Afghanistan (Kandahar, Kabul, Bamiyan) Solo female backpacker (no tour) – Trip Report

All about Afghanistan
girlgonetolive
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Afghanistan (Kandahar, Kabul, Bamiyan) Solo female backpacker (no tour) – Trip Report

Postby girlgonetolive » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:01 am

First thing first, I’m not here to give any travel or safety advice. Make your own risk assessments. This is only my experience. It’s just a trip report!

This is my perspective


I’m a 22 years old Chinese girl who speaks fluent English, a bit of Farsi/ Dari and travels on a UK passport. I have been backpacking and working alone around the world for 3.5 years. This isn’t the first time I have been to Afghanistan alone. Last trip was to the Wakhan Corridor (you can find that trip report on this forum too.)

Before visiting Afghanistan a second time, I had spent 6 months traveling in Pakistan, where I made friends with people who are from all over Afghanistan, and met a very nice man called Gull who actually owns a tour company (SilkroadAfghanistan). I stayed with his family in Kabul and he hosted me as a friend, not a customer. He’s very very generous and caring to me. He helped me a lot with safety information. Other than Gull, there were also many people who are friends of friends or direct friends of mine living all in Kabul, Bamiyan and Kandahar. So my point is, I had a really good time because I had a lot of locals to show me around and talk to. Well also mostly because I have a very open mind and happy personality I love talking to people, and am pretty used to similar culture customs.

In my 3.5 years of traveling, I have hitchhiked alone from Iran to France through Iraqi Kurdistan (I was 19), hired a donkey and walked 19 days in the Wakhan (1 year ago), cycle-toured alone across Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Northern Pakistan. I am a very experienced traveller despite my young age and am very familiar with similar cultures. I know how to keep myself and others comfortable. If you have never travelled in an Islamic country and spend a lot of time with the more traditional locals; You might not be able to enjoy Afghanistan on a first trip, especially if you go as a backpacker alone. You could potentially put yourself or others in uncomfortable/ dangerous situations if you don’t get to know the common customs before going. E.g. I have met girls who wear jeans and t-shirts, and talk in a “flirty tone” (they didn’t realise) and complain how men are openly asking to have sex with them.

My Instagram is @theMarshaJean . I love helping fellow travellers so shoot me a message if there is it’s something you can’t figure out. I really try my best to answer everyone.

My Itinerary

3 weeks in Afghanistan (5 -27 June 2019), visiting Kabul, Bamiyan, Bande Amir National Park, Kandahar city.
7 days in Kabul -> 2 days in Bamiyan-> 5 days in Band e amir National Park -> 1 day in Bamiyan -> 1 day in Kabul -> 5 days in Kandahar -> 2 days in Kabul
(By Bamiyan I mean the main town)
Transport: Between Kabul and Bamiyan by local shared taxi, taking the road via Ghorband. This is very important as the other road that is more commonly taken by locals is not really safe for foreigners. Actually, the safest way is to travel by air.
I took fights between Kabul and Kandahar. Obviously.

Kabul: I stayed with a friend’s family. I made many friends in Kabul who would take me around, invite me to gatherings etc. I really enjoyed living in Kabul, experiencing life there. I visited the Bird Market twice, a vegetable market a bit outside of town, those were very interesting as you get a chance to interact with locals. I also got to visit the UN compound which was interesting as there’s a café with a sign “I love Afghanistan” which might be the only one in the whole country. However you need a contact to be invited in. I visited many historical sites and gardens. Ate a lot, street food included. Visited many restaurants and cafes, I was wowed. For me Kabul was a lot about meeting people, I met a lot of very inspiring people, such as the photographer Fatima Hossein who came with me to Bamiyan for 2 days. Some days I’d just wander around the city on my own, taking my camera out to take photos without feeling threatened – only in the city center. I was very paranoid at first, but was completely relaxed on my second day in.

Bamiyan: visited the Zohak fortress, buddhas many times and other main sites. Dragon valley. Had dinner with my dear friend Fatima Nazari who I met back in Pakistan at a Ski competition. Her little house has the best view of town. Her mother owns a very nice caft shop at the Women’s Craft Bazaar. I loved Bamiyan, I felt so chill there and peaceful. I walk around alone with my camera hanging around my neck.
Band e Amir: spent 5 days in the Park with a homestay. There’s a main village where there are hotels, camp sites, guest houses, restrauants, grocery shops, souvenir shops. I hired a mountain bike back in Bamiyan, brought it with me on top of a car. I biked around the lakes and it’s fun. I also biked around the villages in the West. I spent a lot of time taking photographs. Sometimes I hired a car to go 2am to take night photography. The family I stayed with took me out on a fishing picnic once. It was amazing, the father caught a lot of fish and we had a feast. (Don’t eat the fish raw. I ate some fish eggs raw and I had never been more violently sick in my life)

