After much deliberation on dates, routes, visas, festival crowds and more I have booked my second flight–this one from Seoul to Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia. I will spend six days in Seoul, which is a bit more than I initially wanted. However, one extra day isn’t such a big deal and I can wander around town and explore the subway. There are also plenty of museums to entertain me. One of the only things I plan to prearrange for Seoul is a tour to the DMZ zone with North Korea run by the USO.
My ticket to UB was bought through a travel agency in Denver, called Air Bridge. They were recommended to me by the Mongolian branch of MIAT (Mongolian Airlines) since no non-specialized U.S. travel agent was completely sure they could issue me a ticket on MIAT. It was a steep $409 including tax one-way, which was cheaper than any other agent in the U.S. quoted me. Flying to Mongolia from Beijing is cheaper, but I’ve gone over my reasons for not doing that. Buying the ticket in South Korea would be cheaper still, but I’m not going to risk booking a few days in advance in the height of tourist season leading up to a monumental festival.
I have been working out a rough estimate of my route and how long I will stay in each country. This has helped me plan for my initial flights and for reserving a hostel bed in Mongolia. One of the hostels I contacted was already full during July so I felt it prudent to book as soon as possible. I have a reservation for when I arrive and Naadam. In-between I should be out exploring the country on a camel, horse or beaten up Russian Jeep.
One issue I have been struggling with is visas–mainly for Central Asia. Those countries can be expensive to enter and require up to a week to issue a visa. But I can’t get all of those visas in advance because I am required to specify the dates my visa will be valid. I can enter any time after the date I specify, but I can not stay longer than 30 days after the originally specified date. Because of this, if my schedule is thrown off I could miss out on half of my visa dates. Most people, including the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) embassy in Washington, suggest I get my visa in Beijing. The problem is I’m not going to Beijing! If all goes to plan I will take some form of transport from the Mongolian border to Hohhot, China (Inner Mongolia). From there I can catch a 24+ hour train West to the Xinjiang province. Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, has a number of embassies and I’ve heard inconsistent reports of the possibility of obtaining a Kyrgyz visa there. At the moment I have three different people keeping an eye out for me in Urumqi to see if it’s possible, how long it will take, and what days of the week I can apply.
On the other hand, I would rather not spend 7 days in Urumqi (which is not known for being a pleasant place to spend your time) waiting for the visa to be issued. Now that I have a plan I am reconsidering applying for the Kyrgyz visa in Washington. However, I need to be mindful to get it after already receiving my Chinese visa or else they will know I am going to the Xinjiang Province, which could cause problems.
If you’re curious, I am posting my rough route below. It’s nicely color-coded since I’m a very visual person. After India I would like to go to Africa, but I haven’t worked out how I can go there at the time I want and avoid the torrential rains.