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Traveling Asia’s Silk Roads

| Words by Ashley Diterlizzi | ,

A journey from East to West

The Silk Road is actually a number of ancient routes which were taken to deliver silk around the world in a time before trains, planes, cars and buses. Silk has an ancient Chinese origin which spread to the rest of Asia and Europe during the Han dynasty around 206BC-220AD. The Silk Roads were worn by travelers in caravans which consisted of horses or camels.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that travelers became interested in the Silk Roads. Today, many archaeological and UNESCO world heritage sites line the roads including Mogao Caves. The route is also defined by shared cultures across Eurasia.

Camel ride in the Gobi Desert

Traveling the Silk Roads

The Silk Roads span most of China, running through desert dunes and along the Great Wall, before branching north to Russia and west to Asia and Mediterranean Europe. The route winds its way from cities to isolated villages and towns. When traveling the road, visitors encounter around 20 different ethnic groups, each with their own language, food and culture.

Countries along the Silk Road

It’s important to note that many of the silk routes pass through present-day war zones and are therefore inaccessible.

Great Wall of China

China

The majority of the Silk Roads are located in China where routes pass through Xi’an and along the Great Wall. Of its 7,000 kilometer length, 4,000 kilometers are located in China. A high speed train now links Lanzhou to Urumqi, making it easier for travelers to journey along the ancient road. Much of the road within China is now listed by UNESCO.

Kyrgystan

Popular with horse riders, Kyrgystan offers rugged countryside landscapes with mountain passes and fertile valleys. Homestays and yurt stays are becoming more popular as travelers take on the silk routes.

Mongolia

Linked to the Silk Road through Chinese trade and Genghis Khan, Mongolia is home to eagle-hunters, horse riders and nomads. Ger stays are common in the countryside. Visitors here can also jump on the Trans-Siberian railway.

Tajikistan

The least visited country in Asia, Tajikistan is home to mountain hiking and camping. Visit the capital, Dushanbe, where the largest extant Buddha statue stands.

Turkmenistan

Home to the beautiful Karakum Desert with craters and canyons. The Silk Road here travels past archaeological ruins at Nisa and Merv which were major stops along the ancient route.

Uzbekistan

New and improved train lines make it easier for visitors to explore Uzbekistan’s mosques, mausoleums and ruins linked to the Silk Road. Samarkand, the major city along the route between China and the Mediterranean, is home to many of the ruins.

Others

Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are offbeat Silk Road destinations that are accessible via flights. Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey also played a role in the Silk Route but are often inaccessible due to safety concerns.

Train journey across Mongolia

Transportation

Traveling the Silk Road is much easier compared to centuries ago thanks to improvements in road and rail. Train travel is recommended for its convenience and inexpensiveness. Sleeper trains are great but you’ll need to bring your own food and plenty of water and toiletries.

Buses are the cheapest but slowest way to travel along the Silk Road. Alternatively, rental cars offer access to towns further from the major cities for those planning to explore further. Travel by air is suitable for visiting major cities along the route but it’s also the most expensive.

When to go

May and October are the best time to travel the Silk Road as winters drop below freezing and summers can be extreme.

Visas

Some of the countries along the Silk Road require a visa. Check you have the right documentation before you leave.

Experience the Silk Road now on one of our small group journeys or check out our range of private tours.