Travelling the Maldives on a Budget

Is Travelling the Maldives on Budget Possible?

To be honest, I’d always been fascinated with the Maldives. What’s not to be fascinated about? Hundreds of tiny islands in the middle of impossibly blue waters sounds incredibly inviting to me! But given the infamous resort-like set up of the place, most would think that travelling the Maldives on a budget could prove quite challenging. You’d be surprised how easy it actually is!

While I appreciate the idea of travelling to relax, that’s just not how I travel. Resorts really do not interest me, but I’m always interested to see how the locals live. So I got in touch with a wonderful local man named Muhamed. He agreed to host me in his family home on the island of Hulhumale. It’s just over the bridge from the Velana International airport.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Volleyball Beach

Getting to the Maldives

As the Maldives normally caters to high-end travellers, the airfares to get there tend to reflect that. But being the cheapskate that I am, I’d managed to find a flight for around USD$160 return. With a stopover in Sri Lanka! This was great for me, as I have a friend in Colombo. It also meant that the last leg of the flight from Sri Lanka to the Maldives was only 1 hour.

To say that the Maldives looks amazing from the air would be an understatement. You’re looking over an endless blue ocean for most of the flight. Then outta the blue, pun intended, you start to see random sand bars in the ocean. They look so tiny, yet so intriguing. It’s interesting to think that people live on these tiny, little, unprotected sand strips in the middle of a vast ocean. It’s also absolutely amazing how immaculately blue the waters are between the atolls and sandbar islands. Possibly one of the best views on approach to a country ever.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Near the International Airport
Boats Near the Airport

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – A Warm Welcome

I was impressed that we actually landed on time and I was off the plane and through immigration within 15 minutes. My host Muhamed had kindly organised for someone to meet me at the airport. It was his brother who works at the airport. He had typed up a very professional-looking sign with my name on it, so that I could find him. I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve had my own sign upon arrival into a country. I felt super special!

He then showed me out to the bus stop, where I could get the bus across the bridge to Hulhumale. The bus only cost 15 Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR), which is under US$1. He let Muhamed know when I had left on the bus, so he could meet me on arrival in Hulhumale. As a bonus, the bus stop in Hulhumale was about a 2 minute walk from Muhamed’s flat. Nevertheless, Muhamed picked me up on his moped because he was worried about me having to carry my bag. How lovely!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Near the Airport Area
Looking over to Male from near the airport

Hulhumale

Muhamed lived in a 4 bedroom place on Hulhumale where 9 other members of his family also lived. They still ensured that I had a bedroom to myself, even though I told them I was fine with sleeping on the couch. Maldivians believe in treating their guests like royalty. I was so lucky to have a local family allow me to stay with them. The family was of course interested in finding out more about me. Muhamed was the only one in his family that really spoke any English though. That meant he had to do a lot of translating!

Hulhumale is an island in the Maldivian chain that is northwest of Male. It is joined to Male and Hulhule, where the international airport is, by the Sinamale Bridge. Construction on the bridge had just been completed not long before I had arrived. I was one of the first people to cross the bridge. Before the bridge, the only way to travel between those islands was by speedboat or ferry. Unless you or someone you know has a boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Boat

Reclaimed Land

Interestingly, Hulhumale was completely constructed on land reclaimed in 2004. The government had realised back then that the land available wasn’t going to cater to the needs of the growing Maldivian population in the future. So they made their own land. There were many construction sites around Hulhumale. Muhamed advised me that the government was reclaiming even more land. He also told me that a lot of the land had already been purchased by luxury hotel groups.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Colourful Building With Construction Behind
Colourful buildings with construction behind

Hulhumale was colourful and all the roads looked brand new. There also seemed to be a lot of newly constructed buildings housing foreign cafe chains, especially near the beach area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Colourful Buildings

And it appears that someone in Hulhumale knew I was going to be there..
K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Kez Graffiti

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – Getting Around

If people want to travel somewhere on the island they are currently on, they mostly use mopeds to get around. You’ll often see people on different mopeds riding side by side just having a chat. While there were always cars on the road, I didn’t get the feeling that traffic was a problem in the Maldives. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any traffic lights.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Intersection Without Traffic Lights
Intersection without traffic lights

If people want to travel between islands in the Maldives, they take a ferry or speedboat. There are regular ferry services between some of the 1000 plus islands in the Maldivian chain. Muhamed regularly travelled to an island called Villingili, which is south of Male. At a glance, this island has a very similar name to another small island, Viligili, that lies to the west of Male.

