Underrated Uzbekistan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. I Love Uzbekistan Sign

Just to recap my Uzbek adventures so far; I had a super weird experience in Andijon which ended with some guy I didn’t know paying for my hotel room, then a lady paid for my taxi to Tashkent and put me up in her house for a few days because she was worried about my safety. The awesomeness of Uzbek hospitality didn’t stop there and I was now about to find out more about life in Tashkent, the capital.

Tashkent
I met my pre-organised host, Alina, at a metro station in Tashkent. Before I get further into the story, I need to tell you about the Tashkent Metro system. It is the oldest metro system in Central Asia and until last summer, it was illegal to take photos of the stations in the system. Why? Because they double as nuclear bunkers for military purposes.

As Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union in 1970s when the designs were commissioned, artists from all around the USSR created these masterpieces. Each station in the system has a different design and the designs are amazingly intricate and definitely stare-worthy.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Ornate Light Pole K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Columns and Lights K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Mural

There’s a station devoted to Cosmonauts
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Female Cosmonaut K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Male Cosmonauts

A station with grand mosque-like ceilings
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Mosque Like Ceilings

A station with huge light fixtures
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Huge Chandelier

I don’t want to give too much away, because they are really something you should see for yourself. You could easily spend a day or two in the metro system just checking out the different station designs. The variations are actually useful for recognising where you are because signage in the stations is quite terrible.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Metro Signage

Once you do find the signage on the wall across the platform, it will be obscured by the next train that comes in, so it’s almost impossible to see at most stations if you are on the train. Aside from all the eye-catching details, another great thing about the Tashkent Metro is the price. It’s only 1200 Som/US$0.14 for a little blue token that you use to enter the gates. Once you’ve entered, you could conceivably spend the whole day on the system with that one token, as there is no time limit.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Token

The Life of Uzbeks
Back to the story, Alina and I walked to a restaurant for food. I can not put into words how awesome Alina was for my stay with her. She did more than everything for me but then apologised for not doing enough! That’s pretty much Uzbek hospitality in a nutshell, they will do everything in their power to make you comfortable.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Mazid, Alina and I at Local Pub

Alina and I chatted over dinner and she was eager to hear stories of my travels. Alina is also keen to travel, but is a lot more limited by visas than I am, being on an Uzbek passport. She has lived in an impressive array of countries though. Alina’s boyfriend Nazim, who was also lovely, joined us at the restaurant and then we all went to a pub with live music! In English!

Nazim and Alina told me a lot about how people live in Tashkent and why it’s so hard for them to leave Uzbekistan. There are the obvious annoyances of requiring visas for almost every country, but the average monthly pay in Uzbekistan is around $300. Airfares out of Uzbekistan are more expensive than that. So most people would need to save for a lifetime to leave the country. In addition to that, there’s a strong chance of their visa getting denied because of a stereotype that people from former Soviet states are likely to never leave if they are allowed to enter a country.

Most adults in Tashkent still live with their parents into their 20s and 30s, for economic reasons. Alina lives with her mum, who I think was trying to secretly make me fat. She cooked at least 2 meals for me a day, no matter what time I left in the morning or came back at night. The few days that I had to get up really early, she made my breakfast the night before, to make sure that I wouldn’t go hungry. Even when I got back late, there was a meal made for me. And of course there was always tea ready for me.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Traditional Uzbek Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Uzbek Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Many Uzbeks live in simple dwellings and don’t have much to give, but they have big hearts and will give you everything they have to make sure that you’re fed and safe.

Getting to Khazhikent (ходжикент)
Alina had recommended a day trip to a lake northeast of Tashkent, that was accessible by train. I got myself going at ridiculous-o’clock so I could get to the Tashkent station for the 8am train to Khazhikent. The Tashkent Station was interesting for 2 reasons. The platform was only about a step higher than the tracks and one of the entrances to the station was under a bridge. There were a lot of people crowded onto the platform, waiting for the train. The train to Khazhikent only runs twice a day, at 6:45 and 8am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Entrance to Tashkent Train Station From Under a Bridge

When I boarded the train, I realised that getting a seat was going to be difficult, but I didn’t like the idea of standing for the 2 hour trip. I managed to find one near the front of a carriage. Two guys that came in after me weren’t so lucky and ended up sitting down on the floor in front of me. I paid for the fare on the train. The ticket guy charged me 3500 Som/$US0.40, even though the ticket he gave me only had 2000 Som/$US0.23 on it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Train Ticket From Tashkent to Kazhikent

There were people walking through the train selling drinks like water and some local milky drink that appeared to have coloured bits in it. They were also selling small chocolates and other sugary snacks. The train wasn’t airconditioned, and all the seats were wooden, so it wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but I still managed to have a bit of a nap.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Seats on Train

Khazhikent
The Kazhikent station was similar to the Tashkent station, in that the platform was only a step above the tracks. It was the end of the line, so everyone has to disembark. I first walked down to snap a picture of the Chirchiq River, which could be seen from the station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Chirchiq River in Kazhikent

After that, I crossed the road to get a Mashrutka to Lake Charvak. A driver named Zhuman (жуман) picked me up outside the train station then when he stopped a little bit down the road, found someone who knew someone who spoke English. I spoke to this person on the phone and bartered the price through him. It ended up being 20,000 Som/$US2.30 for a 20 minute drive. When we got to the hotel area that had access to the lake, Zhuman gave me his phone number, plus the number of the English speaker and told me to call him when I wanted to go back to Khazhikent.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Kazhikent. Zhuman's Number

He had dropped me off in a carpark of a huge hotel called Pirimida, which offered an entry point to Lake Charvak. It was crazy busy with people swimming and sitting round in huts on the beach. Aside from locals charging people to hop on their boat for a joyride, there were also people hiring out jet skis, paddle boats and ATVs.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Super Crowded Beach at Lake Charvaq

It was all a bit much, so I decided to hike to a nearby waterfall. My map was showing me a trail that was only 5km long, but after doing about half of it, I was blocked on several sides by a recent landslide, a gated resort and a fence. It wasn’t really a fence that allowed for climbing, so I followed it for a bit. It seemed it wasn’t ending any time soon, so I just circled back around to the hotel and grabbed some lunch. But not before getting some great views of the lake.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Super Crowded Beach at Lake Charvaq Viewed From Ground Level
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Super Crowded Beach at Lake Charvaq Viewed From a Hill

I got the hotel restaurant I’d eaten at to call Zhuman and he was already in the car park. He had passengers ready to go, so I was able to leave straight away. We got back to the Khazhikent station just as the train was pulling in, so I was able to get a seat easily. The problem with that was that I had to wait about 30 minutes for it to leave.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Zhuman's Car
My Ride

On to Tajikistan
My Plans had changed slighlty, so instead of heading to Southern Uzbekistan, I moved on to Tajikistan. All I had to do was get myself to the Qo’liq Bazaar to find a shared taxi to the Oylek Border control point. Easy, right? Haha, no.

First I had to find a bus stop that had a bus to Qo’liq passing through it. That required a bit of a walk. When the bus came it was very crowded, but I was lucky that a nice lady saw me with my backpack and offered me a seat. There was a lot of traffic on the road, so the going was slow, but I did get a nice view of this lovely mosque.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Mosque at Prayer Time

After that, things took a dark turn. The bus I was in stopped suddenly and there was an almighty bang. I wondered if we’d hit a car, but it didn’t sound like a bus on car sound. Everyone rushed out of the bus to see a middle-aged man stumbling around with blood on his head. Having a bit of first aid knowledge, I tried to help and tell them that they needed to start compressions after the man passed out and was unresponsive. The problem was that no one understood me and there were too many people standing around for me to push through and do them myself.

By the time the ambulance arrived, there was nothing they could do. I’d decided that walking the rest of the way to Qo’liq was the best option for me. I was happy when I finally made it to Qo’liq, only to find out that Qo’liq was a big place and my map had taken me to the Qo’liq Market instead of the Qo’liq Bazaar. Whoops.

I enlisted the help of some locals in a shop and I was soon on my way to the border.. or was I? The taxi driver has misunderstood Oybek Border for Oybek Metro, which was back in Tashkent. The place I’d just spend hours getting out of! I finally got the taxi driver to understand that he was going the wrong way, so he dropped me back where he had picked me up.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Qo'liq Bazaar

I went back to the shop with the locals that had helped before and this time they made sure the taxi driver understood. He was really great actually. He took me to the Qo’liq Bazaar, where I could get a shared taxi to the border. He even found the border taxi and helped me negotiate my new driver down to 20,000 Som/$US2.30 from 25,000 Som/$US2.90. I knew this was still about 5000/$US0.60 above what I should be paying, but after what I’d just seen, I wasn’t too keen on playing the barter game.

The people in this taxi weren’t as talkative as other people in other taxis had been in. That didn’t worry me though. As soon as we got out of town, the driver wound up the windows and put on the aircon. At that point, I was happy to stick my earphones in and have some micro naps on the way. It didn’t seem like long at all before the driver stopped on the side of the road and pointed to a building a few hundred metres away which was the border. Besides a bit of a wait in line, Immigration on the Uzbek side was relatively painless and I was on my way to Tajikistan!

