Beautiful Baku

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View From the Top of the Hill. Looking Down The Stairs

Why Beautiful Baku?

When I say Beautiful Baku, I mean it’s beautiful in every possible way. It could be described as a little bit of Europe, a little bit of Asia and a whole lot of love. After travelling in Central Asia for 2 months, Baku presented a totally different aesthetic to what I had become accustomed to. While Central Asian cities are fairly low rise and spread out, Baku was definitely rocking a lot more high-rises, but it was also fairly spread out. Even though it’s a huge city, it’s still had a very homely feel to it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Flame Towers From The HIll

Baku is definitely impressive from the first time you lay eyes on it, even if that time happens to be 2am. That’s when the coach transporting us from the port of Alat arrived. Even at that time, there were middle-aged taxi drivers ready to hassle us to get into their taxi. But in a friendlier way than most around the world.

Myself and my new friends, who had crossed the Caspian Sea with me, decided that we would walk to our hostel. It was only a 10 minute walk away. We were surprised when we arrived at the address and the hostel didn’t seem to be there. We saw a small convenience shop that was opened and asked if they knew where the place was. They didn’t, but they let us use their internet to see if we could find the correct address. We had no luck there, but a local found a phone number and called the place, then gave us a lift there!

Where is it?

When we moved the next day, we encountered another hostel that wasn’t at the location that the map indicated. I also came across this anomaly when I’d booked a hostel across town. A wonderful local saw that I was looking a bit lost and asked if I needed help. He and his friend ended up finding a phone number for the owner and called him for directions.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Graffiti Near Where a Hostel Should've Been
Graffiti near where a hostel should’ve been

The helpful locals also had difficulties finding the place when following the numbers on the street. After speaking with the owner, they explained that the street numbers had recently been changed in some areas of the city. They weren’t sure what the reason for this change was but agreed that it was kind of weird. In essence, the numbers found on the buildings, as well as maps, are the old numbers. The new numbers, which for some strange reason were not sequential, were nowhere to be seen. I’m glad to say that this was really the only quirk of Baku that could be a tad annoying.

Beautiful Baku – City of Wind, Fountains and Parks

I met the owner of my hostel, Farid, and he was only too happy to give me information on the city’s history and the best places to go. He informed me that the word Baku, or Баку́ in Russian, came from the old Persian word Bad-kube, which when roughly translated means windy. This probably gave rise to the city’s modern nickname, City of Wind.

I was lucky to not be subjected to the city’s infamous strong winds during my stay, but I did notice there were fountains everywhere.

Fountains of Baku

Most were found in parks that are scattered around the city. They were nocturnal and slept during the day.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Sleeping Women's Fountain K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Big Sleeping Fountain K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Group of Small Sleeping Fountains

Then woke up in the evening.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Fountain at Night K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Spiney Park Fountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Group of Small Fountains in Action

Some were huge.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Huge Fountain

And some had pretty lights.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Lit Up Fountain at Night

Parks of Baku

Baku is blessed with many parks. It’s hard to walk more than 5 minutes in the city without stumbling upon one. One of the major parks in the city, located on the shore of the Caspian Sea is Denizkenari Milli Park. It is also known as Baku Boulevard and is a popular hangout for locals. You’ll see many people sitting by the sea, or eating ice cream from one of the many vendors there.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park On The Caspian Sea

There are many things to do in the park. Like visit the carpet museum there, which locals will tell you is a must see. They really do love their carpets.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park Carpet Museum

Or you could take a train
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park Train

Or play chess under the Azerbaijan flag
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park Chess and Flag

Beautiful Baku – Old and New

Apparently, when developing the city, a Parisian-style aesthetic was envisioned. To achieve this coveted look, European architects were brought in to design the city’s buildings. This is why the old city could easily be mistaken for a quaint European town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Old Town.

The old town, or Icherisheher, while lovely, has become a bit of a tourist destination these days. This means that some areas in it have been overrun by expensive hotels, cafes and restaurants aiming for the tourist dollar. It is however, still free to walk around the town’s narrow walkways and cobbled streets.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Old Town Street

There are also many souvenir shops selling local arts and crafts. Some of these still seem to have reasonable prices and very friendly shopkeepers that are eager to have in their shop. The old town is also home to the Maiden Tower. This tower has a viewing area at the top which is said to offer a fantastic view of the city. Unfortunately, they charge a ridiculous entry fee.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Old Town. Maiden Tower

Baku is unique in that it’s the only metropolis in Azerbaijan, as well as being the largest city below sea level. It is also a city where old and new have blended together seamlessly. If you walk just outside of the old city walls, you’re standing in a 21st century metropolis surrounded by mountains and hills. I guess everything’s a hill when your city is 30 metres below sea level. One of these hills has a viewpoint that offers a panoramic view of beautiful Baku.

Beautiful Baku from Above

The mysterious hill with a view doesn’t seem to have a name. All the locals refer to it as ‘the hill’. It’s about a 700m climb up a decent amount of stairs from near Denizkenari Milli Park/Baku Boulevard.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. First section of the Climb to the Hill

To be honest, the walk up to the hill could be a little overwhelming during the day in the summer if you’re not used to the Baku heat. But there are plenty of places to stop, rest and admire the view on the way up.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View on the Way up to the Hill

There is a road that intersects the path just before the last section of stairs. Many people choose to take a taxi to that point.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Last Lot of Stairs to the Hill

On the last sections of stairs, I came across some selling fresh fruits. I also noticed some rest points on the way up, for anyone that needs a bit of a break from climbing.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Rest Area on the Way Up the Hill

There were incredible views from a few levels going up the stairs, I made sure I checked them all out!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View Before the Top of the Hill

Of course the money shots were at the top. From there you get a panoramic view of the city and the Caspian.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View From the Top of the Hill

It’s almost enough to make you forget for a moment that you aren’t anywhere near an actual sea. You are in fact probably the furthest inland you could be on almost the entire earth.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View From the Top of the Hill. City and Sea

While it was lovely during the day, I had a thought that it would be even cooler to see at night when the city is lit up. So I walked back up just before sunset.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View From the Top of the Hill. City and Sea at Sunset

It is much busier at this time, but watching night descend upon the city was pretty awesome.

Then just after sunset, at about 21:30 during the summer, you’ll get to watch a light show for free!

There’s Something Quirky in Qobustan

Farid had advised me that if I do only one thing in Baku, it should be a trip to Qobustan, pronounced Gobustan. When I looked on the map, I realised it wasn’t far from Alat, where I had entered Azerbaijan. I decided to hop on one of Baku’s very modern looking buses to get to Bina Ticaret Merkezi, which is an interchange station about 30 minutes from the city centre. From there, I hopped on the 195 bus which stops in Qobustan. Both buses cost only 0.30 Azerbaijani Manat/US$0.18 each.

The bus dropped me off on the side of the road, where there was of course a taxi driver waiting. This taxi driver initially wanted to charge me 20 Manat/US$10 to take me on the 10km round trip to Qobustan’s main attraction. I was firmly against that and said I would pay no more than 10 Manat/US$5. That was a bit of a fail on my part, because I was tired and confused about the exchange rate. It should’ve cost less.

