China Self Drive Travel or Overland China:

It is impossible to take your own vehicle into China without working with a local company and having their guide in the vehicle travelling with you. If travelling with a group of vehicles then still only one guide is required. Whilst researching what company to use I found that many companies I corresponded with were ‘grey’ and actually were sub-agents for others. Some also seemed very unprofessional and some on ‘the take’.

I can say our final choice to use Navo Tour was one of our best decisions and made China and Tibet possible and exciting.

Navo Tour can be contacted at:

Obtaining permits for both China and Tibet is a complicated and an involved process, covering the Tourist Department, Foreign Affairs Department, and the Security Divisions of both the Police and the Military. This is on both a National and Provincial level, and then  there are the special  permits for Tibet. This is all handled by Navo Tours.

From your side it is the itinerary that is most critical to finalise. Permission must be obtained by Navo from each province that you travel through and the exact road you plan to travel and time frame must be defined early in the arrangements and approved by all those government departments. The final cost will depend on both the time you are in China and Tibet and the number of provinces you cross. For one vehicle it is expensive however to travel with a group and share the costs makes it very reasonable for such a unique adventure.

Our costs for 4 vehicles and eight people were Yuan 85,820 or A$13,000 for 43 days and that equates to A$3,250 per vehicle or $37 per per person per day. Remember this also includes your personal guide / translator. Guide may not be the exact word because it is your trip and you pre-decide where you are travelling and what to see along the way. He or she may not be familiar with the tourist attractions, the road directions or conditions but is there to help you through the system.  We found in the end it will be the relationship you develop with your ‘guide’ that will decide the quality of your China/Tibet visit. As our guide said to us when we were first talking “This is also my life adventure as it is yours”

For further information send me an E-mail and I am happy to send you my contact and guide’s name at Navo. I can also answer any questions you have to make you feel comfortable about China Self Drive Overland Travel. I am also happy to check over your itinerary and offer suggestions re routing and travel times.

I am creating a list of travellers wishing to Overland China but would prefer to travel with a group to share the costs. Please advise me if you wish to be added to the list by providing your contact details, approximate travel dates, and the direction you wish to enter and exit China. We can then try and coordinate like minder travellers to share the China adventure.

The Process:

The Navo representative will meet you at the incoming border and travel with you or your group until you leave China. He or she would provide a translation service for road signs, road directions, meal and food supplies, fuel and repairs etc. We found our guide very helpful in negotiating  better prices for tolls, meals, accommodation and entry fees to tourist attractions. You are of course expected to pay for the entry for your guide to such tourist attractions if you decide to invite him/her. With the good relationship we had with our guide he used his ‘Tour Guide’ pass many times to gain free entry to these attractions for himself.

At the start of the process you will need to provide the tour operator with the following information:

  1. Copy of Vehicle Registration

  2. Copy of Local Drivers licence and vehicle must match license type

  3. 5 passport sized photographs of the driver.

  4. Copy of Drivers and Passengers Passports

  5. Photograph of Vehicle one from each direction.

  6. Safety inspection certificate

  7. List of vehicle extras. Be general like camping equipment, spare parts and tools, list Computers, GPS’s Mobile Phones, etc.

  8. An Itinerary of the towns and time in China and Tibet. (Needs to be accurate and Navo will help with this), or you can start with one of their suggested itineraries.

  9. Vehicle Details as outlined in the ‘How to Explore Planet Earth/ Border Crossings

  10. Travellers Details as above.

Herewith further reading as provided by Navo Travel and Tours:

  1. Navo Frequently Asked Questions.doc


The biggest question I am continually asked,  is about camping and the guides accommodation. Below is a paragraph I have re written ( in Chinese lingo) for Navo on this subject:

  1. F: Standards of accommodation

  2. You can choose different level of accommodation for your trip. If you need the hotel reservation service from NAVO, please specify your requirements.

  3. If you drive your own Camping car, please consider a space for your guide to sit and to store his belongings, tent and sleeping items. Or else NAVO give you some suggestions to settle down this problem.

  4. In some regions of China, such as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, you can camp. However, we do not recommend you to camp in densely populated urban areas.

  5. Guide Accommodation:

  6. When in towns the guides accommodation is available in inexpensive hotels priced from Y60 to Y160 (A$9 to $24) depending on the areas. If you have a camping car it is often possible to ‘camp’ in the hotel car park, when your guide has a room.

  7. When in remote areas and there is no hotel accommodation your guide can provide his own tent and sleeping accommodation, however sometimes it may be very cold or wet so please consider that accommodation should be provided within your camping car for these times.

