After doing China in Autumn 2016 for 39 days: Travelling China is lavish and costly for foreigners in private trucks/cars. Chinese translation of driver license and car documents, Chinese car and personal insurance plus number plates and guide 24h/7days including transportation drive your cost.
FIA-Carnet de Passage not accepted, vehicle customs deposit at least 6.000€. Top agencies incur deposit. Tibet and Xinjiang public and military visitor permits plus detailed tour plan on daily basis including list of hotels mandatory. All that paper work requires 2 months before start.
Chinese Visa come comparatively fast but only in your home country requiring all the above plus a written invitation of a certified Chinese tour operator and a personal letter of motivation. Standard stay 30 days, you may argue for more.
Chinese tour operator is mandatory and develops an individual permit for route and schedule over full travel time on daily basis even including hotels. Operators ask for 8.000 – 20.000 € in total for a 2 cars/2 Pax each/40 days China transit to Laos, and about 3.000 € for 1 car/2 Pax/5 days for transit to Pakistan, both including car deposits.
There are 6 Chinese agencies accredited to host foreign overlanders as far as we know. We were happy with Adventuretours/Erlebnisreisen Tibet and their wonderful boss Shang, friendly, professional and cooperative, great English and even German. Special requests, schedule changes or rules and regulations: No problem at all.
In ourview a well-paid, friendly, cooperative and informed guide with his/her own ideas speaking good English is as important as a professional agency. We had 4 guides in total and we were happy with all of them. Be careful and treat your guide alike, otherwise he or she may simply be nothing but your annoying watchdog.
It seems common to transit China in groups of several cars in order to reduce cost, we did so, too. Keep in mind, however, that your group has to enter and to leave China jointly even in case of accident, car failure, personal sickness or police problems. Changes of schedule or route may only be made corporately requiring high levels of compromise, consideration, agreeableness or openess together with low levels of neuroticism over travel time. Extra communication, intervention and supervision may be a nuisance and become boring so that we propose to transit China solitarily or in bigger groups.
The first guide picks you up at the border and another delivers you right there. Chinese borders are closed on weekends, during holidays and after business hours. Entering China costs at least a full day of car inspection and paper work, the car should be in good technical and optical conditions. Leaving China takes only one hour, no customs, no inspection.
Overnight standard is to stay in the guide’s hotel or car park but outdoor camping is possible if the guide is willing. In Tibet the guide has to register you whenever you enter a new district and local police checks your presence in International hotels they mandate personally or by phone.
Police controls on the road and at city entrances or gas-stations are frequent in Xinjiang and in Tibet and quite time consuming. Road conditions, traffic safety and jams in Tibet are close to hell. Better drive slowly and adapt to situation-, not rule-oriented behavior: Right of way means nothing, wise drivers offer it to mopeds, pedestrians, chicken and to oncoming traffic. All this will cost you days ruining any time-schedule but no agency will never tell you before. Same with info about admission fees and road toll: Cost a fortune.
Nota Bene: If you plan to cross East-Tibet better wait for the Expressway actually under construction and opening June 2017. A major China overlanding advantage: Transit is rather secure and road conditions in general are quite good.
Let me plead for China: Wonderful countryside and extremely friendly people. Although few of them may understand English almost anyone of them will assist you in any situation you may imagine, and no official ever will bribe or ask for money. They will enter your car, instead, take your book while you read it, investigate your belongings and taste your dinner without asking: Chinese are curious and interested, in you.