Crossing borders in western China can be long as there are no easy routes out of the country. I got to Urumqi and had planned to see more of Xinjiang but I had enough of China by this point and decided to leave for Kazakhstan. I had read online that the easiest way to get to Almaty from Urumqi was the Alashankou/Druzhba border crossing. There was a few tickets left for the sleeper train from Uqumqi so I decided to try that and see what happens.
There isn’t much information online about getting to Almaty via the Alashankou/Druzhba. Hopefully this should help some people out in future. It’s cheaper than any of the alternatives, but it may take a long time.
Getting to the Chinese/Kazakhstan border
The train 5801 from Urumqi left at 22:36, costs 176rmb and takes about 9 hours. With little sleep for the past 5 days I got on the train, passed out and woke up to a sleepy Chinese/Kazakh town at 07:30.
Nobody seemed to know how to cross the border, nor did they speak any English which was frustrating. I guess they didn’t understand what I was trying to ask. Eventually I got into a taxi, said Kazakhstan in a Chinese accent and he dropped me of at a half built building. It didn’t open until like 08:30 so I had plenty of time to stock up on supplies ad eat some bad Chinese breakfast.
Getting into Kazakhstan
Busses from the border bus station in Alashankou leave at 10:30. This is an issue as it will take a long time to cross the border. It took me 4 hours to cross the border and as a result, I missed the only direct train to Almaty. I had a lot of issues leaving China from Xinjiang. I had expected to grill me about that and the muslim country stamps in my passport but it was worse. They thought I was someone else.
After questioning they must have still thought that I was dodgy and used some software to scan my face. I looked at their computer and it came back with a match!! Their attitude changed and they started asking me questions in some language. The language didn’t sound Russian or Chinese so maybe it was the local Uighur language. My blank expression and saying that I don’t speak Russian must have convinced them it wasn’t me. I guess there’s a Chinese man out there that looks like me.
Leaving China took forever with so many searches and passport checks. Once on the Kazakh side it was much faster, much more like a normal border crossing. In total it took about 4 hours (and 50 RMB) to go from one bus station to the other. Don’t forget the 2 hour time change from Beijing time to Astana time.
Druzhba Достық to Almaty Алма-Ата
There are trains form Druzhba railway station direct to Almaty but there is only one a day and not every day. Do your research and get a taxi across the border from the Chinese side to maximise the possibility of getting the train.
I missed the Almaty train so I can not give any information, but I did take the alternative and much slower route. The train station had a board with the train times which may be helpful.
The only train for that day was to a city called Aktogay Ақтоғай. I had checked the train route on rome2rio before leaving China and it said the train goes through there. The train ended up being a super cramped, busy and hot 6 hour journey, but only £2. By the time I got into Aktogay it was 21:30 and I was expecting to have to find a hotel for the night. Luckily there were trains.
Aktogay is a small mining city but it is along the main route between Almaty and Astana so a lot of trains stop there. There was an express sleeper train that got into Almaty at 10:00. Perfect!! It cost 5 times more than the normal train but at £12 I was happy to pay more. Again, I got onto the sleeper train and passed out, waking up just outside Almaty.
A long journey
Crossing the border from Alashankou/Druzhba is the cheapest option from what I found. You could take the 30 hour sleeper bus or the 24 hour direct traing but they are always full in summer and cost $100+.
If you do this journey then you should do your research and make sure that you can get that direct train to Almaty from Druzhba. My journey via Aktogay was interesting, I met some cool people but it was very long.
For anybody interested in taking the journey then here is a break down of the prices.
- 176rmb (£20) for soft sleeper to the border
- 50rmb (£5.70) for the bus across the border
- 1097 KZT (£2.50) for the train to Aktogay
- 9151 KZT (£21.50) for the sleeper train to Almaty
Total cost was under £50 or $64. Currency rates are from Google and correct as of 13th of July 2017.
If you can get the direct train from Druzhba to Almaty then it will work out cheaper. I would have asked how mich the direct train costs but nobody spoke any English. If anybody knows then please message me and I will update the post.