Land border crossings
To/from China - Few hassles from officialdom are reported these days at either Khorgos (the main road crossing) or Dostyk (the rail crossing), though waits can be long. From Almaty’s Sayran bus station, sleeper buses are scheduled to Urumqi (24 hours) at 7am daily except Sunday, and buses to Yining (12 hours), about 100km from the border, at 7am Wednesday and Saturday. Departures are not always reliable, however. An alternative is to take a bus or minibus to Zharkent, 40km before Khorgos, then a taxi or minibus to the border, and a taxi from there to Urumqi. The crossing is usually crammed with Kazakh and Uyghur families and traders with vast amounts of baggage. If you’re coming from Urumqi, note that the bus tickets are not sold at the bus station there, but in the Bian Jiang Bing Guan hotel in the southern part of Urumqi. The Zhibek Zholy (Silk Road) train departs Almaty-II station for Urumqi at 10.59pm Saturday (a Kazakh train) and Monday (a Chinese train). It’s scheduled to take 30 hours, crossing the border at Dostyk (Druzhba). Kupeyny (2nd-class couchette). The return train gets into Almaty-II at 5.58am Monday and Wednesday. The trains have restaurant cars but it makes sense to bring some of your own food and drink too. At Dostyk, you have to wait several hours while the train bogies are changed and customs checks take place. The train toilets are locked during this time except for the 20-minute dash between the Kazakhstan and China border posts: get in line early for this! The trains can get fully booked two weeks in advance. From Almaty the Monday train is particularly popular and tickets on free sale are rare. You can save trouble by booking through our travel agency. The international ticket office at Almaty-II opens from 8am to 1pm and 2pm to 7pm. You may have to show a Chinese visa when buying a ticket. From Ust-Kamenogorsk in eastern Kazakhstan, there are buses to Urumqi and the Chinese town of Altay.
To/from Kyrgyzstan - Official Kazakh–Kyrgyz border crossings are largely hassle-free. Seven daily buses and a similar number of minibuses, as well as shared taxis, make the four- to five-hour run to Bishkek from Almaty’s Sayran bus station, crossing the border at Korday. There are also overnight buses all the way to Cholpon-Ata and Karakol from Sayran, and minibuses to Bishkek from Taraz. No public transport makes the Karkara valley crossing, south of Kegen, Kazakhstan, and east of Tup and Ken-Suu, Kyrgyzstan, but from about April to October you can get through by a combination of hitching, taxi and patience. Trekkers and mountain bikers making the haul across the mountains between Almaty and Lake Issyk-Kul should note that there is no official crossing point so it’s impossible to get a passport stamp. Consult a trekking agency before setting off.
To/from Russia - All main Kazakhstan cities have train service to and from Moscow, daily or every two days. ‘Fast’ train No 7/8 takes 80 hours between Moscow’s Paveletsky station and Almaty, running every two days via Saratov, Aktobe, Aralsk, Turkistan, Shymkent and Taraz. Many Kazakh cities also have trains to and from Siberian cities. Train No 325/326, every two days, takes 40 hours along the ‘Turksib’ line between Novosibirsk and Almaty, via Semey. Several other lines enter northern Kazakhstan from Russia and meet at Astana. Daily trains from Moscow’s Kazansky station to Astana take 55 to 58 hours. There are many road crossings between Kazakhstan and Russia. Bus services, and in some cases shared taxis, link cities within striking distance of the border.
To/from Turkmenistan - There is a remote border point 200km south of Zhanaozen, which is a two-hour marshrutka ride east of Aktau. From the border it’s 50km south to the Turkmen town of Bekdash and a further 200km to Turkmenbashi. The roads are very rough for about 50km each side of the border. There’s no public transport from either side. Vehicle queues at the border can be long.
To/from Uzbekistan - There are occasional tales of Kazakhstan officials on the Uzbek border attempting to extract bribes, but if all your papers are 100% in order you shouldn’t have any problems. Shymkent to Yallama by public transport requires a marshrutka from Samal bus station to Abay, another marshrutka to Kyzylasker, then a taxi for the last 25km to the border – about five hours all up. You might get a taxi the whole way. Coming from the border to Shymkent you may also have to change marshrutkas at Saryagash, between Abay and Shymkent. The railway border at Saryagash, a few kilometres north of Tashkent, is crossed by nine trains each way per week. Seven of these head to Tashkent from Russia via Aktobe, Aralsk and Turkistan. Train No 321 from Almaty to Nukus, via Taraz, Shymkent, Tashkent and Samarkand, runs once a week, starting out on Sunday. Another road and rail crossing exists between Beyneu, western Kazakhstan, and Kungrad, Uzbekistan. From Beyneu to about 130km before Kungrad, the road is little used, unpaved, and almost nonexistent in parts, but the crossing is hassle free. Daily trains run from Beyneu to Kungrad (10 hours; immigration is done on the train); many of them come from Atyrau having started in Russia, and continue to Urgench, Samarkand or Tashkent.
Chernyaevka Get on a minibus from Shymkent's Autovokzal (bus station) Samal (Bus 69 from town centre). 600 Tenge (USD3.50). Ask for Chernyaevka (Jibek Joly / Gisht Kuprik).
It's a 3 hour ride, slightly less if traffic conditions are good. But the roads are pretty dire. Drop-off is right in front of the Kazakh immigration building. Get through a couple of cursory checks. Make sure you have registered yourself with the migration police if you've crossed into Kazakhstan via a land border and have stayed for more than 5 days. The process is hassle free and will take you less than an hour. From Chernayevka there are a lot of shared taxis that will take you to Tashkent (40 min ride)