He said his fuel would cost 10 Manat/US$5, which I totally didn’t believe. I knew Azerbaijan had a lot of oil reserves under the Caspian Sea. I’d seen the oil rigs on the way in! He wasn’t budging and neither was I, so he took me to an area where some other taxis had gathered and one of them agreed to take me.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Mud Volcanoes, Qobustan

So what’s the main attraction of Qobustan? Mud Volcanoes! I kid you not. I told you there was something quirky in Qobustan!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Mud Volcano, Qobustan

Okay, so they’re not really volcanoes in the true sense of the word, but the mud ‘erupting’ from them has shaped them into volcano-like structures. The mud being expelled from the mounds is actually being pushed to the surface by bubbles of natural gas trying to escape from the earth. Perhaps the most surprising thing was about them was that despite the ambient temperature being above 30 degrees, the mud was pretty cold to touch.

When I was done taking a million pictures, the taxi took me back to a road. The first driver, Fazid was waiting there to take me back to the road where I could catch the bus. He took me to his barber shop first, which is situated in front of his house. He said I could wait inside for the bus, but as there was a wall between us and the main road, I wondered how we would see when the bus was coming.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Road Wall, Qobustan

Back to Beautiful Baku

After making sure he got a photo with me, which I was clearly not into, Fazid and I went out to the road. Another guy on the side of the road flagged down a car and was also going to Bina Ticaret, so Fazid said I should get in. The driver wanted 1 Manat for the ride, which is about double what the bus would cost. It was more comfortable though. When we arrived, he didn’t have change for a 20 Manat note, so he said not to worry about it.

From Bina Ticaret, I hopped on the 125 bus heading back to the city. I had one more stop I wanted to make before I went back to the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Baku Road Sign

Bibi-Heybat Mosque

The Bibi-Heybat Mosque is still a little bit outside of the city, but it’s absolutely amazing. I was in awe from the moment I stepped off the bus.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Graveyard Across the Road From the Mosque

The first thing that caught my eye, was the graveyard across the road that had been built into a hill. Some of the graves looked better than my house!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Bibi-Heybat Mosque From the Side

Once I walked into the grounds of the mosque, I was captivated not only by architecture and stature of the mosque, but also by the view.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Bibi-Heybat Mosque From the Side

As if the building itself isn’t impressive enough, it’s perched right above one of the shores of the Caspian Sea.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Caspian Sea Behind the Mosque

Bye Bye Beautiful Baku

As always happens when travelling, it has to come to an end at some point. Although I’m not usually a big fan of cities, Baku and its people had left an impression on me. From the people that helped me find my accommodation, to the airport bus driver who left his bus to show me how to use the ticket machine that had no English display. But you know what I’m going to miss most of all? The purple taxis. A city has reached next-level coolness when most of their taxi fleet is purple.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Purple Taxi

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Turkmenbashi to Baku – 3 Days on the Caspian Sea

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Turkmenbashi Port, Turkmenistan

A journey across the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water, from Turkmenbashi to Baku sounds like fun right? The prospect was quite exciting, as it’s not a common thing for people to do. I waited patiently at the Turkmenbashi port departure building until 11am. That was when ticket sales for the ferry to Baku, Azerbaijan were set to begin. Myself and 3 other people I’d met at the Turkmenbashi port made our way to the ticket sales window. This ticket sales window was, strangely, at the back of the port hotel, not in the departures building as you would think it would be. Even though there was a ticket sales window in the departures building, it seemed to be permanently closed, along with everything else that was supposed to be operating in the departures building.

Waiting..

The lady at the ticket window insisted that the truck drivers going on the ferry would be processed first. That meant we were only able to purchase our tickets for the Turkmenistan owned ferry ‘Bagtyyar’ starting from 11:30am. We had tried to get on the Azerbaijan owned ferry, Academik Topcubasov, that was also at the port. That one only cost US$60 per person for a bed in cabin. The Turkmen staff at the Turkmenistan port had told us that only the Turkmenistan owned ferry was taking passengers. Clearly it was a ploy to get people on to the more expensive Turkmenistan ferry. US$100 per person for just a seat on a 12 hour ferry. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. The Azerbaijan Ferry Academik Topcubasov Docked at Turkmenbashi Port
Azerbaijan Ferry Akademik Topcubasov in port

We were told the boat wouldn’t leave until the evening. We all had Turkmenistan Manat that we needed to spend, as it would be useless to us once we left Turkmenistan. Unfortunately, the currency exchange facilities that were supposed to be available at the port weren’t. So we headed to the port hotel restaurant for some lunch. Considering that it was the only restaurant in the area, it turned out to be a lot more reasonable than one would figure. I paid about US$1.60 for a steak.

Immigration Procedure

Back in the port departures building, the four of us joined the line to go through to the immigration area. They were only letting small groups of people through at one time, so we had to wait a while. When we finally got in, our luggage was scanned and we headed upstairs to the immigration clearance area. We were directed to use machines that scanned our passports and took our pictures. The machines didn’t give us any kind of receipt, though. We had to then go to an immigration officer to be stamped out, so the machines seemed to be quite redundant.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan to Baku, Azerbaijan - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Waiting to go into the Immigration Area

From there, we entered the departure lounge to wait for boarding. The port departures building was quite huge but there was almost nothing there. It seems they had reserved the third floor for shops but forgot to rent out the spaces. There was only 1 duty free shop there and all it sold was sheets and towels. I guess they figured that was a niche market for people taking the ferry.

Starting the Journey from Turkmenbashi to Baku. Or Not.

Luckily, boarding started not long after that. We all quickly found ourselves rows of 3 seats each that we could use to sleep on. We waited on the boat for many hours, completely unsure of when it was going to leave. We asked around during the evening meal and no one was sure when we would leave. When I saw trucks still being loaded on to the ferry at 11pm, I figured we wouldn’t be moving for a while. We ended up going to sleep while still in port.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. New Bed on the Bagtyyar
My new bed on the Bagtyyar

I woke up at about 4:30am because the airconditioning in the lounge area, where we were sleeping, was set to freezing. The sheet I’d managed to acquire was no longer protecting me from the arctic breeze. I decided to go outside where it was warmer. We still weren’t moving and we were still in the port area. We had been on the ship for 16 hours and not moved a single centimetre. Clearly, ferries work differently in Turkmenistan!

FInally moving?

Not long after that, just before sunrise at around 5am, we started moving, albeit slowly. Great, we were finally on our way from Turkmenbashi to Baku! Or were we?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Finally Leaving the Port!

I presumed we were moving super slowly because we were exiting the port area. Surely we’d gain some speed once further out. But shortly after that, I went outside and realised that we’d stopped moving. The port was still clearly visible not far behind us. By the time they opened the galley for breakfast at 10am, we still weren’t moving and nobody really knew what was going on. Would our journey from Turkmenbashi to Baku start that day? Or would we spend another night on the ‘sea’ in a stationary boat?

By this stage, we hadn’t showered for a few days owing to this being our second day on the ship and having caught an overnight train to get to the Turkmenbashi port the day before. Thankfully, one of the nice kitchen staff allowed all four of us to shower in his personal cabin. That was much needed and awesomely refreshing!

New Captain?

