Things to Know About Uzbekistan

Never heard of Uzbekistan? Well, put it on your ‘must see’ list right now! It’s an amazing Central Asian country that could just capture your heart. Before you head there, check out this list of 9 things to know about Uzbekistan, to give you a head start when it comes to navigating the country.

3 Important Things to Know About Uzbekistan

Tourist Registration

It is a government requirement that tourists register within 3 days of entering the country. That doesn’t mean that immigration checks this too closely when you exit though. There are 2 ways that this registration can be carried out. The first way is to stay at a hotel/hostel and they will do the registration for you and give you a small white piece of paper to keep in your passport. The idea is that you show that paper to immigration officials upon exit.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Guesthouse Registration Slip K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Hotel Registration Slip K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Hostel Registration Slip

The second way is to register online. This way involves registering at this site. Once you’ve input all the details, the site will calculate a daily tax that you need to pay, but it can only be paid with an Uzbek card.

Drivers Be Crazy

Travelling by road in Uzbekistan can feel more like a rollercoaster ride in a theme park than an intercity drive. From what I could tell, red lights and line markings are for indicative purposes only. People don’t seem inclined to follow them most of the time. By people, I mean just about every driver on the road. A lot of roads don’t even have lane markings, I presume because they figure that drivers would ignore them anyway.

Being a pedestrian in Uzbekistan can often feel like playing a game of cat and mouse. While stopping at crosswalks is legally mandated, it’s far from practiced. It’s probably safest to cross where there are traffic lights combined with a crosswalk. A lot more cars will stop in that situation. But if it’s a crosswalk by itself, the best advice is to look for a break in the traffic and run.

Super Hospitable Locals

Uzbek hospitality is really something else! Uzbeks will always try to help a stranger out in any way they can. That could mean simply helping them find a place they’re looking for. Or it could mean inviting them to stay at their house and force-feeding them tea and sweets at 1 am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Tea and Biscuits K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Tea, Biscuits and Fruit

On the subject of tea, there are two main varieties available in Uzbekistan. Green and black. Every good host will always have both on hand and will offer you a choice. I prefer the black variety, as it’s stronger, but the green one is also nice.

3 Handy Things to Know About Uzbekistan

Language

Uzbeks speak the Uzbek language alongside Russian. A little Rusian can get you a long way in Uzbekistan. Younger people tend to speak at least basic English, as do a lot of people working in customer service, so it is also possible to get by with just English. Most road signs and a lot of businesses use Latin transliterations of the Uzbek language, rather than Cyrillic.

Transport

Uzbekistan has the cheapest transport in Central Asia at just 1200 Som/$US0.15 for city buses and trains. When taking buses, the fare is paid to a ticket person on the bus. If there is no ticket person, then you pay the fare to the driver as you exit. Intercity trains are also available at varying fares, depending on the destination. You can find out more on the Uzbek Railway site.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Inner City Bus K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Intercity Train

Mashrutkas (minivans) are common forms of inner and intercity transport, although they seem to be a little more compact than their counterparts in other Central Asian countries. Their prices vary depending on where you are going. They normally cost between 5000 Som/US$0.58 and 10,000 Som/US$1.16 within cities and 10,000 Som/US$1.16 to 30,000 Som/US$3.50 for intercity routes. They do not run on longer intercity routes.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Mashrutka

For intercity routes, the main option is shared taxis. They can cost between 20,000 Som/US$2.50 and 150,000 Som/US$16 depending on the city you want to get to. You would pay 20,000 Som for a 1-2 hour drive and 100,000 Som/US$11 for a 12-14 hour drive. Some taxis will charge up to 150,000 for an overnight drive between Termez and Tashkent, but from Tashkent to Termez you may only have to pay 100,000 Som. In the city, taxis will cost between 3000 Som/US$0.34 and 7000 Som/US$0.81. As in other central Asian countries, you can flag down an unoffcial taxi by standing on the side of the road with your hand out. Or you can use the Yandex Taxi-hailing app, if you have internet.

Potable Water

Despite what the internet says, the water in many places in Uzbekistan is drinkable. Some say that if your body is not used to it, you may have problems. I didn’t encounter any issues. Locals will generally boil tap water before they drink it.

3 Quirky Things to Know About Uzbekistan

Gas Stations

If you’re from North America, you’re probably wondering, ‘why mention gas stations, they’re everywhere’. That’s true, but there are special stations in Uzbekistan that only sell gas, as in liquid gas. You can’t fill up cars that run on petrol or diesel at these stations. These stations don’t really look like your average filing station either.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Uzbekistan. Gas Station

Crsips/Chips in Shwarmas

While Shwarmas can vary from region to region, perhaps the strangest variation occurs in Uzbekistan. The standard composition of a Schwarma there is meat, salad, sauce and crisps/chips. But they’ll look at you weirdly if you ask them to leave the crisps/chips out.

Airconditioning is Not Standard

Most people will not have airconditioning in their homes, but a lot of places offering accommodation will also be without airconditioning. You’re probably thinking that not having airconditioning is not really that much of a weird thing, right? Would you still think that if you were in an area where temperatures edge towards 50 degrees Celcius in the summer? If you find it hard to handle hot temperatures, ensure that you carefully check that your accommodation has airconditioning before you finalise your booking.

Wanna know more about Uzbekistan? Have a look here and here.

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9 Fun Things to do In Baku – 2 Days on a Budget

So you want to see a beautiful Western Asian city but you’re short on time and cash? Then this list of 9 fun things to do in Baku is for you!