Keep an eye out for my next post on my adventures in Tajikistan.

Blogger Recognition Award Nomination

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Blogger Recognition Award

About The Award
The Blogger Recognition Award is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. It aims to help bloggers’ get their work recognised by and promoted to other bloggers. As with any award, there are some rules for nominees –

* Thank the blogger who nominated you for the nomination and link to their blog.
* Write a blog post on your site displaying the award that describes why you started your blog
* Write two pieces of advice you have for new bloggers
* Nominate and notify 15 more bloggers

So here goes! I’m honoured to have been nominated by April from Rhodes on the Road.

April is a Hospitality and Tourism expert who provides some great tips for travelling with family, friends or sometimes even solo. She has combined her passion for the travel industry with blogging, so that she still has time for mum duties. She loves sharing her extensive experiences with travelling on a budget, especially with her family, in the hopes of helping others realise that they too can reach their travel goals.

What Brought Me to Blogging
I’d like to tell you some grand story about an epiphany that started my blogging life, but the truth is actually quite boring. When I’d travel abroad and tell people about my adventures in other countries, they’d ask for my blog address. When I told them I didn’t have one, they told me I should. It took a while, but I finally listened to them.

These days it can be hard to find accurate or up-to-date information in internet land. So now that I’ve finally started blogging, I want to offer people valuable information about off-the-beaten-path destinations on a budget, whilst entertaining them with my crazy stories. Travel is my passion and I’m currently having a blast visiting all the ‘Stans in Central Asia.

Advice for New Bloggers
I’m a fairly new blogger myself and I’ve realised that this whole blogging thing is a lot more work than you think it’s going to be. It’s almost like having a full-time job on top of your regular job. You will only see small amounts of progress at the beginning, but keep at it. I celebrate every milestone to keep myself in a positive mindset.

If you look on the internet, you’ll see so-called experts telling you not to blog about your passion, but to blog about what people want. I never really quite understood how you, being yourself and very much not other people, are supposed to know what others want? Plus, if you’re blogging about something ‘in demand’ but of no interest to you, you won’t turn out good work. Blog about what you know. Watch your stats and see which post are more popular and write more posts similar to those.

My Nominations
On to my nominations. I’ll just give you a short introduction to these wonderful blogs, so please click their links to find out more about them!

A Finn on the Loose
Laura is a Finnish woman who has lived abroad and is in love with travelling. She offers advice on the top things to do and eat in places that she’s travelled to.

A Femme Naturelle
Shirley from Femme Naturelle is a strong woman advocating for a natural lifestyle. She aims to do this while supporting women on their journey to realising their natural beauty.

Diffusing the Tension
Jen is a wellness and mental health blogger, helping to de-mystify things and create an open dialogue. She even helps others with ecourses!

Plan Act Thive
Pat from Plan Act Thrive (do you see what she did there?) is all about motivating and encouraging people to live their best, peaceful and confident life.

Winds of Jane
Jane from Winds of Jane is an avid hiker and photo taker. Her blog is full of awesome photography and useful information for hiking or travelling in different places.

Random Musings of a Naive Skeptic
As the name suggests, Mukti from Random Musings likes to blog about anything and everything, from poetry to books and social observations.

Lemons and Luggage
Nina from Lemons and Luggage is a vegan traveller who advocates for sustainable travel and is not afraid to voice her opinion on things that matter.

Our Favourite Jar
Claire from Our Favourite Jar sometimes likes to write to get her feelings. Other times she enjoys honestly documenting family life and sharing it with her readers.

The Perfect Whisk
Mansi from The Perfect Whisk found her passion was baking deserts. She shares all her baking tips and knowledge, along with mouthwatering pictures of her preservative and chemical free baking successes on her blog.

Dark Blue Journal
Julie from Dark Blue Journal is a minimalist who shares practical ways to reduce your carbon footprint while practising mindfulness.

Conversations With Lora
Lora from Conversations with Lora is a strong, independent woman who tackles issues like emotional health and offers tips for healthy living.

Greenmochila
Anna and Anthony from Greenmochila are Earth conscious travellers who love to have adventures around the world while also protecting the environment where they can.

Life Travel Soul
Fritzie from Life Travel Soul is passionate about travel and photography and aims to inspire though documenting her journey and sharing travel tips.

Fairyburger
Farrah from Fairyburger is a Medical resident by day, and probably night. Somewhere in between all that work, she blogs about life, food and travel.

Bluehill Blogger
The Bluehill Blogger is teenage blogger sharing insights into life from a uniquely interesting and often ignored, teenage view.

Unbelievable Uzbekistan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Mountains near Sunset

My entry into Uzbekistan, via the Dostyk border, was off to a great start. It was quick and hassle-free. Even getting a taxi for the right price was easy. The scenery was also pretty amazing, although it’s kind of hard to capture after sunset. One thing I noticed on my way to Fergana in the Uzbek Fergana Valley, was that the roads were immaculate. The drivers, on the other hand, were not. Many close calls were had. Apparently, red traffic lights are just a suggestion. Or maybe the drivers were distracted by all the pretty national-coloured lights adorning almost every lamp post on the way.

The ride onto Fergana was fairly quick and uneventful. The other 3 people in the taxi jumped out just before the town so it was just me left. I was guiding the driver to my accommodation when he started to ignore my directions and made a wrong turn. He must’ve decided that it was too much trouble and stopped in front of a hotel and told me to go there. That wasn’t going to work for me, so he stopped 2 young boys walking along the footpath to see if they spoke English. They did.

I showed them the map. All the driver had to do was make a u-turn, but for some reason, he was reluctant. The boys ended up finding the phone number for my accommodation online and gave it to the driver so he could get directions straight from the source. That conversation lasted for a strangely long amount of time, considering that the place was only one main road away from where we were. The boys and I joked that the driver must have smoked something because it shouldn’t have taken that long to explain to him how to get to the next road.

Everything was finally sorted and the young boys went on their merry way, but not before saying, “Welcome to Uzbekistan”. After finally arriving, I met Sardar, the owner of Status House, the place I was staying at. He was an absolutely lovely man, who of course welcomed me to Uzbekistan. He then gave me a heap of useful information about the area. He even offered to ask his wife to patch up a few small holes in my small bag.

Sardar advised me that I was the only guest booked in, so had the whole place to myself. Sweet! If you head to Fergana, I’d definitely recommend that you stay there. When I booked he was the cheapest place in town.

Fargana is a fairly nice town without much too much traffic or noise. It also has a lot of green areas and parks where you can sit down under the shade of large trees to escape the heat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Green Spot With Painted Trees K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Green Spot With Statue

Uzbekistan is bloody hot! The temperature got up to 38 degrees in the middle of the day, but thankfully the bar that I stopped at for lunch had Uzbek music and misting taps above to keep customers cool.

Onto to Andijon
Someone from Andijon contacted me through Couchsurfing and said that they would like to host me. I agreed and started heading back to Andijon, even though I’d already passed through there on the way to Fergana. Sardar organised a taxi to take me to the station where I could get a Mashrutka to Andijon. And that’s where things started getting weird.

The taxi drivers at the station were saying that the Mashrutkas to Andijon stopped running at 6pm. I was very dubious of that claim and kept reiterating that I wanted to take a Mashrutka, not a taxi. The taxi drivers wouldn’t back down on their claim but did eventually agree to take me for only a fraction more than the Mashrutka price.

Strangely, this taxi didn’t leave full. There was only a woman with a baby in the back seat with me and a man in the front seat. We left before 7pm for a drive that should have taken about an hour. It took over 2 hours because we stopped several times. The first stop was only about 10km out of Fergana. There were a lot of fruit sellers set up on the side of the road. The driver and the male passenger went off to buy some fruit. I admired the sunset.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Sunset on the Road From Fergana to Andijon

The second stop was only about another 10km down the road, just before we hit Quva. That stop was for the male passenger to pray. While he was praying, the driver suggested I try a strange concoction of horse milk and hot sauce from a roadside seller. He was not taking no for an answer so I had a sip. Somehow the sauce offset the sourness of the milk and made it almost bearable to drink. At the same time, it was pretty gross.

Back in the car, the baby seemed to be fascinated by me and I was able to not only stop him from crying but also make him smile. It was a way to pass the time until we got closer to Andijon. The driver stopped just before we entered the town to give a guy waiting on the side of the road a big wad of cash. That seems completely normal.

Andijon
Once we had made it to Andijon, the driver put me on the phone to his daughter who spoke a little bit of English. She said that my host had lied to me and wasn’t meeting me, as had been arranged and reconfirmed when I’d spoken to him on the phone just 15 minutes prior. I was a bit taken aback by this and super skeptical of what had been said. What made it even worse was that I was asking them to call to my host and they weren’t letting that happen.

They then decided, without consulting me, that they were going to take me to the station where I could get a shared taxi to Taskent, which was 5 hours away, at 10 o’clock at night. As I was telling them that wasn’t what I wanted, my host called the driver’s phone. He informed me that something had come up and he couldn’t meet me, so he would pay for me to stay in a hotel. Umm, okay.