The reason for Muhamed’s constant trips to Villingili was that his wife and daughter lived there. While I was there, he needed to pick up his daughter from a class then take her back to Villingili. He asked if I would like to join him for the trip and of course I said yes! I wanted to see as many islands as I could during my short stay.

Villingili

While it was relatively easy to get to Villingili, the route wasn’t as direct as you would expect. We had to get a 50 MVR/US$3.20 ferry to Male first. Muhamed had an extra bike stashed there. He used it to take us from where the Hulhumale to Male ferry had arrived to where the Male to Villingili ferry would depart. That Ferry cost 25 MVR/US$1.60. The two ferries are run by different companies, Atoll Transfer for the Hulhumale to Male route and MTCC for the Male to Villingili route. That meant that the ports were on opposite sides of the island.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Male Ferry Port

It was night by the time we made it to Villingili. It was quite a small island and definitely didn’t have a tourist feel to it at all. Housing on the island seemed to consist of small, budget 1 bedroom flats on narrow streets. I wasn’t really looking that hard, but I didn’t see any cars there; only mopeds.

In the few hours since she had met me, Muhamed’s 6 year old daughter had taken a bit of a shine to me. The fact that we couldn’t speak the same language didn’t seem to worry her. She asked if I could stay at her place for that night, but I had to politely decline as I had already organised a trip to another island.

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – Day Trip to Himmafushi Island

After some long chats with Muhamed about which island would be the best to go to on a budget with limited time, we came up with Himmafushi Island. It’s about 16km north of Male, which meant it was only a 20 minute boat ride. Muhamed had called ahead and found out that the speedboat from Male to Himmafushi was 100 MVR/US$6.50 per person. Muhamed was good enough to accompany me on the ferry to Male to make sure that I could find the right speed boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Male From The Water
Male from the water

When we got there, Mr boat guy advised that it was 150 MVR/US$10. The reason for the difference was that Muhamed had been quoted the local price. The tourist price was of course higher and Mr boat guy was adamant that was what I needed to pay. So I got myself a return ticket and jumped on the boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. On the Way to Himmafushi

Getting There

There weren’t many other people on the boat, so I could pretty much sit anywhere I wanted. I settled into a seat on the lefthand side of the boat, but then realised that all the good views seemed to be on the righthand side.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Bluer Water On the Way to Himmafushi

The trip out to the island was quite lovely. I was absolutely mesmerised by the water that just seemed to become bluer the further away we got from Male.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Blue Water and Islands On the Way to Himmafushi

Once Himmafushi came into view, it was obvious that it was a very small island. Only 1km long!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Entering the Himmafushi Port

I had always thought that bad parking was something you only saw on land. But when we were arriving at the Himmafushi port, I found out it happens in the ocean too.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Bad Parking at Himmafushi Port

Sand, Souvenir Shops and Street Art

When I finally got my feet back on land, I headed to the beach. As the island was so small, the beach was not hard to find!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Beach on Himmafushi

As I walked on the sand, I saw hundreds of little crabs scuttered around me, some retreating into their shells as they perceived danger, while others made a break for the water. It was amusing to watch.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Overdressed on Himmafushi

Whilst exploring the island, I was invited into a local souvenir shop, The Dolphin Shop. Inside the owner, Hussein gave me not one, but 2 gifts from his store. He also insisted that I stay for tea. Who was I to say no?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Dolphin Shop on Himmafushi

After chatting for a while, Hussein decided to utter a few words in Chinese. He wanted to check with me that what he was saying was correct. Then he invited me to visit again and proceeded to give me a Dhivehi lesson, for when I come back next year apparently.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Dolphin Shop Souvenir and Dhivehi Lesson on Himmafushi

Time to Go

Hussein had tried to convince me to stay a bit longer, but I eventually bid him farewell and took a short walk around the island before my ride back to Male arrived. I was very interested in the fact that an island with only 4 streets still managed to have some street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Street Art on Himmafushi

I’d had a wonderful day on the island and was treated to a lovely sunset on the way out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Himmafushi Sunset

In the 4 days I was in the Maldives, I made it to 5 islands and managed to meet some cool locals along the way. The best part is that I spent under US$20 for all transport and food. This is due in part to the awesome hospitality of my host who always wanted to cook for me or take me places on his bike. All up, that’s less than US$200 for the whole trip, including airfares. So it turns out that travelling the Maldives on a budget is surprisingly easy!