Aside from being beautiful, Baku is also unique in so many ways. It’s the only metropolis in the whole of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, it’s situated below sea level on the shores of a sea that isn’t really a sea. Keeping yourself occupied in this city won’t break the bank. In fact, there are many cool and quirky things to do for free!

The activities below will definitely keep you occupied for at least 2 days, but possibly longer if you like to do things at a more leisurely pace.

3 Fun Things to do in Baku For Free

1) Go on a Fountain Hunt

If you love fountains, you’ll love this! The city of Baku has a crazy amount of fountains. Who can blame them really. I mean, who doesn’t love stylised water jets? Seeing how many you can find is a great way to introduce yourself to some of the quirks of the city while you find your bearings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Fountain

To save water, most fountains do not run during the daytime, so fountain hunting is some thing that you might want to try after 7pm in the summer season. the added bonus there will be that everything gets cooler in the evening.

2) Admire the Architecture

While you’re hunting fountains, you’ll see a lot of pretty buildings, in both the new and old town. If you love architecture, you can wax lyrical about the different structural influences that can be seen around town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Subway Ceiling K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. City Centre K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Building With In-built Monuments

If you’re not architecturally inclined, there’s certainly still a lot to appreciate about the city’s buildings. Maybe you can take pictures for your friends on Instagram?

3) Find Some Pop-out Friends

You may notice that some of the pretty buildings have heads popping out of them. These are sculptures of people that played a part in the city’s history. Most have a short explanation about how the person contributed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. White Pop-out Head K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Black Pop-out Head K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Grey Pop-out Head

Some even pop right out of the ground.
K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Head popping out of the Ground

3 Fun Things To Do In Baku For Free, With Optional Budget Extras

4) Visit Baku Boulevard/Denizkenari Milli Park

Denizkenari Milli Park, the biggest park in the city, is also known as Baku Boulevard. It stretches along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea for almost 4km. That means you should easily be able to find a quiet spot where you can sit and admire the sea.
K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Denizkenari  Milli Park/Baku Boulevard. Looking out to the Caspian Sea

You can continue your fountain hunt while walking through the park.
K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Denizkenari  Milli Park/Baku Boulevard. Fountain

When you finish your walk at Flag Square, you can play chess with little-people-sized chess pieces under the Azerbaijan flag.
K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Denizkenari  Milli Park/Baku Boulevard. Flag Square

Here are some optional extra things to do in the park if you don’t mind spending a little bit of money.

Go to the carnival area and go on some rides. This area may be aimed at children, but they don’t have any signs saying that child-like adults can’t join in the fun!
K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Denizkenari  Milli Park/Baku Boulevard. Carnival Area

Maybe if you have kids, you can leave them at the carnival and take a gondola ride on the canal a short walk away.
K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Denizkenari  Milli Park/Baku Boulevard. Gondola Canal

Finally, to escape the heat, you can head to the Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum. It comes highly recommended by locals and costs 7 Manat for entry.

5) Rise Above It All

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. View of the City From The Hill
There is a place where all the locals in the city gather for the best view. It’s known as ‘The Hill’. You can also find it on Maps.me as ‘Panoramic View’. The beginning of the stairs that lead to the hill can be seen across the road from Flag Square in Denizkenari Milli Park/Baku Boulevard.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Stairs to the Hill

If you want to go for the free and fit option, you can walk the 700 metres up the stairs. Make sure you take enough water as there isn’t really an option for resupply on the way up!

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Entrance to the Funicular

If it’s too hot, or you’re feeling a bit lazy, there is a funicular near the start of the stairs that goes up to the Flame Towers. The towers are a little bit past the hill, so you’d have to backtrack a bit, but at least it won’t be uphill! The funicular costs 1 manat each way.

The Flame Towers come alive at night

You could also take a taxi. I’m sure all the drivers will know what you mean if you say ‘The Hill’. It shouldn’t cost more than 5 manat/US$3.

6) Get Lost in the Old Town

It’s free to wander around the UNESCO Heritage Listed old town of Baku and soak up the old timey-ness of the narrow alleyways and cobbled roads. There are also handy maps and markers to show you where the points of interest are. Audio guides available to explain the importance of the points of interest, but they cost 5 manat/US$3.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Miniature Book Museum

Among the many attractions of the old town is the Miniature Book Museum. It is free to enter and quirky to boot. It’s definitely something to tell your friends about. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Mondays and Thursdays, so plan accordingly.

3 Fun Things to do in Baku on a Budget

7) Qobustan Mud Volcanoes

Looking for a fun adventure outside of the city? Then get yourself to Qobustan, (pronounced Gobustan)! This unassuming little town hides some quirky little secrets away from the main road. Mud volcanoes! These ‘volcanoes’ are about 10 minute drive down a dirt road into the middle of nowhere.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Qobustan Mud Volcano

The sounds as the volcanoes ‘erupt’ are giggle-worthy. This place is guaranteed to put a smile on your face without burning a hole in your pocket. To get there, you can take the 125 bus from the city to Bina Ticaret Merkezi, then get the 195 bus and let the driver know you want Qobustan. The combined cost of these buses is less than 1 manat. You’ll get dropped off on the side of the road, where a taxi will be waiting to take you the rest of the way. They will barter hard, but it shouldn’t cost you any more than 10 manat/US$5.

