heady mix of natural, cultural and historical highlights are enough to fill many, many months of travel but a well-planned itinerary can see you discover the legends of the Silk Road, the most spectacular sights of all, in about two weeks.
The Best Highlights of the Silk Road
A Silk Road explorer tour is a journey of sensory overloads. Bringing you the very best of the region along a route carved out by some of history’s most illustrated traders and explorers, from Marco Polo to Genghis Khan, the Silk Road route through China and the Stans will captivate your imagination and your heart like few overland routes could ever do. Here are some of the most unmissable highlights:
- From the Great Wall to the Taklamakan Desert and famed Terracotta Soldiers in China
- The breathtaking Tien Shan Mountains in Kazakhstan,
- The Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan
- The spectacular UNESCO-listed architectural treasures of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva in Uzbekistan,
- The ancient Islamic capital of Merv and awe-inspiring Darwaza Crater in Turkmenistan
- The stunning Persian culture, Fatima Masumeh Shrine and Nasir-al-Mulk Mosque in Iran
Aside from big-name attractions, you’ll also discover ancient bazaars that seem to be as old as time itself, distinctive gastronomic delights, remote caravanserais that were born out of a need to service the route and pass breathtaking landscapes of high mountains, startling lakes, endless frozen tundra and verdant forests. A journey along the Silk Road is, more than anything else, a journey of discovery of ancient cultures, customs and religions, as well as dramatic and ever-changing landscapes. An all-encompassing experience in one of the most mysterious and least-visited corners of the world
When it comes to those stunning wares traded for centuries, let us assure you that you won’t be left disappointed. Our most treasured buys along the Silk Road are ANYTHING made of colourful hand-painted ceramics. The brightly coloured and highly glossed porcelain wares, which you’ll see decorating every inch of the ancient mosques along this route, make for fantastic souvenirs, as do the silk and wool carpets you’ll find sold at every bazaar. Hand-carved chess sets (Central Asians are nuts about chess!) and hand-painted scarves also make for brilliant gifts.
How to travel along the Silk Road
The whole region is well connected by air yet given the fact that overland travel is really the best way to do the Silk Road justice, a combination of flying + driving/train ride is a great way to see a lot of this very expansive region and enjoy the stunning scenery along the way. If you normally love to mix things up when you travel then a tour of the Legends of the Silk Road will be right up your alley.
In China, you can take advantage of high-speed rail journey as well as short domestic flights and overland road travel, whilst the Stans are best explored by taking flights between capitals and enjoying a few drive days in between. This way, you can reach the stunning rural areas where nomadic yurt villages will receive you with the utmost graciousness and hospitality. Spending time with ethnic Uighurs in far-west China and enjoying overnight homestays in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are among the most unforgettable memories for all those who travel here. Enjoy local traditional food, learn about the still fervently nomadic lifestyle of locals and discover a world you never even knew still existed.
China is the best starting point of journeys on multi-country tours along the Silk Road and that’s especially true if you hail from Australia and New Zealand. Our two most popular entry points are Kashgar – in the Xinjiang Province bordering Kyrgyzstan, and Xian, in the Shaanxi Province just west of Beijing. For logistical reasons, given the distance and sheer concentration of highlights, it’s more common to tour Iran and Turkmenistan separately, rather than combine them with the other Stans and China. However, this only really applies if you are somewhat short on time. On bespoke itineraries and with more than a week to travel, we can design a personalised itinerary that includes all your favourite highlights.
Have a month to explore the Silk Road? Then let us know and we’ll show you how you can fit it ALL in!
Best time to travel the Silk Road
The remoteness and stunning elevation of the Stans – home to some of the highest mountains on earth – make this region very tough to explore thoroughly in winter, so the best time of year to tackle a Silk Road journey is in the Spring/Summer months between mid-May and September. Do note that ‘the Stans’ cover a mind-boggling area of various topography and elevation, so you will not encounter the same climate for the whole duration of your trip and, especially in the desert areas of Uzbekistan (the stretch between Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva) you will experience some fiercely hot days as well. If you plan on concentrating on only one stretch of the Silk Road, then your timing can be a little different. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, for example, are ideal in March and April, when days are a little cooler and wildflowers are blooming, whereas China is arguably best at the end of the season (August and September) when autumn colours are at their prime but tourist crowds have dwindled.
A multi-country journey along the Silk Road can seem a complicated affair but that’s only because the route is not one continuous trail but rather a maze connecting an impressive number of destinations. In just 11 days, you can take in the Legends of the Silk Road in China or, if you have more time, soak up the delights of a 16-day Silk Road Explorer, which starts in China and ends in Uzbekistan or a 14-day Jewels of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran tour.
For an epic adventure covering more ground then our 23-day Multi-Stan Adventure delivers on its promise and, if you’re one of those discerning explorers who prefers to concentrate on one country at a time, visit our dedicated tours page for:
Dreaming of an exotic adventure in some of the most enigmatic countries in the world? Then lock in the Silk Road firmly on your travel plans and contact one of our GetAboutAsia destination specialists for more information and inspiration on how to plan your trip of a lifetime. We have extensive experience and knowledge of the region and can advise you on how best to plan your itinerary.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”