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Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities

After having a pretty amazing time in Panama City, it was time to move on to contemporary Colombia and visit some of its colourful cities. Due to some pretty heavy time constraints, I had to give up the idea of taking a boat from Panama to Colombia and hop on a plane. It was a quick flight, given the short distance between the capitals of the two countries. I left a sunny morning in Panama City to arrive in Bogota for an even sunnier afternoon.

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Bogota

The Eldorado International Aiport in Bogota was impressive and I’ve gotta admit that it took me a while to find my way out. I stopped to ask an airport worker how to get to the nearby bus stop and he didn’t know. Luckily, there was a local within hearing range who did know where it was. He gave me directions but then tried to dissuade me from taking the bus. He advised that I may have to wait for some time and that the ride into town is very long. I told him I was okay with that.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area

One thing I noticed almost straight away about Bogota is that it seemed to be a city of art. In the couple of minutes it had taken me to walk to the bus stop, I had already seen 2 art installations!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area Art

Making New Friends

As I was waiting for the bus, a car that was exiting the airport pulled up to the bus stop. The man that had directed me before, Andres, was inside. He asked me if I wanted a lift into the city. I accepted and got in the car, where he then proceeded to semi-lecture me about how I should be careful because not all people were good like him. He then proceeded to tell me how he was a singer and was heading out to Ibague in a few days to visit his brother.

Andres asked where I was going next. I hadn’t actually planned that far ahead, so I advised him that I didn’t know where I would go after Bogota. I just knew that I needed to head towards Cali to get to Ecuador. He said that I could tag along with him to Ibague if I wanted to. From there I could get a bus to Cali and onto Ecuador. That seemed like a great option as Ibague was only about a 4 hour drive away. We exchanged numbers so that we could arrange things a few days later.

La Candelaria Centro

La Candelaria Centro is the Colombian equivalent of an Old Town. It’s a very cute and vibrant area, which is very easy to find your way around. Like all old towns, it is full of narrow cobbled streets lined with colonial buildings. Perhaps one of the more interesting things about this old town is that many of the buildings have also become canvases for graffiti and street art from all over the world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and it's Colourful Cities. La Candelaria

To say that street art is alive and well in Colombia would be an absolute understatement! The art scene there is so prolific that I actually had to write a separate article about it! The scene was born out of an unfortunate event and currently attracts not just local, but also famous international street artists. Many eager to leave a piece of themselves in Bogota.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Traditional Mural

Paint is not the only form of artistic expression in the city. Other forms of art, including sculptures and structures made from recycled goods, are highly visible as well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Bicycle Christmas Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Roof Top Art

Affordability

Aside from its visual awesomeness, Bogota, and the whole of Colombia for that matter, is surprisingly kind on the wallet. You can find shared accommodation for US$6-10/night. Sometimes you can even get a simple hotel room for under US$10/night. Dining out in Colombia is also inexpensive, with a meal and a drink at a small restaurant easily coming in at under US$10. By far the best way to dine in Colombia is on the streets!

If you want to find the real tastes of Colombia, street vendors are where it’s at. All the traditional local foods, like Almojábanas, Arepas and Empanadas, can be purchased from roadside carts for less than $2 a meal. And they are utterly delicious. If you want to know how locals live, visiting a street food cart is an excellent way to find out!

Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill

From anywhere you stand in Bogota, you can see the sister mountains of Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill towering high above the city. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’re probably aware that if there’s a hill around, I’ll find a way to climb it. The powers that be were determined for that not to happen though. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived to see that the hiking trail up the mountain was closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. The Base of Monserrate

I asked the staff when it would be open again and they said it was closed permanently. They said it was due to the increasing degradation caused by the constant stream of people making the pilgrimage up the hill. They also alluded to the fact that there had been some serious injuries or possibly even deaths on the trail. So that was disappointing. However, I have heard that it has since been reopened again.