Kandahar: I couchsurfed with a family. Heard incredible stories. Visited historical sites, religious sites, the bazaar, and another province to chill at some fruit yards. To be honest I felt very stressed out the whole time I was there. My host was a bit paranoid and it got to me. He made me wore a niqab (face covering, only showing the eyes. I only could go out with him, never outside more than 2-3 hours, only in the morning time or sunset time. Spending 5 days with this family felt a bit like a prison, but it’s the best and safest experience of Kandahar I could have. The family is very nice and made very good food. I’m very very grateful for this experience, I really enjoyed it and had such mindblowing and shocking conversations with my host. However, the next time I go, I’m staying elsewhere. I did hear from another male who had stayed with the same host but had a different experience. He had much more freedom and spent a lot of time outside with the host.

Your biggest question – Safety

I am not here to, and not qualified to give any safety or travel advice. This is just a trip report. My position, perspective is different from yours. My experience is unique to me.
I can only suggest to be on top of the security situations on the entire country, especially places you wanna visit. Join a Facebook group e.g. Kabul security now, Kabulians. Don’t ever disclose too much personal information, especially your travel dates. If you want a host or people to show you around, Couchsurfing is a much more trustworthy source. Contact people who have many references. The CS community in Afghanistan isn’t big, but has a few really helpful hosts in most major cities. They usually are very happy to give information or even host you. Afghanistan is known for its hospitality after all!

Kabul

When I visited in June, things had been a bit ‘calm’ in Kabul. Literally 3 days after I left, bomb blasts, attacks kept showing up on the news, that’s because the presidential elections are coming up.
When I was in Kabul, educated young locals mostly told me my biggest concern is bomb blasts as I could never know where and when they happen. Usually happens on main roads and near official buildings. E.g. Kabul University, TV company, post office have been targets too.
The chances of you, a random tourist who probably wont stay for more than a week in Kabul, being kidnapped, is probably really low, as I have been told. It takes time and money to plan a kidnapping apparently. There are a couple of pretty trustworthy guesthouses/ hotels in Kabul. Look, a lot of foreigners visit Kabul – journalists, photographers, businessmen, etc. Some even live there long term, . Tourists rarely ever become targets, but Im not saying there’s no chance of a lunatic sticking a knife in you while you scrolled in the bird market. Kabul, FOR ME, wasn’t as dangerous as I thought. The first 2 days I would wear a black chador and hijab, not taking my camera with me. After I met with many locals, I saw the way they dress, I could kind of pass by for a Hazara. In fact it was very weird for a young girl like me to wear a chador in the city center. I just roamed around the city in my casual clothes (loose pants and loose long sleeve dress + hijab), and my camera backpack. I never stayed in one area for more than one hour, never one spot for more than 30 mins. I only visited the bird market and local markets when accompanied with a local male friend. People were very cheerful and friendly. Many asked me to take their photos, but I never did it too long as crowds start to gather.
Do not ever let a crowd gather around you. Never. Keep moving around when you are at a crowded area like the bird market, fruit market, clothes market, random bazaars etc. I really think it’s dangerous to visit a crowded area like the bird market alone without a local.
I tried most of the street food I could find and never got sick. Yo girl I have an iron stomach thought!

Kandahar

Kandahar is a totally different story. It isn’t safe. I had a Couchsurfing host who was very careful, I never got to spend more than 2-3 hours a day outside… He was very specific about the time of the day we could go out. He had his own car to drive me around. I asked if it’s safe for an independent foreigner to come, stay at a hotel and visit on their own. It’s probably okay, he said. But, Kandahar, he said is “a strange place”. He also said, if I ever plan on coming back to Kandahar on my own, don’t contact him beforehand. Don’t get him involved.

Bamiyan

I pretty much dare say Bamiyan is probably the safest place in Afghanistan. (I hope this remains true for years to come, but just stay on top of the politics and the news.) Yes, safer than the Wakhan Corridor. When I was at the WC last year, a convoy was attacked, 5 people died. The gov never found who did it. Yep, on the very same road hundreds of tourists take to go to the Pamir. You can’t find it on the news in English but if you read Dari it was all over the news. 8 million Afghanis stolen.
Why it is relatively the safest place in Afghanistan? There are government checkpoints on the main road leading to the main town. (I’m not saying there’s no chance some groups would launch huge attacks. There hasn’t been one for a long time. I say this again, keep on top of the news and local info) At the check point they really checked every part of my luggage, even the smallest little pouches. I hope they do this to everyone. And the main town itself, is very peaceful and mostly Hazaras living there. When I visited the Big Buddhas, an army person showed up from nowhere and just followed me.