There was a rumour that the captain of the ship for this sailing was relatively new. Being new, he apparently thought there was a storm coming. The thing is, the sky looked absolutely clear for as far as the eye could see and the water all around us was calm. The staff on the boat didn’t even know what was going on. They had actually thought that we would be on the way to Baku that day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Somewhere on the Caspian Sea

By the evening we still weren’t moving and still had no idea what was going on. When we went to have the evening meal, we got a bit of a surprise. Despite having already paid US$100 for our seat and onboard meals, the ship staff wanted to charge us for that meal. In Turkmenistan Manat, which we had gotten rid of. Luckily, some other passengers on the ship came to our rescue. Firstly, some Azerbaijani drivers made sure that the 4 of us got meals. Then a really nice Turkmen lady, who spoke English really well, shared some meat that she had made at home and brought on board with her.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Shared Food on the Ferry

Meeting People

Apparently, this lady had figured out that I was a teacher because she’d heard me explaining something to someone earlier. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe it is true that teachers never stop teaching. Or maybe she picked it up because she was also a teacher. As the only person on board that could speak English, she became our communication conduit. It was a bit weird when passengers asked for invitations to South Korea, from my companions. They had only started talking to them one minute beforehand.

That night we went to sleep again on the water, but still not moving. We were anchored just outside the port area, but still within Turkmenistan waters. At that point, we had officially been on the ferry for over 30 hours and we had been anchored in the same spot for about half that time. We were possibly waiting out a storm that never came. We had been stamped out of Turkmenistan early afternoon on the 25th, but still hadn’t left Turkmenistan waters by the early hours of the 27th, almost 2 days later.

Turkmenbashi to Baku, Finally!

I managed to sleep in until 7am, probably because I was so exhausted from my lack of sleep over the last 3 days. It was about that time that we finally started moving, for real. We checked with the staff and they said we would be in Baku by 7pm. We were still a bit dubious about that claim, as we had also been told that the day before.

We kept checking our progress on our map periodically during the day. It was extremely comforting to see that we were actually moving nicely across the Caspian Sea. Around 3pm it looked like we were very close to Baku and would make it quite a bit before 7pm. The prospect of getting in earlier than expected was exciting. We just knew that exiting the ship was going to be chaotic and time-consuming.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Sunset Coming into the Alat Port

Then our final surprise came at about 17:30. We were looking at the map to check how far we had to go. It was then that we realised that we’d sailed right past Baku! Despite all the information that we’d read online that our ferry goes to the port in Baku, we were heading to the port of Alat. That’s 70km away from Baku!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Island near Alat Port

Furthermore, we were only making our way past the sandbar island outside of the port area after 7pm. We were barely crawling at that point, I guess due to speed restrictions near the port. Then we had to wait for the Azerbaijani tug boat to come out and guide us in.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Tug Boat at the Alat Port

Land Ahoy!

You can’t imagine the joy we felt at finally being in Azerbaijan. But the challenges were not over yet. We still had to get off the boat, go through immigration and find a way to get Baku. It was 9pm by the time we docked. Staff became crowd controllers as they had to ensure that all the drivers exited first, in groups of 20. There were 50 drivers and the staff had their work cut out for them trying to keep the passengers at bay.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Passengers Getting Ready to Leave the Boat

Waiting patiently, instead of pushing and shoving like all the other passengers were, paid off for us. The staff-member-turned-crowd-control dude let us go with the last lot of drivers. That happened an hour after the boat had docked. There were only 2 immigration officers, so even with such a small amount of people, there was still a pretty long wait.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. Small Port Shuttle

It wasn’t far away from midnight by the time we had all made it through immigration. We found out at that point that it wasn’t possible to get a taxi from where we were, in the port area. We had to get a port shuttle to the main road first. Luckily, while we were waiting, a port coach entered and we were told it would take us all the way to Baku for US$3. Sounded great to us! I even managed to get a bit of sleep on the way in.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Turkmenbashi, to Baku - 3 Days on the Caspian Sea. The Port Shuttle, Our Saviour

As fun as a ferry across the Caspian sounds, I wouldn’t recommend it. Unless you absolutely can’t live without the ‘I’ve travelled across the Caspian’ bragging rights.

Travel to Turkmenistan – 8 Things to Know

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Things to Know. Ashgabat Subway

Turkmenistan is a strange country in many respects. It is completely different to its Central Asian neighbours in that it has tried to close itself off from the world. This means that it can be a confusing and frustrating country to travel in. If you’re planning a trip there, the following list of things to know about Turkmenistan could come in very handy for you.

Important Things to Know About Turkmenistan, No 1 – Currency

Of all the things to know about Turkmenistan, this one is probably the most important as it could affect how much money you’ll have available to you. The local currency is the Turkmenistan Manat. You cannot exchange Turkmenistan Manat outside of the country as the official government stance is that the currency must stay in the country. There are 2 exchange rates for the currency. The official exchange rate is 3.5 Manat to US$1. This is the rate at which the banks sell the currency. The black market exchange rate however can range from 15-20 Manat to US$1. Yes, you read that right. The black market rate can be 5 to 6 times more than the official rate.

As you can imagine, the rate you change your cash at will influence how much you spend in Turkmenistan. Obviously, the black market rate is much better and would allow you to eat like a king while only spending a small amount of money, comparatively. The problem with exchanging at the black market rate is that it is forever fluctuating. If you change to Manat when the rate is 15 to 1, but the rate goes up to 20 to 1 when you want to change back, you stand to lose a fair amount of money.

If you want to play it safe, you can exchange at the bank rate of 3.5, but that means things will end up being much more expensive and you will spend a lot more money. Another disadvantage of changing at the bank rate is that you may not be able to change any leftover money back to US Dollars at the bank, because the laws of the country only allow Turkmenistan citizens to exchange into US Dollars. This means you’ll be forced to change back at the black market rate, which could see you lose more than half of your money.

The best course of action is to only exchange a small amount, say $20 at the black market rate, to minimise the chances of losing money with exchanges. Hotels will generally exchange US Dollars for you. Some bazaars are also known for their black market exchanges. Locals always know where the best place to exchange is.

2) Transport

The Mashrutkas (minivans) that are prevalent in other central Asian countries are not as common in Turkmenistan. I only saw a few operating and only within Ashgabat.

Shared taxis are readily available for intercity journeys and normally cost 50-100 Manat (US$3.30-6.60 at the black market rate). Taxis around the city in Ashgabat should cost between 10-20 Manat (US$0.60-1.30). Bear in mind that drivers will try to double the price for foreigners and they sometimes negotiate hard to get you to pay more. You can always walk away from them and find another, more cooperative driver.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Things to Know. Shared Taxis in Ashgabat

As Turkmenistan only consists of a few cities, it’s easy to travel between them by train. Train tickets are cheaper than shared taxis, but can take up to twice as long. Some trains will get to their destinations at inconvenient times as well. Train tickets to Turkmanbashi and Turkmenabat are 31 Manat/US$2 for a 12 hour journey on a sleeper train. Train tickets to Mary are around 34 Manat/US$2.20 for a 12 hour journey on a sleeper train.

By far the cheapest form of transportation in Turkmenistan is the public bus system in Ashgabat. It is quite well developed and each ride only costs 0.50 Manat, or 1 Manat if the bus driver doesn’t have any change. The buses are not airconditioned, but as long as they’re moving, there’s generally enough airflow to keep you from overheating in the summer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Things to Know. Buses in Ashgabat

Important Things to Know About Turkmenistan No 3 – Tourist Traps and Money Makers

Even though Turkmenistan isn’t all that open to tourism, locals still seem to find ways to put tourists in situations where they have to spend more money than they should. This starts before you even enter the country. Want to get a tourist visa to travel to Turkmenistan? You need to pay for a guide to accompany you for your entire stay in Turkmenistan, which of course does not come cheap. Want to opt for the cheaper option of a Transit visa? You’ll need to pay a US$14 entrance fee to the country at the border.