Getting to the Top

The other ways of scaling the hill involved money, of course. If the walking option was out, I thought the funicular, the cheapest of the 2 options at US$3, might be fun. But guess what? It was closed for maintenance! So, with no other choice, I took the most expensive option; the cable car at around US$4 each way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cable Car up to Monserrate

At 3152m, Monserrate, along with its sister mountain, Guadalupe Hill, rises far above the fair city of Bogota. As it can be seen from almost everywhere in the city, it makes sense that you can see the whole city from the top of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. View From Monserrate

Aside from the beautiful view, there is actually a surprising amount of things to do at the top. You can meander through the small market where locals try to sell you their authentic local trinkets. Or you can have a meal at one of several restaurants there. Or you can simply just walk around the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Display at Monserrate

There was also a small exhibition up there when I went. I’m not sure if that’s something that happens often, but even without the exhibition, it was still lovely to walk around. The area had been manicured to look pretty and I was lucky to be there when there wasn’t many other people around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. At the Top of Monserrate

Perhaps the most interesting building on Monserrate was the church. This isn’t a normal church mind you. It’s a 17th century church devoted to El Señor Caído, or the Fallen Lord. On Sundays, devotees of the church will follow the pilgrimage path up the hill to show that they are worthy. Some will even offer sacrifices. It’s probably best to avoid going up on a Sunday if you can.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. El Señor Caído At the Top of Monserrate

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Ibague

When it was time to move on, Andres, the man I had met a few days earlier, picked me up. He had some things to attend to in the morning, so we left in the afternoon for the small city of Ibague. The city is 200km west of Bogota in the Andean region of Colombia. It was also a strange combination of people-sized Christmas decorations and dirt.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Ibague People-Size Christmas Train K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Ibague People-Size Christmas Decoration

Andres managed to find me a US$9 hotel room for me to stay in. I never would’ve found it by myself and even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to get in. A lot of accommodation in Colombia will have a sign out front with the owner’s number. You’re expected to call on arrival for access, which is hard to do without a local phone! The place was surprisingly decent and clean. They even had complimentary tea. Everything was going well until I decided to have a shower and there was no shower head. I found that really odd, but it was fixed as soon as I alerted the owner, so no harm done.

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – On The Road Again

The next morning, I explored the city for a little while before heading to the bus station for my onward journey to Ecuador. I first had to go through Cali, around 200km southwest of Ibague. Although it was in good condition, the road to Cali was very windy and steep in some sections.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Unscheduled Stop on the Way to Cali

The picture above marks one of the spots where our coach came to a complete stop, due to a traffic jam. In the middle of nowhere on a windy mountain road. I was amazed at how many locals appeared from seemingly nowhere. They must’ve been loving the huge line of stationary vehicles before them. It gave them a chance to sell their overpriced refreshments to those who didn’t prepare themselves for traffic jams. The 323km trip from Ibague to Cali took 13 hours! Must be a new land (anti) speed record!

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Cali

I had not planned to stay long in this city, but I did notice some quirky things about it while I was there. First of all, the palm trees that lined some streets had been made into a fan shape.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Sculptured Ferns

From outward appearances, it was a very clean city, industrialised city. But a few minutes walk was all it took to go from a beautifully presented area to a gritty market area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Fountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Market

Or to find some street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Art

Perhaps the best thing about Colombia was the readily available packets of banana chips dressed in the national colours. They were a great companion for the long drives between cities and countries.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Banana Chips

Check out the next installment of the South American adventure in Journey to the Middle of the world.

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Party in Panama City

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama. Panama City Skyline

Getting To Panama City

After my awesome Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica I’d gotten myself on a direct bus from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose to the Panamanian capital of Panama City. It was a very long drive. About 16 hours, mostly along the Pacific coastline. I gotta say I was tired of sitting down and ready to party in Panama City! Or sleep in Panama City.

I got into Panama City at about 3am and found my way to a hostel. They couldn’t check me in, but said I could sleep on a very comfortable looking couch in the meantime. Anything that didn’t involve sitting down was quite enticing for me at that point. So I took up residence on said couch and was snoozing a few seconds later. After a few hours sleep on the couch, the staff gave me a bed in a room. Then they said I wouldn’t have to pay for the first night’s accommodation. Sweet.

