Wow, I can’t believe it’s over! Nearly 5 months of overland travel from China, through Mongolia, Russia, The Stans and Iran. What a trip! Even though we knew this journey would be intrepid, we could have never imagined just how adventurous it would be. We had some ups and some downs along the way, but our Central Asia Trip will go down as our most epic one yet.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 2.25.18 PM

So What Did We Do?

Well we started in Beijing where we took the Trans-Mongolian train through the Gobi Desert, over the rolling green hills of the Steppe and into Ulan-Bator, Mongolia’s strange capital. We have always dreamed of taking that train and we’ve wanted to go to Mongolia since our first trip ended in 2009. Traveling Mongolia lived up to our expectations – and in fact, it exceeded them.

trans mongolian train ride
The K3 Trans-Mongolian Train

VIDEO: Taking The Trans-Mongolian Train

From Ulan-Bator, we hired a 4×4 and driver, and along with 4 new friends, we headed out into the vast emptiness of the Mongolian Desert. We rode camels, watched the sun set over the dunes, drank fermented mare’s milk, and searched for dinosaur bones.

sand dunes gobi desert
The sand dunes of the Gobi Desert

After 6 days in the desert we returned to Ulan Bator, only to take off again on the most adventurous journey of our lives. Armed with nothing more than a topographical map, fishing supplies, food and backpacks, we headed to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

Together, following a route we plotted on Google Maps, we trekked along the river for 8 days and over 200 km with no guide and no help. We met local nomadic families who had never seen foreigners before, and they brought us gifts almost every day. Despite the rain, blisters, sore muscles and frustration, this was probably the best thing we’ve ever done in travel and we are very proud that we completed it on our own.

Trekking Mongolia
Enjoying Some Long Awaited Sunshine On Our Trek

On To Russia!

From Mongolia we hopped on another world-famous train, the Trans-Siberian railway. We made our way to Lake Baikal where we swam, explored beautiful Olkhon Island and camped on the shores of the crystal clear lake.

Backpacking Olkhon Island
Waiting To Board The Ferry To Olkhon Island
VIDEO: Olkhon Island: A Piece Of Paradise In Russia 

Next Was The Home Of Borat

We then got back on the train and crossed Siberia before cutting down into Kazakhstan, our first of many Stans. Here we explored the country’s current and former capitals – Astana and Almaty. The ultra modern buildings in Astana were some of the coolest we’ve seen and the outdoors of Almaty were a breath of fresh air. We met some great Kazakh people who we still keep in contact with today.

Outstanding Kyrgyzstan

From Kazakhstan we took a minibus into Kyrgyzstan which was probably our favourite Stan of all (Why? Click Here). In Kyrgyzstan, we hired a guide and some horses and embarked on a 3 day trek to Song-Kol lake. It was easy on a horse, but our trek to Altyn Arashan on foot was one of the most difficult high altitude treks we’ve done to date.

We slept in yurts, ate copious amounts of mutton and learned an incredible amount about Kyrgyz culture and customs. Traveling Kyrgyzstan was an adventure we’ll never forget.

Horse trekking kyrgyzstan

VIDEOS: Horse Trekking To Song-Kol Lake Kyrgyzstan & Trekking Ala-Kol & Altyn Arashan

Then Was The Epic Road Trip In Tajikistan

We made our way to the city of Osh in the south of Kyrgyzstan where we met up with our now good friends Jason (England) and Jessica (Germany). The 4 of us hired a landcruiser and driver to take us on the region’s most famed road trip, The Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. We spent 2 weeks with our new friends and we finished off this unforgettable journey with a helicopter ride over the mountains which took us back to the nation’s capital of Dushanbe.

parmir highway


Travelling The Pamir Highway Pt.1

Travelling The Pamir Highway Pt.2

Travelling The Pamir Highway Pt.3

Travelling The Pamir Highway Pt.4

Helicopter Ride Over The Pamir Mountains

On To The Unforgettable Architecture Of Uzbekistan

After recharging and eating the best Indian food the world has to offer in Dushanbe, we took a shared taxi to Uzbekistan. The old cities and aging architecture of this Stan were worth the trip alone. We’ve never seen such ancient beauty as we did in cities like Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkhand. Wandering around old stone streets with enormous mosques and mausoleums towering above us, was a time-warp feel that we will never forget. We absolutely loved Uzbekistan.

When we felt that we were finished gawking at massive buildings, we transited through Turkmenistan for 4 days and entered a country we’ve been waiting to visit for a long time… Iran.

Iran, A Highlight In Itself

The reputation that Iran has in the media was immediately proven false, while the reputation it has with travellers who have been there proved correct. Iran will go down as one of the most fascinating countries we’ve ever had the opportunity to see. The people were friendly, the streets were unbelievably safe and the sites were absolutely breath-taking.

Imam Reza Shrine

The best experience we had while backpacking Iran, and probably one of the best in all of our travels, was meeting our Iranian friends Soroush & Mehsa. The generosity and kindness they showed us was both humbling and enduring and we hope to always remain in contact with our two friends from Esfahan.