The driver took me to the hotel that my host and suggested. It turned out to be the most terrible hotel I’d ever come across. No WiFi. Smelly and mouldy bathroom. Rickety looking single bed with stained sheets. But at least the nice lady at reception served me some tea and snacks.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Dodgy Hotel Tea and Snacks

I ended up speaking to one of my host’s friends, Azuz, who said that he would come and meet me at the hotel and sort things out. The driver had been hanging around to make sure that I got checked in okay, but had to go. Azuz met me in the hotel lobby about 10 minutes later and helped me check in. He told me not to worry, that everything was sorted out and that my host would meet me at the hotel at 11am.

When 11am came around, my host was nowhere to be found, but a creepy guy who took pictures of me as I walked towards reception was. I told him to delete my photo from his phone then left to find WiFi so I could plan my escape from that town. With the help of some friendly locals, I found a cafe with decent food, WiFi and airconditioning. The last one was what I need the most after walking in the Uzbek heat for half an hour and witnessing some crazy traffic scenes.

Can, Cannot, Can
With a concerted group effort, involving 2 staff members and 2 diners in the cafe, I was able to place my order, only for the staff member who took the order to come back 5 minutes later and say that it wasn’t available. So I changed my order and the same staff member came back another 5 minutes later and said that my original order was now available.

After bingeing on WiFi for a while, I was ready to pay for my meal and leave. That should’ve been simple enough, right? When I got to the counter, I only had a large note and they said that they didn’t have change for it so. I offered to pay by credit card. They took my card, but a short while later said that they couldn’t take credit card. That created a bit of a dilemma as they wouldn’t take my cash or credit card, I couldn’t think of any other options.

I waited at the counter while the staff spoke amongst themselves. It was quite amusing as different staff would come and join the conversation for a bit, then go off and do some work while others joined in. I suspect every staff member was a part of the conversation at some stage. Eventually, after about 15 minutes of deliberations, the one worker in the place that spoke a small amount of English gave me my card back. He then said they were giving me the meal as a welcome to Uzbekistan. How pleasantly unexpected.

Getting to Tashkent
My map was playing up, so I stopped a local walking by and asked him how to get a Mashrutka to Tashkent. He was lovely and spoke to the driver of a passing Mashrutka. That Mashrutka would take me to the station where I could get a Mashrutka to Tashkent. The ladies in the Mashrutka were trying to ask where I was from by making a roof over their head with hands. I didn’t get the reference until one of them pointed to herself and said “Uzbek”. It was an amusing exchange.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Mashrutka Station Area

At the station, the driver of the Mashrutka I was in, let’s call him driver number 1, took me to the Mashrutka I needed to take. He explained to the driver of that Mashrutka, let’s call him driver number 2, where I needed to go. When I tried to give driver number 1 money for the ride, he refused to take it and wished me a safe journey.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Mashrutka

A lady already in the Mashrutka said she was going to Tashkent too. Next thing I know, we’d stopped somewhere and men were crowding around the Mashrutka. One of them grabbed my bag, but I quickly grabbed it back. Then the lady motioned for me to follow her. We ended up in a taxi and she called her neighbour Islam who could speak English. He told me that she was paying for my taxi ride to Tashkent because she thought that taking a Mashrutka all the way was too dangerous. I was starting to wonder why people didn’t want my money that day!

The lady and I got to chatting, as much as you can chat when you don’t speak the same language. I found out her name was Najiya and she was 60 years old. She had to show me her ID for me to believe that last one. She also found out all about my trip and told me that her son lives with her in Chirchiq, a small town about 30 minutes from Tashkent.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Welcome to Tashkent Sign

Due to several unscheduled stops and a dinner break, we ended up getting to Tashkent much later than expected. Najiya was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find WiFi to contact my host at that hour, so she invited me to stay with her in Chirchiq. It was nearly midnight by the time we got to Nadjiya’s house. I figured we would just go to sleep. Najiya wanted to make sure that I wasn’t hungry or thirsty and placed a whole pile of food and tea in front of me. Uzbeks take hospitality to a whole new level!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Tea and snacks in Chirchiq

I could barely keep my eyes open, but I didn’t want to be rude to this wonderful person who had just done so much for me. I tried to stay alert so we could talk for a bit. Shortly after, Najiya’s son, Sheruz came home. He was able to speak a bit of English and said I was welcome to stay with them as long as I was in Tashkent.

In the morning, Najiya had to leave early in the morning to do something, so Sheruz made me breakfast and told me about his studies and his girlfriend that he is keeping a secret from his mother. Hospitality and intrigue; what’s not to love about Uzbekistan?!

When it was time for me to leave, Sheruz gave me his phone number, in case I needed anything while I was in Tashkent. He then walked down the road and waited with me to make sure that I had no problems getting on the Mashrutka to Tashkent. I really don’t have the words to describe how awesome and overwhelming Uzbekistan has been so far.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Sheruz and I in Chirchiq
Sheruz and I in Chrichiq

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll head into southwestern Uzbekistan.

Things To Know About Kyrgyzstan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz Landscapes.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful Central Asian country that was once a major feature of the trade routes of the Silk Road. It’s an adventure waiting to happen. Aside from its natural beauty, Kyrgyzstan is full of beautifully warm and friendly people that will try to help you in any way that they can.

If you haven’t thought of visiting yet, you should put it on your list right now! Keep reading to find out some interesting and quirky things about the country.

Language
Most people speak Kyrgyz, alongside Russian. Both languages have huge similarities. For example, the word for cafe in Russian is кафе and in Kyrgyz it is кафеси. Both languages use the Cyrillic alphabet. The Kyrgyz Cyrillic Alphabet has 3 unique characters not found in the 33 character Russian Cyrillic Alphabet.

While speaking Russian will get you through Kyrgyzstan with no problems, it’s also completely possible to travel the country relatively easily with no knowledge of Russian. You can find English speakers here and there, especially in cafes in Bishkek or Osh. There are also many Kyrgyz people using Couchsurfing, who speak English well and are eager to meet travellers.

If you can’t find a common language, you can always resort to hand gestures, body movements translation apps and using props. Kyrgyz people are a patient bunch, so they’re willing to spend time figuring out what you are trying to say.

Kyrgyz English speakers don’t have a strong ‘non-native’ accent when they talk, which means when they do speak English, they are very easy to understand.

I 💜 Signs
Every major city in Kyrgyzstan seems to have an ‘I Love’ sign. some even have 2. Locals love to hang out in front of these signs for crazy amounts of time taking selfies and ignoring everyone around them. Good times.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz I Love Bishkek Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. I Love Bishkek Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. I Love Osh Sign

Hitchhiking
Hitchhiking is a completely safe and viable way to get around Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz people aren’t afraid of language barriers and will pick you up and chat with you regardless. You will of course, be asked the standard questions; “Are you a tourist?”, “Where are you from?”, etc. Once you answer, don’t be surprised if your new driver will tell you their life story.

Approachability
Kyrgyz people are friendly and approachable. If you ask someone in the street for help, they will most certainly assist you. Even if you don’t share a common language, they will find a way. They will likely stay with you until your problem is solved satisfactorily

3 Som Coins
Perhaps the quirkiest cash denomination I’ve seen in all my travels is the 3 Som coin. It is worth approximately US$0.04. There are apparently no 5 Som coins. You will instead get one 3 Som coin and two 1 Som coins. Or if you get 10 Som change, it will be three 3 Som coins and a 1 Som coin.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. 3 Som Coins

Potable Water
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Many sites claim that the domestic water supply in Kyrgyzstan is not safe to drink, but those sites are mistaken. Locals and tourists alike drink the water with no problems.

Don’t waste your money buying one-time use bottles of water. Bring your own bottle and fill up from the tap. If you’re still a bit worried, you can simply boil your water before you drink it but that’s really not required.

Carnivals
Kyrgyz people seem to enjoy carnival-like atmospheres. This can range from the hiring of motorised toy cars and selling of light up souvenirs in a park, to permanent rides, carnival games and stalls set up in a reserve near a river. You gotta love people that just wanna have fun.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Carnival in Osh K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Carnival near Jayma Bazaar in Osh

City Transport
Transport in Kyrgyz cities is cheap and efficient. Buses cover many major routes in the cities and out to the suburbs for 10 Som/US$0.15. They run at intervals of 5 minutes or less. Bus information for Bishkek can be found here

Taxis around the city cost about 100 – 300 Som/US$1.40 – 4.30 depending on the distance travelled. Yandex taxis are also available in Kyrgyzstan and the cars actually have Yandex Taxi written on the side of them. You can use the Yandex Taxi Hailing app to order a taxi if you have data/WiFi access and a phone number that can receive messages in Kyrgyzstan. If you don’t have internet access, you can hail an unofficial taxi by standing on the side of the road. This should cost the same as an official taxi.

Mini-vans that work in a similar way to shared taxis, known as Masrutkas, are available for travel within the city, but the system is very hard to navigate unless you have a local with you, or you can read/speak Russian. There are many numbered Mashrutka routes that cost around 20 Som/$US0.30.

