Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Bird and Supertrees at the Gardens By The Bay.

No matter how many times you visit, Singapore always manages to impress. When one of my friends decided to have her 30th birthday party there, I was of course obliged to make the trip! No matter how many times I visit this city-state, I always seem to be able to find new things to do. On this particular visit, I had the chance to see some superheroes and supertrees in Singapore.

Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore – Superheroes?

Superheroes in Singapore? Yes! Well, a superhero exhibition. My visit had coincided with the Marvel Studios: Ten Years of Superheroes Exhibition at the ArtScience Museum in Downtown Singapore.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Marvel Exhibition at the ArtScience Museum

The museum itself could be considered an art piece, but the view from outside the museum was something else.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. View From the ArtScience Museum

As a bit of a geek and a huge fan of all superheroes, the exhibition made me happy.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Ironman at the ArtScience Museum K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Hulk Smash at the ArtScience Museum

Because of course, we are Groot!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Groot at the ArtScience Museum

Sculptures in the City

Singapore isn’t exactly a place that springs to mind when you think about art. You may be surprised to know that art is alive and well in the city, despite some legal restrictions. Artists cannot just paint walls or place sculptures anywhere they like, as it is illegal to do so. Unless of course it is done on private property with the permission of the owners.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Sculpture in the Street

Many landowners are more than willing to let local and international artists beautify their properties. That has given rise to a pretty decent street art scene which includes a plethora of murals and sculptures. These can be found in random places all around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Corner Sculpture

Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore – Gardens By The Bay

On my previous trip to the city-state, I had seen the Supertrees under construction in an area near Marina Bay. The 100 plus hectare foreshore area that was reclaimed is now called Gardens By The Bay. These Gardens are nothing short of spectacular! You could easily keep yourself occupied there for many days. And that’s just walking around doing all the free stuff.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Fountains at the Gardens By The Bay

As a budget-conscious traveller, I tend to avoid going to places that have an entrance fee. I did make an exception for one attraction in the Gardens. I decided that I wanted to see the view from the top of one of the Supertrees, at the SuperTree by IndoChine rooftop terrace. The entrance fee was $S20 and included a drink. I’m still not sure if it was completely worth it, but the view was impressive none the less.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Storm Rolling In

Attractions at the Gardens

Some of my friends couldn’t stop raving about the Cloud Forest in the Gardens. The buildings containing the Cloud Forest are on the righthand side of the picture above. My friends assured me that the Cloud Forest was worth the $S28 they paid. I was happy to roam around checking out all the free stuff though. There was definitely enough of that to keep anyone occupied for a long time.

Sculptures
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Strange Sculpture

Tranquil paths
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Walk

Peaceful Lakes
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Peaceful Lakes at the Gardens By The Bay

And of course the Supertrees
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Supertrees at the Gardens By The Bay

Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore – Supertree Grove

There’s no doubt that the Supertrees are the most sought-after attraction at the Gardens. They are massive but also serene. They are quite a sight to behold during the daylight hours. You could gaze at them for hours from the grassed area below them. No matter what time of day you go there, it’s easy to find a nice quiet spot to relax.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Storm Rolling in at the Gardens By The Bay

There’s also a food court near the base of some of the trees that offers some reasonably priced food options. For me, it doubled as shelter when one of Singapore’s infamous 4pm storms started rolling in.

Supertree Grove at Night

As beautiful as the Grove is during the day, things get a lot more colourful at night. Hundreds of lights have been installed on the Supertrees. These lights are programmed to flash, flicker and change colour according to the beat of a musical soundtrack.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Supertree Grove

The show is called Garden Rhapsody and runs twice a night for 15 minutes each time.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Supertree Grove Blue and Purple Supertree

As far as light shows go, the Garden Rhapsody is a pretty good one. I’m not sure that I could even explain just how awesome it was, so maybe you can just see for yourself below.

For more information about things to do and see at the Gardens, you can check out their website.

