Why visit Central Asia?
Hey folks, you know I’ve written a fair bit on Central Asia over the last year and a half, about my time in three amazing countries there – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, but today I wanted to address why you should go there.
Firstly – the thrill of the unexplored. Okay, you’re not going to be the first nor the only person to visit the region, but nevertheless it’s still pretty uncommon to meet someone who’s visited the ‘stans’. When I told people I was going to the region, many werent even sure that I was going to real countries!
Sure, for Russians and Eastern Europeans perhaps, the stans are a little more well known, but for say Australians it seems like a really far out unknown place.
Secondly – Variation. Look, Central Asia is not as well connected by flights as Europe is, so you might as well take a few weeks plus to look around. What you can find in a very short space of time is incredible variation not just from country to country, but inside countries as well.
Kazakhstan for example has the steppe, a mixture of Russian and Kazakh. You can visit the house where Dostoyevsky lived in Semey, catch an opera or go skiing at the nearby mountains to Almaty, or just marvel at the Dubai-esque (I can feel a City Rumble coming on!) Astana, the somewhat brilliant yet bizarre capital filled with strange buildings.
Head to Uzbekistan with a strong Islamic influence in the architecture. See amazing blue mosques and madrassas, the desert, and grand Tashkent with its wide boulevards, fountains (often with kids swimming in them) parks and statues to Timor the Great.
If you are serious about your hiking, or just love green mountains, Kyrgyzstan is for you. It has some of the most pristine mountains you’d ever want to see, clean air, and adventure abounding. The capital itself is more modest than Astana and Tashkent, and probably is the most Russian (in feel at least) of the three capitals.
And then there’s the two I haven’t been to – Turkmenistan, with its riches, the extravagant Ashgabat, flames in the desert and a lot of unknown, and Tajikistan where the mountains tower over the ones in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
Thirdly – the people. I met so many friendly people in the region who showed me about, took me in, and were ever so kind when they didn’t need to be. From friends in Almaty, to a young group of uni goers in Semey, to Vladimir in the mountains in Kyrgyzstan, the kind soul who let me sleep on his floor is Tashkent and this lovely couple in Bukhara. And the thing is, travelling solo in places without throngs of backpackers means you are more open to meeting locals.
Fourthly – the food. Well, if you’re vegetarian you’re going to find it a little hard to stomach at times. Shashlik is the perennial favourite, plov can be found most places (rice and meat essentially), with all manner of Russian staples I actually really loved the food – although I admit it’s not for everyone. And guess what, I never saw a McDonalds, KFC or Burger King! Winner!
Fifthly – Cheap accommodation. Okay, not the cheapest places to go and it’s probably a great idea to couch surf in Almaty and Astana, but aside from these two cities I never paid much for a room. The B & B industry is great in Uzbekistan, and if you’re prepared to share and you’re out of the main cities, well, you’ll not need much more than 10 bucks a night if that. And with homestays and dorms in people’s houses, you’ll get to meet more genuine folks as you travel.
I could go on, but they say a quick post is a good post. And before I began writing I thought this WOULD be a short post. But sadly I was wrong. As you can see, I feel pretty strongly about this region and plan to return in a couple of years or three. And you should consider this part of the world too if you haven’t already. May the Journey Never End!