Intercity Transport
Mashrutkas are the main form of intercity transport. They operate out of bus stations in the cities and drop off on the side of the road in small towns. You can buy a spot in the van directly from the driver, although there does appear to be a ticket desk at the Western Bus Station. Mashrutkas leave when all their seats are filled. A Mashrutka from the Western Bus Station in Bishkek to the small town of Kadji-Sai near Issyk-Kul costs 300 Som/US$4.30 and takes around 3-4 hours.

Meat
If you’re a meat lover, Kyrgyzstan is the place for you! Meat is the main feature of most menus in the country, with popular dishes being Shishlyk (barbequed meat on skewers), kebabs and doners. The main meats used in these dishes are beef, lamb and chicken. Horse meat is also a popular dish in the area, given that other foods were often scarce in Kyrgyz nomadic history.

It might be hard to find vegan food in Kyrgyzstan, as even some salads have meat in them. unless you want to spend your whole time eating mushroom Shishlyk. Even salads in Kazakhstan can have meat, so it always pays to check what’s in the food you’re ordering!

Horse Milk
Horse milk is a popular drink in Kyrgyzstan, probably owing to their nomadic history. These days, it is often sold from containers on the side of the road. There are different types of horse milk with different levels of sourness.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Horse Milk on the Silk Road

If you want a super local experience, you could stop at a yurt on the Silk Road and sit down for some horse milk and bread with a local family. Even if the horse milk is not to your taste, meeting locals is always nice!

Music
Whenever you go to a cafe or restaurant, you’re almost guaranteed to only hear 80s or 90s English language music. Normally the songs playing are remixed into more mellow versions of the originals. You can actually be listening to a song for a few minutes before realising that it’s a song you know. When you’re in a car however, locals are likely to not be listening to any music, so that that can chat with you. Or they play Kyrgyz music at a decent sound level and just talk loudly over it.

Bazaars
In the major Kyrgyz cities, when you ask a local what the must-see places are, the first thing they will suggest is the local bazaar. The bazaars are seen as the one-stop place for everything you could ever want and some things you didn’t know you wanted. The Osh Bazaar in Bishkek is huge and slightly confusing, but if you keep at it, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Jayma Bazaar, Osh

The Jayma Bazaar in Osh is a little bit smaller and easy to navigate. I was able to find what I was looking for within 2 minutes.

On The Roads
While the majority of cars in Kyrgyzstan are left-hand drive, there are also a decent number of right-hand drive cars. Perhaps people drive the later for financial reasons, as they are much cheaper to buy than their left-hand drive counterparts.

Whether they’re on the left or right-hand side of the car, Kyrgyz driver can get pretty crazy. Lane markings are completely ignored at all times and overtaking on the most dangerous parts of bends on mountain roads is commonplace.

Pedestrians can’t escape the craziness either. While legally, cars should give way to pedestrians at traffic lights and designated pedestrian crossings, that’s not always what happens in practice. At traffic lights, turning cars will drive towards you, but will stop to let you cross. Although they may keep inching towards you slowly in a not-so-subtle attempt to get you to hurry up.

At pedestrian crossings, it’s anyone’s guess what cars will do. Most drive too fast to be able to stop for the crossing, while others do the right thing and stop. There is no simple way to cross a road in Kyrgyzstan and pedestrians need to constantly check for cars doing the wrong thing as they’re crossing.

Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan via the Dostyk Border Crossing

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan via Dostyk Border Crossing. Welcome to Uzbekistan.

Getting to the Border from Osh
When I was trying to find out about the Dostyk border crossing from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, I ended up with a lot of conflicting and outdated information. If you go back a few years ago, it seems that this border was known for strictly adhering to rules and searching everyone passing through it thoroughly. They also had customs and immigration forms to fill out and you had to declare all foreign currency and medicines. These systems may have been in place because of tensions in the area at the time, but seeing as the situation is calm now, in 2019, things are quite different!

I started my journey in Osh, in the Fergana region of Kyrgyzstan. I waited at a bus stop on the side of Lenin Street for the 138 Mashrutka to Dostyk. Inside the van, there was a board with the Cyrillic for Dostyk, ‘Достук’ written on it. The road was good until we were a little out of the city, then it was bad, then it was good again. The whole trip took about 20 minutes.

On the Kyrgyz Side
The Mashrutka dropped us off in a carpark that was about a 50 metre walk from the border. on the right-hand side of the road, there was a huge line of money changers. Most had the same rates but I found one that had a slightly lower rate than the rest and changed my leftover Kyrgyz Som there. Right near all the money changers were a couple of fenced-in lanes that represented the start of the immigration area. At the end of the lanes were gates where we had to wait for an officer. It felt a bit like we were cattle being herded. When an officer came and opened the gate, I was ushered to the left-hand side after he looked at the front of my passport, while everyone else was ushered to the right.

I felt a bit self-conscious walking down an empty lane while the lane next to me, that was full of mostly women, was not moving. None of the people waiting seemed too worried about it though. I guess foreigners don’t come through that border often, so they’re happy to let them through? My lane took me straight into the immigration building where there was a huge line of mainly men. I only spotted 3 other women.

When an old woman with a cane came into the room, everyone moved so she could go to the front of the line, which was nice. Then another 2 women with a brood of children ranging from toddlers to teenagers came in. All the men stepped aside for them too. As there were only 2 officers processing a huge amount of people and there seemed to be a lot of people jumping the line, I started thinking that I might be spending a very long time in that building.

Once I got closer to the desks, I noticed that the men were all going to the right-hand desk and letting the women and children that had passed us before go through the left-hand desk. The women were busy not paying attention, so I slipped in front of them and was out of the building 2 minutes later. It was great to finally be back out in the fresh air.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan via Dostyk Border Crossing. Uzbekistan Sunset

On the Uzbek Side
On the Uzbek side, they also had the cattle gate thing happening. There was a tourist lane and as I was the only tourist, I went straight to the gate. An officer came and opened the gate as soon as he saw me walk up, then some local women snuck through the tourist lane after me. The officer was really nice and smiley and asked to see my passport. He told me to follow the path in front of me which went straight into the immigration building. The women that came through behind me were ushered into cattle lanes to the right.

In the building, I walked straight up to a processing desk. The guy on the other side wasn’t as smiley as the first guy, but still very nice. He stamped me in and handed back my passport with smile and said, “Goodbye and goodluck”. Then came the customs check. I put my stuff the conveyor belt then picked it up at the other end. The officers were busy searching other people’s bag, so I started to walk outside. I then heard someone call out to me. I thought they wanted to manually check my bag, but when I turned around, the man just said, “Hello, welcome”.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan via Dostyk Border Crossing. Uzbekistan Sunset from Taxi Station

I was expecting to be mobbed by drivers trying to get me in their taxis upon exiting the building, but that didn’t happen. A few guys approached me asking where I was going and then the negotiation started. I was heading to the town of Fergana, about 100km from the border. The first guy suggested 100,000 Som/US$11, so I replied with 30,000 Som/US$3.50. He then went to 35,000 Som/US$4, but I wouldn’t budge from 30,000. That guy gave up, but another nearby guy motioned that he would accept 30,000 and I should go with him.

I put my stuff in the car and he advised that we needed 3 more people. I thought this would take a while, but 5 minutes later, he told me to jump in the car and we were off. One of the guys in the back of the car said, “Welcome to Uzbekistan” and asked the usual questions.

The whole process, from arriving at the Kyrgyz side via Mashrutka at 7pm, to passing through to the Uzbek side and leaving in the shared taxi took about 30 minutes. By 7:35pm I was happily on my way to my next adventure in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan.

Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. View from the Silk Road

Hitchin’ A Ride
My friend Argen in Bishkek had suggested that I should try hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan. He told me it would be easy. As I was a foreigner, I would get picked up in no time. I’m always up for new experiences, so why not?

It was only about a minute before the first car driving through the small town of Kadji-Sai stopped. The driver’s name was Asmut and his English was excellent. I have a knack for finding the English speakers in places where other people can’t, apparently. Asmut was probably the first decent driver I’d come across in Kyrgyzstan. He slowed down for towns, which I hadn’t seen any other drivers do. I found out he was on a business trip and lived in Bishkek. He took me to Balykchy, the town at end of the lake.

I noticed a lot of stalls along the side of the road in Balykchy selling dried fish. I was told by a local in Issyk-Kul that there was no fishing allowed at the lake, so I really had to wonder where these fish came from!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Dried Fish in Balykchy

My good luck with finding English speakers continued when I decided to check if a local service station in Balykchy had a toilet. It did! There was also WiFi and the staff spoke some basic English. It seemed like a good place to rest and refresh. As I walked out of the service station, I saw a huge Kyrgyz flag in the middle of an intersection and stopped to take a photo. It was then that my second ride stopped and asked if I needed a lift.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Giant flag at Balykchy

In the car was a family of four and a grandmother. None of them spoke English, except the primary school-aged son, but he only really knew a few words. They took me to the town they lived in. It was called Tokmok and it was quite small. But there was plenty happening on the side of the road on the way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Scenery between Balykchy and Tokmok

There were a few cars stopped on the side of the road with flat tyres and other cars had stopped to help them out! How nice of them. Locals apparently love to make word or picture formations on the sides of hills, out of stones. I’m not sure why, but someone had gone to the trouble of making the FedEx logo on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess?

