Balkhash is one of those places you would want to avoid at all costs, but somehow always end up in for longer than expected. If you’re with your own transport en route to Astana, Almaty or Shymkent, I recommend to stay the night at the oasis of Bektau-Ata instead of Balkhash. Remote even by Kazakh standards, Balkhash acts as a center for those unfortunate enough to live in even more distant towns. Your pity is envoked at the sight of a place like Akshatau, 35km away from the nearest water source.
Sights and activities
The beach is popular with Russians in summer, but I’d save my beach holiday for a different country. While there is lots of rubbish lying around, the beach still has a paid entrance of 800 tenge per day. The sight of a smoking zinc processing plant across from the lake does not encourage.
The town centre features wide-open streets where taxis outnumber all other road users. It does make it cheap to get around. The main streets are clean though, and you could almost feel optimistic walking along Lenin street. Here you can find some interesting 50’s Soviet architecture and Soviet mosaics that have disappeared in the modernisation drive of cities like Almaty and Astana. If copper extraction is your thing, we can recommend the House of Culture of Metalworkers, where Lenin crosses Valikhanov street. It houses a small history museum chronicling the story of the copper plant of Balkhash.
Bars and restaurants
As far as bars are concerned, most people seemed to consume their alcohol on the street, but that might be prejudice. For food: try fish, it should be fresh. If you’re going by car, you will see many roadside stalls selling smoked fish.
Getting there (and away!)
There are buses to all large urban centers daily, however, not along the northern shore towards Ayagoz or Taldykorgan. That road is terrible. Your only option to go directly east is the train. Trains also run to Almaty, Karaganda, Astana and beyond.