8) Bibi-Hebyat Mosque

This is an amazing mosque and adjoining cemetery perched high above the Caspian Sea. You can catch the 125 bus from the city, so it can be combined quite easily with your visit to Qobustan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. Bibi-Heybat Mosque

9) Take a Bus or a Train

The transport in Baku is efficient, clean and cheap! You shouldn’t have to pay more than 1 Manat to go anywhere in the city. Each bus stop and metro station has machines where you can purchase a Bakikart for you trip.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. BakiKart Machine K in Motion Travel Blog. 9 Fun Things to do in Baku. BakiKart

Above is a one-time use BakiKart, but there are also BakiKarts available for everyday use, that can be recharged at the machines at all stops. It could be a good idea to purchase one if you plan to spend more time Baku, because you’ve fallen in love with the city. I did! You can see why here.

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Things To Know About Kyrgyzstan

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

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

If you haven’t thought of visiting yet, you should put it on your list right now! Keep reading to learn some important things to know about Kyrgyzstan.

Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – Language

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

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

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

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

I 💜 Signs

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

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

Interesting Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – It’s Okay to Hitchhike!

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

Approachability

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

Quirky Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – 3 Som Coins

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

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

Handy Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – The Water is Potable!

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

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

Carnivals

One of the more quirky things to know about Kyrgyzstan is that people there enjoy carnival-like atmospheres. This can range from the hiring of motorised toy cars and selling of light-up souvenirs in a park, to permanent rides, carnival games and stalls set up in a reserve near a river. You gotta love people that just wanna have fun.

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

Important Things to Kow About Kyrgyzstan – City Transport

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

Taxis

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

Mashrutkas

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

Intercity Transport

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

Meat

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

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

Unusual Things to Know About Kygryzstan – People Love Drinking Horse Milk

Horse milk is a popular drink in Kyrgyzstan, probably owing to their nomadic history. These days, it is often sold from containers on the side of the road. There are different types of horse milk with different levels of sourness. Yes, you read that correctly. Different levels of sourness. It’s quite unlike any other milk you’ve ever tasted.

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

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

Music

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

Bazaars

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

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

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

On The Roads

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

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

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

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

You can read about my adventures in Kyrgyzstan here, here and here.

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Things to Know About Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is an awesome and expansive Central Asian country that has almost every kind of landscape imaginable. It’s a hidden gem that hasn’t been overrun with tourists yet. It’s most definitely worth a visit and should be near the top of your bucketlist! Before you go, You’ll need to read this list of 12 Things to Know About Kazakhstan.

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

3 Important Things to Know About Kazakhstan

Language

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

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

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

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

Approachability

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

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

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

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

Potable Water

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

2 Things to Know About Transport in Kazakhstan

City Transport

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

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

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

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

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

Inter-City Transport

Shared taxis are available for inter-city routes, with prices that vary depending on the distance travelled. The 4 hour drive from Zharkent to Almaty should be about 4000₸/US$10.

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

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

If you want to head out to attractions like Charyn Canyon or Kolsai Lakes in the east of the Almaty region, you have the option of joining a tour, hiring a car to self-drive or hiring a car with a driver. Tours are expensive and generally only run on weekends. Car hire can cost over US$100/day and may be difficult with the condition of some roads. Hiring a car with a driver can prove to be the cheapest and easiest way to go. A whole day trip to somewhere like Charyn Canyon would cost around 35,000₸/US$89

2 Interesting Things to Know About Kazakhstan

The Old and New Capital

Almaty was the capital of Kazakhstan from 1991 to 1997. It may no longer be the capital, but it’s still the cultural and commercial centre of Kazakhstan. It is said to be the origin of the modern apple. The first part of the name Almaty means Apple. Hence the apple heart in this picture.

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

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

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

The second largest city and capital of Kazakhstan, was known as Akmola from 1997-1998, then Astana from 1998 to 2019 when it was renamed Nur-Sultan, after a former Kazakh leader. Despite the recent name change, it is still widely referred to as Astana both online and locally.

Alternative Worship

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

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

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

3 Things to Know About Dining in Kazakhstan

Meat

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

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

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

Horse Milk

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

Beer With Straws

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

2 Quirky Things to Know About Kazakhstan

Music

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

On The Roads

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

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

If you’re looking to read about some cool adventures in Kazakhstan, have a look here and here

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Couchsurfing Like a Pro

K in Motion Travel Blog. Couchsurfing Like a Pro

So you’ve registered on Couchsurfing, because you’ve heard it’s a great way to meet locals when travelling. It absolutely is, but it can be a bit daunting working out the CS system. I’m here to help you navigate this strange new world and get you Couchsurfing like a pro in no time!

Verified; To Be Or Not To Be?

In short, paying for verification will not help you get hosts or surfers in the beginning. The Couchsurfing site would like you to think that verification is the key to finding hosts and surfers, but that’s not always the case. I’ve had verified members tell me that they’ve messaged several people and being ignored or rejected every time. On the other hand, I receive a ridiculous amount of couch requests and never have problems finding hosts as a non-verified member. There are definitely other factors at play.

What will help you to start couchsurfing like a pro are references. Admittedly, it can be easier for hosts to pick up their first surfer, especially if they live in an area that doesn’t have many other couchsurfing hosts. If you host a verified couchsurfer and get a positive reference from them, you will earn a temporary verification, which can be extended by hosting more verified couchsurfers.

So you’re not ready to host yet, but want to find a couch for an upcoming trip? No problems! There is still hope. Keep reading to find out how to maximise your chances.

Couchsurfing like a Pro – Make a Kick-Ass Profile

When you’re starting out, your profile is your most important commodity, so treat it as such! Make sure that you’ve included at least one picture, but 3 to 5 is better. It’s vital to fill out every section, as this is what people will use to gauge if you’re the kind of person they want in their space. It’s where you need to let your awesomeness shine through!