I also saw quite a few people with small barrel barbecues on the side of the road selling cooked corn. They waved their corn-grabbing tongs above their heads to get the attention of passing motorists.

One of the most interesting things I saw on the way was the unique domes of mosques in the area. In every other place that I’ve seen mosques, the roofs have been smooth domes. The domes in Eastern Kyrgyzstan have raised bits on them that almost make them look quilt-like. I actually think they look pretty cool!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Quilt-like mosque Dome in Tokmok

When we got to Tokmok, the driver dropped his family off then said, “I’m taxi, give me money”. I said, “Take me to Bishkek”, then he said, “Haha, okay goodbye”. Cheeky git. As he’d dropped me in the middle of town, I had to walk a bit to get to the outskirts.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Tokmok Town Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Tokmok Airplane

My next ride came from Jazmek, a security guard at service station in Ivanovka. Ivanovka is actually only about 10 minutes from Tokmok. It started to get difficult to get a ride there. I don’t know if it was because I was getting closer to Bishkek, or because it was getting late.

While I was on the side of the road, a local boy called Hazhik came to my rescue and waved a car down for me. It was a relief to finally be on the road again. I soon noticed that the driver and the other woman in the car weren’t talking to each other. Furthermore, they had angry looking faces. Had I just interrupted a fight?

The woman actually spoke to me, via a translation app when the driver stopped to get some fuel. She was really nice, but as soon as the driver got back into the car, her angry face reappeared and she didn’t say another word all the way to Bishkek. So that was a little awkward.

Silk Road – Bishkek to Osh
Argen had told me that I would only have to go just outside the city centre in Bishkek to pick up a ride. So that’s what I did and it did not work out as I would’ve hoped. I figured that I needed to get further out of town, so I jumped in a Mashrutka (van) to a town called Kara-Balta at the intersection of the Osh-Bishkek Highway.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Kara-Balta Town Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Kara-Balta Roundabout. Start of the Osh-Bishkek Highway

That did the trick and I was on the move again within minutes. The first car that picked me up was only going to a small town about 20 kilometres down the road. From there, I flagged down a van with a very excited driver motioning for me to get in.

My new friend, Ulan was eager to chat and knew a small amount of English. He gave me some курут or Kurut, a local hard, salty milk snack often eaten when taking long trips. He advised me that it goes well with beer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz Kurut
кыргыз курут – Kyrgyz Kurut

After several hours on the road, I’d been drifting in and out of a sleep state, until Ulan stopped on the side of the road. He pointed to my right and encouraged me to get out of the car. I thought he meant for a stretch, but there was a cute little waterfall in front of me! The waterfall ran into the Kara-Balta River. The Pamir Highway (Silk Road) follows this river for several hundred kilometres.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Roadside Waterfall into the Kara-Balta River K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Roadside Stop - Kara-Balta River

When we were getting close to a yurt village, Ulan asked if I wanted to drink some horse milk. As it’s a popular drink in the region, who was I to refuse? I’ll try anything once! He stopped his van in front of a yurt and asked an old lady near it if she had horse milk. She did, so we went inside her yurt, where we sat down on the ground near a table in the middle.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. View from the Silk Road

Unfortunately, Ulan had to drop me off not long after that. He wished me good luck on my travels and left me at Suusamyr. I’m not even sure if this place counts as a town, because I could only see one building. I guess it serves as more of an intersection for the road going to Osh and the road going to Talas, where Ulan was heading. Of course, there was a statue there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Suusamyr

When I looked around me and saw almost nothing, a small thought that it might be difficult to get a ride crept into my head. It was chased away seconds later when a green truck stopped. The driver opened the passenger door for me and I saw that he had a mouth full of gold teeth. His name was Latim. He was also eager to chat with me, although he didn’t know any English at all. He showed me a photo of his granddaughter on his phone, then used the calculator on his phone to tell me his age.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. View From the Truck
View From the Truck

It was slow going in the truck as the road is super windy. Plus there’s a lot of up and down because of the mountains. After several hours, we stopped at a place called Pelmennaya. It had the first non-yurt structure I’d seen in hundreds of kilometres. Latim told me to take a seat at one of the tables outside, while he went inside to organise our dinner.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Truck Stop at Pelmennaya

He came out maybe 10 minutes later with some other guys, who were going to have dinner with us. They told me their names, but I forgot almost instantly as I’d had a long and tiring day, that was still far from over. Another man named Andre came over to speak to Latim. I found out later that Andre lived in Jalal-Abad, about 100km from Osh, and Latim had asked Andre if he could take me, because he was worried that the truck was too slow. What a sweety!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Pelmennaya
Pelmennaya

I had definitely gotten the gist of what was going on but Andre called his daughter, who spoke English, just to make sure. Andre’s son Vlad was also travelling with him. Neither Andre or Vlad spoke more than a few words of English, but they were armed with a translation app.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Scenic lake on the way to Jalal-Abad
Sunset Scenery on the way to Jalal-Abad

It was almost dark by the time we got back on the road. Vlad was asking me many questions through the translation app. Perhaps the funniest moment was when he guessed that I was around his age when I’m clearly much older than him. I’ll take the compliment anyway.

We stopped at a place called Isabelle Cafe at about 1am for a food and toilet break. I’d fallen asleep during the ride, so I was surprised that we were still several hours away from Jalal-Abad. Osh was still another few hours from there. I’d originally thought I could make it to Osh by midnight, but now it was looking more like 4am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Isabelle Cafe
Isabelle Cafe

We ended up getting to Jalal-Abad around 3am. Clearly there was very little chance of getting a ride at that time, but surprisingly, Mashrutkas were still running! Andre and Vlad found another guy that spoke a little English and was also going to Osh. They told him to look after me.

I finally arrived in Osh at 5am. It had taken more than 18 hours to get there from Bishkek. As you could imagine I was super tired, so I found myself a bed and got some much-needed rest.

Osh
Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, after Bishkek. It’s about 20 times smaller than Bishkek though, population wise. I think it’s main claims to fame are the river that runs through it and the mountain in the centre of it. You would be correct in assuming that I made my way to the top of that mountain.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Sulayman-Too During the Day

I decided to head up to Сулайман-Тоо Sulayman-Too, or Solomon’s Mountain at night. I’d figured it would be much cooler, as the daytime temperature was 35 degrees. My main reason for doing it at night was that I thought it would be much less busy. Boy, was I wrong! It seems to be a super popular spot at night too. I’m talking at about 9 or 10pm. It doesn’t get dark in Kyrgyzstan until after 8pm in the summer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Sulayman-Too at Sunset

I spied the Ак-Буура Ak-Buura River on the way up. This river starts in the Alai Mountains and is 148km long. The first part I saw didn’t look too bad, but down near the city bazaar it looks pretty horrible. There are actually pipes spewing brown liquid into it. I’m not even going to speculate on what that liquid is and where it’s coming from.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Ak-Buura River and Sulayman-Too K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Ak-Buura River Near the Osh Bazaar

Back to the mountain, I found a shortcut up via a dirt trail. That dirt trail intersected with the stairs that the city had installed. The stairs were fairly irregular and the rocks underfoot in some areas had been coated with a strange shiny, slippery substance.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Stairs on the way up to Sulayman-Too K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Slippery Surface on the way up to Sulayman-Too

Once I got to the top, I encountered a fairly sizeable crowd of people hanging out, taking selfies and such. I pretty much ignored them as realised that I had a 360 view of the city below. It had only taken 10 minutes to get to the top for the awesome view, so definitely worth it!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. View From Sulayman-Too

There was a huge Kyrgyz flag at the top and the constant wind meant that the noise of the flag moving could be heard for quite a distance from the peak.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Kyrgyz Flag on Sulayman-Too

I noticed some stairs going down on the other side of the mountain, so I decided to go down that way. I found a cafe, then a park at the bottom. People in the park were hiring out motorised toy cars for kids to drive around. As I’d also seen that in Bishkek, I guess it’s a Kyrgyz thing?

Keep an eye out for the next instalment of my adventures; in Uzbekistan!

The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Lake Issyk-Kul from Kadji-Sai

Entering Kyrgyzstan/Кыргызстан
After a 3 hour drive in a Mashrutka from Almaty, we arrived at the Kyrgyz border. There was no line on the Kygryz side and the immigration officer was quite lovely. He welcomed me to Kyrgyzstan and I was out of there in about 2 minutes! On the walk from the immigration building to the Mashrutka that was taking me on to Bishkek, I was offered at least 20 taxis.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kyrgyzstan Border. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan

I’ve gotta say at the point that Kazakh drivers could be pretty crazy at times, but I think Kyrgyz drivers have them beat. I tried not to pay too much attention to our position on the road until I realised at one point that our van was passing a car on it’s right, that was already passing the car to it’s right. On a two-lane highway with cars fast approaching from the opposite direction. Who needs rollercoasters, eh?