Perhaps you want to spend a night in a yurt with no amenities near the infamous Darvaza Gas Crater? That’ll be US$20. You want to get a taxi somewhere? You’re guaranteed to be quoted double the price as a foreigner. Even visiting a smelly underground lake in a sauna-like cavern can set you back up to US$20. In Turkmenistan, they know what tourists want to see and they’re prepared to charge you extra for the privilege of seeing those places.

There are some even more nefarious ways that locals will try to make money off visitors. Even though it’s illegal, locals will often try to force tourists to pay in US dollars, so they can take the money and make a profit by exchanging it on the black market. Always try to pay in Turkmenistan Manat where you can.

4) Social Media and Internet

All social media, from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to WhatsApp and WeChat are blocked in Turkmenistan. That can make it very hard to keep in contact with the outside world without a VPN. In truth, it can still be impossible to connect, even with a VPN. Many VPNs have been blocked by the Turkmenistan government, as I found out.

As you can imagine, when a government starts screwing with the internet, things get very slow and annoying to use. I was only able to connect to WiFi twice during my visit and each time connectivity waxed and waned, to the point where it was just easier to give up and do something else.

Weird Things to Know About Turkmenistan No 5 – Presidential Pictures

Of all the things to know about Turkmenistan, this is possibly the weirdest. A ridiculous amount of pictures of the current Turkmenistan president can be seen around Ashgabat. You can’t walk more than 500 metres without seeing him. He’s everywhere.

You’ll see him in parks, at train stations, on government buildings and even in buses. I’m not quite sure of the purpose of all these obviously photoshopped pictures of the president. Or if there is some law in the country about his pictures being displayed everywhere.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Things to Know. Presidential Picture

Whatever the deal is, it just seems odd to have photos of the country’s leader in so many places. I suspect it’s because the leader somehow expects that the people of his country should idolise him, but that just seems a bit arrogant and narcissistic. I guess that’s just about what you would expect from a guy that does donuts around the Darvaza Gas Crater to quell rumours that he’s in poor health.

6) Police State

There is a huge and noticeable police presence in Turkmenistan, on the roads and in the capital city, Ashgabat. Police Checkpoints are set up at intervals along the country highways in Turkmenistan. They may or may not stop cars that are going through and check that their paperwork is in order, especially if they’re carrying tourists. I personally was never stopped at any of these checkpoints, but I definitely noticed that they were there.

In the Ashgabat city centre, police are ever-present, normally standing on the side of roads in front of buildings. For the most part, they don’t interact with people passing by, although they do seem to use their extra curious ‘WTF are you doing’ stare when a foreigner happens to be walking past their building. Most of them always look stoic and often menacing, whereas others are a little more friendly and willing to answer questions.

Important Things to Know About Turkmenistan No 7 – Agressive Drivers

When compiling this list of things to know about Turkmenistan, I was reticent to include this one, but eventually decided it should be included because cars outnumber pedestrians substantially in Turkmenistan. Turkmen drivers seem to believe that they are the only ones that have the right to use the road. They do not take kindly to pedestrians being on roads, even at pedestrian crossings. Do not expect them to stop if they see you crossing. In fact, they are more likely to speed up and honk their horn at you. Be prepared to run at intersections, if you want to live.

8) Accommodation

Hostels don’t really exist in Turkmenistan and hotels are quite expensive, especially when you take into account what you get for your money. In Ashgabat, US$15 will get you what would be considered a super budget room anywhere else in the world. You will have to share a bathroom and there won’t be any WiFi. Or perhaps you could take the next step up and get a budget room for US$22 at a hotel that has WiFi, although there won’t be WiFi in your room. Also, expect room configurations to be weird.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Things to Know. Toilet, But no Shower in a Hotel Room
Hotel room with toilet, but no shower

One of the more quirky things to know about Turkmenistan is that accommodation generally can’t be booked from outside of the country, unless you go through a tour agency. Luckily, it seems to be easy to get accommodation sorted by just walking into a hotel. At $15, the Kuwwat Hotel seems to be the cheapest in Ashgabat, but it doesn’t have WiFi. It’s also in a pretty good location. Syyhat Hotel has WiFi in the reception area only, but their price is $22 and the location isn’t as good. Hotels generally expect payment in US Dollars as well. If they do take payment in Manat, they will use the black market exchange rate to jack up the price. Apparently, the accommodation in other Turkmenistan towns outside of Ashgabat is even more expensive.

Travel to South Turkmenistan – Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat White Domed Buildings

In South Turkmenistan, the country’s capital city, Ashgabat is a strange, impressive and confusing place. The first odd thing about it is that the government has absolutely mad licensing rules for cars that carry passengers for hire. Cars are either licensed to drive passengers in the capital city or in the rest of the country, not both. Cars licenced to carry passengers in the rest of Turkmenistan cannot enter Ashgabat with their passengers. Because of this, there is a change-over station about 15 kilometres outside of the city. Country taxis drop passengers off there and city taxis can pick them up. I presume they have the same rules for intercity buses, as the Ashgabat bus station is relatively close to the change-over station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat Taxi Changeover Station

First Impressions of the South Turkmenistan Capital, Ashgabat (Aşgabat)

As I had entered the city from northern Turkmenistan, the first thing I saw was the Ashgabat International Airport. Someone was definitely trying to make a big impression there. It was like the city was going all-out for some gala show. There were massive statues and fountains of water shooting high into the air. I was, unfortunately, unable to capture the grandness of it all from the car, so you’ll just have to imagine.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat Taxi Changeover Station

As I moved further into Ashgabat, I realised that every building was white. Every single one. They all looked fairly new as well. Once the novelty of seeing shiny, new, white buildings everywhere wore off, it seemed that the Turkmenistan capital had no soul. It was almost like Ashgabat was the unpopular kid who suddenly became popular and was trying too hard to impress, but offered nothing of real value.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat White Buildings

Furthermore, it seemed that all the cars and buses in Ashgabat were either white or grey. I heard a rumour that it was illegal to own black cars in the city. I can’t really confirm if it’s true or not, but I can say for sure that I didn’t see one single black car during my time there. Only grey and white cars.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Only Grey and White Cars on the Road

Ashgabat continued to try to make huge impressions with many green spaces, monuments and fountains within the city centre. What it seemed to lack was the openness and friendliness of other Central Asian cities. In fact, the ever-present contingent of police officers stationed strategically around the city felt kind of ominous.

Some of these officers were intent on telling you off for stupid stuff. Like having the audacity to take your phone out of your pocket, to look at your map, near some buildings they didn’t want people to take photos of. Others were a little more friendly and willing to help with directions. One park even had men dressed in plain clothes stationed there. Why? To stop people taking pictures of the huge screen featured in the middle of the park. The screen played a loop of the president, looking all presidential and photoshopped in the middle of 2 digitally produced Turkmenistan flags.