In the ‘Countries I’ve Visited’ section, list all the countries that you’ve been to and update the list as you go. If you’ve been to a variety of countries, people are more likely to want to meet you. If you’ve been to a country off the tourist radar, hosts will sometimes want to meet you to hear your fabulous stories and ask you for advice about it. It’s also a commonly held belief in the Couchsurfing community that well-travelled people make better surfers, as they’re more aware of how to carry themselves in many different situations.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Couchsurfing Like a Pro

Getting References Before You Surf/Host

If your profile is your greatest commodity in the Couchsurfing world, then references are the currency. This is one of the major hurdles you need to overcome as a new member, because without references your chances of finding hosts are significantly lower. Luckily, Couchsurfing has two kinds of references; hosting/surfing references and personal references.

Any member on Couchsurfing can leave a reference for another member. So if you have friends using the platform, ask them to leave you a character reference. What if you don’t have any friends on the platform? Get yourself to a Couchsurfing event, either at home or abroad. These are held regularly in cities around the world and will show up on the website. If you hit it off with another Couchsurfing member, ask them to give you a personal reference on the platform. These are not as good as surfing or hosting references, but they can increase your chances of finding surfers or hosts.

Finding Your First Host

You’ve poured your heart into your profile and gotten some personal references, now it’s time to find a host. I have to be honest with you at this point and advice you that some hosts will flat out refuse to host some surfers. I think this is ridiculous in the 21st century, but I guess they have their reasons. If you are male, female hosts may refuse to host you, due to ‘safety concerns’. I’d strongly suggest that, unless you can see a history of references from both males and females on a prospective host’s profile, don’t send them a request.

Through the app or the website, you can do a host search by location. You can also use filters, such as date, languages, age, etc., to narrow down your search. It’s always best to search for the exact dates that you need, to make sure that only hosts that are available on your dates will come up in the search.

Couchsurfing Like a Pro – Requesting a Couch

Once you find someone you’d like to host you, you can send a couch request by pressing the ‘Request to Stay’ button. This will send you to a screen where you can type your introduction message. You need to sell yourself here. Don’t cut and paste from your profile. Pick something specific in that person’s profile that makes you think you might get on well. Maybe you both love science fiction, or you have both been to Bangladesh. Whatever it is, find some common ground.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Couchsurfing Like a Pro K in Motion Travel Blog. Couchsurfing Like a Pro

Also, let them know what you can offer them. Can you teach them a language? Can you cook some traditional food for them? Can you tell them crazy travel stories? Can you bring them a unique souvenir from your country? Can you provide them with experiences they have mentioned in their profile?

One thing to keep in mind is that you can only send 10 couch requests a month. If you don’t travel much, that’s fine, but if you’re on a bigger trip, you might be better off messaging someone first so as not to waste your requests. If the person you’re talking to agrees to host you, you can easily send the couch request through later.

Offering a Couch

This is a fairly similar concept to the one above, but this time, sell the wonders of your local area as well as yourself. Are there traditional temples in your area? Nature parks? Something different and quirky? Does it have awesome transport links? Great nightlife? Think about what amenities you would love to have in an area and how your area can provide them. Again, don’t cut and paste from your profile and try to focus on something your prospective surfer has mentioned that they like in their profile.

Couchsurfing Like a Pro – Public Trips

Another useful feature on the site is the ability to create a public trip. Your public trip can be seen by hosts in and visitors to your target area. This means that, aside from helping you find a host, this function could also help you find a travel buddy who’ll be in the same place at the same time as you! I’ve used public trips for most places that I’ve travelled to and have had unforgettable times with wonderful people.

When hosts see these public trips, they can send an ‘offer to host’ if they like your introduction and think that you’d be a great surfer. There is no limit on the number of offers someone can make to host people, so often you can end up with many offers using this function.

Final Thoughts

Couchsurfing is an amazing platform for connecting like-minded people all around the world. The knowledge of a local is invaluable and can take your trip from great to super awesome. I’ve used Couchsurfing for years and some of my most fabulous experiences, from the South Pacific to Africa and everywhere in between, have been a direct result of it.

I cannot recommend it enough! Even if it seems difficult to begin with, just stick with it! It will enrich your life in ways you never would’ve imagined. When you join up, you can find me here

Hong Kong on a Budget

Hong Kong From Lion Rock

There is an endless list of reasons to visit the wonderful city of Hong Kong, but did you know there are an amazing amount of quirky, cheap or free things to do in the city? If you’re on a budget and looking to discover the real Hong Kong, read on!

Free Things to do in Hong Kong – The Iconic Skyline

Okay, so this one’s not exactly a secret, but did you know you can get the view for free and see some nature in the process? Sounds awesome, right? All you need to do is find the Hong Kong trail, which can be easily accessed from the Western and Central districts of Hong Kong Island. In between the second and third trail markers is a lookout where you can get that postcard view without the crowds. Better than this –

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong On A Budget. Hong Kong Skyline from The Peak

If you want to take the view up a level and see almost the whole city, from the island to the New Territories, get yourself up to Lion Rock from The Tai Wai MTR station. Not only is it as close to the geographical centre of Hong Kong as you can get, but it is also an icon for all Hong Kongers, who are said to have the Lion Rock Spirit.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong On A Budget. The New Territories From Lion Rock
The New Territories From Lion Rock

Hong Kong on a Budget – Historic Trams

You’ve probably heard of the Peak Tram. In truth, it’s a funicular, not a tram and it’s far from the best transport experience in HK. There’s a way to get a more historical experience for a fraction of the price!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Historic Double Decker Tram

The earliest form of transport in Hong Kong was the double-decker trams that still run today. In fact, Hong Kong uses double-decker trams exclusively and therefore has the biggest fleet of them in the world. If you want to see Hong Kong at a slower pace than normal, jump on one of these trams or ding-dings, as they’re known locally, anywhere on Hong Kong island. They run west to east at regular intervals and the best part is that they only cost HK$2.60!