They showed us more than just their home and their city. They showed us just how hospitable the Iranian people can be and they gave us a real insight into the life of an Iranian family. Soroush & Mehsa if you’re reading this, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


This trip was all about the great outdoors and the people we met along the way. We’ve never been in a region where we felt so welcomed. The local people were always genuinely interested in us and our lives, and almost never expected money or business from us. The trip wasn’t without its downsides though. We had some difficulty with weather for the first 6 weeks when heavy rains came almost every day. We became frustrated at times with the transportation and visa procedures and we had $1,500 USD stolen from us in the Pamir Mountains.

zong kol lake trek

But when we look back on the trip, we see it as a life changing adventure that really encompassed everything we love about travel. It’s these types of challenges that keep travel interesting and we are grateful to have been able to take such an amazing trip, and to have met such wonderful people.

For anyone who plans to visit Mongolia, The Stans or Iran, get ready for an expedition that will test your limits of travel, while confirming why you do it in the first place. We know now more than ever, that the road is where we want to be. Our planet is a limitless land of wonder, just waiting to be explored. Central Asia showed us a world of unparalleled beauty and re-ignited our lust for the undiscovered.

Thank-you Central Asia.

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A 5 Month Round Up- Highlights Of Our Journey Through The Least Touristed Region On Earth

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Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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45 thoughts on “A 5 Month Round Up of Central Asia & Iran: Highlights Of Our Journey Through The Least Touristed Region On Earth

  1. Love your videos! I hope to ride some more train systems in my future travels. Travel on!

  2. I really enjoyed following this journey of yours, guys. I’m kinda sad to see it over! So glad you enjoyed it, despite the difficulties you had.

  3. It´s not over, that was the end of a chapter, not the end of the story. I´m excited to see what comes next 🙂

  4. Thanks Angela!
    Travelling by train is really fun. Not only can you wander around and meet new people, but you can see the country from a different perspective. Normally you would fly over the areas that you are now seeing from a land view.

    Thank you for the comment 🙂

  5. Hey Sam,

    You were probably our top commenter on this journey! Thanks again for your support.

    Happy travels 🙂

  6. What an amazing 5 months! We recently did the Stans and had a great time, and totally agree that the people were wonderful but the visas were a total pain — and an expensive one! We didn’t make it to Mongolia, but reading your blog reaffirms that we will have to visit in the future! Your 8-day unguided trek sounds like it was such an amazing experience! One of the reasons we were hesitant about Mongolia was that we heard it was hard to get off of the beaten path/travel without a tour group.

  7. We would definitely recommend Mongolia to you. Sure, the Gobi Desert and visiting the Reindeer Tribes in the north requires you to most likely have a guide, but there are many, many things you can do there independently. The only time we took a guide and driver ws for the Gobi Desert because there was no other option.

    Mongolia is vast and amazing. Having your own vehicle would be great!

    Happy travels 🙂

  8. what an amazing and epic 5 months! That truly is a trip of a lifetime, loved being able to follow along with you! Now onto the next epic adventure! 🙂

  9. Guys – loving the blog! Discovered you when researching Mozambique…really enjoyed reading your guide to the country and advice – so very useful – thanks for that! Been planning to do dive master training for a while, and hoping to do a 3mth training at Tofo – your enthusiastic comments wrt Tofo and the country are certainly helping to convince me that’s the place to do it!
    Really interested to see your article on house sitting too.
    I’ve been travelling most of the past 2yrs and at the same time trying to make some sort of a film about the early months (I very much relate to your comments about slowing down the travel pace and enjoying more these days) – where I drove an ambulance from London to a hospital in Tajikistan, then a small car over the Pamirs and onto to Ulaanbaatar (have made a 2min promo of this section password: Maestro1), and then took the train to Beijing (hence fascinated to see this blog). Left it a bit late in the year and nearly froze my ass off across Mongolia! Amazing part of the world, highlights everywhere, but the friendliness of the Iranian people really blew my mind.
    Best of luck with your next adventure. Keep going and keep inspiring 🙂
    I look forward to following you on here!

  10. Thanks Hank. It was definitely epic! We had a great time.

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

  11. Wow Jerry!

    I can’t believe you drove an ambulance that far…haha, that’s crazy! I love how far you travelled by land though, well done. Isn’t that part of the world fascinating/crazy?

    I just took a look at your video, it’s unbelievable. I absolutely love the music, the clips you took are gorgeous as well. You truly captured the essence of that region. It really brought me back to our journey there.

    Thanks so much for commenting on our site. Good luck with becoming a Dive Master! That’s very exciting.

    All the best to you 🙂 Happy Travels.

  12. Great roundup! Really enjoyed reading your Central Asia series. So what’s next?

    By the way, am curious where you took that pic of the mosque looking building in Iran? Where was that?

  13. Thanks so much! Next up is Mexico (2 days!) for about 3 months and then on to a house sitting job in the Caribbean 🙂 Can’t wait. That photo was taken in the city of Kerman.

    Thanks a lot for the comment! Happy Travels to you.

  14. Wow what an amazing trip! I just came across your site, and I’m so glad I did! I spent a couple of months in Iran many years ago, and it was easily one of the best times of my life 🙂 And Isn’t the Pamir Highway incredible?!?! Thank you so much for writing and sharing your experiences – it makes me want to do it all again!!!