Casco Viejo – Old Town

My accommodation was in the old town, so I’m sure you can guess what I did. Explored the old town, of course! The old town is also known as Casco Viejo, which is Spanish for Old Quarter. Not only was it granted world heritage status by UNESCO in 1997 but it’s also home to some of Panama City’s best nightlife. This was very evident around Christmas time, when the party people took to the streets at night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Quiet Street. K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Another Quiet Street.

Casco Viejo was surprisingly quiet during the day though. At times it felt like you were the only one in the area. There were also some parts of it that were a bit gritty. Several buildings had fallen into disrepair, despite the UNESCO listing, and it didn’t seem like any attempt was being made to fix them. For me, this just added to Casco Viejo’s appeal.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Crumbling Old Building K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo Old Building in Disrepair

In stark contrast, just a few hundred metres away, one of the town’s major sites, Catedral Metropitana in Plaza de la Independencia was under reconstruction. Strangely, I didn’t hear any construction noises, nor see any workers near there during my stay. I guess they must’ve had time off for the Christmas holiday.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Cosco Viejo Cathedral Metropitana

There were also a few green areas in the town, which made it super lovely and relaxing. It was such a pleasure to walk around Casco Viejo. At times it even felt like you’d walked into another century.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Cosco Viejo Green Area

See the New From the Old

The town is rather tiny and very easy to navigate, although the narrow streets can be a bit disorienting to begin with. One of the most awesome things about Casco Viejo is that it isn’t very far from Panama City’s super modern skyline.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Casco Viejo View of Panama City

As a defensive measure, the town was built on a peninsula. Obviously, there’s no need for it to be defensible these days. But the design means that a short walk from almost anywhere in the old town will get you to a beautiful foreshore. On that foreshore is the Matasnillo River, which separates Casco Viejo from Panama City. The river is 12km long.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama. Panama City Skyline From Casco Viejo

From the heart of old Panama, you can peer across the water into the heart of modern Panama City. It looks beautiful.

Party in Panama City – Casco Viejo at Night

As lovely as it was during the day, the old town changed its tone at night. No longer were you walking along almost deserted streets. The narrow streets of the old town came alive at night. They were full of lights from restaurants and cocktail bars that weren’t visible during the day. Full of cheery chatter from many people that seemingly came out of nowhere to enjoy some drinks. Nighttime was the time to party in Panama City!

The atmosphere was quite jovial, possibly due to it being the festive time of year. That was before the fireworks. The main fireworks display, which I presume was put on by the city, was followed by more fireworks. This time smaller ones that looked like they were coming from nearby rooftops. They seemed to spur people in the streets to start dancing, as the music got louder so it could be heard over the intermittent fireworks.

Panamanians really know how to party! I didn’t want to be the weird tourist that just stood there watching. So I befriended some locals and joined in. Firecrackers may have been handed to me, to set off in unison with others. I may or may not have set them off while laughing uncontrollably. You’ll never know.

Party in Panama City – The Panama Canal

What trip to Panama would be complete without a visit to Panama’s most famous and one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects? The Panama Canal or Canal de Panamá is a marvel of not so modern engineering. It’s amazing to think that it was put into operation in 1914 and the original lock gates are still in use.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Panama Canal Looking Towards the Pacific Ocean

Why Make a Canal?

In short, the canal was constructed to reduce maritime transits between the Pacific and Altantic Oceans. The journey through the 82km canal takes nearly 12 hours. The alternative route, would take ships around the entire South American continent. That journey also includes traversing the treacherous Cape Horn and could take several weeks. Even with tolls that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, the canal proves to be more cost-effective for most cargo and cruise companies.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Panama Canal Minaflores Lock Gates

What Happens in the Canal?

A series of 6 canal locks are used to raise ships the 26m required to sail through the artificial Gatun Lake, then lower them back down to sea level at the other end. The Gatun Locks raise/lower ships on the Atlantic side and the Minaflores Locks raise/lower ships on the Pacific side. While that may all sound rather boring, seeing it in action is slightly more interesting.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Party in Panama City. Panama Canal. Two Ships Passing Through The Minaflores Lock Gates

Obviously, Panama City is on the Pacific side of Panama and I therefore visited the Minaflores Locks. The most interesting thing I learnt there was that a man paid a 36 cent toll to swim the Panama Canal in 1928. These days the toll can run into the $100,000s, depending on the size and weight of the vessel.

