Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Central Asia Trip Report

My first visit to "the Stans" went pretty well.  I was only there for nine days so some things felt a bit rushed but overall I had enough time.  I learned a few things for the next visit.

In Kyrgyzstan, I stayed in Bishkek.  It was very easy to get around on foot or by bus.  The taxis are very cheap but you will need some Russian to get by.  The cars are imported from the west and from Japan so half are right hand drive and half are left hand drive.  I'm used to both but it was a bit odd seeing both on the road at the same time.

The only problem I had in Bishkek was that it took me forever to find an ATM that would work for me.  I wasn't able to pull out any cash on my Czech or American debit cards.  I had €150 with me that I could change but not having any local currency handy started to worry me.  I finally found that I could withdrawal cash from DemirBank.  No other bank ATMs would work for me.  Lesson learned: always have a few U.S. Dollars or Euros handy to exchange when visiting the far off lands.

70th anniversary of the end of WWII
Throughout the city there were still many Soviet-era monuments and statues.  There were many billboards commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. 

The people were very friendly.  I even received a high-five from an ethnic Korean because I was an American who could speak basic Russian.

With no visa required I can see returning to Bishkek but next time it will be to head off to the nearby mountains from some hiking.

Kazakh registration card
After a couple of days I flew to Kazakhstan.  Thanks to the government's pilot program for visa-free travel I was able to visit without the ordeal of applying for the $160 visa.  There was a separate line at the airport where I had my registration card stamped.  I just had to keep the card with me until I left the country.


Almaty was a bit of a disappointment.  For a place that used to be a capital city I figured that there would be much more to see.  Not so much.  However I was almost interviewed for the evening news.  I was in an Almaty park and got approached by a TV crew.  But once they realized I couldn't speak Kazakh and that my Russian sucked they lost interest.  Not quite the high five I received in Bishkek. 

Astana was much more interesting.  When it comes to architecture it's like the Dubai of Central Asia.  There is so much to see.  On the 19th, me and my FitBit walked all over the city - a new personal best 34,17 km (21.23 miles).

All of that walking around the capital and I still never ran into Borat.

Kazakh WWII 70th anniversary poster
Kazakhstan is much more developed than Kyrgyzstan.  Much more expensive too.  Overall it was a great trip.  The only real drawback is the travel time.

Turkey now has a $20 e-visa so I made sure to apply in advance.  It gave me the opportunity to escape the Istanbul airport for a while in order to break up the long travel day home.

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