The Mashrutka dropped me off at the Western Bus Station in Bishkek and the driver kindly called my friend Johny, before driving off. Johny is a friend of a Kyrgyz friend I met while travelling a few years ago. He answered my million and one questions then helped me get some money changed. Then he had to go off to work. He dropped me off at a cafe to wait for my host Argen, who was also busy working late. After 2 hours in Bishkek, I was convinced that everyone in the city worked way too hard!

Bishkek/Бишкек
K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre

Once Argen arrived, it was fairly late, so he drove me to his place and brought me some local food to apologise for his work taking longer than expected. He was eager to hear about my adventures around the world, so we stayed up talking way later than we should have, despite the fact that we were both very tired!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. 3 Som Coins

I made my way to the city centre the next day to do some exploring. I noticed that things were much cheaper in Kyrgyzstan than they were in Kazakhstan. That was great, considering that Kazakhstan was already a lot cheaper than other places! One thing that was weird though, was the 3 Som denomination of coins. When you got 5 Som change, it would be a 3 Som coin with two 1 Som coins. In 81 countries, I’ve never come across this denomination before!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Flower Butterfly K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Horse and Flag

The city centre is very open and clean. There seems to be a lot of sculptures, statues, fountains and flowers. The fountains only seemed to run at certain times of the day though, so you had to be in the right place at the right time.

Some fun things I noticed around Bishkek were happening in parks. There was a general carnival kind of atmosphere with music, bubble blowing and fairy/candy floss. In addition to that, there were lines of bikes and scooters being hired out. Perhaps the cutest thing was the motorised flashing toy cars available for kids to ride around in. Then possibly the most gimmicky, was the ‘train’ driving around the city centre.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Western Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Motorised Toy Cars K in Motion Travel Blog. Western Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Train

While I was wandering around, I needed some help to find a place I was looking for. Luckily I had a phone number for the business. I asked local couple if they knew where the business was. They didn’t speak any English, but still helped me by calling the number and waiting with me until someone from the business to come and get me. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing that for me back home, even though I can speak the language!

Getting to Issyk-Kul/Ысык-Көл
I met an interesting Australian lady named Jenny in Bishkek. She was retired and spent a great amount of her time travelling the world. I only hope I’m still doing that when I’m in my 70s! Jenny was heading to Kadji-Sai, a small town near Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake, Issyk-Kul. She invited me to join her and we were on our way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek Road to Issyk-Kul. Mountain Views

After walking around trying to find the Mashrutka to Kadji-Sai, Jenny and I ended up getting a public bus, number 53 if memory serves correctly, to the Western Bus Station for 10 Som/US$0.14. From there, we got a Mashrutka to Kadji-Sai for 300 Som/US$4.30 each. Kadji-Sai is a small town near Issyk-Kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world. We stopped at a place called Ak-Zhol for 30 minutes on the way. This place had awesome mountain views and some interesting statues.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. On the Way to Issyk-Kul. Welcoming Statues at Ak-Zhol

Our driver was pretty erratic and there were more than a few close calls. I think the only thing that stopped him having a major accident was the fact that police had quite a few cameras set up along the highway. We had wondered why the van was all of a sudden slowing down to a normal speed, the first time it happened. But once we spotted the camera and saw some cars on the other side of the road flashing their lights to warn others, we knew what was going on. From then on, whenever the van slowed down drastically, we’d have a peak out the window to look for the camera.

Kadji-Sai/Кажы-Сай
The first thing you notice about Kadji-Sai, besides the huge lake and mountains surrounding it, is that it is very small. The whole town consists of about 5 cafes to eat at, a resort and about 3 small magazins, which is the local name for a store. The second thing you notice is that no one speaks any English, which is a little strange for a place that has a pretty big summer tourist season.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Kadji-Sai Town Near Issyk-Kul. K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Kadji-Sai and Mountains. Near Issyk-Kul.

Eating in Kadji-Sai was an adventure! Only one place had an English menu, but the translations were so bad that an omelette with meat, turned out to be an omelette with meat dumplings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek. Kadji-Sai Town Near Issyk-Kul. Omelette with Dumplings

At other cafes, we had to rely on people who didn’t speak English, to translate Kyrgyz menus into English. Of course, that worked out super well! Nah, it meant we ended up with liver shishlyk, (шашлык, barbecued meat on skewers) when was had ordered lamb shishlyk.

What was even more amusing was the hand-written bills given to us at the end of the meal. With a 10% service charge added, of course! That seems to be standard throughout Kyrgyzstan though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek. Kadji-Sai Town Near Issyk-Kul. Hand-Written Food Bill
560 Som/US$8 for lunch and tea for 2.

We finally noticed a hut by the lake that had Shishlyk, so we decided to give it a try.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Makeshift Restaurant By Lake Issyk-Kul at Kadji-Sai

They’d actually made some effort to decorate it inside and it all looked very welcoming. They even gave us blankets to use when it started getting a bit cool. Unfortunately, they only had chicken shishlyk at the time, which was fine, because that’s exactly what we were in the mood for.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Inside Makeshift Restaurant at Kadji-Sai. Near Issyk-Kul.

The chicken did take quite a while and was still a little undercooked, but this hut still seemed to be the best food option in town. At under 200 Som/US$2.80 per skewer, it wasn’t bad value either

Chipboard For Construction
Apparently, the cheapest wood composite material known to man is used to build houses in Kadji-Sai. Considering the extreme temperatures of the area, 30 degrees plus in summer and 20 or below in winter, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be the best choice. I guess it makes the whole building process a lot cheaper.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Chipboard for Construction at Kadji-Sai. Near Issyk-Kul.

The chipboard used for the walls is then coated with a concrete veneer, so it doesn’t look like it’s made from chipboard when it’s finished. The place that we stayed at didn’t bother with the veneer though, so both the outside and inside walls, plus the floors were all just chipboard. It didn’t smell great and kind of looked like someone had just given up halfway through construction.

Lake Issyk-Kul
Lake Issyk-Kul was the reason that we had gone to Kadji-Sai and it did not disappoint! Issyk-Kul means warm lake in Kyrgyz. Despite the below-freezing temperatures the area is subject to in winter, the lake never freezes over.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Sunset at Kadji-Sai. Near Issyk-Kul.

What’s even more interesting, is that archaeologists have discovered artefacts of a 2500 year old advanced society in the lake. I just like the fact that it’s quiet and you can sit down with a book and contemplate the big issues of the world. Or just clear your mind and breathe in the tranquillity.

The adventure continues in my next post when I attempt to hitchhike along the Silk Road from Kadji-Sai in the east to Osh in the southwest. Stay tuned!

Things You Should Know About Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is an awesome and expansive Central Asian country that has almost every kind of landscape imaginable. It’s a hidden gem that hasn’t been overrun with tourists yet. It’s most definitely worth a visit and should be near the top of your bucketlist!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Big Almaty LakeK in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan MountainsK in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Charyn CanyonK in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Charyn River

If you’re planning a trip there, here are some things that you need to know.

Language
Most people speak Kazakh, alongside Russian. Both languages have huge similarities. For example, the word for cafe in Russian is кафе and in Kazakh it is кафеci. Both languages use the Cyrillic alphabet. The Kazakh Cyrillic Alphabet has 9 unique characters not found in the 33 character Russian Cyrillic Alphabet.

If you can speak Russian, you will have no trouble travelling in this area. If you don’t speak Russian, you can still get by with props and hand gestures. People are really friendly and patient when trying to work out how to help you.

It can sometimes be amusing using props, pointing, calculators, pens, hand gestures, body movements and translation apps to get your message across. But if you want a rest from using your body and props to try to explain things, you can always head to the big shopping centres, where many of the staff can speak at least basic English.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Mega Park

Approachability
Kazakhs are some of the most approachable people in the world. They are super friendly and helpful. Even if they can’t speak any English and you can’t speak any Russian, they’re willing to assist you.

They will also stay with you until your problem is solved. Say you hail a taxi using a taxi app, but the taxi can’t find you. Your new Kazakh friend will call the taxi, then take you to the taxi and make sure you get safely into the taxi and that the taxi knows where they are going.

Want directions but can’t speak Russian? No problem! Locals will use google translate to help. This always produces laughs over the inaccuracies of the translations, but you will get where you want to go eventually.

If you need assistance while in Kazakhstan, you can approach anyone in the street and be guaranteed that your problem will be solved in short order.

Potable Water
Despite what the internet may say, the water supply in most of Kazakhstan is absolutely safe to drink, without boiling. If you’re still a bit worried, you can take your reusable bottle to many cafes and restaurants, where they will refill it. Or you can simply boil water.

City Transport
Transport in Kazakh cities is cheap and efficient. Buses cover many major routes in the cities and out to the suburbs for 150₸/US$0.38 or 90₸/US$0.25 with the local transport card. They run at intervals of 5 minutes or less. Bus information for Almaty can be found here

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Sayran Bus Station in Almaty
Bus ticket

Metro systems are relatively new in Kazakh cities and are therefore not that well developed, in terms of coverage. At 80₸/US$0.21, they are cheap, clean and efficient ways of travelling in the city centre. Metro information for Almaty can be found here

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Metro StationK in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Metro Map

Taxis around the city cost about 1000₸/US$2.60. You can use the Yandex Taxi Hailing app to order a taxi if you have data/WiFi access and a phone number that can receive messages in Kazakhstan. If you have no internet access, just stand on the side of the road and put your hand out like your hailing a bus. An unofficial taxi will stop for you within minutes.