Presidential Pictures

Another quirk of Ashgabat is the pictures of the president everywhere. You couldn’t walk more than 500 metres within the city without seeing his picture. Maybe you could go to a sports centre to escape his watchful eyes? Nope, he’s front and centre there too. Surely you could catch a bus to get away from him. Nope, he’s watching you from above the windscreen. The point is, the dude is everywhere.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Ubiquitous Photo of the President

I’m not sure of the reason for having these pictures everywhere in Ashgabat. Is it to remind people that the president does actually exist, even though he rarely goes out in public? There weren’t really that many pictures of him in the north of Turkmenistan though. Or maybe it’s done to illicit an undying love and admiration for him. If you are Turkmen you must love your president. Who knows, but it seems kinda weird and narcissistic. Especially seeing as rumour has it that he is ill and not even in Turkmenistan at the moment.

Ashgabat in South Turkmenistan at Night

For all the weird things about the city of Ashgabat, it was much nicer at night. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that nightfall brought a drop from 45 degrees plus to a much more bearable temperature. You could walk around more comfortably at night. The lights of the night also added a dash of colour to break up the monotony of everything being white.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Monument Lit Up at Night K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Mosque Lit Up at Night

I had heard rumours of an 11pm curfew for foreigners in Ashgabat. Locals seem to think that it is enforced. I met a local who told me I might have problems when walking back to my accommodation after leaving them at 10:30pm. I did not have any problems. I was out past 11pm for both the nights I spent in Ashgabat. I walked past several police officers standing guard outside buildings or near roads. They gave no indication that I shouldn’t be there. In fact, they barely even acknowledged I was there. So I was either lucky, or there is no curfew in effect now.

Sights Near Ashgabat, South Turkmenistan

There are a few interesting sights that can be easily accessed from Ashgabat, but you can expect to part with more money than you should have to if you want to see them. First, there is Old Nisa, or Kone-Nusay. You can hop on the #50 bus from the Teke Bazaar Bus Terminus to get there. The bus takes about 30 minutes and only costs 0.5 Manat. The entrance to Old Nisa is about a 20 minute walk from where the bus route terminates. There is a small shop there if you’re short on supplies.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Bus Fare K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Teke Bazaar Bus Terminal

Old Nisa Ruins – (Konenusay)

To enter the Old Nisa Ruins area, you need to pay 21 Manat. Considering that half of the ruins are not accessible and the other half seem to be barely maintained, it really doesn’t seem worth it. It could be worth it if you’re passionate about ruins though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Old Nisa Ruins Entrance

To be honest, the town surrounding the ruins, Nusay was much more interesting to walk around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat. Nusay, Near Old Nisa Ruins

Kow Ata Underground Lake in Ahal

Another site in South Turkmenistan that seems like it would be fun to visit is the Kow Ata underground lake in Ahal. It is less than an hour from the Ashgabat city centre, or a 30 Manat taxi ride. What might blow your mind about this one is the 50 Manat entrance fee. The less than warm reviews of the place might also make you want to think twice. But I guess if you have money and time to burn, you might want to check it out; just keep your expectations low.

Turkmenbashy Monument and Mosque

The Turkmenbashy Mosque, Mausoleum and Monument may prove to be the best value for money in South Turkmenistan, if you want to see a local site. You can hop on a bus from the Teke Bazaar Bus Terminal to Kipchak/Qipchak and all three sites are within 500 metres of each other.

Train to Turkmenbashi (Türkmenbaşy)

I’d decided to take the overnight train to Turkmenbashi in western Turkmenistan, which would be my exit point from the country. Trains in Turkmenistan are a very economical option for travelling between cities, but they are quite slow. There is an online ticketing system, but it requires a Turkmenistan card to purchase tickets and often shows that there are no tickets, even when they are available at the train station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat Train Station

Buying Train Tickets

The best option for tourists in Turkmenistan is to go to the building next to the train station, with ‘Kassalar’ written on the top of it in big yellow letters. Some say you should purchase your ticket at least 2 days in advance, but I purchased on the same day with no problems. Ticket counters open at 7am. Counters 4-7 sell tickets for Turkmenbashi in western Turkmenistan and Turkmenabat, in eastern Turkmenistan. It is pretty much chaos at the ticket counters as people don’t seem to know how to line up straight and people like to try to push through to get to the counter before you.

After waiting for about 20 minutes, I was finally at the counter and let the lady behind the window know that I was going to Turkmenbashi in the west of South Turkmenistan. She told me that the departure time and asked for 31 Manat. The departure time she gave me was different to what I thought it would be, but then I figured that there might be more than one train. It wasn’t until I looked at the ticket that I realised that she’d somehow mistaken Turkmenbashi for Turkmenibat, which was literally at the other end of the country.

I alerted her to her mistake but instead of giving me back 31 Manat, she only gave me 22 Manat, then made me pay another 31 Manat for the correct ticket. I was annoyed that she’d charged me for her mistake and indicated that I wanted the 9 Manat back. She said I could come back later to get my money back. That was probably something she said just to try to get rid of me, as there was no one at the counter later. So a 31 Manat train ticket ended up costing me 40 Manat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Ashgabat Train Ticket to Turkmenbashi

The train takes a fairly straight route to the most western part of South Turkmenistan; the port of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea. It was quite comfortable, but each cabin had 6 beds, in the form of 2 triple bunks. That meant that the person on the top bunk wouldn’t be able to sit up without hitting the roof of the cabin. The people in my cabin were eager to share their food with me. They tried to chat with me, but it was hard because we couldn’t really understand each other.

Turkmenbashi, South Turkmenistan – Gateway to the Caspian Sea

The train arrived in the western Turkmenistan city of Turkmenbashi at 05:50, about an hour later than scheduled. The city of Turkmenbashi seemed a lot nicer than Ashgabat. For a start, it was a lot more modest and there were buildings that weren’t white. As an added bonus, it was surrounded by mountains.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Turkmenbashi Mountains

I had figured that the port wouldn’t open until 8 or 9am, so I decided to have a bit of a look around Turkmenbashi. The early hour made it quite pleasant to walk around as there weren’t many people out and the sun wasn’t yet in full force.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Turkmenbashi Structures K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Turkmenbashi Monument

The Turkmenbashi Port looked shiny, new and of course, white. There were a few huge buildings, but there didn’t seem to be much going on in the area. I entered the port area just before 8am, only to find out that tickets for the boat wouldn’t go on sale until 11am. Luckily, I found some people to talk to, who were also taking the ferry to Baku. Little did we know, that we would be spending a lot more time together than we’d originally thought.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. In Front of Turkmenbashi Port K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Overly Impressive Capital to Caspian Sea Port. Turkmenbashi Port

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post to find out how an estimated 12 hours on the Caspian Sea turned into 3 days.

Travel to Turkmenistan – Frontier to Fire

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Darvaza Gas Crater. Gate to Hell at Night

Frenzy at the Frontier
With a fresh visa for travel to Turkmenistan in my passport, I made my way to the Nukus border to cross over and see the historic Turkmenistan city of Kunya-Urgench. But first I had to contend with some border chaos. From the outside, the immigration building was possibly one of the cutest I’ve ever seen. It was a lovely white building with a golden, mosque-like domed roof. The red, green and white Turkmenistan flag was flying freely on a pole shooting up from the centre of the dome.

That interesting vision gave way to a picture of an unorganised mob crowding around a luggage scanning machine as soon as I opened the door to the building. I had absolutely no idea where to go and the immigration desk wasn’t marked, or even findable from where I was. I tried to have a peak in the next room, where everyone was gathered, but then heard a man calling me from behind. There was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it room to the left of the entrance, where the man was seated. I went into the room and he looked at my passport and gave me a customs form to fill out. He then gestured for me to head to towards the crowd.

