Missing middle names, Money, Planes, Trains, Taxis, Hotels, and More

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Missing middle names, Money, Planes, Trains, Taxis, Hotels, and More

Post by Uzbekistand »

Hi All, we just returned from our first trip to Uzbekistan (July 2019, 110 degrees!), and wished to share our experience and advice with any interested readers as a thank you for all the helpful advice from others on this message board. The country is clearly rapidly changing and there is a lot of stale or even simply incorrect information floating around. I will try my best, and this is going to get long!

From nearly the moment we booked the plane tickets, we had endless things to worry about needlessly. Let me put everyone's worries to rest: DON'T WORRY, and enjoy yourselves! We found the people of Uzbekistan to be some of the friendliest and most welcoming to travelers that we have ever experienced, and all the random fears of the unknown or logistical were unfounded.

We arranged most of the trip ourselves, but when things got sticky we turned to an agency, and chose Advantour, mostly because of their website quality and after confirming that they were on reliable travel agency lists.

Our background- Married couple from the USA traveling with a toddler. Reason: the child's babysitter is from Tashkent and goes back every summer. For 4 years she had been asking us to come and visit- this summer we made it happen. Visit her in Tashkent, and then travel around the country. No stroller, but with great sidewalks and flat open spaces this would have been perfect stroller territory, compared to say, Italy.

Preparation: 1 frankly often unhelpful Lonely Planet Central Asia guide (the same guide every tourist is carrying), 2 small but helpful Bloomberg travel articles, (google Bloomberg/Uzbekistan/travel/silk road), and this message board. My spouse speaks fluent Russian, I can read the important words on a Cyrillic restaurant menu but do not speak it. Thanks to the babysitter, the child speaks toddler-Russian. None of us speak Uzbek, but we learned 'hi,' 'thank you,' and 'bye' before we left. This was our first "stan" but we are well traveled to some off-the-typical-tourist-radar Russian speaking areas (Crimea, Moldova, Transnistria, Belarus, etc.)

Let's begin.

Direct flights from JFK to TAS via Uzbekistan Airways. We booked the plane tickets... Oh no! The plane tickets are only First Name, Last Name, but all our passports have middle names... let me come back to this.

About 2 months ahead of the trip, I put in for the e-visa on a Sunday. Straightforward but I never would have figured out the pixel size for the photo if not for others' comments here (thank you!). Things I worried about, do I put for arrival date the day the plane takes off, or the day it lands, and will this impact us if I got it wrong? (I put departs) Knowing that Middle Name and Patronymic Name are two different things but the same line on the form, do I put middle name there or jam it on the "Name" line? (I put it on the Middle Name line because it explicitly says "Middle Name" and I tend to follow directions). Tuesday evening, we had our e-visas! But now I'm worried again because on the e-visas our middle names are nowhere to be seen...

So, I asked a friend of mine who's originally from Iran and used to work for an old Russian travel agency do I need to worry? I now have both plane tickets and visas, none of which match our passports for all 3 people! He laughs, puts his hand on my shoulder, and says much more colorfully than I will write here: Nobody in the world cares about middle names, only the USA. You'll be fine!

Nice 787 Dreamliner. Cloth but comfortable seats, albeit a bit cramped. Seatback TV's but BYOE - Bring Your Own Entertainment. No music in the music button. 4 random movies... One looked like Hogan's Heroes but on a boat. The food on the return was plentiful... and the first time I ever ate beef tongue on an airplane. This is the first time we ever deplaned a 787 via rolling staircase! And through the backdoor! Whatever the Uzbek red wine on the flight out was I thought was surprisingly good.

Weirdly both flights were overnight flights... yet nobody slept! This is likely because these are very "familial" flights with kids everywhere, including our own who is a great little traveler.

E-Visas: Carry them everywhere! At flight check-in. At passport control. At every hotel check-in. When you leave the country. Everybody asks to see the printout.

Cash: This is the first thing the Lonely Planet book let me down with. Actually it was the second thing, the first is that I would have preferred a standalone guide for Uzbekistan rather than lugging around this huge tome. Actually the third, the first is that I would have preferred a TimeOut travel guide. So I shed a tear for TimeOut and digress. In the money section on page 467 of Lonely Planet they did not emphasize enough that your bills need to be SPARKLING NEW, apparently I could have found this little nugget squeezed in on page 18, sidebar number 2... but neither section said WHY or the IMPACT, so I will tell you. I brought $1,200 and everything was new or what I thought to be "reasonably new enough"... ho ho ho was I wrong about my perfectly good legal tender. The tiniest crease or stain or if they just think Benjamin Franklin is staring at them funny will cost you a 5% commission. I first changed some at the airport, you can change after you go through passport control even though the window looks like it's before you enter. They gave me a stack of 50k notes. Everywhere else topped out at 10k notes which led to some thick pockets. I ran out of cash the second to last day of the trip when I saw a rug we just had to buy, so I went to a Kapital bank and took out a Visa cash advance which I promptly paid back the instant I returned home. There are no standard "ATM" machines in Uzbekistan, but I saw plenty of Visa cash advance machines.