Inter-City Transport
Shared taxis are available for inter-city routes, with prices that vary depending on the distance travelled. Zharkent to Almaty should be about 4000₸/US$10.

Mashrutkas, which are vans that work on the same principal as shared taxis, operate out of bus stations. You buy a ticket at the ticket desk and then present the ticket to the driver at the platform. Mashrutkas leave when all their seats are filled. A Mashrutka from the Sayran Bus station in Almaty to the Western Bus Station in Bishkek costs 1800₸/US$4.70 and takes around 4-5 hours.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Sayran Bus Station in AlmatyK in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Mashrutka Ticket

Almaty
Almaty is no longer the capital, but it’s still the cultural and commercial centre of Kazakhstan. It is said to be the origin of the modern apple. The first part of the name Almaty means Apple. Hence the apple heart in this picture.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. I Love Almaty Sign

The Almaty city centre is very developed and pedestrian friendly, due to initiatives of the previous leader. Outside of the city centre however, footpaths seem to magically disappear and you have no choice to walk on narrow roads where cars will pass way too close to you.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Display in AlmatyK in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Almaty

Alternative Worship
For a place that has a decent number of Muslims and Christians, you won’t see many mosques or churches. While they hold their faith dear, Kazakhs will not necessarily outwardly show it by wearing certain clothes or worshipping at churches and mosques.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Mosque in AlmatyK in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Cathedral in Almaty

If they are Muslim, they will stop what they are doing at prayer time, face Mecca and complete their prayers before going back to what they were doing previously. If they are Christian, they will pray when they have some quiet time. What a delightful way to honour one’s religion and keep up with other important things in life.

Meat
If you love meat, you’ll love Kazakhstan! They eat a lot of meat there! The main meats are beef, lamb and chicken, but horse meat is probably the most popular. A very common dish in the region is Shishlyk, which comprises of pieces of meat on skewers. The meat is cooked on an open grill then served with onion.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kazakhstan. Shishlyk in Almaty

Kazakhstan probably isn’t too vegan-friendly, unless you want to spend your whole time eating mushroom Shishlyk. Even salads in Kazakhstan can have meat, so it always pays to check what’s in the food you’re ordering!

Horse Milk
A popular drink in Kazakhstan is Horse Milk. You can find people selling it from containers in some areas. Kazakhs have several different words to describe horse milk according to the age of the horse and the sourness of the milk.

Music
They love listening to English language music, with a twist. All shopping centres, restaurants and sporting clubs seem to have mellow versions of mainly 80s and 90s music, with the occasional 21st century hit thrown in for good measure.

On The Roads
One curious thing I noticed when I looked out of the window of the car I was in, was that drivers in some other cars were sitting on the opposite side of the car. The majority of the cars in Kazakhstan are left-hand drive, seeing as they are driven on the right-hand side of the road, but there are also quite a few right-hand drive cars. These cars are mainly imported from Japan and are about 5 times cheaper than their Left-hand drive counterparts.

Some Kazakh drivers are crazy no matter which side of the car they’re driving from and traffic can sometimes be insane. Another thing that might take a bit of getting used to, is that traffic lights and pedestrian lights can be green at the same time. That means that cars turning a corner will drive towards you while you’re crossing the road, but they will stop and wait for you to cross.

Beer With Straws
This qualifies as possibly one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Every beer served in every pub, club or restaurant comes with a straw. I personally think it would be weird to drink beer with a straw and most people seem to take the straw out as soon as they get the beer.

Adventures in The Almaty Region Of Kazakhstan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains, Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan. Mountain and Mountain Hut

The Problem With WiFi
As the WiFi where Hannah, who I’d met in the Chinese border town of Huo’erguosi, and I stayed in Almaty wasn’t working, we decided to catch the bus into the city. The bus driver was very nice. He helped us work out that we were on the right bus through the use of hand gestures and a translation app. While on the bus, we saw a huge shopping centre called Dostyk Plaza. We figured that’d be the place to get WiFi. We were right and as a bonus, all the staff there spoke English! The menus were even in English, so we knew exactly what we were ordering.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Dostyk Plaza
Dostyk Plaza

Everything was going along swimmingly until about 1pm when the internet stopped working. As our accommodation also had internet that wasn’t working, we just figured that Almaty had crap internet. We decided to move on and catch a bus to the Almaty 2 train station. There we’d try to sort out some train tickets. It was at that point that I canned my plans to go to the Kazakh capital, Astana. Even the ticketing staff said the tickets were more expensive than normal. Hannah sorted her train ticket and we headed to the nearby Metro.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Almaty 2 Train Station
Almaty 2 Train Station

It seems that the Metro is a rather new addition to the city of Almaty. There are therefore only 9 stops currently in use, starting from the Moscow Station in the city centre and finishing near the Almaty 2 Train Station. It’s lovely, clean and cheap, at only 80 Tenge, or around US$0.20, for a ride

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Almaty Metro Line Entrance K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Almaty Metro Line

After we purchased our token to get us into the station, we made our way down to the platform. There we were approached by a local who told us that we shouldn’t go outside after 6pm because of a meeting. We were quite confused as to why a meeting would make things dangerous, so when we reached our destination, we tried to ask the staff if anything unsafe was happening.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Inside a Metro Station K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Inside a Metro Station

Unfortunately, the station staff didn’t speak English, but they found a passenger who did. He explained there was going to be protests against the government in the city centre. He didn’t think things would be unsafe. Never the less, he gave us a suggestion for somewhere a little bit out of the city centre where we should have no problems. He confirmed that these protests were also probably the reason that the internet had been unusable for most of the day; the government was blocking all social media, except for Twitter.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Hannah and I
Hannah and I

Hannah and I hung out until it was time for her to head to the Almaty 1 train station for an overnight train to Shymkent. Shortly after she left I got myself some cheap local food for 1000 Tenge, or US$2.60. It had to be remade 3 times because they kept forgetting parts of my order, but at least I had coloured water to give me something to look at while I was waiting.

Meeting My Host
The internet problems meant I hadn’t been able to reach my prearranged host, but I finally got in contact with her and went to her workplace. It turns out it was her birthday, so I got there just in time for a birthday celebration with her work colleagues.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Birthday Lunch at Zhajilau Golf Club

My host, Aika had to then go back to work, so she organised for one of the staff to take me on a tour of the grounds of her work on a golf cart. The views were delightful, especially the snow capped mountains in the background.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Golf Cart Ride at Zhajilau Golf Club K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Mountain View from Zhajilau Golf Club

I also made a new friend. He was very inquisitive. He liked eating leaves and sniffing cameras. I called him Mr Deer Deerison and he was much smaller than I expected a deer would be. He looked at me with terribly sad eyes when I left.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Mr Deer Deerison at Zhajilau Golf Club

Changing Plans
Aika had organised an expedition to one of the snow-capped mountains I’d been drooling over since I’d arrived in Almaty. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. The forecast was for heavy rain and storms, making it unsafe to attempt. Instead, we decided to go to a village quite a distance out of town. Then Aika’s car decided that it didn’t want to make the trip when one of the tires went flat. Luckily, Aika had invited some friends along and they were going to meet us near the gate of The First Presidents Park. We just had to get there without a car.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Presidential Gate at the First Presidents Park

Luckily that is not a huge ask in Almaty. If you just stand on the side of the road with your hand out like you’re hailing a bus, it won’t be long before someone stops to pick you up. These unofficial taxis should cost the same amount as official taxis. They have been known to try to take advantage of tourists by charging them higher prices though. It should never cost more than 1000 Tenge to get anywhere within the city.

Once we got to the park, I noticed more than a few women walking around in wedding dresses. Aika informed me that the Presidential Gate at the park is a popular place for people to get married. While we were at the park, the rain started pelting down. Aika’s friend came around that time, so we didn’t have to spend long in it.

We then drove for over an hour to get to a village near a ski resort. Obviously, the ski resort was closed for the summer. The village was full of fake Yurts. I mean, they looked exactly like Yurts, but they were permanent structures that weren’t made from the normal canvas materials used for Yurts.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Fake Traditional Kazakh Yurts in Village Outside of the City

Aika’s friend pointed out that there was a traditional Kazakh swing there. Several people could stand on it together and swing from side to side.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Traditional Kazakh Swing in Village Outside of the City

The reason we’d come to the village was to ride horses to a nearby hill. Due to the weather and the fact that there was a private function happening in the village, it wasn’t possible to get horses. We instead drove back to a famous Shishlyk place in the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Famous Shishlyk Place

Shishlyk is a very popular type of food in Kazakhstan. It generally consists pieces of meat, sometimes with vegetables added, on skewers which are barbecued on an open grill. They are then served on a plate with onion added. The food was awesome, but the wait time wasn’t. We were fast approaching hangry by the time the food got to us.