  15. What an amazing adventure you two had! We can’t imagine trekking Mongolia on one’s own. And it was great to hear of your experiences in Iran. It’s going to be hard to do “normal” for a while…

  16. Hey Tim! Glad we could help you to reminisce about your time in such an incredible region 🙂 And yes, the Pamir Highway is incredible!!


  17. Hey Guys, thanks for following our journey 🙂 It was a bit weird coming back to Canada for 1.5 months, but now we’re on the road again and all feels “normal”!

    Cheers and Happy Travels.

  18. I looked up Astana immediately and you´re absolutely right — it´s breathtaking and, honestly, it was a big surprise to me. It´s almost like a mirage in a flat, empty expanse of grassland that is Kazachstan´s steppe. .Science fiction-like skyline!

  19. Definitely! It seems out of place with the rest of the country. Very interesting and cool to see, but we really liked the outdoors of Almaty more 🙂

    Thanks for the comment.

  20. We loved following your trip! Very informative and entertaining as always 🙂 we have a very similar travel style to you guys and would like to do a really similar trip. What was your budget for the trip incl visas, transport etc? And did you think 5 months was long enough/too short/too long?

  21. Thanks Katherine 🙂

    I felt like 5 months was a good amount of time. We probably could’ve done with about 2 weeks more though, to add a bit more time to Uzbek and Russia. A month in Iran and Mongolia was a good amount of time, as was 3 weeks in both Tajik and Kyrgyz. We still need to figure out exactly how much we spent on our trip…we had some $ stolen and it was really hard to keep track of spending due to having to use USD in most places. But, from what we do have recorded, we figure we spent about $80/day on average for the both of us. That includes visas, but not the Trans-Mongolian/Siberian train journey.

    Hope this helps! We plan to get some information on our site re: budgets soon! Check out the recent Guides we’ve done as well:

    Cheers 🙂

  22. Hello
    We are planning a trip in the Almaty’s surroundings. Can we actually walk around the Big Almaty Lake ? Is there a path or you can just go – see it- and turn around ? We are a family with children and we cannot really do big hikes.
    Thank you .

  23. Hi Simona,

    When we were there, there was a guard watching the lake. You can’t walk around it. There are some smaller walks though that you can do to different view points. Either way, it’s worth driving up to see! It’s a lovely day trip and a nice lake.


  24. Wow that is quite the journey! So amazing. I’d love to do the trans-Siberian/Mongolian trip (someday for sure). I was just in Moscow and Sochi earlier this year for the Olympics. Russia is such a fascinating country but visiting some of the ‘Stans would be fantastic.

  25. Wow! That would have been amazing to be in Russia during the Olympics 🙂 Central Asia is such a fascinating area of the world!

  26. Beautiful images you made there, after watching the pics I realized that I need some serious resources to go there, and I think I can only go alone without kids.
    I hope some day I find time and resources to check these places.

  27. I hope so too 🙂 It’s a very interesting part of the world. Although I believe that anything can be done with children, Central Asia would be quite difficult to travel through with little ones.

  28. Wow, I loved this piece. I recently had a taster of the region on my trip to Uzbekistan. But I only had 2.5 weeks to explore the country. I met a couple who had just visited Iran and they said it was truly an amazing experience so when the visa requirements are relaxed for us UK citizens I shall be visiting.

  29. Thanks Jon! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Uzbekistan, the architecture there is incredible!


  30. Hey! Love your blog! Just wondering what dates you were in the Stans. We are planning to go the end of August and were wondering if we have enough time to visit all of them before it gets too cold. Thanks!

  31. Hi Yana,

    We arrived in Kazakhstan on August 25th, and we were leaving Turkmenistan by November 3rd (I believe) Somewhere around there. We visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The weather was perfect.


  32. Hi, I will be venturing to the central Asia soon inspired by you guys, Alesha and Jarryd. I found the article to be very useful and insightful! Keep sharing your experiences ! 🙂

  33. How did you get visas? I taught in Ulan-Batar and honestly I hated the city. I think I would have enjoyed the country more if I had out in the steppes.

  34. Hi Heidi,

    We got our visas in various places. While in China we got Mongolia and Russia and Kazakhstan. While in Kazakhstan, we got Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan is visa-free, and for Uzbekistan and IRan, we got them while in Tajikistan 🙂

    UB isn’t the greatest city, that’s for sure. Mongolia is all about the nature and the steppe!

  35. Love your blog. great inspiration 🙂 I am planning similar trip this year and I wanted to ask you following: when did you start your 5 month trip and how many days did you spend in each country and how many days (+/-) you feel you could have added/skipped? much appreciated! keep up the great work 😀

  36. Hi Julien,

    This is definitely an amazing part of the world – not to be missed! We spent 1 month in Mongolia, 8 days in Russia, 3.5 weeks in Kyrgyzstan, 3.5 weeks in Tajikistan, 3 days in Turkmenistan, a month in Iran and 10 days in Uzbekistan I think. Something like that! We started in Mongolia in July. I wouldn’t have changed anything 🙂


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