Customs: After passport control and changing cash, I looked for customs slips. All that was to be found was a sign that said you don't need to declare if you are carrying <$2,000 USD cash. So I walked out, too easy! Mid-trip I had a heart attack from a local 2019-2020 Uzbekistan travel guide that said "Don't lose your customs slip!!!"... ay yay yay. So to put everyone else's fear at rest, the sign at departure says you don't need to declare unless you have more than $2k cash or $5k goods. Off we went.

Passport control: Many parallel lines, fast and efficient! We were impressed because we had read somewhere to expect a human pile.

Taxi: While we were picked up at the airport by the babysitter, let me tell you about the gamechanger for us in Tashkent after we found it: Yandex Taxi, get the app! Better than Uber! No need to make an account, pay in cash. Hit the setting button for Air Conditioning. In 2 minutes you'll have a "comfort" car to go somewhere for like 12,000 som. Or in 5 minutes you'll have a "business" car to go somewhere for a few thousand som extra. Sure it's a tiny bit more expensive than holding out your arm for a Lada, but wow did this service make our time in Tashkent so much more pleasurable with its speed and reliability... and I say this as a very pro-public transportation person and I love subways, but those subways can be a long walk with a toddler. Yandex Taxi was only available in Tashkent.

Seatbelts: Ha ha. I felt like a fool carrying around our booster seat. Only rarely did cars have them. However the cars for pickup we scheduled with Advantour always did, and I used the booster!

Souvenirs: You basically need to lap the entire country twice before you buy anything because you will see everything you want a few times, and inevitably you will find the same thing for cheaper and higher quality at a later point in your journey. C'est la vie.

Hyatt Regency: WOW! I cannot say enough good things. First, we booked with Hyatt points, THIS IS AN AMAZING POINTS DEAL! Maybe the best value points deal I've ever used. Go for the "Club" rooms. Why? Well, you get a great balcony off the Regency club to watch the sunset from and the lights on the ferris wheel in the distance. Grab a beer or a wine or a cognac, or just stock up on bottled waters and snacks. The included breakfast on the 1st floor restaurant was fantastic! This is coming from somebody who doesn't eat breakfast - let me say I ate the breakfast. It was like a combination of Turkish, Russian, Korean, and more with all the fruits and cheeses and honeycomb and dried things and pickled things and breads and hearty things and fresh juices and I could go on and on - a really great start to every morning. The hotel was described to us by a guide as "the best hotel in Central Asia," and I believe it. Pro tip: Grab the Portico shampoos for your onward travels.

Registration slips: Every hotel whether one night or three nights provided them. We forgot to grab them on the way out of the Hyatt so I called them and the person said "oh, they don't even ask for them anymore" but they emailed them to me just in case. Every other hotel just handed to me. Also every hotel takes your passports for half a day to process them, except the Hyatt cleverly just takes pictures of your info so you don't have to give up your passports. Whether we actually needed them we'll never know because we just handed them all to passport control on the way out.

The world's oldest Quran: Did you know the oldest Quran in the world is sitting right there under glass in Tashkent? Yeah, neither did we. Why didn't we know? Because Lonely Planet couldn't be bothered to give a "Star" rating next to the Moyie Mubarek Library Museum on page 207, and with boring words like "library" and "museum" in the title, we skipped right over the paragraph. Yet, a sentence in the description: "It is Tashkent's most important sight"... Lonely Planet's review: 0 stars. Yikes. It's very quick to see and I'm glad we didn't miss it.

Chimgan mountain/reservoir area: The babysitter took us up here (hired an 8 seater ride via Advantour to take the sitter's grandkids too) and it is not something we would have done in a million years. Just FYI for anyone curious. We went up the old soviet cable car which was terrifying (the toddler loved it). I thought potentially falling out was the scariest part until we got to the end where you basically jump out at full speed and run to the side as fast as possible. Pro-tips: Mid ride there is a landing you go over with a dude taking pictures asking if you want one. On the way back have 3k som ready to pay and you can do a mad handoff in air for your picture if you are fast enough. Apparently people travel all over for the region's local rice soup, we went to a restaurant called something like hoozhakent which was great and chilled at a topchan in the back.