Hiking the Snowy Peaks of the Tyan Shan Mountains
When the weather cleared, the expedition to the snow-capped mountains was back on! We got a super early start and met some of Aika’s friends at the First President’s Park then made our way to the mountains.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Big Almaty Lake at the Base of the Tyan Shan Mountains
Big Almaty Lake

There was a lovely little lake, called Big Almaty Lake on the way up, near the base of the mountains. I was told that it didn’t look too good at that moment because it was only about half full. I still thought it was pretty though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan. Beginning of the Hike K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan. Beginning of the Hike

The mountains are located in the Ile-Alatau National Park, which is quite close to the Kyrgyzstan border. We were scaling Пик Туриста or Tourist’s Peak. Such a lovely sounding name, but it was far from a lovely hike. The beginning of the hike wasn’t too bad as the snow cover was quite thin.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan. Hiking into Thicker Snow Cover K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan. Hiking into Thicker Snow Cover with Rocky Patches

As we got further up the gradient increased very quickly, the snow cover got thicker and we started to encounter huge rocky patches. The sun was also super intense and the snow was so bright in some areas, that even with sunglasses on, I had to close my eyes momentarily. That all made it very tough going.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan

I probably worked harder for these pictures than I have for any others in my life!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains.  Standing Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Tyan Shan Mountains.  Standing with Friends Near the Border With Kyrgyzstan

You would think we did all the hard work on the way up right? Nope. It started snowing while we were up the top, which made it all the more treacherous on the way down.

There wasn’t one person in our group that didn’t slip and slide at least 5 times on the way down. I actually ended up sliding down on my butt for a while, because it just seemed easier than trying to walk down.

Charyn Canyon
I’d decided to follow up my cold snowy mountain hike with something that was almost the complete opposite; a walk through a hot canyon. The Charyn Canyon is about a 3-4 hour drive from Almaty, on mostly good roads. There was some absolutely gorgeous mountain scenery on the way too!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Roadside Mountains on the Way to Charyn Canyon. K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Roadside Mountains on the Way to Charyn Canyon.

When we got to the Charyn Canyon National Park entrance we had to exit our car to pay the entrance fee. The attendant told us it was 750 Tenge or US$2, which is about 250 Tenge more than we thought it would be. Our driver spoke to the attendant and then we didn’t have to pay. Score!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Charyn Canyon Entrance

We spent hours in the national park, first walking above the canyon.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Standing Above Charyn Canyon K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Looking Down into Charyn Canyon

Then we made our way down to the canyon floor.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. View From the Charyn Canyon Floor K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Bad Selfie on the Charyn Canyon Floor

And eventually ended up at the Charyn River.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Charyn River at the end of Charyn Canyon

There was also a place called Eko Park near the river, where people could stay in Yurts or Bungalows.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Charyn River at the end of Charyn Canyon. Eko Park Yurts K in Motion Travel Blog. Almaty Kazakhstan. Charyn River at the end of Charyn Canyon. Eko Park Bungalows

We spent quite a while cooling down and soaking up the wonders of nature at the river before heading back.

Keep an eye out for my next post on my travels to Kyrgyzstan!

Kazakhstan Border to Almaty

Things were moving rather slowly at the border, even though there was only the 6 people from our bus in the hall. The lady at the immigration counter was quite nice. After stamping my passport she said, “Good luck with your travels. Welcome to Kazakhstan”. From there, I entered another area where I had to show my passport to a young man standing near a gate to the customs section. After looking at my passport, the man said, “Welcome to Kazakhstan”. I then entered the customs area where I had present my passport to a man sitting at a desk. He just asked if I was travelling by myself and then said, “Welcome to Kazakhstan”. I’m guessing they want me to feel welcome? Done!

After everyone from the van cleared immigration, we continued on to Жаркент or Zharkent. An hour or so later, we were dropped off at a small bus station in Zharkent. Before my friend Hannah, that I’d met in Huo’erguosi, and I even got out of the van, we were surrounded by men trying to get us to take their taxis to Almaty. They were trying to grab our bags, assuming that we were going to go with them before we’d even had a chance to weigh up our options.

They wanted to charge us 4000 Tenge (US$10), which is what some locals had told us it would cost. We told them we had to change some currency first and they said we could do that on the way. We really wanted them to get out of our face. We thought that offering a lower amount, 3000 Tenge (US$7.80), would do the trick. Most of them left us alone at that point, but one of the guys agreed to that price. He then ushered us to his car. We confirmed at least 5 times on the way to the car that he was accepting 3000 Tenge.

After we’d been sitting in the car for a few minutes, he handed us his phone. He had a friend who spoke Mandarin who then proceeded to try to convince us that we had to pay 16,000 Tenge or US$324. Obviously, he thought that because we weren’t locals, he could trick us into paying for the whole car. We reiterated that we were only paying 3000 Tenge. With everyone finally on the same page, a mother and daughter with a 7 month old baby jumped in the car and we were on our way.

We hadn’t driven for long before we came across a small town which consisted of mostly yurts. It reminded me a lot of my travels to Mongolia. I didn’t see any yurts once we’d driven past the village. The rest of the way was dotted with mostly double story houses with A-frame roofs. They look a lot nicer that the flat roofs seen in many other places in Asia.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Border to Almaty. Roadside Scenery
If you squint, you can see the mountains

The scenery along the way was spectacular. We were driving through a strip of flat land that ran through the middle of 2 mountain ranges. Our taxi driver was a little bit crazy and refused to follow the curves of the road. That meant that when we came to bends, he just kept driving straight while weaving through the marked lanes. I guess that’s fine when there are no other cars on the road, but he was doing it when other cars were present too. I was starting to doubt that I’d make it to Almaty uninjured.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Border to Almaty. Driving into a storm

I was using the scenery to take my mind off the fact that I might not survive the ride, when I noticed some ominous looking clouds up ahead. Sure enough, within minutes, we entered a torrential downpour. The driver was doing around 120km/h at that point and the rain didn’t make him slow down or stop ignoring traffic rules. Even more terrifying was the fact that his windscreen wipers barely worked, so visibility was very low.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kazakhstan Border to Almaty. Roadside Storm Scenery

Luckily the rain didn’t last long and shortly after it stopped, we hit an automated toll plaza. There was one slight problem, the automated part wasn’t working! I presume the guy had an automatic toll device in his car, but the gate wasn’t opening and the adjacent gates weren’t opening for other cars either. The driver reversed a little then re-approached the gate several times, to no avail. Eventually, after waiting at least 5 minutes, an attendant started speaking through the ticket machine in our lane and after a bit of conversation, the gate was opened and we were on our way again.

We made it to Almaty by 5pm but then got stuck in some crazy traffic. It felt like we had to wait for a ridiculous amount of time at each set of traffic lights because cars could barely move when the lights turned green. To add to the chaos, no one seemed to be following the marked lanes. Weirdly, even though they drive on the right-hand side of the road in Kazakhstan, we spotted many cars that were right-hand drive, amongst the majority of left-hand drive cars.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kazakhstan Border to Almaty. Horses at Sayran Bus Station
Horses at the Sayran Bus Station

We arrived at the Sayran Bus station at about 5:30pm and went to the money changer in the station to convert our money to the local currency. Strangely, the lady at the money changing window gave us the biggest notes possible and wouldn’t split them into smaller notes so that we could pay the driver. That wasn’t the first time that night that someone would act funny when it came to giving change.

We found a pub called The House Pub to have some dinner after our long trip. None of the staff spoke English and all the menus were in Russian, so it was interesting trying to order. We eventually ended up ordering some Shishlyk, a local take on BBQ meat on skewers. It only cost 5200 Tenge, or US$6.50 for the whole meal and it was delicious. When we finished the meal, they gave us the biggest notes possible as change and didn’t want to change them for smaller ones so we could split the bill evenly. I don’t know why these people seem to have problems with smaller denominations.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kazakhstan Border to Almaty. The House Pub Shishlyk
The House Pub Shishlyk

Hannah wanted to get a local SIM, so we went to a nearby phone shop where the staff were very lovely and helpful. It took some work and I think we were in the shop for over an hour trying to get it sorted. At one point, the guys in the shop realised that they had a friend who spoke Mandarin and enlisted her help to make sure we all understood what was going on. They then gave us a local salty treat called Qurt.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kazakhstan Border to Almaty. Qurt

It didn’t look pretty and tasted kind of intense. I think Hannah was expecting it to be sweet, which meant she was super surprised at how salty it was. Qurt is usually used when travelling long distances as it’s small and keeps well for a decent amount of time.

After a long day, we were tired, so we used the Yandex Taxi-hailing app to get a car to our accommodation. Taxis in Almaty are only around 1000 Tenge or US$2.50 to go almost anywhere in the city area. The good thing about using the Yandex app is that you don’t have to worry about struggling with the language barrier. The price is also set before the ride, so you won’t get ripped off. The driver didn’t want to give us change at the end of the ride though, so instead, we had to underpay him because we didn’t have any change ourselves.

We finally got into our accommodation, thinking that we’d be able to use the internet for a little bit before we went to sleep but apparently, the WiFi was having issues and didn’t work for us. The woman checking us in was tired and unwilling to answer our questions, so we just gave up and went to sleep.

The adventures continue here.