The Party’s Over

They say all good things must come to an end. This is the unfortuante thing about travelling. Sometimes you need to leave a place before you’re ready. This was the case with Panama. The people and the sights had been beautiful, but I was quickly running out of holiday time.

Keep an eye out for my next post on my adventures in Colombia!

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Travels in Tajikistan

Travels in Tajikistan – Crossing Over from Uzbekistan

Around an hour drive from Tashkent, you’ll find the Oybek border control point in Uzbekistan. After passing relatively painlessly through the Uzbek side, I found myself walking through a dimly lit no man’s land. After a few minutes of walking, I had made it to Fotekhobod border control point on the Tajikistan side. The first stop was a gate that marked the start of my travels in Tajikistan. There, 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. Travels in 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. There was no signage and I couldn’t see any buildings in front of me. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who was a little confused.

Making Friends

A local man behind me said, “I guess we go here”, pointing to a passage on the right. The nearby officers told us we had to use the walkway to the left. Then that was it, I was officially in Tajikistan! The man who had tried to lead me down the wrong path then started chatting to me. His name was Malik and he was a paediatric doctor from Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital. He was returning from a conference and 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. Malik found us a taxi and we chatted all the way. Upon arrival in Khujand, he 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

Travels in Tajikistan – Khujand

In the morning, Malik informed me that a notorious part of the road to Dushanbe would be closed until 3pm. That meant we wouldn’t be able to get a car until then. I wondered if that was a regular occurrence in Tajikistan? I wouldn’t be surprised it was. It did give me a bit of time to explore Khujand though.

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

Malik took me to the local market, where it seemed most people were selling bread and seeds. We walked to a large section at the back of the market which looked like it’d be a great place to do some shady black market deals. Or buy seeds. Malik bought a huge amount of seeds. I figured he’d bought them for himself. It wasn’t until we got to the mosque across the square from the market that I found out they had a different purpose. The people of Khujand go to the grounds of this Mosque to feed the pigeons.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travels in 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. God will, in turn, heal your ailments and make you better.

Mosque and Motorised toys

Between the market and the Mosque was a huge square where locals seem to love hanging out and having fun. There were people there hiring out motorised toy cars. I guess it’s a nice way to keep the kids occupied while feeding the birds. There were 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. I wanted to continue my travels in Tajikistan by heading to the capital, Dushanbe. Drivers wanting to take me to Dushanbe had surrounded me before I knew it. 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

Travels in Tajikistan – Dushanbe

Owing to the fact that I’d left Khujand in the afternoon, I got into Dushanbe just after 10pm. The taxi dropped me about 8km from the town centre, where I needed to go. I noticed electric buses were still running and went to the nearest stop. When I checked the schedule at the stop, there was a bus due in a few minutes. That brought me great relief, until 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 away before I could give him my money.

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 there were a lot of white red and green lights. Those are also the 3 colours on the Tajikistan flag. Coincidence? I think not!

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

City Centre

The next morning, I decided to do some web surfing during breakfast, because I finally had internet in Tajikistan. Unfortunately, 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. Travels in 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 buildings seemed to be in the process of construction 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. Travels in Tajikistan. Building Under Construction in the Dushanbe City Centre
K in Motion Travel Blog. Travels in Tajikistan. Outside of the Dushanbe City Centre

Travels in Tajikistan – Meeting Locals

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. Travels in Tajikistan. Staying with a Local in Dushanbe
My New Room

Iso’s house was quite simple, with no airconditioning. He told 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. They would 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.

Amazing Hospitality

Iso was immensely helpful. He was always looking out for me. He was always worried if I had eaten enough. I offered to cook my own food due to my special dietary needs, but he wouldn’t have it. His sister would happily cook for me instead. If I wanted anything, he would go to the local market to buy whatever I wanted. Then he would refuse to take my money for it.

Aside from practicing his English, Iso 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 some Tajik culture and hospitality.