Beer Fest at the Gardens

I was also lucky enough to be in Singapore while a huge beer festival, Beer Fest Asia, was taking place at the Gardens. As we were there for a party, most of the group decided that a festival with free beer was exactly what they needed. Who was I to argue?

We weren’t just there for the beer though. There was some live music happening too.

Strange Clubs in Singapore

I have to admit that in all my visits to Singapore, I’d never really ventured out to any of the nightclubs. That all changed when my slightly drunk friends decided that they weren’t ready for the party to end after the pub closed. We ended up at a club called Bar Rouge on the 70th floor of the Swissotel Stamford Hotel. At $25 per person, it was not cheap to get in there. The fee came with a ‘free drink’ but of course, the choice of drinks was very restricted.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Singapore-isms at Bar Rouge

Aside from the neon Singapore-isms, perhaps the most interesting thing about this club was the floor plan and colour scheme. Being a clearly classy joint, they had installed glass cages on the second floor. These cages had a never-ending parade of scantily clad women disinterestedly dancing on poles. The fact that they were so disinterested made it kind of interesting to watch. It was certainly a distraction from the crap DJing that was going on. I didn’t hear one complete song all night.

The Kindness and Honesty of Strangers in Singapore

With so much alcohol available, people from our group got drunk. Very drunk. One of them got so drunk in fact that they ended up passed out on a comfy patch of grass somewhere. They were woken up sometime early in the morning by a worried local, checking if they were okay.

What was probably most surprising was that their wallet and phone were on the ground next to them. With absolutely no recollection of what had happened after they left the group, this person presumed that they had put their belongings down on the grass before passing out. That means their belongings had been sitting out in the open for hours and no one had tried to pinch them. That really says something about Singaporeans!

Now that this Singaporean adventure is over, I’ll leave you with a Singapore Sunset.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. City Sunset

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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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Things to Know About Uzbekistan

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

3 Important Things to Know About Uzbekistan

Tourist Registration

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

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

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

Drivers Be Crazy

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

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

Super Hospitable Locals

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

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

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

3 Handy Things to Know About Uzbekistan

Language

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

Transport

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

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

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

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

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

Potable Water

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

3 Quirky Things to Know About Uzbekistan

Gas Stations

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

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

Crisps/Chips in Shwarmas

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

Airconditioning is Not Standard

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

Want to know more about Uzbekistan? Have a look here and here.

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Turkmenbashi to Baku – 3 Days on the Caspian Sea

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

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

Waiting..

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

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

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

Immigration Procedure

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

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

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

Starting the Journey from Turkmenbashi to Baku. Or Not.

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

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

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

FInally moving?

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

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

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

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

New Captain?

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

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

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

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

Meeting People

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

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

Turkmenbashi to Baku, Finally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land Ahoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Travel to Turkmenistan – 8 Things to Know

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

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

Important Things to Know About Turkmenistan, No 1 – Currency

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

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

Blackmarket or Official?

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

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

2) Transport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Social Media and Internet

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

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

Weird Things to Know About Turkmenistan No 5 – Presidential Pictures

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

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

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

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

6) Police State

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

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

Important Things to Know About Turkmenistan No 7 – Agressive Drivers

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

8) Accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City of White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presidential Pictures

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

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

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

As an aside, I found out a few weeks after left Turkmenistan that the president was getting annoyed with all the gossip surrounding his health. So what’s a healthy president to do? How could he dispell such vicious rumours? By grabbing a car and doing donuts near the Darvaza Gas Crater. So yeah, the country is apparently being run by an insecure teenager.

Ashgabat in South Turkmenistan at Night

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

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

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

Sights Near Ashgabat, South Turkmenistan

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

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

Old Nisa Ruins – (Konenusay)

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

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

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

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

Kow Ata Underground Lake in Ahal

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

Turkmenbashy Monument and Mosque

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

Train to Turkmenbashi (Türkmenbaşy)

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

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

Buying Train Tickets

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

Ticket Drama

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

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

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

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

Turkmenbashi, South Turkmenistan – Gateway to the Caspian Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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