Trains/Afrosiyob: This was where we hit our first real snag, trying to book the Afrosiyob from Tashkent to Samarkand, and not seeing them anywhere for purchase on the website so we turned to Advantour. HERE IS THE TRICK: Set your destination for Karshi, and voi la, magically the Afrosiyob trains will be available, albeit for a few bucks more. Get out at Samarkand, and don't forget to ask for your ticket back before you get out if they didn't hand it to you before arriving because it says Karshi. Not that you need the ticket at this point for anything further. BUY YOUR TICKETS WAY IN ADVANCE! They sell out. When the babysitter found out we had tickets, she couldn't believe it because "they're not even available for us!" and of course we felt guilty about that as tourists. We tried Business class to Samarkand and then VIP to Bukhara. I would go with Business if doing it over because with VIP you are sharing tables if you haven't completely locked down a two-fer or a 4 seater.

Arriving in Samarkand we had the hotel arrange for pickup from the train station. However the trick here is to walk about a block down the street after exiting the train station and that's where the yellow cab stand is.

Grand Samarkand A: How to know whether to book the A building on one side of the street, or the B building on the other side? Lonely Planet says to go for the "western side" for the better one... how the heck are we supposed to figure that out?? Not helpful! So I guessed right that A is the preferable building. The hotel is in walking distance to a restaurant called Platan which was great. Did tourist stuff in Samarkand, and off to Bukhara.

Language: Surprise! Outside of Tashkent we found people's first language to be Tajik! There were a couple instances where they didn't speak Russian (let alone English) so there was a lot of smiling and nodding and hands placed on hearts.

Hotel Minzifa in Bukhara: Very charming, unique, attractive place, we had the white room, really glad we stayed here. Because we had to leave in the middle of the night for the next train, they had boxed up our breakfast ready to go for us. Pro tip: They have a very reasonably priced laundry service, and given that Bukhara is mid-trip, it is perfectly arranged so that you pack lightly enough to get through half the trip, wash here, and get through the rest. We had Advantour arrange for us a day's walking tour in English and are glad we did, because in hindsight we felt we missed some things in Samarkand that we wouldn't have with a guide. Off to Khiva.

Night train to Urgench: I'm glad we had the experience, and it was a family bonding adventure, but it is rough getting up in the wee hours of the AM. For the 3 of us we reserved all 4 beds in a "compartment class," so two of the tickets were in my name. That confused some people through the multiple checkpoints, but we clarified when asked. If doing over I would have flown I think. Wow that is one looonnng Soviet train end to end.

Hotel Orient Star in Khiva: When we told our Bukhara guide that we booked here his eyes lit up, excellent choice. But it wasn't easy. I had booked through Expedia, and I knew things were fishy when they tacked on a "resort fee" of like $60 bucks. We went to call the hotel, who does not have a webpage, and the number on Expedia was wrong. So I call Expedia support and they have no idea, so they pass me off to some white label company who actually does the real booking of hotel rooms for Expedia, hotelbeds.com. So I contact them and never heard back, I imagine hotelbeds.com wasn't thrilled hearing directly from Expedia customers, and thus I canceled through Expedia, you see where this is going, and immediately rebooked through Advantour. Back to the Orient Star: they gave us a great, newly renovated room, new rugs, nice minisplit AC, TV, etc... but one problem, no toddler bed. So they upgraded us to a room that turns out to be infamous: Room 242, this is the room in The Shining where Jack Nicholson... no no, this is the room on page 268 in the Lonely Planet that "has the best views"... but is not renovated, has a bit of a rank smell, and the shower fixture holder is broken off. But yes, the view is nice if you leave the door open. It's a 2 bedroom. Overall, the hotel is great and we would definitely stay here again. Also despite what Lonely Planet says, everyone working there was very friendly! And they have a front desk despite Expedia saying there is no desk. Last but not least on Orient Star, I present to you their contact information that I could not find anywhere on the Internet: Tel +998 62 377 68 59 (and a second with the number ending in 60). Cell: +998 93 922 07 87. Email: [email protected]

Flying back to Tashkent: Here the Lonely Planet book put fear in my heart, page 479 "Flying saves time and takes the tedium out of Central Asia's long distances but it is arguably the least safe mode of transport in Central Asia." Seriously? I would like to see the statistics compared to everyone driving around without seatbelts. Regardless, Uzbekistan Airways is great, and we had a nice new Airbus 320. I would take that flight any day over Spirit Airlines! One surprise: the flight from Urgench to Tashkent puddle jumped first to Bukhara... how did I miss this when booking? I never saw anything about that. Anyway, it was great and the domestic terminal is easy upon Tashkent arrival.