  8. If you have a camping car and have extended time without hotel accommodation please consider wash room facilities within your camping car for your guide for his and your comfort.

  9. Having a good relationship with your guide by following these suggestions makes for a good travel experience with your guide through China.  You and your guide should both leave with good memories.

Update: October 2014:

It may now be possible to Overland China without a guide

Check out this link:

Leaving Lao- Immigration and Customs:

The border crossing from Lao into China is at Boten in the northern Lao province of Luang Nam Tra ,  to Mohan in the Yunnan provence in China. The border is open from 8am to 5pm. Here it is possible to get a Chinese 30-day tourist visa from the Lao immigration post for US$30, plus any ‘overtime’ they may charge. Because we were travelling in China for 45 days we had pre-organised our Chinese visas.

In Boten there are banks where you can change foreign currency to Kip but you cannot sell Kip to foreign currency. When this is the case we always spend any excess funds on diesel fuel. That way your monetary value is retained. The Customs and Quarantine Offices in Boten are now no longer operational, you must drive a further 19 Kilometres to the actual border.  Even though we had provided a list of these items, we took off the dash board our GPS, Nuvi and put away out Satellite Phone, just to save un-necessary questions.

The sign above the road reads Boten International Customs Checkpoint. A reasonably new building, with papers in hand we fronted up at the counter exactly on opening time - 8am. The guy the other side did not even acknowledge our presence despite our very obvious coughs, feet shuffles etc. We gave up and walked to the left side of the complex. Finally someone appeared, and with lots of sign language we handed over our Lao green temporary import vehicle papers, asked if we were returning to Laos, with a negative shake of the head he just waved us on.

Next was the immigration, 2kms further on, this was straight forward other than they wanted Kip 20,000 for each vehicle for ‘police stamp’. For the US$2.50 it was not worth holding up the process. Between us we did not quite have enough so topped up the pile of small Kip notes with a US$1 note. Deal was done.

Our passengers had to walk separately the 30 metres as we drove the vehicles across no-mans land and into China.

Arriving China - Immigration and  Customs:

As we entered China we drove the vehicles through a large quarantine mist spray.

On the China side it was like landing on a distant futuristic planet.

Gleaming stainless steel buildings, wide gardened roads, new and colourful shops and hotels, all a far distance from the broken narrow bitumen, and grass thatched huts only 20kms back behind us.

We park up the vehicles and walk inside the stainless steel spacious foyer of the immigration building here we met our guide for the next 43 days for China and Tibet. There is a complicated and endless paperwork pile that he works through with the customs officials.

Whilst our guide was doing the paperwork we went through the immigration system where they are incredible efficient. Just as one lifted the stamp for my entry visa in the passport, the Chief Officer announced to the group “Please be advised shift change”. With that the officer stood up, almost at attention, turned to the left and another officer took his seat from the right. Within a blink of an eye, the stamp descended and I was officially entered.

The passengers walked through the building whilst the drivers returned to the vehicles and drove them for inspection at the booth. Inspection was light and friendly.

Within an hour or so, we were driving away. Now 11am (China Time, 10am Lao Time) only 2 hours for the entire process, however I and Navo had been working on this for 5 months.

A vehicle mechanical inspection is part of the process and in the town of Ming La where the vehicle inspections had been prearranged.  The mechanics do only a brake test and check the steering linkages, with that we are issued with our Chinese Vehicle number plates and our Chinese Driving Licences.

The Government Compulsory 3rd Party Insurance is pre-arranged as part of the Navo package.

Travelling in China:

Driving throughout China and Tibet is a wonderful experience and perhaps the highlight of our travel from KL to Vladivostok. On the main roads surprisingly the signs are in both English and Chinese, however in Inner Mongolia (a northern Chinese provence) the signs are only in Chinese and ancient Mongolian.

The 4 or 6 lane major roads are spectacular in the way they punch through mountains and then are suspended high above the valley only to disappear again inside another mountain. Roads like this are toll roads with the toll prices different for varying sized trucks and private vehicles. The rate is based on the  perceived size and what is on your number plate- Class one is the lowest. Our guide managed to negotiate for us the Class 1 vehicle rate (private vehicle), however he had to do this at every toll booth. It was easier once we had one receipt from the last toll booth for a Class 1 vehicle for him to use and set the bench mark at the next toll booth. The tolls varied between CNY16 (A$2.45) a high of CNY165 (A$25) and more for larger trucks and also depends on the distance travelled. Travelling as a group with the guide in the lead vehicle it was easier to pay for the tolls as a group, from the collective groups money. Our travel plans were always to travel more country roads and not the highways, however sometimes it is practical to use the highways to cover the large distances. For our the 43 days our total toll bill per vehicle was about $200.00

Chinese drivers are aggressive and pushy. If you suffer from the least amount of road rage- DO NOT DRIVE in China. One cannot believe how bad the Chinese drivers are, and how they constantly push in.