Band e Amir National Park

Check point security wasn’t as tight. The national park has a very small town where I stayed for 5 days. On weekends and holidays it gets really crowded so I don’t recommend going then. I was gonna camp alone around the park, but, if some random crazy people happen to find me and do crazy things, I not only risk my own life, I risk the whole reputation of the Park. So I didn’t. But chances of a random crazy finding my camp is just as likely if not more if I were to camp in the USA for example.
I did rent a mountain bike, and biked alone around the park in daytime every day.
I really enjoyed living in the National Park, felt very safe all the time. The homestay I stayed with, Sayed Sarwer was really nice. I was really welcomed as a part of the family. The locals are very nice. There are many guest houses or tents you could stay at.

Guides and Tour companies

I never used any services from any companies. I only know that my friend Gull who runs SilkroadAfghanistan is a really nice man with a good heart. He really cares for each person he takes care of. He regularly takes tourists, journalists, photographers, businessmen etc. on tours. Very experienced. The longest running Afghani owned travel company in Afghanistan.
It’s probably safer to travel with a tour. Assuming the tour company hasn’t become a target and you travel in a small group. Guides will know which areas are safe to visit. E.g. if you go to markets/ crowded places in Kabul/ Mazari Sharif/ Herat/ Kandahar, you increase your safety level by 90% by traveling with a local. So if you don’t have any trustworthy local friends, its very worth hiring an experienced guide to make sure everything is alright. You also get to learn a lot too and have a great time!
e.g. a crowd starts to gather around you, things could get very bad quickly if you don’t know how to get yourself out of it. A guide/ friend will help prevent that from happening and always keep a look out for you in general.

Visa
Each Afghan embassy/consulate has different policies. The one in Dubai usually give visas in 2 days. I got mine in Karachi in 2 days. I just had to fill a form and pay dollars. They did ask for a permission letter from my embassy. I said they don’t give it and they didn’t bother. The cost also depends on the embassy. Mine costed 160usd.
Visa extension
It’s possible to get visa extension on a tourist visa for possible 1-2 months extra. It might be worth getting a tour company to do it for you. The procedure is:
First visit the Tourism Office. Write a letter and fill a form.
Then go to the Visa office, go early as it's usually full of people.
It takes at least 2-3 days.

Flying In / Getting In

The safest way to travel around and to Afghanistan is by flight. There are some land routes safe enough to use, but the safety situation can change really fast. Make your own risk assessments. Just remember it’s your own life and flights are just around 100-200usd.
I know quite a few foreigners have travelled overland from Mazari Sharif to Kabul, but this road is really considered not safe. Insurgencies happen sometimes along this road. Sometimes you can see cars burning on the side.

Money
Bring all the cash in USD. Bring more than what you think you need. Anything could happen. Maybe bring Euros for back up too. It’s up to you. I never tried if the atms in Kabul worked or not.
Bring USD notes that are in perfect conditions. Just in case. Perfect condition = no creases, no writings.
When I went I brought 1050USD with me for 3 weeks. I didn’t have to budget for accommodation in Kabul and Kandahar
Budget
I went in with 1050USD cash
Spent 619USD on gifts for locals, donations, tips etc. (for hosting or showing me around, giving money is insulting to real hospitable people). I included this number here to show you, I was also shocked how much I spent in this category, but I really wanted to spend this money. So consider your budget carefully as it’s not easy and is expensive to cash out in Afghanistan.
350usd is what I spent on tickets, food, internet, transport, bike hire, 4 nights in guest houses in Band e Amir and 3 nights in Bamiyan, etc.
This doesn’t include the flights and visa.

Cost of some random things
Keep in mind costs can fluctuate a lot. It’s just to give you an idea
Silver: around 60 afghani per gram
Taxi within Kabul: They don’t charge per km but more so by the location. Usually around 100-250 for an inner city ride.
Shared taxis within Kabul city that pick up passengers as it goes: 20afg per seat usually
Taxi to Bamiyan in shared local taxi 700 afg per seat
32 large mangos 500 afg
A common scarf usually worn by men 100afg+
A large class of carrot juice 30 afg
Small glass of sugar cane juice from a trolley 10afg

Sim Card
MTN and Roshan have probably the best internet signals. MTN has signals in Band e Amir. MTN seems to be faster in general.
If using Roshan, You need to text “3g” to “555” to get activate 3g services. I used Roshan and I paid 1000afg for 10gb internet.
You can’t buy SIMS at the airport.