I need to wrap this up because I could go on and on. The babysitter held a lamb slaughter in her backyard which we then ate and they shared with all the neighbors, this was beyond special, and no we didn't let the toddler watch it, only eat it. We only went to one restaurant in Tashkent (because we were with the sitter's family otherwise), and it was this place Jumanji which we all really enjoyed and wish we could go back to. We purchased the best souvenirs ever in Uzbekistan, including a small rug (ok, technically from Afghanistan), the coolest ever wooden collapsible dry fruit/nut bowl (the good quality ones have no nail heads showing on the top), and of course the famous Bukhara bird scissors (I think the blacksmith shop that has the family tree poster hanging up had the nicest).

It was an amazing trip, and I hope my little story here helps and encourages others to go visit an amazing place that is going through fast, significant changes in order to welcome visitors with open arms.
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Re: Missing middle names, Money, Planes, Trains, Taxis, Hotels, and More

Post by Uzbekistand »

After putting the message above up, I of course thought of a million things that I had intended to mention. I don't see an edit button, but one deserves mentioning, so I'll reply to myself here:

One weird experience: When leaving the Hyatt to take the Afrosiyob, we asked the hotel to call us a taxi, and I see the concierge pull out the phone, hit a button, and he said 2 minutes. I asked "Yandex Taxi?" and of course it was.

So the taxi pulls up and we say train station for Afrosiyob. We're driving and the driver asks which station (Russian translated via my spouse), and we say we thought we heard that Afrosiyob was north station. He asks to see our tickets to confirm, so we gladly hand him our tickets. While he's driving he inspects them, looking at ticket 1... 2... 3. I don't think much of it.

We get to the station, and ask how much. He says, "30k som," and at this point we are well versed in Yandex fares, and say "we thought it was 10k." He says don't worry about it, and drives off, unpaid.

Now our minds are spinning. Was he embarrassed that we busted him? Was he worried about something? Was he mad?

I start playing out all the scenarios in my head, and here's the worst case scenario I could come up with: He stared at all of our tickets, he knows our seat numbers, and he can visually describe our family pretty easily. The tickets, which also include our names on them, said Karshi, but we said going to Samarkand so he knows where we're headed. So, he's going to have his buddies wait for us when we get off the train, we're going to try and get a taxi and it's going to be one of his friends who's car we get into, and then jack our stuff and imagine all the other worst case scenarios.

So then I start theorizing how to insure against my worst case scenario. What did I come up with? While on the train, we called the Grand Samarkand to pick us up at the train station holding a name card. Cost for this insurance policy: $20. Sure it's not perfect, but I thought it was pretty good.

Needless to say, I'm sure he was just embarrassed that he tried to overcharge us.

I hope you enjoyed this side story!

A couple side notes while I'm here. Broadway (the street in Tashkent) is right next to the Hyatt, that's a great stroll starting at around 7 or 8pm with the kids. Ice cream, souvenirs, carny rides, lots of lights, etc.

Also another reason to get tours (we did Bukhara and Khiva), the tour guides know every single shadow path to walk through in the sun in July to avoid the sun. There's an upside and downside to traveling in the hottest part of the year. The upside is that because it's so hot you will find some of the most important sights completely empty of tourists besides yourself mid afternoon. The downside is that it's 110 degrees. If doing over I would choose June or earlier or September+.

WEAR SUNSCREEN! We brought 30spf sunscreen there, and on day two purchased 70spf.

Lastly here, I want to offer a small apology to the owners of this site because I am embarrassed to say until moments ago when I clicked around to find what I posted, I didn't even realize they ran a travel service themselves. I certainly would have considered them had I realized it.
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Re: Missing middle names, Money, Planes, Trains, Taxis, Hotels, and More

Post by Uzbekistand »

Aqua Park: Beneath the shadow of Tashkent's Television Tower is a large and very popular water park, AqvaPark. Water slides, a sky cable ride, and straight out of New Jersey's very own Action Park: a Tidal Wave Pool. It was fun but there probably could have been more lifeguards on staff.

To get a locker, you need to turn over either your passport or a phone, I guess as collateral for the lock. One of the kids had a cracked smartphone that was purely used for video games that was accepted as sufficient collateral.
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Re: Missing middle names, Money, Planes, Trains, Taxis, Hotels, and More

Post by kyoto49 »

This is brilliant and lots of useful information for newbies to Uzbekistan. Thanks!
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