Some random tips and observations for travellers to Kazakhstan

All about Kazakhstan. Experts: Julia, walkingalmaty
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sebhoff
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Some random tips and observations for travellers to Kazakhstan

Post by sebhoff »

A few observations from my journey through Kazakhstan that may be useful to others:

Kazakhstan seems to have become a fairly non-cash society - everyone is paying with their phones (using Kaspi). This has made the small change situation even more difficult than what is suggested by https://caravanistan.com/kazakhstan/money/. Often, shops won't have any small change even for a 1000 or 2000 tenge bill. That's true even for fairly busy supermarkets! in one place, I ended up buying some chewing gum because that was the only way I could pay for what I really needed to buy. In another place, the cashier saw my handful of coins and almost begged me to let her exchange it for a banknote. I had about 750 tenge in coins - she took everything and gave me 1000 tenge for it, mentioning that I couldn't imagine how difficult it was for shops to get coins. So start collecting them...!

It is true that virtually nobody can (or is willing to) speak English. I met a total of two people during my journey across the country that had sufficient English to talk to me - apart from *some* reception staff at hotels (and a number of Russian refugees). I do speak some Russian, so this wasn't too much of a problem. It is my impression that you hear more Russian than Kazakh in most places; virtually everything is bilingual (Russian/Kazakh). Be prepared to use a translation app.

WiFi at hotels has been fairly miserable - from non-existent to barely passable. In one case, the download speed was OK, but upload was snail-like. So don't count on hotel WiFi if you want to do VoIP or the like. Getting a SIM-card (from KCell) was fairly painless; I paid 4000 tenge for 17GB of data. Speeds were good in all cities I visited; between cities, reception is often non-existent.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan require SIM-card users to register their phone (or rather: IMEI number) after 30 days. If you don't (which you wouldn't as a tourist), the same phone won't work on your next visit to the country. The solution to this (apart from using a SIM-card from one of the other Stans in roaming mode - which is actually quite costly) is to get an eSIM that works locally in roaming mode. I'm in Uzbekistan right now and managed to set up an eSIM with 1GB of data for 4US$ (valid for 7 days). Just google and you will find...

When you are travelling on the new Talgo trains, internet reception is severely impacted by the thin layer of metal coating on the glass; the train seems to lack the typical equipment to pass through the signal as found in other modern trains (e.g. Siemens trains). The only windows without coating are the ones at the doors - and this is where reception is best.

Kazakhstan has two time zones. When travelling on trains across these zones, websites/schedules may not represent this in their information. There's a railway administration time and a local time. And some international trains may throw "Moscow time" into the game. So it's worth double-checking when your train is leaving and when it is actually arriving. Oh - and several of my trains actually left a few minutes early....

Public transport in Astana is easy to use - efficient and frequent. There is an app that also works in English (I think it's called "Astra bus") and you can buy a card with 10 rides at machines across the city (which also work in English). Public transport in Almaty is slightly more challenging. There's a smart card (Onay) that can be bought at many places, but you need to top it up at a machine. A friendly security guy helped me at the railway station. Once you know how it works, it is easy... ;-) The Almaty app doesn't do English, and it's a bit difficult to get the hang of when the next bus is going to come. The app shows the positions of buses on the route - in some cases, there were no buses at all (and I found out the hard way by waiting for quite a bit before realising this...).

Yandex taxi is apparently no longer available in the app stores of many western countries - after all, it is a Russian company. I've heard there is a way to install it on Android anyway - I recommend setting it up before leaving your home country. Yandex will make your life much easier - no haggling with the taxi mafia at railway stations/airports, no language barriers. If you are an iPhone user, an alternative might be inDriver. I was told this was the best local equivalent, but since I had Yandex on my phone from last year, I can't speak from experience.