Free Things to do in HK – Statues

As a city, Hong Kong loves statues! From tiny and quirky statues near temples, tombs and memorials to huge gods and goddess looking over entire districts. Can you find them all? You could start with the world’s tallest outdoor bronze statue of Kwun Yam, Goddess of Mercy. At 76m she towers over Tsz Shan Monastery in Tai Po and is twice the height of another famous statue in Hong Kong; the Tian Tin Buddha at Ngong Ping on Lantau Island.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Kwun Yam Statue, Tai Po, Hong Kong K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Tian Tin Buddha, Ngong Ping, Hong Kong K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Bidget. Kwun Yam Statues, 10,000 Buddhas Monastery, Sha Tin, Hong Kong K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Buddha Statues, 10,000 Buddhas Monastery, Sha Tin, Hong Kong

As the 2 main deities worshipped in the area, Kwun Yam and Buddha feature prominently in monasteries. The 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin has areas dedicated to both. You can sometimes find shrines to Kwan Yam and Buddha near villages, or even up in the hills on hiking trails. Often locals even make their own sculptures and place them in the forest for your viewing pleasure.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Buddha Statue, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Shrine in Sha Tin, Hong Kong K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Family Sculptures on the Wilson Trail, Hong Kong K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Sculptures on the Wilson Trail, Hong Kong

You could spend several days seeking out these statues and sculptures!

Hong Kong on a Budget – Wet Markets

If you want to see Hong Kong at it’s craziest, then any of the city’s various markets won’t disappoint. I’m not talking about the street markets, I’m talking about what the locals call ‘Wet Markets’. Generally, these are the go-to places for fresh food. Like still breathing kind of fresh. You’ll see fish swimming around in tanks, right next to their friends that weren’t so lucky. Various cuts of meat hanging from rails in front of a butchers stall, or sometimes the occasional live chicken.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Fish at a Wet Market, Hong Kong

Aside from your everyday fresh foods, some of these markets include local sweet shops and bakeries, where you’ll find the cheapest and tastiest traditional treats. You might have to go past the fish and meat sellers to find them though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Wet Market Bakery, Hong Kong

The bigger wet markets will also have hardware and clothing stores along with key makers, tailors and traditional goods store. You’re almost guaranteed to find anything you need at these markets.

Hong Kong on a Budget – Cha Chaan Tengs

Cha Chaan Teng roughly translates to Tea Restaurant. People go to these places to ‘Yum Cha’, which literally means drink tea, but colloquially means to eat food and drink tea. Cha Chaan Tengs offer set meals of local style food paired with local drinks like Lemon Tea and Milk Tea.

Cha Chaan Tengs are super common in Hong Kong, but most only have menus in Chinese. If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a go. If you want to get the Cha Chaan Teng feel, but prefer menus you can read, then Tsui Wah is probably the best option for you.

A lunch or afternoon tea set meal with a drink, soup and main course normally costs somewhere between HK$40-60.

Hong Kong on a Budget – Biking

Need a way to burn off all the calories you gained at the Cha Chaan Teng? The New Territories of Hong Kong are a biking paradise! There are hundreds of kilometres of dedicated bike trails that are signposted extremely well, so there’s no need to tussle with cars for road space or worry about getting lost. That means it’s a safe activity for the whole family.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. New Territories Bike Trail K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. New Territories Bike Trail Sign Post

Some of the trails follow rivers or meander along harbour promenades. There are bike hire places along the way that will let you hire a bike for around HK$80/day and even let you return the bike to another store along the trail. You can also hire a pedi-cab style machine if you have someone in your group who doesn’t feel like pedalling.

Free Things to do in HK – WiFi Everywhere!

Hong Kong is a super-connected city. WiFi is available almost everywhere and it’s generally free. All shopping centres have anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours free access. MTR stations have 5 free 15 minute sessions per day. Airport buses and some city buses have it. Libraries and government buildings have unlimited WiFi, although it’s somewhat slower than in other places.

If you venture to Hong Kong in the summer, you might be more than happy to hang out in the air conditioning with WiFi for a few hours. It beats melting in the unbearable humidity! Some public parks, such as Sha Tin Park and Hong Kong Park even have WiFi. So when it’s a bit cooler, you can enjoy nature and WiFi at the same time!

Free Things to do in HK – Nature

No one would blame you for thinking that there isn’t much nature in the world’s most densely populated city, but that just not the case. The centrally located Hong Kong Park covers a huge area and even contains an aviary with many exotic birds. The Hong Kong Wetland Park showcases a unique ecosystem within Hong Kong’s New Territories and the UNESCO Hong Kong Geopark in the east gives you a glimpse into the region’s geological history.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Waterfall Near Tai Mo Shan K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Highland Island Reservoir

Aside from that, there are many different natural wonders within Hong Kong’s Country Parks. Waterfalls, bamboo forests, reservoirs and streams, just to mention a few.