Line up for a toll booth or an intersection, hesitate, and 3 vehicles will jump in front of you. Don’t hesitate and two will be in front. Leave a one inch space between you and the vehicle in front and there will be another fighting for that one inch. The more expensive the vehicle the faster and more aggressive they are. All the Lexus’es in China drive fast and with their left indicator constantly flashing as they pass everything in sight. Around blind corners and over the crests of hills.

On the other hand, the commercial truck drivers are reasonably good.

In an attempt to improve the driving habits there are many warning signs but the english translations are very bad.

No one follows any road rules in China. Our guide explains that “Traffic lights are only an indication of what to do!” and as for those road rules “They are only a suggestion!”

During our China visit our best investment was a set of very loud air horns that we fitted to each truck.

We much preferred the country roads where we felt much closer to the people, the life style and to the scenery. The downside was that almost every road in China in 2010 is under construction and delays were between a couple of hours to many hours. There are no detours during road work, the road is simply just closed.

The Chinese and Tibetan people are very friendly. Surprisingly I never felt crowded other than at the major tourists spots like the Great Wall and Tieanaman Square. You will find however, find a constant stream of visitors coming to say ‘hello’ and to inspect your vehicle. Camped up or just stopped, this is OK for the first ten or so, however during daylight hours visitors continually arrive in what seems to be an endless procession. We found at times we had to close the camper door to stop visitors just walking in side to take a look. Keep in mind that the 30th plus visitor is just as interested in talking to you as the first, but it does wear you down.

For such a progressive society, the biggest problem in China/Tibet is rubbish.  It is everywhere. Thrown from cars, buses, trucks and even police cars; just open the window and throw. Load up the farm cart with all the garbage from the village, drive to the nearest river and dump it all in the river.

Under the same heading as rubbish is toilets...Chinese toilets are the worst, and the worst of those are the ones at service stations along the road. Many are just open pits that are never cleaned. Some are just holes in concrete suspended over rivers or embankments. There is NO privacy between the holes in the floor so be prepared for everything and anything. Inevitably as a traveller you will experience this however the following may help:

  1. Have your own on-board facilities

  2. China is not all people, everywhere there are places to go for a walk in the bush. rather than a shovel take a small garden trowel.   The local lingo for this is “Go Jungle”

  3. If you have a ‘hotel’ room for your guide you may be able to use this facility for toilet and shower. Though many cheap ‘hotel’ rooms do not have any bathroom facilities

  4. BYO paper.

Altitude sickness is a real problem as you drive towards Tibet. It is not selective and can affect both the very fit and not so.  Plan your increase in altitude in small increments, should one of the group feel unwell, have pressure headaches do not continue to ascend. YOU MUST STOP OR DECEND.  Others have died from not following this advice. Your guide can also arrange bottled oxygen if necessary. I personally was surprised and felt quite ‘off’ for 24 hours but with a local herbal remedy was quickly repaired.

Seek medical advice BEFORE leaving home if you plan to travel to these areas.

This pass is at 5,170 metres and one of our highest.

Laundromats of a sort do exist in the larger towns and charge about RMB30/kilo dried. ($4.50)

Route changes are very difficult and time consuming. We had a land slide and bridge collapse in Tibet and had to re-route. It took 5 days to get the paperwork done and we could not travel on any new roads until this was completed. Such a regimented system is something we are just not used to.

As one travels towards the region of Tibet there are numerous road blocks where our travel papers are constantly checked. This is all handled by the guide as part of the service. Photography at these check points is a no no.

China is a big country and the distances very large.  Most days we travelled only 100, 200 or 300 kilometres however for a couple of days we did travel over 500 Kilometres (689 was the max) when necessary and the roads appropriate. It is really important to calculate the daily travel distances when formulating the itinerary. I found that the suggested itineraries are too quick and cater for a road trip  rather than holiday travel.


In such a populated country we never had problems finding somewhere to camp. Often we camped in the car park of the hotel/guest house where our guide was sleeping. Sometimes we left the guide at the hotel and drove out of town to a camp spot returning in the morning to collect our guide.