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. Travels in Tajikistan. MagDoner in Dushanbe

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Underrated Uzbekistan

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

Unusual Events in Uzbekistan So Far..

Just to recap my Underrated Uzbekistan adventures so far; I had a super weird experience in Andijon. It 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. I was now about to find out more about life in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

Underrated Uzbekistan’s 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.

Intricately Decorated Metro Stations in Underrated Uzbekistan

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. Each design is 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

As well as 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 you really need to get to Uzbekistan and see them for yourself. You could easily spend a day or two in the metro system just checking out the different station designs. The variations in decor have another purpose too. They can help you recognise where you’re at because in-station signage 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. That makes it 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

Life in Underrated Uzbekistan

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. This is because of a stereotype that people from former Soviet states are likely to never leave if they are allowed to enter a country.

Financial Concerns

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. That doesn’t stop them from giving though! One of the things that makes Uzbekistan so underrated, is the heart of Uzbeks. They have big hearts and will give you everything they have to make sure that you’re fed and safe.

Getting to Khazhikent (ходжикент) in Underrated Uzbekistan

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. There he 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. Then be gave me the number of the English speaker. He told me to call him when I wanted to go back to Khazhikent.

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

The Lake Area

Zhuman 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 showed 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. 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

From Underrated Uzbekistan On To Tajikistan

My Plans had changed slightly, so instead of heading to Southern Uzbekistan, I had decided to move 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. I’d tried to tell the people closest to the man that they needed to start compressions after the man passed out and was unresponsive. The problem was that no one understood. There 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.

A Long Journey to the Border

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. He turned around and 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. This time they made sure the taxi driver understood. Mr taxi driver was really great actually. He took me to the Qo’liq Bazaar, where I could get a shared taxi to the border. Then 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. After what I’d just seen, I wasn’t too keen on playing the barter game.

Quiet Taxi Ride

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. He pointed to a building a few hundred metres away. It was the immigration clearance area. Besides a bit of a wait in line, Immigration was relatively painless. I was on my way from underrated Uzbekistan to Tajikistan!

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

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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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Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan

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

Hitchin’ A Ride Along the Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan

My friend Argen in Bishkek had suggested that I should try hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan. He told me it would be easy. As I was a foreigner, I would get picked up in no time. I’m always up for new experiences, so why not? What better place to try than the Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan?

Kadji-Sai to Balykchy

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

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Dried Fish in Balykchy

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Giant flag at Balykchy

Balykchy to Tokmok

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Scenery between Balykchy and Tokmok

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

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

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Quilt-like mosque Dome in Tokmok

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Tokmok Town Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Tokmok Airplane

Tokmok to Bishkek

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

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

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

Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek to Osh

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

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

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

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

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

Waterfalls and Horse Milk on the Silk Road

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

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

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

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

Suusamyr to Pelmennaya

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

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

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

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

Time for Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pelmannaya to Osh

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

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

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

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

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

Osh, The End of the Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan

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

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

Sulayman-Too (Сулайман-Тоо)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top of the Hill

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

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

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

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

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

Keep an eye out for the next installment of my adventures in Unbelievable Uzbekistan!

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The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan

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

The scenically beautiful Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan was once a major stop on the trade routes of the famous silk road. Things are much different these days. Continue reading to find out all about the quirks of eastern Kyrgyzstan!

Entering Kyrgyzstan/Кыргызстан

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kyrgyzstan Border. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan

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

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

Bishkek/Бишкек

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre

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

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

City Centre

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

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

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

The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Motorised Toy Cars K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Train

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

Getting to Issyk-Kul/Ысык-Көл

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

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

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

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

Perhaps one of the less appealing quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan was the driving. Our driver was pretty erratic and there were more than a few close calls. I think the only thing that stopped him having a major accident was the police few cameras set up along the highway. We had initially wondered why the van kept suddenly slowing down. But once we spotted a camera and saw some cars on the other side of the road flashing their lights to warn others, we knew what was going on. From then on, whenever the van slowed down drastically, we’d have a peek out the window to look for the camera.

The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan in Kadji-Sai/Кажы-Сай

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

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

The Quirks of Eating in Kadji-Sai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan – Chipboard For Construction

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

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

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

Lake Issyk-Kul

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

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

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

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

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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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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.