If you are into finding Soviet mosaics and the like (as I am...), there's an excellent page that will help you in Almaty: http://www.walkingalmaty.com/ There's also a Google map with the exact locations of lots of hidden gems set up by the same guy: https://www.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&ms ... urce=embed

Crossing borders on trains is a nuisance. It'll take 3 hours of your life, and while there isn't really anything to worry about, it's not a pleasant experience (particularly for someone who is used to no borders in Europe). It very much reminded me of border crossings between and into satellite countries of the Soviet Union back in the eighties. You have to stay put on your seat - and no, the toilet definitely can't be used (even on modern trains where this would in theory be possible), so it's a good idea to plan your liquid intake/offload around borders wisely... ;-) Between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, I wasn't even allowed to use my phone (let alone my laptop). Bring something useful to do to kill the time - you'll probably be allowed to read a book... There will be dogs who come and sniff your luggage (on both sides, and sometimes repeatedly) and you'll probably be asked to unpack some of your luggage before the eyes of the border guard (apparently, you have to do this yourself - they never touched anything themselves). If you compare this to entering the Stans at an airport (it took me 5 minutes after getting off the plane in Bishkek to get to the arrivals hall), all of this seems pretty pointless...

There are currently virtually no tourists in Kazakhstan. In more than 2 weeks, I met exactly one couple (from Poland/Israel) that was travelling the country. The situation is completely different in Uzbekistan.

OK - if anything else comes to my mind, I might add it at a later stage. Happy and safe travels!
Sebastian
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sion_sanky
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Re: Some random tips and observations for travellers to Kazakhstan

Post by sion_sanky »

Thank you for the very comprehensive update, really helpful.
I had a couple of questions though- regarding the recent influx of Russians. How is the situation there with regards to accommodation- i did a cursory check on websites like booking.com and hostelworld, the options seem to be severely limited atleast in cities like Almaty and Nur-Sultan. Second, is their presence in such large number a cause for concern for tourists- i mean most of them would be short on cash and resources and i sympathize with their situation to some extent, but have there been any reported instances of thefts/robberies on tourists/locals by these newly arrived guests (as per your interactions with locals and with the new migrants- if you could).

Thank you!
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sebhoff
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Re: Some random tips and observations for travellers to Kazakhstan

Post by sebhoff »

I had booked all accommodation via booking.com weeks in advance (with an option to cancel if my plans were to change). All hotels/guesthouses had the right room ready for me - no problems at all. I did usually write to them a day in advance to confirm my arrival.
Yes, the Russians are everywhere. I talked to a few on the train. Some knew where they wanted to go while others seemed clueless. I did not hear about any issues with them and I didn’t see anything I felt was problematic. I suppose what you’re describing could become more of an issue over time - but I simply don’t know… The locals seem to have mixed feelings about them. I did not witness any interactions that suggested major tensions.
Sebastian
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Ian Sp
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Re: Some random tips and observations for travellers to Kazakhstan

Post by Ian Sp »

Hi
thanks for the detailed report. i am doing a look Kaz-Uzb-Taj-Kry (inl Osh to Bishke) then back to Almaty

I am on an Australian passport and can get a visa free entry for 30 days. I was wondering if you where traveling on an e-visa or a a visa free entry and id you have any issues crossing borders?

Also did you go on to Kyrgyzstan overland via OSH to Bishkek after Tajikistan and what was your experience like?
Ian S
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sebhoff
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Re: Some random tips and observations for travellers to Kazakhstan

Post by sebhoff »

I flew into Bishkek and left again from Tashkent. In between, I did 6500km by train: Bishkek - Karaganda - Astana - Uralsk - Aktobe - Turkestan - Shymkent - Almaty - Tashkent, so both border crossings were on a train. My German passport means I don't need a visa for any of the three countries. I also travelled across Russian territory twice (for about 150km), between Aktobe and Uralsk, on the fast Talgo trains that don't stop inside Russia - so no visa is required. This would be different if you took one of the slower trains...
There were no issues at the border, apart from the waste of time described in my original post.
Sebastian
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Kekly
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Re: Some random tips and observations for travellers to Kazakhstan

Post by Kekly »

I've been in and out of Kaz over the past couple of months and have been here almost 60 days in total now. I know nothing about needing to register phone IMEI here. I don't think that's an issue.

But I did get a text message to my new sim when I was in Uzbekistan that said I needed to register my phone. I'm about to head there tomorrow and it will be more than 30 days since I was there so it will be interesting to see if I can get another sim and if it works ok.

Kaspi app is king here. I had issues with the lack of cash and small change in Kaz initially. But have worked out that I use big notes at the Bazaar where they seem to have lots of change. The big supermarkets always struggle to give me change. You definitely need to have the right coins for a taxi as they rarely carry much cash.
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