I still had no idea where the immigration desk was, as I couldn’t see anything with the crowd in the way. Luckily the crowd dispersed as the immigration officers slowly scanned and checked everyone’s luggage. I finally noticed a small window tucked away on the lefthand side of the room and figured it must have been where I needed to go. It was indeed. The officer perused the stamps in my passport for a bit, then said I had to go to the next window to pay the US$14 entrance tax. Paying the fee was quick of course, but I had to wait for the guy to write out 2 receipts.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Getting the Visa. Turkmenistan Border Receipt Number 1 K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Getting the Visa. Turkmenistan Border Receipt Number 2

Back at the first window, the officer asked me for my detailed itinerary, then took issue with one of the cities I had indicated that I would visit. He told me that I was only allowed to continue in one direction towards my exit port in the west and I wasn’t allowed to visit any cities to the east. I told him that I had indicated that I would visit that town in my application, so there shouldn’t be a problem. He repeated himself a few more times and I did the same until he eventually said, “Okay” and stamped me in.

By the time I got to the luggage scanner, there was no line, but the staff were busy checking every small article in the bags of the Belgian guy who had passed through in front of me. They must’ve spent at least 30 minutes going through his luggage, while I stood there thinking that I was going to be subjected to that next. I was pleasantly surprised when the officers on the other side of the machine didn’t really seem too interested in looking too closely at my bag.

Instead, after asking if I had any weapons or medications, one of the officers asked me about what I was going to do and see in Turkmenistan, in a friend chatting kind of way, not an immigration officer kind of way. The other officers half-heartedly looked at my bag while this guy chatted to me for a few minutes. I ended up leaving the building at the same time as people that had arrived 2 hours earlier than me. The guide that was with two of the people that exited at the same time as me organised a car to take us all from the immigration area to the area 500 metres down the road where the people on tourist visas could meet their drivers and I could get a taxi onto Kunya-Urgench.

Historical Kunya-Urgench (Köneürgench)
Before crossing the border, I knew that the taxi to the northern Turkmenistan town of Kunya-Urgench should only be US$1, as it’s only a 10 minute drive. The waiting taxi drivers were intent on charging me $4. They negotiated hard and it seemed like they weren’t going to budge from $2, but finally they relented and said that US$1 was okay. Before we reached Kunya-Urgench, my driver stopped on the side of the road to speak to another driver who wanted to take me on to Darvaza from Kunya-Urgench. That driver initially wanted to charge me US$50 for the 3 hour ride. Of course, my reply was a firm no. The lowest he was willing to go was US$30, so I told him no thanks and got the current driver to continue on to Kunya-Urgench.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. UNESCO Mausoleums in Kunya-Urgench

The driver dropped me of at a UNESCO site that comprised of the Piryarvali, Nedjmeddin Kubra, Sultan Ali and Matkerim Ishan Mausoleums, as well as the Dash Mosque Museum. It was a fairly interesting site that I spent quite a while walking around and admiring. The Nedjmeddin Kubra Mausoleum had a very interesting front wall that was built on an angle away from the rest of the building.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Nadjmeddin Kubra Mausoleum with Angled Wall in Kunya-Urgench

Near the Sultan Ali Mausoleum, there was a small tree trunk with coloured bits of cloth wrapped around the end of it. It seemed to have some significance because I saw locals walk around it several times while making some gestures, like it was some kind of ritual.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Sultan Ali Mausoleum in Kunya-Urgench

While wandering around, I bumped into the Belgian guy that I’d met at the border, we chatted for a bit about the history of the area and then our presence started generating some interest among the locals at the site. That’s when the standard, “Where are you from?” and “Where will you go in Turkmenistan?” questions started. Then came the requests for photos with us. So much for blending in.

I then continued onto the town mosque, which I could easily see from the mausoleum area, while Martin, the Belgian guy, headed off to check out some more historical sites as he was a bit of a history buff. That wasn’t the last time on my trip that I would bump into him though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Mosque in Kunya-Urgench

I managed to sneak in one more monument before I made my way back to the mausoleum area, because I’d noticed that some taxi drivers had gathered near there. These drivers started at more reasonable prices than previous drivers and seemed to be having fun interacting with me. At one stage there were even 2 drivers fighting over who was going to take me. Then someone put me on the phone to a man who spoke English. He said he would be there soon to help me out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Monument and Building in Kunya-Urgench

That man was Murad, a tour guide based in Kunya-Urgench. He said that he was heading to Ashgabat to pick up a tourist. He suggested that I could join him in a taxi and he would ask the driver to drop me off at the Darvaza Gas Crater, then I could hitchhike to Ashgabat the next day.

Darvaza Gas Crater – The Gate to Hell
When we arrived at Darvaza, which is towards the center of the desert of Turkmenistan, I didn’t realise that the taxi had pulled up right next to the crater, because it’s not all that impressive during the day. I did, however, notice that it was hot as hell when I got out of the car. I guess that’s why they call it the Gate to Hell.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Darvaza Gas Crater. Gate to Hell during the day

Murad introduced me to his friend who works near the crater and said he would look after me. Murad then left me his number to call if I needed any help while I was in Turkmenistan. I was then whisked away on a motorbike to an area near a yurt and some tents that didn’t feel anywhere near as hot as it was near the crater.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Tents Near the Darvaza Gas Crater. Gate to Hell

To be honest, I was pretty excited about being there. This crater was the main reason I wanted to visit Turkmenistan. Ever since I heard about it many moons ago, it had been very high on my to-do list. It’s a perfect example of how the human lack of foresight can showcase the power of nature.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Sunset Near the Darvaza Gas Crater. Gate to Hell

If you don’t know how the crater came to be, it happened around the mid 70’s in what was then part of the USSR. Soviet scientists accidently collapsed an underground cavern full of natural gas. The natural gas started flowing freely into the surrounding desert. The scientists decided that the best way to deal with the escaping gas was by adding fire. They had expected the natural supply would be exhausted in a few days, but 45 years later, it’s still going strong.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Darvaza Gas Crater. Gate to Hell Around Sunset

Just after sunset, I bumped into some young guys close to the edge of the crater, trying to get the perfect ‘look, I’m breathing fire’ shot, for Instagram, I presume. While I was chatting to them, Martin, the Belgian guy from earlier, joined us. There were many pictures and videos taken, as just after sunset is the best time to capture the essence of the crater.

The people working near the crater offered for me to sleep in a yurt, but it was quite stuffy inside. There was a nice breeze outside, so I decided to sleep under the stars. It was lovely. The next morning, they wanted to charge me US$25 for eating some food and sleeping outside. I got them down to $10, but this was only the first example I encountered of how Turkmenistan is geared towards putting travellers in situations where they are forced to part with more money than they should. It wasn’t the last.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Darvaza Gas Crater. Gate to Hell After Sunset
One last crater photo

Other craters
I decided to walk out to the main road, but barely 5 minutes into my walk, a car leaving the crater stopped for me. It was Martin and his guide and they were heading for the other 2 craters in the area. The first one was much smaller than the main crater, with only one little fire burning in a more shallow, rounded crater. There were a few muddy patches not far from the little fire where bubbling gas could be seen and heard.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Smaller Crater with a Small Fire Near Darvaza

The second one was probably about the same size as the first, but had a bit of a lake happening at the bottom. It looked quite lovely, until you walked around the crater a bit and saw a ridiculous amount of plastic bottles floating in it. Just like the first crater, there was a section where you could see and hear gas bubbling through, but obviously there was no fire there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Frontier to Fire. Smaller Crater with a Little Lake Near Darvaza

As the rules regarding tour guiding are very strict in Turkmenistan, guides are only allowed to have the tourists whose names are on their paperwork in their vehicles. Martin’s guide said he would take me all the way to the capital, Ashgabat if that wasn’t the case. Instead, he would take me to a service station just before the next police checkpoint, about 100km down the road. Once we got to the service station, he found someone to drive me the rest of the way to Ashgabat.

