The Irkeshtam pass is the easy border crossing between Kyrgyzstan (Osh – Sary Tash) and China (Kashgar), and really, it’s not that easy (the landscape is spectacular though). The other border crossing from Kyrgyzstan into China is the Torugart pass. Tajikistan’s crossing with China, the Qolma Pass, is another nearby option.
Many people manage to cross between Kashgar and Osh in one long day, but it is not certain, so stock up on food (there are some dining options at the border, though). The Irkeshtam pass is busy year-round. An early start is recommended.
Opening hours and border closures
The border operates year-round, but with long closures during Chinese and Kyrgyz public holidays. We recommend you read up about Chinese border closures. For a summary of other issues facing travelers, both at the border and once in Xinjiang, see our Xinjiang travel guide.
The Kyrgyz checkpoint at the pass operates officially from 9am to 11am and 2pm to 6pm, Monday to Friday, but it is said they let people in round the clock.
The Chinese borders – the Ulugqat one as well as the factual one – work from 10:00 to 19:45 with a break from 13:00 to 16:00. Note that the hours on the Chinese side are in Beijing time, not Xinjiang time. It’s the summer schedule, and the winter one differs a little bit.
In China, the new immigration checkpoint is 143km inland at Wuqia/Uluqqat 乌恰. A map showing the correct immigration building (use satellite imagery and ignore the route, which is offset quite a bit as Chinese maps tend to be). The immigration building is called customs clearance area / 口岸 / kou an. All your documents and luggage are checked at the actual border. The process of passport checks seems to have been streamlined now, so there is less time-wasting, but from the mountain top border to Wuqia, several checks to show your passport are normal. Guards are generally friendly on both sides.
The whole road from Osh to Kashgar has been rebuilt in 2013 and is in a good state. You can exchange RMB into som or US$ and vice versa at the border.
Hide your knife well, or it will be confiscated.
If you do not have your own wheels, a shared taxi is the best way to go. There aren’t many options, really.
The flight between Kashgar and Bishkek by Air Manas has been cancelled. The Osh-Kashgar direct bus has been discontinued as well. Updates welcome in the Osh-Kashgar bus forum topic.
If you do have your own car: we gather self-drive crossing reports at the Irkeshtam self-driving forum thread.
From Kyrgyzstan to China
Osh to Irkeshtam takes 4 hours by car, add another 2 hours if you are taking the bus to Sary Tash and hitchhiking to the border. Sary Tash is not a place we recommend to spend a lot of time. Either go to the Sary Mogol area or start early and get to Kashgar in 1 day.
After the first checkpoint on the Chinese side of the border, there is an extra checkpoint at Uluqqat, the main immigration point since December 2011. It is closed from 12am to 4pm! After that, many, many more checkpoints!
Private transport is available through travel agents or shared taxis. Alternatively, finding a ride from Sary Tash early in the morning is not difficult. In this case, you will be put on a truck after the border onwards to the immigration service at Uluqqat, or you will be forced to take a taxi for 100 RMB per person.
A bus from Osh leaves daily for Sary Tash for 250som (not in winter). The bus continues to Sary Mogol. It is easy to hitchhike from Sary Tash to the old Chinese immigration. Between the old and new Chinese borders you are only allowed to take organized taxis.
Between Osh and Sary Tash you can also get 4WD taxis for 400 som per seat.
From China to Kyrgyzstan
Kashgar – Osh will take a whole day, start early enough in Kashgar to arrive before the lunch break at Wuqia (12 to 16!). By taxi is much cheaper, quicker and more comfortable than by bus. There are a lot of passport checks on the way.
In winter, you may not find enough other tourists to share the costs of transport, so budget something extra in case that happens, or be prepared to wait in the cold.
Kashgar – Wuqia/Ulugqat: Leaves from local long distance bus station (喀什汽车客运站) near the train station. Do NOT confuse it with the international bus station, which is in the middle of nowhere. You simply buy a seat on a shared taxi to Wuqia at the ticket counter for 33 yuan. Before 9am Beijing time the place is dead. 1,5h drive to the center of Wuqia 乌恰 (ulugqat). Center of Wuqia to customs (it’s really far from the center): taxi costs 30 RMB. Customs in Chinese is 口岸 (kou an).
Foreigners cannot share rides with Han Chinese, you can only share with other foreigners. Alternatively, a taxi from Kashgar straight to customs: 150-200 RMB.
At the immigration, you need to get in a car to Kyrgyz immigration: 400 RMB for the whole car, which can be split amongst 4 passengers (100RMB/passenger). It’s 2 hours to the Kyrgyz border (there is a canteen if you need to wait). Once you clear all the passport checks, you need to catch a transport towards Sary Tash or Osh. Wait for a free lift or pay for a seat in a shared taxi (100 yuan/1000 som/15$ to Sary Tash, 200 yuan/2000 som/ 30$ to Osh). You will arrive in Osh in the evening 7-10pm.
September 2017: the bus has been discontinued until further notice.
Previously, tickets could be bought 3 days in advance from the international bus station: 570 yuan/90$ one way. The beds were tiny, there was no heating in winter. You arrived in the dead of night. The bus was crappy, packed, and everyone ignored bed/seat allocations. No toilet, no hot water. No food.
Accommodation, food and currency exchange
There is a hotel in Wuqia near the bus stop if you arrive late. There is also a hotel in Umqia. Reviews are welcome.
In Sary Tash, you can find plenty of accommodation. There is a small guest house and cafe in Irkeshtam next to the Kyrgyz check point where one can spend the night.
The only place to stay in Irkeshtam is a super dingy hotel without running water for 200 som/night, or you can stay in a container for 100 som. It reeks of frying oil and is frequented by night owl truckers who have drunken conversations that continue late into the night. It at least has an outlet to charge your phone. The upside to staying in Irkeshtam is that you can be the first to cross the border to avoid the Beijing Time lunch.
At the border control, there is now food being served on both sides (the chicken gets good reviews). There is also a mini market on the Chinese side to spend your last RMB. Money exchange is there as well.
There is no currency exchange until Ulugqat (not even in Irkeshtam). Turn right just after the final passport check in Uluqqat which is located just before an intersection, then pick one of the small convenience stores on your right, they will exchange Som and Dollar.
Cycling Irkeshtam Pass
Petrol for a fuel stove (benzin) can be bought in a small village in Kyrgyzstan a few km before the border (in Xinjiang this is difficult to come by). All updates in the cycling Irkeshtam forum topic.
Once past the Chinese border, you cannot cycle until Uluqqat. A taxi to Uluqqat for you and your bicycles costs 300-400 yuan.
To get into Kyrgyzstan from somewhere else, see the other Kyrgyz border crossings.