Problems with our route – advice needed !!!

We have been thinking about cycling from Sweden to Thailand for a couple of years now. The decision to go was taken in the late summer of 2012 and since then we have been busy planning everything.

Initially we had four different routes. Two of them were through Russia, one was through Ukraine and over the Caucasian mountain range and into Iran. The last option was through central Europe and then through Turkey and Iran before entering central Asia.

As you understand we have had many discussions over our dinner table regarding which route to choose. We eventually ended up going for the route through Turkey and the reasons for that were:

  • start going south instead of east would mean reach spring quicker (we now know going south means going into winter…)
  • We felt we wanted to see Turkey and Iran more than Russia. In cycle touring circles those two countries are seen as nice countries to cycle in.

We have now run into a problem that we didn’t forsee. There will be a presidential election in Iran in June which is when we plan to cycle through that country.

A few weeks before we started to cycle I read rumours in various forums that visas won’t be granted for independant travel in Iran during the spring and summer. It was just rumours and we thought we will find out later. Now when it is time to start the visa application procedure we have checked and double checked too and the fact is that visas will not be granted for crossing the land border on your own. Flying in is OK, but cycle across the border will not be allowed.

We are happy we got to know it already now when there is still time to change the plan.

There are two alternative routes to choose between.

Route alternatives

Route alternatives

A – northern route
The northern route from Bucharest to Ukraine, Crimea and southern Russia and go around the northern end of the Caspian sea

B – southern route
The southern route from Bucharest to Istanbul and then through Turkey, Georgia to Baku in Azerbadjan. From Baku we will take a ferry across the Caspian sea to Aktau in Kazakstan and then go east and join the original route somewhere in Uzbekistan.


  • Northern route  – Will allow a visit to Crimea. Not as hot temperatures as the southern route.
  • Southern route – Corresponds to orginal route. Turkish and Georgian food and wines. More mountains!!!


  • Northern route – Hard to get a visa for Russia. Less interesting nature with too much steppe
  • Southern route – Long wait for unpredictable ferry crossing

For the time being our discussions is mostly about the southern route. It corresponds most to our planned route but the major drawback apart from missing out on Iran, is the very unpredictable ferry crossing. We can look forward to a lot of bureacrazy and up to two weeks wait until we can board the ferry that has no timetable.

A friend of ours who is a seasoned touring cyclist said ”it’s a no-brainer. Just look at the map and see where the mountains are. The more mountains the more interesting”.

When cycling to work or the grocery store one tends to avoid hills, but when cycling for training or for tourism as we do, mountains are always more interesting even if we get tired of them sometimes. A dead flat area can be really boring to ride on.

We have not made any final decision and we are all ears to listen to our followers opinions, so dear follower – please write a comment about what route we should choose and why… 🙂

22 thoughts on “Problems with our route – advice needed !!!

  1. Staffan Käll

    Joakim.All in for the soutern route.
    Varm and Nice Wester and same with the people i guess. Exiting and adventureous ferryride!

    1. admin Post author

      Warm weather is something we really look forward to.
      Seeing the complications around the ferry ride as an adventure rather than a problem would certainly create some ease of mind.

  2. Dennis

    Hmm. From a mental perspective I wote for RU. You will not be disturbed by the mountain views and will have more focus and time to still your mind.

  3. Mike

    I think you need to double check two things first:
    1. What’s the probability of getting a Russian Visa in your situation?
    2. How reliable is the ferry?

    1. admin Post author

      1 – We will get a russian visa. It can just be a little bit tricky.
      2 – The ferry is reliable as a ship, but it has no timetable and booking a ticket is complicated and up to the mood of the person in the ticket office.

  4. Jenny

    Hi guys
    My uncle and aunt lived in Kazakhstan for many years, during which time my parents went to visit. It sounds like a fascinating place, friendly people etc. Whether or not you decide to take the southern route because of the ferry would also depend on whether you are prepared to spend the time waiting for the ferry with it’s unpredictable timetable. Sometimes, when you are forced to stop and pause and wait for the world to be ready to help you on your way you enjoy other adventures.

    I vote for the southern route. Wishing you good luck and safe cycling.

    I imagine you have already seen these links:

  5. Jenny

    Hi guys.

    I vote for the southern route. My uncle and aunt lived in Kazakhstan for many years and loved it. My parents found it fascinating, friendly people. The ferry ride gamble will depend on whether or not you are prepared to spend the time waiting for the ferry, space and have funds to buy your way on board. But sometimes these sorts of obstacles are what makes for personal challenge – and certainly makes for good stories later on.

    I guess you have seen these links:

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Jenny,
      Thanks for your links. I have seen the one from the french family before.
      Two of the links describe crossing from Baku in Azerbadjan to Turkmenistan which is tricky from a visa perspective (we can only get a 5 day transit visa). Your third link is to the crossing between Baku and Aqtau in Kazakstan, which is the connection we will take if we go for the southern route. Getting a visa for Kazakstan instead of Turmenistan will be a lot easier.

      That french family you linked to actually called me when the passed our city a year or two ago. We are members of a hospitality network for cyclists and the contacted us, but unfortunately we were away and couldn’t host them.

      Great to hear that your uncle and auntie liked Kazakstan. Was it long ago they lived there?

  6. Pål

    Södra rutten, tycker jag! Hellre slappa och cykla runt Azerbadjan i väntan på färjan än att leka kosack på stäppen. Det får ni väl nog av så småningom?

    1. admin Post author

      Pål – erkänn att du hade glatts av att se bilder på oss lekandes stäppkosacker…. 🙂

  7. John Miller

    I vote for the southern route so that you can finally exit winter and start camping 🙂
    The best route is the route that is safest and most convenient for you!

    1. admin Post author

      True! Safety, convenience and lack of winter are all important aspects to consider.

    1. admin Post author

      I don’t think any of the top three cyclists in that race would be interested in doing the same thing to me so I’m not afraid…. 😉


    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for the link John,
      We are very alert on our and some other countries foreign ministries’ travel advices. We have fore example decided not to go through Russia’s border areas to Georgia which is not seen as a safe area. It would have been a super nice ride over the Caucasus but safety has to come first. We would also have liked to ride the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan, but decided not to for the same reason.

  8. Johannes

    Jag hade valt södra rutten. Till Baku och färja/båt till Türkmenbasy. Sen har ni 1300 km öken att passera på fem dagar. Har för mig att man bara får 5 dagars transit. Bästa alternativet är buss till Osbekistan eller Kazakstan.

    1. admin Post author

      Tack för din input.
      Det blir södra rutten, men troligtvis inte genom Turkmenistan. 1300 km på fem dagar skulle vi kanske klara på våra landsvägscyklar hemma men inte på våra lastade långfärdscyklar. Dessutom tror jag att Turkmenistan ser resdagen när man ankommer som dag 1 vilket gör att en cyklingsdag försvinner. Just nu lutar det åt färjan till Kazakstan, men vi har några veckor på oss att fundera.


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