Free Things to do in HK – Hillside Cemeteries and Tombs

As you would be aware, space is a commodity in Hong Kong, so when it comes to burying the dearly departed, people head to the hills. Designated cemeteries can often be seen on the sides of very steep hills. It’s also quite common to find tombs in the middle of forests. If you happen to pass one at the right time of the month, you may even see some of the more traditional folk leaving food and incense near the tombs to stop any ghosts from haunting the living.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Hillside Tomb K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Small Hillside Tomb K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Food Left Out At Hillside Tomb

Hong Kong on a Budget – Islands and Camping

Did you know that Hong Kong is made up of over 200 islands? Some of these islands are uninhabited, untouched paradises. While not all of them are accessible, there are quite a few that are. Some, like Po Toi Island, only have ferry services on the weekends, due to the small populations residing there. Others, like Lamma Island and Cheung Chau have hourly services.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Tung Lung Island

The government allows camping on some of these islands, as long as you register with them and stay within the designated areas. Not only that, but there are many camping sites within the government maintained Country Parks. A list of them can be found here

Hong Kong on a Budget – Beaches

You didn’t know Hong Kong had beaches? Well, it does and some of them are pretty damn good! Of course, there are ones that are quite popular and easily accessible, but they can get a little too crowded. If you’re looking for something a little bit more relaxed, there are some beaches in the east that are only accessible by hiking for an hour or so.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Secluded Beach off a Hiking Trail K in Motion Travel Blog. Hong Kong on a Budget. Secluded Beach

Sai Wan, Ham Tin and Tai Long in Sai Kung are 3 such beaches. What’s even more charming about these beaches, is that they have small locally run stores there that always have a fresh supply of cool drinks.

Free Things to do in HK – Hiking

This is, in my opinion, the most enticing reason to visit the city; it has the most amazing hiking in the world! That’s not an exaggeration. Over 40% of the land in Hong Kong is hills and forests. The government has wisely instituted a nature reserve system of Country Parks to keep these areas free from developments. There are 24 Country Parks across the territory, with hundreds of hiking trails.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Hong Kong on a Budget. Easy Hiking Trail K in Motion Travel Blog, Hong Kong on a Budget. Not So Easy Hiking Trail

Trails range from super-easy walks that are kid and dog friendly, to technical rock climbing and everything in between. The 4 major trails, the MacLehose, Wilson, Lantau and Hong Kong Trails cover over 300km of ground between them. They stretch from Hong Kong Island in the south, to the remote New Territories in the north, Sai Kung in the east and Tuen Mun/Lantau in the west. The Hong Kong Government has even compiled a one-stop site for all of Hong Kong’s trails here and the Hong Kong Hiking Meetup runs several hikes for all levels, every day of the year.

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Would you like to know more about Hong Kong? Need information about free cultural walking tours and hikes? Feel free to contact me.

Things to Know About Travel in Africa

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa

Amazing Africa

Overall, Africa has provided an amazing set of experiences that will stick with me forever. This continent can obliterate your faith in humanity one minute, then transport you into a euphoric state that restores all faith the next minute. It is a lesson in the best and worst of what humanity has to offer. You’ll gain a newfound love for all that you have back home. You might also be envious of locals for their simple, no stress kind of lifestyles. It is a land of beautiful contradictions that is well worth seeing for yourself! This list of things to know about travel in Africa is invaluable for anyone planning a trip to Africa.

3 Important Things to Know About Travel in Africa

Safety

With over-sensationalised media reports and travel warnings issued by many countries, it can be hard to know whether travelling in Africa is safe or not. Personally, from a safety point of view, I don’t think travelling in Africa is different from travelling in any other place. There are problems everywhere and it always helps to be mindful of your surroundings wherever you are.

Let’s talk about travel warnings for a bit. Obviously, governments think they are issuing these in the interests of their peoples’ safety, but often they are issued based on outdated and/or exaggerated information. This tends to create fear and worry, which leads to needless itinerary changes. Also, the people issuing the warnings have probably never been to the countries they post the warnings for. You wouldn’t want to learn a language from someone who doesn’t speak that language, so why take travel advice from someone who hasn’t travelled?

Unecessary Travel Warnings

Of the 13 Northern and Western African countries I’ve travelled, 9 had current ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ warnings, with one of those having a ‘reconsider the need to travel’ warning. The last one, incidentally, turned out to be the most amazingly friendly country where I never felt anything but completely safe. I also managed to pass through the rest of the countries with no incident. Do your own research and contact locals in the places you intend to visit; they are in a much better position to tell you what it’s really like. They will probably show you some awesome African hospitality when you arrive too!

Even if you’re travelling alone, you’re never alone in Africa. Almost every car ride or outdoor walk produces new friendships, which will endure long after you’ve returned home. Locals will help you out of the goodness of their hearts, to make sure you’re safe and don’t get ripped off by people who just see a walking dollar sign instead of a person. These same kind-hearted souls will call you weeks or months later just to check that you are okay. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from travelling through West Africa was that when the focus isn’t on money, humanity prevails. On the flip side of that, when money is the focus, corruption prevails.

Corruption

Parts of Africa are almost infamous for their corruption, but the corruption presents itself to visitors in different ways, depending on the country. It can range from a light-hearted, cheeky attempt to convince you that you need to pay for an entry stamp, to out-right extortion where a passport is held until money changes hands. Of course, corruption can run much deeper than what takes place at borders.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Anti-Corruption Sign

Sometimes the level of corruption in a country’s government is painfully evident in the lack of infrastructure and services within its cities. Other times, roadblocks are set up for the express purpose of pocketing other peoples money. It can be extremely disheartening, but be thankful you only have to deal with it for a short time; some Africans have to deal with it their whole lives.

