Retro Review – Hotel Semey, A Soviet Relic from Semey, Kazakhstan

Howdy folks! Well I think I’ve about reviewed everything I could possibly review from my last 3-4 years of travel. So I’m going back further to 2011 today, hence the titular use of the word ‘Retro’. And let me tell you, the hotel I am reviewing is actually pretty ‘retro’ itself. Semey may not be a destination that many have even heard of, let alone visited, but actually I didn’t mind this town/city in the north of Kazakhstan, a region where there are still a lot of ethnic Russians, and one unmistakably ‘Soviet’ Hotel.

Let me clue you in firstly about Semey. This town is actually quite historic, and features an old house where Fyodor Dostoyevsky once lived, whilst in exile from the Russian Empire. It’s not unattractive, and was the home of a very revered poet, Abai. Hence you can go and see his museum there with a number of interesting displays.

The region itself is actually infamous for one particular reason – it was where the Soviet Union regularly test atomic weapons during the Cold War. Conveniently, it’s a heck of a long way from Moscow. Funny about that. There are tours that run out to the area where the bombs were tested, although I didn’t take one and in fairness, the actual testing site was still a fair way from Semey. In fact it was 150 kilometres.

Semey’s other main feature is a park of Soviet statues. Actually, in ex-Soviet republics this is often a feature! And it so happens that Messrs Stalin, Lenin and Co actually live directly behind what must be the most Soviet Hotel I have ever stayed in, the not-particularly-imaginatively named ‘Hotel Semey’.

Hotel Semey in 2011

The facade of the building, I will be frank, is not inspiring in any way, shape or form. It’s large and drab to be honest, and it’s clearly a large hotel, and I doubt whether the size is justified today. In fact, it’s hard to believe it was ever justified!

But what you find in the Hotel Semey is something akin to a mini-town inside the building. A post office I think, a hair salon (where I had my hair cut!), a souvenir shop and more. It was upstairs where the guest rooms were. There was also a large restaurant where I ate one night. I was the only customer in the restaurant, which I have found myself in more than one restaurant in Central Asia. Tall ceilings, decent food (Russian/Ukrainian Menu mostly), but very lonely. But good for a space to write in my diary, which is always important to me.

But the room now. Well, it was decorated in a very Russian style – greens in the curtains, bed spreads, and I remember the bed being a little uncomfortable, but otherwise I really liked the room. It had a TV and a spacious bathroom with a bath. The TV even had English-language channels, I remember watching it because this was the time that the civil war in Syria was beginning.

It’s pretty much in the centre of town, I walked to the sights in Semey, which weren’t that far, within a couple of kilometres. The staff there weren’t big on English, but one or two could speak English. And they were always helpful.

I enjoyed staying in this place, and if I ever went back to Semey, I would again. It felt like a real slice of the Soviet Union was still alive in this hotel. Oh, and the price – it was cheap. I just did a check and today a room for two people is going for around $21US. Which is true value for money indeed I would say.

Semey itself is an interesting place too, not an unattractive city either.

Andy’s Ratings:

Value for Money: 4/5

Cleanliness: 3.5/5

Service: 3.5/5

Noise: 4/5

Location: 4/5

Total: 19/25 [76/100]

So if you’re ever in Semey town, try out the hotel by the same name. It’s a cool experience! Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!

9 thoughts on “Retro Review – Hotel Semey, A Soviet Relic from Semey, Kazakhstan

    1. its not that bad these days John. Only Turkmenistan has antiquated laws where you have to be on a tour. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are now visa free. The other two are evisas which are pretty simple. thanks for commenting!

  1. Kazakhstan reminds me much of the other Eastern bloc countries I visited, including Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, etc. Granted, they’ve since become independent, Central European countries, today, but it’s the dreary, minimalist architecture which evokes the Cold War days, only made up for by the warm and hearty cuisine of the place! Looks like you had a fruitful time in Kazakhstan, beginning with the hotel!

  2. The outside may not be that inspiring but the inside sounds fine and I’m liking the price! I’ll be heading back to reviewing 2011 travel pretty soon too. Kind of fun to look back at these experiences and a reminder that good note-taking is important.

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