Often we camped in the car parks of tourist facilities,  and these were the best, because after the facility is closed, the car park is empty and we are alone. (well almost) Our guide was most helpful in finding and organising these for us. Rarely did we have to pay for the car park but when we did it was only small money.

This was our camp in the main car park at the ‘Entombed Warriors’

I talk of ‘hotels’, other than in the large cities these are not western style hotels with restaurants, bathrooms etc. They are more small rooms with nothing more than a bed. Some have wash room facilities some only communal wash facilities, some do not even have that. Some rooms do not even have an external window. These accommodation places vary from RMB 40 ($6.00) to RMB100 ($15.00) per night.

All over Tibet and the country areas of China we free camped; off or beside the road, near rice paddies, on tops of hills or in river beds.

Our Camping sites are listed in our Blog at Travel China.


The variety of food was never ending and in some cases very unusual.

In China, on many occasions we cooked our own meals, sometimes on open fire but more often on our duel fuel (petrol) cookers.

A vast array of good looking fresh vegetable, (greens of all varieties, potatoes, carrots), and meat was readily available in the street markets.

To find the markets follow in the reverse direction the stream of shoppers coming from the markets carrying plastic bags full of food.

To buy meat you should go there early in the morning.  Not all types of meat is always available, lamb for example is more available in the north and Tibet. You will see also beef, yak, pork, and goat. These are recognised by the head and legs that are displayed with the meat from the animal.

Chicken and duck are also available, sometimes in pieces most times still alive. Prices were fixed in the food markets and there is plenty of choice between the many traders.

In northern China the hind half of a lamb was RMB80 (A$12.00)

More often we eat in restaurants, where the meals were freshly cooked in front of us.  Typical Chinese style it was a multiple of dishes equivalent to the number of people dining or more. Only once did we have a really bad meal, called ‘Black Chicken’ a hot pot style where three whole chickens, head, feet and all the intestines and offal was bubbling in the stew.  Once we had clarified our dislike of offal with our guide he was very helpful in then always taking one or two of us into the kitchen of the restaurant and selecting the dishes.

This dinner was both deliciously interesting and one of our best. We chose fried Azalea flowers, cooked Bracken Ferns, ham that had been salted and hanging for 2 years, and a couple of pork and vegetable dishes and of course rice. (Y120 for the 9 of us including 2 beers, US$17)

Do be a little adventurous with food. It is no point going to foreign places and insisting that you eat as you would at home. 

If you are a little reluctant to be too adventurous then as all meals are served with rice, simply add a small amount from one of the many dishes on the table and experiment slowly.

Eating in a restaurant is a social event and time not important. We found stopping in town for quick lunch was very time consuming. We therefor nearly always managed to buy bread and with that, we had tinned meat, (turkey meat our favourite) tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumber sandwiches. Butter was not always available so we just went without. We calculated that by making our own lunch the cost was about half that of a restaurant and very much quicker. (For 9 of us, our cut lunch averaged RMB60 for the group i.e A$9 or $1 each)

In the supermarkets or small town shops you can buy rice, noodles, canned meat, vegetables etc, soft drinks, spirits and wine. Western type breakfast cereal did not exist but we could occasionally find porridge or a muesli type mixture. Rice was RMB12 for 3 kg ($1.80) and this was the smallest quantity we could buy. Actually the store keepers often said “Is this all?”

As always be prepared for stomach problems in any foreign country.

Prices were very inexpensive. Our daily meal expenses per person was around $2.50 per day and we eat very well. Our calculations indicate that China cost us US$5.50/person/day. This includes all meals, road tolls, and the hotel accommodation and meals for our guide.


We travelled 7,700kms through China and Tibet, used 1235Lts of fuel at a cost of US$1160. 

The average price per litre was RMB 6.40. (approx. US$1/Lt)

The major town fuel stations are modern but do not offer other services. 93 and 90 is Petrol, Zero is Diesel and in winter you can buy Diesel for minus 10 and minus 20 degrees weather.


Water we obtained from service stations and car wash facilities. The mountain streams also had good quality water and this was normal for us as we were mostly travelling in the high country mountainous areas.

A quality water filter is critical. Forget the cheap ones this is your life you are talking about. The best in the world is the Seagull IV from Purifiers Australia. The same one they use in all international aircraft. To date it had been perfect and we have never been sick.

See them at:

For our actual Travel Diary through China & Tibet see:

GoannaTracks Across China

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Overland China and Tibet and Border Crossing from Laos

“If you reject the food, ignore the custom, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home” James Michener.

China is a convergence of everything and a diversity to enjoy