I have had the name card of Mr. Abdul Wahab's Old Road Tours in my Silk Road guidebook for a number of years. A friend of mine had used the company to arrange her trip to Xinjiang and highly recommended the agency for local guides and good local knowledge. When we finally decided on our trip to Xinjiang in the winter of 2015, I dug out the card. As we were planning, I read Josh Summers' e-book Xinjiang: A Traveler's Guide to Far West China and he also recommended Old Road Tours.
So I didn't look further when we began to arrange our travel to Xinjiang.
Old Road Tours Agency
The agency itself is run by Mr. Abdul Wahab and his brothers in Kashgar. All are highly educated and specialize in a number of languages including English, French, German, Russian, Mandarin, and Uyghur. They are dedicated to educating visitors about the beauty of the Uyghur culture and therefore you can guarantee an "authentic" experience when you use the agency.
We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Wahab and his family. I had hoped my kids could interact with Uyghur children by visiting a school or similar but we were traveling over a school holiday. But knowing my desire for our kids to have a rich experience, Mr. Wahab invited us all to his home for a traditional Uighur dinner. This was really special for us. Our kids played really happily together and we had a great time chatting with Mr. Wahab, his wife and extended family and learning more about living in Kashgar.
Deciding the Itinerary
Typically when you hire a travel agent in China, you discuss for weeks (at least, if not months) your itinerary and after you get things ironed out, you sign a contract and make a deposit. This was the case with Old Road Tours.
We began discussions about our itinerary in May for our trip in October 2015.
There was a lot of back and forth. While we had our dates nailed down, we weren't exactly sure where to begin and end our trip or where to stay. We ended up cutting out an entire section of the trip (we wanted to go to Hotan in Southern Xinjiang) once we understood better the distances and ended up with Kashgar and the Karakoram Highway for the first part of the trip and then Urumqi and Turpan for the second part of the trip.
It was difficult to make the decision to cut a whole section but we were traveling with children and with the long distances, decided it was better to focus on two places rather than waste whole travel days just to say we've been to one other place. (I'll need a second trip!)
In general, you can leave everything to Abdul's team and they will make recommendations and you can follow. Or, if you are like me, I did my research in advance and only needed them to help me figure out how to best see everything on my list and how best to put it all together. I had already researched hotels, as well, though I wanted to hear their recommendations. So with booking, you can be as hands-on or hands-off as you're comfortable with.
Once we finalized the itinerary, Abdul's team made hotel recommendations.
On this, we had some back and forth on room requirements (they recommended two rooms per family but we decided, as our children are quite young, that one room per family with extra beds would be OK). Their hotel property recommendations generally matched my research so we had them book the hotels, assuming that they'd get a better rate as a travel company.
After all bookings were made and agreed upon, we made a deposit of 50%. This is a generally accepted practice (some agents require a down payment, some require payment in full). The final payment was due once we arrived.
I made the mistake of planning to pay the final payment in cash on arrival in order to avoid the 1% fee on card transactions but this was a mistake. Getting enough cash out of the ATMs in Kashgar was not easy. I advise paying by bank transfer in advance of your trip or by card on arrival.
Old Road Tours Guides
We had two different guides during our trip. Ali, a native of Kashgar, met us in Kashgar and was our guide throughout our trip in the region. Ahmed, from Urumqi, was our guide for Urumqi and Turpan.
Whenever possible I try to use local agents for wherever I'm going because they offer local expertise. Large agencies that are based out of big cities who offer tours all over China can be very good, of course, and I've used many, but they do not have the same dedication that a local agency has. What I really liked about the Old Road Tours guides is how well we felt they took care of us. Their job, of course, is to lead us based on the itinerary. But there were several instances where circumstances led us to ask for a change in itinerary and both Ali and Ahmed were not only receptive to these changes, they recommended them in some cases, making our tour even more enjoyable.
Both guides are Uyghur and welcomed our questions and interest about their culture. We felt they did their best to show us the highlights of their regions respectively. As an example of the unplanned surprises that make a good tour memorable, on the way to the Turpan museum, Ahmed called us over across the street where a vendor was making fresh lamb dumplings. Cooked inside a large oven similar to a tandoor, the dumplings were about to be ready and a large crowd had gathered.
Ahmed told his that the cook was an old friend and was able to procure a few of the dumplings for us to try. We were all reluctant saying we could all share a few between us. But after devouring the few, Ahmed happily risked the wrath of the waiting crowd to get us more. Standing in the crisp morning sun on a street corner eating delicious meat dumplings with a crowd of locals is probably one of the things we'll all remember most about Turpan. And this wouldn't have happened if Ahmed hadn't decided to delay entry into the museum.
Old Road Tours - Pricing
I didn't do a lot of comparison shopping with this agency. Because they came highly recommended and they met my standard of a local agency, we felt comfortable using them. I did compare their quoted pricing on other similar tours I've done and found it roughly compatible.
While it is common in the travel industry for writers to be provided with free services, this review is based on the writer's experience without discount, at her own cost.
Old Road Tours Contact
I would certainly recommend using Old Road Tours for visiting Xinjiang.