Languages

Most of the countries in the North and West Africa regions were colonised by the French and therefore mainly speak French. Arabic is also widely spoken in the Northern region, but as you move into the Western region, you’ll begin to hear a variety of local languages, sometimes several within one country. Locals from different language groups in the same country will often use French as their medium for communication.

It would most definitely be advantageous to have some knowledge of French when traversing these countries, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible to make it through without. Just be prepared for a little more frustration than usual, but it’ll help you find new ways to communicate without words. There are English speakers here and there, so you could get lucky.

2 Logistical Things to Know About Travel in Africa

Africa Time

One thing to keep in mind is that time is a different concept on the African continent. While people in other places are watching the clock and busily rushing around to get through their never-ending lists of things to do, Africans are ignoring clocks and taking it easy. This means that Africans always have time to chat and connect with people. You can see this in communities, where everyone greets everyone they pass in the street and everyone in the community looks out for each other.

The lack of regard for time creates a situation that most from outside the continent might not be used to; excessive waiting. While schedules do exist in North Africa, they’re rarely adhered to. In West Africa, schedules are almost non-existent and most forms of intercity transport require a wait. It could be an hour, it could be a day, but however long it is, it’s a great opportunity to talk to some locals. You can guarantee they will be eager to talk to you!

Transport

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Intercity Van
Inter city van

Buses, vans, shared taxis and mototaxis are available to take you where ever you want to go at almost any time of the day or night. Each type of transport has its own pros and cons. Buses are by far the most comfortable mode of transport but are generally not available for long distance travel in all but a few countries. Vans and shared taxis are the most common forms of transport for longer distances throughout West Africa. They can be quite cheap, but they can also be quite uncomfortable!

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Intercity Taxi
Intercity taxi
Shared Taxis

While in buses, you would have your own seat, in vans and shared taxis you would be sharing seats. For example, a small hatchback style car would have 6 people, not including the driver, squeezed in; 2 in the front seat and 4 in the back. A larger wagon style car would carry 7 people; 1 in the front, 3 in the back seat and 3 in another added seat behind that. A Landcruiser would have 10 people crammed in; 2 in the front, 4 in the back, then another 4 on bench seats in the luggage area. Depending on the country, a 12 seater van may have anywhere from 12 to 32 people inside, plus the ticket guy riding along on the back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. City Taxi
City taxi
Mototaxis

Mototaxis are normally the most prevalent form of transport through borders as you go deeper into West Africa. Sometimes border roads are so bad that they are essentially impassable for cars, or at least that’s what the Mototaxi drivers will tell you. Sometimes the lack of cars in the area and the condition of the road kind of backs up what they’re saying.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Mototaxis
Mototaxis waiting for you
African Tuk Tuks

There is a fourth mode of transport that appears to only exist in Sierra Leone and Liberia, called Keke or Kekeh. It is essentially the African version of the Tuk Tuk and is generally the cheapest way to get around cities, as drivers will charge a per person rate, as opposed to a flat hire rate.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Sierra Leone Keke
Sierra Leone Keke

2 Other Things to Know About Travel in Africa

Animals

You will see a lot of animals roaming around African towns that you just won’t see in any other places. Goats are like the dogs of Africa. Many people have them as pets and many are strays that just wander around looking for food. Cows can also be common in more remote areas and you can guarantee that they’ll want to cross the road at the exact moment that your car enters their area. But you won’t mind, because you’ll be on Africa time.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Border Goat K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Cows

In Northern Africa, you’ll see camels wandering around and donkeys being used as beasts of burden. In Western African countries you can see goats, cows and boars wandering around. Strangely enough, these animals seem to have a bit of road sense and tend to not randomly run onto roads. They also tend to be fairly docile and will barely take any notice of people walking near them, so they don’t pose any safety risks.

Accommodation

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Outdoor Amenities
Outdoor Amenities

I stayed with locals for my entire trip, so I can’t comment on the condition and price of hotels in West Africa. Most locals live in very simple houses with no running water, so bucket showers and non-flushing outdoor toilets were very common. Some places even had outdoor amenities without roofs, where you could shower under the sky.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. More Outdoor Amenities
More outdoor amenities

Just For Fun

Now, just for a laugh, I’ll leave you with my version of the Africa song and some trip stats –

I hear the taxi beeps tonight
Along with people hissing to get my attention
It doesn’t matter if it’s right
Kids keep stretching out their hands for a donation
A young man stopped me along the way
Saying welcome to my country, please take my phone number
Here, time moves in a different way
There’s no hurry, let’s just wait a while

Border officers try to bribe you on the way through
Sellers of water and peanuts will gather around you
And then it rains down in Gambia
Taking away all the power and the internet

The wild goats wander ’round at night
Taunting the tied up donkeys longing for some company
That’s when the time is just right
For friends to gather in the dark for BBQs or tea on a rooftop
Outside it’s cooler than inside
And everyone’s always glad you’re there

Border officers give their phone numbers to you
Transport is squeezy and some roads are atrocious too
But then it’s calm down in Cote d’Ivoire
Sit back, relax and enjoy your tea

Western African Trip Stats
50,000 goats
11,000 kilometres in 235 hours (averaging 49.8km/h)
60 days
50 bucket showers
28 cars/vans in 11 countries (6300km, 100h)
13 countries
15 motorbikes in 6 countries (280km, 4h)
11 buses in 4 countries (1550km, 30h)
8 coaches in 2 countries (2830km, 45h)
3 trains (740km, 16h)
3 car carrying ferries
1 regret; not finding Wakanda.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Travel Map
Look at all those pins!