Stay tuned for more Turkmenistan adventures in my next post.

Travel to Turkmenistan – Getting the Visa

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Getting the Visa. Turkmenistan Visa with Entry and Exit Stamps

Rumours about the difficulty of getting a visa to enable you to travel to Turkmenistan and the low approval rate are abundant on the internet, but it’s really not as hard to acquire as some people would have you believe. Below are accounts of the visa application process from the recent experiences of 10 travellers that were granted both tourist and transit visas in July 2019.

Tourist Visa for Travel to Turkmenistan
As stated above, there are 2 visa options for travel to Turkmenistan; a tourist visa and a transit visa. The tourist visa can be issued for up to 30 days but comes with a huge caveat. You must be accompanied by a certified guide for your whole trip. As you could imagine, that will get expensive. Three of the 10 people, who coincidentally happened to be European, went for this option. They paid around US$150-200 a day for their guide, including the guide’s accommodation, food and fuel. That was without their own food and accommodation expenses.

All 3 chose a 6 day itinerary, as that was about the limit of what they could afford to spend. One of them had chosen to take flights between some cities, to maximise their time. That meant that they had to meet different guides in different cities. While a guide is being hired by a tourist, they can’t officially have anyone else in the car with them. All their paperwork shows the name of the tourist/s they can have in their car and the dates they can carry them. There are many police checkpoints along Turkmen roads and they often check, so guides will always err on the side of caution.

For this visa, you need proof that you’ve hired a local guide or joined a local tour. That would come in the form of a confirmation slip from the tour company/guide that you are using. From what I can gather, this visa can be obtained at the border with an emailed invitation letter, but there may be delays. The 3 people I met on tourist visas spent around 3 hours at the border waiting for paperwork. That could’ve possibly been because the travel company they booked through missed something.

Transit Visa for Travel to Turkmenmistan
The second option, the transit visa, is said to be one of the hardest visas to attain. Seven people managed to get this visa from both the Bishkek and Tashkent Turkmenistan Embassies in the first 3 weeks of July 2019 with no problems. This visa is issued for 5 days and is valid for transit through any Turkmenistan border with Uzbekistan to Azerbaijan via the Caspian Sea or Iran via Artyk. No other exit points, ie: Afghanistan or Kazakhstan, are accepted. Entry and exit points must be listed on your application and will be stated on the visa placed in your passport.

Getting the Transit Visa for Travel to Turkmenistan in Tashkent at the Embassy of Turkmenistan in the Republic of Uzbekistan
It has been mentioned online that you need to get to the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Tashkent, (found at Afrosiyob Street, 19, about a 400m walk from the Kosmonavtlar Metro station), at 7am to put your name on a waiting list, for when the consulate opens at 9am. This actually isn’t necessary. As long as you arrive at any time before 1pm, they will see you and let you submit your application, even if you end up leaving after 1pm. You will just need to wait outside the embassy for around 20 minutes upon arrival until the processing officer comes out to guide you in. You can wait in a nice shady area across from the embassy so that you don’t melt in the Uzbek heat.

Once the officer comes out, you will be required to trade your mobile phone, as well as any other device with photo taking capability, for a numbered tile. They have a big sign out the front saying that no photos are allowed, so I guess they want to make sure you don’t have the chance to break their rules. This Turkmenistan embassy only requires you to fill out 2 one page forms, the first being the application form, in English and Uzbek, to which you will attach a passport-sized photo. The second form is completely in Uzbek, but the staff will guide you. Both forms are available at the embassy.

The documents required for submitting your application for transit visa for travel to Turkmenistan in Tashkent are –
* Colour copy of the information page of your passport
* 2 passport size photos with a white background
* Copy of visa for country of transit, ie: Azerbaijan or Iran

Upon submission of all your documents, you need to pay a US$10 fee to the embassy and the staff will give you a receipt. They will tell you that you will need to bring that receipt with you when you pick up the visa. They didn’t ask for it when I returned though. They will say to come back in 10 working days. I managed to convince them to have it ready in 10 days/a week and a half.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Getting the Visa. Tashkent Turkmenistan Embassy Visa Application Fee

I had heard that they can email the visa approval letter to you so that you don’t have to physically attend the embassy again. The first staff member I spoke to said that they could email the visa approval letter to me and I could pay the visa fee at the border. The officer who took my application said that wasn’t possible anymore, so I would have to attend the office. 3 other people were given similar information by the embassy in Tashkent.

When you pick up the visa, you’ll need to pay the US$45 visa fee directly to the embassy. They will ask you what your exact entry date is and put the visa in your passport with a validity of 5 days from the date that you give them. You need to make sure you’ve allowed enough time to get yourself to the border you want to use to enter Turkmenistan. Keep in mind that the closest Uzbek/Turkmen border to Tashkent is about 10 hours away by car, with the most popular entry point, Nukus, being a 16-20 hour drive from Tashkent. The Tashkent Turkmen Embassy website is here

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Getting the Visa. Tashkent Turkmenistan Embassy Visa Fee Receipt

Getting the Transit Visa for Travel to Turkmenistan in Bishkek at the Embassy of Turkmenistan to the Kyrgyz Republic
The Embassy of Turkmenistan to the Kyrgyz Republic in Bishkek, located on Baytik Baatyr Street, opens at 10am and is a lot quieter than it’s counterpart in Tashkent. Do take note that it appears to be closed on Wednesdays. There’s no need to rush as you will most likely be there the only one there at the time of application.

Like the embassy in Tashkent, they have a big sign saying that no photography is allowed, but they do allow you to keep your phone on you when you enter the building. There’s no waiting at this embassy, you can just go straight to the window and submit your application. This Turkmenistan embassy requires you to fill out 2 application forms, one with 2 pages and one with 1 page. Both forms are in Russian and English. They also require a hand-written letter stating the visa you’re applying for and a detailed itinerary. They have a sample letter for you to follow at the embassy. The application forms can be downloaded from the embassy website, or are available at the embassy.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Getting the Visa. Turkmenistan Visa Application Hand Written Letter

The documents required for submitting your application for the visa to travel to Turkmenistan in Bishkek are
Colour copy of the information page of your passport
2 passport size photos with a white background
Copy of visa for country of transit, ie: Azerbaijan or Iran

Before you can lodge the forms with the embassy, you will have to go to the KICB bank, which is a 3km Mashrutka ride away, to pay the US$10 application fee. You’ll then need to take the receipt for the transaction back to the embassy, as proof of payment. The processing time for the visa at this embassy is one month unless you write ‘urgent’ on your hand-written letter. In that case, the processing time will be 10 working days. They will email the invitation letter for the visa to you on the 10th working day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel to Turkmenistan - Getting the Visa. Turkmenistan Visa Invitation Letter to Present at the Border

This invitation letter will be valid for entry for up to 3 months, but you still only have 5 days, inclusive of your entry and exit dates, once you enter. When you present the letter at the border, you will need to pay a US$55 visa fee and they will place the visa in your passport with a validity of 5 days, including your entry and exit dates.

