Adventures in The Almaty Region Of Kazakhstan

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

The Problem With WiFi in the Almaty Region of Kazakhstan

Hannah, who I’d met in the Chinese border town of Huo’erguosi, and I had finally made it to the capital of Almaty region of Kazakhstan. Unortunately, we’d been unlucky when trying to use the WiFi in our accommodation. We decided to catch the bus into the city. The bus driver was very nice. He helped us work out that we were on the right bus through the use of hand gestures and a translation app. While on the bus, we saw a huge shopping centre called Dostyk Plaza. We figured that’d be the place to get WiFi. We were right and as a bonus, all the staff there spoke English! The menus were even in English, so we knew exactly what we were ordering.

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

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

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

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

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

A Drama Unfolds

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting My Host in the Almaty Region of Kazakhstan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Plans

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

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

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

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

A Quiet Place Outside of Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking the Snowy Peaks of the Tyan Shan Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charyn Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we made our way down to the canyon floor.

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

And eventually ended up at the Charyn River.

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

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

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

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

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

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Kazakhstan Border to Almaty

Arriving at the Kazakhstan Border to Almaty

After taking an overnight train from Urumqi to Huo’erguosi in the Xinjiang province of western China, I’d finally arrived on the Kazakh side of the border. I had met a fellow Hong Konger, Hannah in Huo’erguosi and we’d decided to stick together for a while. The next part of our journey would take us from the Kazakhstan border to Almaty, the old capital. Things were moving rather slowly at the Kazakh border. Even though there were only the 6 people from our bus in the hall. The lady at the immigration counter was quite nice though. After stamping my passport she said, “Good luck with your travels. Welcome to Kazakhstan”.

Welcome to Kazakhstan!

From there, I entered another area where I had to show my passport to a young man standing near a gate. The gate lead to the customs area. The man looked at my passport and said, “Welcome to Kazakhstan”. I then entered the customs area where I had to present my passport to a man sitting at a desk. He just asked if I was travelling by myself and then said, “Welcome to Kazakhstan”. I’m guessing they want me to feel welcome? Done!

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

Let the Negotiations Begin

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

After we’d been sitting in the car for a few minutes, he handed us his phone. He had a friend who spoke Mandarin. That friend proceeded to try to convince us that we had to pay 16,000 Tenge or US$40. Obviously, he thought that because we weren’t locals, he could trick us into paying for the whole car. We reiterated that we were only paying 3000 Tenge each. With everyone finally on the same page, a mother and daughter with a 7 month old baby jumped in the car. With that we were on our way.

Settlements and Scenes Along the Road From the Kazakhstan Border to Almaty

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

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

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

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

Into the Storm

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

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

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

Hello Almaty Traffic

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

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

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

Time For Food After the Long Trek From The Kazakhstan Border to Almaty

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

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

Meeting the Locals and Trying A Local Treat

Hannah wanted to get a local SIM, so we went to a nearby phone shop where the staff were very lovely and helpful. It took some work. We were in the shop for over an hour trying to get it sorted. At one point, the guys in the shop realised that they had a friend who spoke Mandarin. We spoke to her on the phone, then less than 2 minutes into the conversation she was asking us about ourselves. After she’d ensured that we all understood what was going on. The guys in the shop then gave us a local salty treat called Qurt.

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

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

Time to Retire

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

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

The adventures continues here

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