Check out some African adventures here

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Things To Know About Mauritania

You may or may not heard of Mauritania, but if you have, I’m sure you’ve heard some conflicting and often false information. These 9 things to know about Mauritania will help you disseminate the truth about this beautiful and safe Northern Africa desert country.

3 Important things to Know About Mauritania

Travel Warnings

Many governments have current travel warnings for Mauritania. Most strongly advise against travelling there. These travel warnings are absolute over-reactions to things that actually happened in Mali, not Mauritania, 20 or more years ago. I travelled to remote areas of the country, where according to the travel warnings, the possibility of something dangerous happening increases. No matter where I was, I never felt anything but safe.

Wherever you are in country areas, locals are always willing to take you under their wing, to make sure you’re safe and comfortable. There are definitely countries in Western Africa that are much less safe, but do not have current travel warnings. If you have any reservations or doubts, it’s always prudent to get in touch with some locals to check the actual situation before altering your plans.

Currency

Back in late 2017, the government decided to issue a new version of Mauritanian Ouguiya(MRU). The new currency is worth 10 times more than the old currency, so there are now roughly 400MRU to 1 Euro, as opposed to the previous 4000MRU to 1 Euro. It can be confusing at times, as everyone still quotes prices in the old currency, but you will get the occasional person quoting the new currency. The best way to save yourself having a heart attack when you’re told your roadside BBQ for 3 is 4000 (10 euro), is to ask, “Old or new?”. Once you know it’s old, take away a 0 and breathe a sigh of relief.

Fiche

There are numerous police checks when travelling overland in Mauritania and at each one you are expected to supply a Fiche. For those of you that don’t know what a Fiche is, it’s a piece of paper with all of your personal details, including passport and visa information. It should also include a copy of your passport information page. The police will accept this in lieu of checking your passport. Having several copies will save you and your fellow travellers a lot of time at these checkpoints.

Even though I had about 20 ready to go, I personally only had to hand over 5 of these information sheets on my travels through the country. Four of those were distributed on my last day when heading towards the Senegal border. I was lucky to be waved through many of the checkpoints without having any documents sighted, but I know other people who’ve travelled through the country and have used 10 or more.

2 Cultural Things to Know About Mauritania

Tea
Mauritanians run on tea, it’s tradition and it’s a chance to be social. If you talk to someone in the street for more than 2 minutes, expect to be invited for tea. It’s a very strong blend of tea with mint and they tend to add a lot of sugar. If you don’t like or can’t eat sugar, they’re also happy to make it without for you. It’s probably the best tea I’ve tasted in Africa, so definitely worth a try!

Men’s Thoughts On Women

While I don’t like to over generalise, there were some definite trends on display when it came to male attitudes towards females. The majority of people you’d see on the streets were males, as husbands will generally not let their wives go outside by themselves. This means that many males think that any women outside are fair game and can be asked totally inappropriate questions. Where it gets even trickier, is that sometimes even just acknowledging these men are talking to you can be seen as an invitation for more. These are terrible attitudes and I’m by no means implying that all men in Mauritania share these thoughts, but women do need to be careful of those that do.

That been said, people were generally friendly and helpful. I had some really nice men that started talking to me just to find out how I was liking the country. They seemed genuinely interested in talking to non-locals and finding out about foreign cultures.

Entering and Exiting – 2 Things to Know About Mauritania

Entering From The North

This border is confusing with absolutely no signage to tell you where to go. You will also spend extraordinary amounts of time waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting for visas, waiting for people to input your details into the computer system using the ‘two-finger typing’ method, waiting for transport, waiting for other people in your van to get visas. You will be asked the same questions in several different rooms and show your passport to several different people. Some of them will be super serious and others will try to joke around with you. Just remember that you will be there for at least 2 hours, but expect that it will be closer to 4. It may be an all day mission, so try to get there early and bring snacks!

Exiting in the South

Getting to the bus station is a complicated undertaking, it usually requires taking 2 separate taxis, but luckily we had a local helping us, who managed to get us into a taxi going all the way to bus station. The bus will only take you within a kilometre of the border, so you have to walk or get a taxi the rest of the way. To make things even more fun, there will be people yelling at you from every direction before you even get out of the bus.

This is another complicated border with little to no signage that may require the help of a local to navigate. Despite the complications, it’s a relatively quick passage and the reward for making it through the chaos is a nice relaxing journey across the Senegal River in a wooden canoe.

2 Logistical Things to Know About Mauritania

Dust

Mauritania is a desert country, which pretty much means it’s one big dust bowl with about 3 trees. While I may be exaggerating about the trees, I’m not exaggerating about the dust. It’s everywhere and will end up in places you thought were impossible to reach. You will still be finding dust in your clothes and bags weeks later. You will also eat it at some point. It’s all part of the experience.

Sand, anyone?

Getting Around

Navigating Mauritanian cities is very difficult, especially because a lot of the roads are not sealed and even the sealed roads end up partially covered in sand. They all start to look the same after a while. Even my Mauritanian friend got lost twice whilst trying to find my host’s place. The best plan of action is to befriend some locals to help you get around. Luckily, the locals are always willing to help, even if it takes a bit of trial and error to get there. One caveat there is that you may need stop for some tea first.