Pros and Cons of Getting the Visa for Travel to Turkmenistan at Each Location
Acquiring the visa for travel to Turkmenistan at the Turkmenistan Embassy in Tashkent is US$10 cheaper, but that could be negated by the fact that you will either have to wait in Tashkent for 10 days or re-enter Uzbekistan later to collect the visa. Getting the visa through the Turkmenistan Embassy in Bishkek is US$10 more expensive, but not having to return to the embassy later could save some time.

Now that you know that the application process for the visa for travel to Turkmenistan is relatively painless, what are you waiting for?

Check out my next post to see what the north of Turkmenistan had in store.

Tajikistan

From the Oybek border control point on the Uzbek side, I walked about 500 metres through a dimly lit no man’s land to the Fotekhobod border control point on the Tajikistan side. The first stop was a gate, where a friendly officer asked to see my passport. He thanked me and motioned for me to move forward. Then after a breezy walk, I came to another gate where another friendly officer checked my passport. While he was doing so, his partner inside a little booth started talking to me in broken English. We were all laughing by the time I made my way to the building where I’d get my entry stamp.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. No Man's Land Between the Uzbek and Tajikistan Border Control Points.
The End of No Man’s Land

Inside the building, the guy behind the desk was really friendly and smiley. He even asked how I was! After stamping me in, he said “Welcome to my country”. This is definitely one of the friendlier borders I’ve passed through. Although I was tired, given the late hour, I was feeling good after such a painless border crossing. I was also a little confused about where I should be going because there was no signage and I couldn’t see any buildings in front of me. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one confused. A local man behind me said, “I guess we go this here”, pointing to a passage on the right, but the officers in that area told us we had to use the walkway to the left. Then that was it, I was officially in Tajikistan!

The man, who’s name was Malik, then started chatting to me. He was a paediatric doctor from Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital, who was returning from a conference. He was eager to practice his English. As there was very little chance of getting a car all the way to Dushanbe at that time of night, we decided to go to the northern Tajikistan town of Khujand, which was less than 2 hours away. He found us a taxi and we chatted all the way. Upon arrival in Khujand, Malik found a hotel for us to stay in and paid for my room. It wasn’t the best hotel I’d ever come across and it didn’t have WiFi, but it was somewhere to rest and have a cold shower.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Lights in Khujand
Lights in Khujand

Khujand
In the morning, Malik informed me that a notorious part of the road to Dushanbe would be closed until 3pm, so we wouldn’t be able to get a car until then. I wonder if that was a regular occurrence in Tajikistan? He then took me to the local market, where it seemed most people were selling bread and seeds.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Market in Khujand K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Back of the Market in Khujand

Malik bought a huge amount of seeds. I figured he’d bought them for himself, but once we got to the mosque across the square from the market, I found out they had a different purpose. People of Khujand go to the grounds of this Mosque to feed the pigeons.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Mosque across the square from the Market in Khujand

This is a tradition that has been followed for a very long time in Khujand. Locals mainly do it when they have health issues that are affecting their lives. It is believed that by giving something important, like food, to the birds, you put yourself in god’s favour and he will therefore heal your ailments and make you better.

Between the market and the Mosque is a huge square where locals seem to love hanging out and having fun. People hire out motorised toy cars for little kids to whizz around in. There are also scooters available for the older kids.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Square between the Market and the Mosque in Khujand

Khujand is actually a pretty small place and fairly easy to walk around. Although, with the summer heat, most people opt to take taxis. I prefer to walk, so I walked the 3 kilometres to the shared taxi station, where I was mobbed by drivers wanting to take me to Dushanbe. Most initially wanted to charge me 120 Somoni/US$12, but after some hard negotiating, a driver agreed to take me for 70 Somoni/US$7.40.

To be honest, the treacherous mountains roads combined with crazy Tajikistan drivers meant the ride wasn’t all that enjoyable, despite the awesome scenery.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Mountain Road Between Khujand and Dushanbe

Tajikistan’s Capital Dushanbe
I got into Dushanbe just after 10pm, but the taxi dropped me about 8km from the town centre, where I needed to go. I noticed electric buses were still running and when I checked the schedule at a bus stop, one was due in a few minutes. It didn’t show up. Neither did the next one. Finally, after 20 minutes of waiting, a bus that wasn’t even on the timetable at the bus stop showed up. I figured it followed the road I was on, so I got on. The ticket man took money from all the people in front of me but when it was my turn to pay, he turned around.

That free ride reduced the distance I need to walk by more than half. When walking the last little bit to my accommodation, I noticed that they love Tajikistan national coloured lights in the city of Dushanbe.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Tajikistan Coloured Lights in Dushanbe K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. More Tajikistan Coloured Lights in Dushanbe

The next morning, I decided to do some web surfing during breakfast, because I finally had internet in Tajikistan. I found out that it was absolutely terrible. Every webpage took a ridiculously long time to load, so I gave up and went walking. On the way out I met an English guy and Scottish guy who were heading to the nearby Bazaar. I walked along with them for a bit, then headed off to get some food. It seems that the Tajik government is trying hard to make the Dushanbe city centre look very pretty.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Sculptured Garden in Dushanbe K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Pretty Structures in Dushanbe

There was also a lot of construction going on. Roads, bridges and building seemed to be in the process of being built in many areas. There was definitely an aesthetic difference between the city centre and the areas just outside of the city centre.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Building Under Construction in the Dushanbe City Centre
K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Outside of the Dushanbe City Centre

As I was walking around, a local named Iso started walking and chatting with me. He was eager to practice his English and invited me to stay with him. I graciously accepted his offer, because I couldn’t think of a better way to see how locals live. He was also happy to share information about life in Tajikistan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. Staying with a Local in Dushanbe
My New Room

His house was quite simple, with no airconditioning, but he was telling me about how he dreamed of upgrading his flat when he gets some money. He also dreams of travelling, but of course, needs money for that too! I would guess that the area he lived in was a poorer area of town, but it seemed like some locals had found interesting ways of having fun and making money. I noticed that several kids in the complex were sharing the same bicycle, so that everyone had a chance to have a ride. There were also some women in the complex cleaning things, including glass jars and cars, to make some extra cash.

I did get some curious looks from people, as I guess they don’t see foreigners walking around their complex too often. At many different times, one or two kids would come up to me and try to chat, but then be really confused when I replied to them in English, which they obviously didn’t understand. it was kinda cute watching them try to work out what was going on.

Iso was immensely helpful. He was always worried about if I had eaten enough and would make his sister cook for me. He was also keen to have a Shisha partner. Whenever I wanted to go somewhere, he would usually come with me to make sure that I didn’t get lost. If he was busy and unable to join me, he would take me to a Mashrutka (mini van) and explain to the driver where to drop me off. It was such a wonderful way to experience of Tajik kindness and hospitality in Tajikistan.

If you ever make it to Dushanbe in Tajikistan, you might want to visit MagDoner which is most definitely not a copy of a well known American fast food chain!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tajikistan. MagDoner in Dushanbe

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 Uzbekistan 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 Uzbekistan 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, in northeastern Uzbekistan, 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 the Uzbekistan Capital 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 Tajikistan.