Food
The best food is homemade. Use Couchsurfing or make some friends! Otherwise, there are many nice and hipster restaurants and cafes in Kabul. So many you gotta explore or Google it.
Some restaurants are more secure than others as they are guarded by gates. Some restaurants are actually brothels so probably stay away from those. Unfortunately, I forgot the names of those.
There’s only 1 bar left in Kabul called the 14th. It has a very bad vibe. I personally don’t recommend it. House parties are a lot of fun but you need the right local friends. Some homes are so beautiful and have their own bars inside I couldn’t believe it.

Dress Code

It really depends where you are. Common sense can do. Always a good idea to dress like the locals. Avoid flashy, expensive, too-nice-looking clothes. In Kandahar dress more conservatively. In Kabul city center is relaxed, Bamiyan is used to seeing tourists and also upper class Kabulians.
Men can always go for a nice shalwar kameez. The traditional pant suit. No shorts please. No tight fitting clothes. T shirt and jeans in Kabul is fine. It’s always a good idea to wear long sleeves.
Women need to give more thoughts. The general rule of thumb is NO TIGHT FITTING CLOTHES. Always cover your ass. Wearing jeans and T shirt in public will draw a lot of attention to you, and might offend some people. You can wear jeans but wear a dress or jacket to cover your ass. In more conservative areas, also wear a scarf to cover your boob curves.

Hijab

It’s always a good idea to wear one, to not draw too much attention and make locals feel comfortable. In Kabul, in cafes and restaurants you can take your hijab off. In private places, wear it or not its up to you.
In Kandahar, I was ordered to wear a niqab (face covering) and black chador by my host. I didn’t think I needed the niqab, but I would be the only women not wearing one in public.

Special Advice for girls

Have an affirmative personality. If you are one of those people who are afraid of “being rude”, e.g. you always make excuses when a guy asks for your number- maybe not a good idea to come alone. Gain some experience traveling solo first! If you want less stares and perverts targeting you, dress conservatively, wear a scarf to cover your boob curves and make sure your arse is covered. In this part of the world, men and women not from the same family don’t get a lot of chances to interact, so men tend to get too excited. Personally, I hate it when men come after me, so I don’t laugh too loudly and talk with a deeper voice, and give less eye contacts. Most men I met in Afghanistan are one of the most respectful, kind men I know. However, there are always arseholes in the world.

I hope you find it helpful! My Instagram is @theMarshaJean
Message me there if you have any questions, I always try my best to answer everyone. Safe travels. 😉
Last edited by girlgonetolive on Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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jacoblab1
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Re: Afghanistan (Kandahar, Kabul, Bamiyan) Solo female backpacker (no tour) – Trip Report

Postby jacoblab1 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 3:07 pm

Great report Marsha!! Very informative and helpful.

I'm glad you had a good time there :) now I want to see your photos!
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My solo-travel blog: On The Way Around
Covers destinations such as China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and more!

Katharine_1993
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Re: Afghanistan (Kandahar, Kabul, Bamiyan) Solo female backpacker (no tour) – Trip Report

Postby Katharine_1993 » Mon Aug 19, 2019 5:19 am

Amazing report !!!
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Christian77
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Re: Afghanistan (Kandahar, Kabul, Bamiyan) Solo female backpacker (no tour) – Trip Report

Postby Christian77 » Mon Aug 19, 2019 10:02 am

Thanks for another great report.

I would like to add that the road you took had a big Taliban roadblock very recently and they checked every car (hoping to catch some locals who work for NGOs/IOs or embassies), and attacks semi-regularly over the last few years. There is no safe way to get to Bamiyan aside from flying. One week no problem; next week a one-way ticket to a Haqqani dungeon in Pakistan for 5 years.

As for passing for a Hazara, I've talked to a few people from East and Southeast Asia who travelled in Afghanistan... they passed for Hazara until they talked. But one who spoke basic Dari could not convince (non-Hazara) people that he wasn't Hazara.
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girlgonetolive
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Re: Afghanistan (Kandahar, Kabul, Bamiyan) Solo female backpacker (no tour) – Trip Report

Postby girlgonetolive » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:42 pm

Thanks for the input Christian. Yes you are right I should have emphasized more all land routes are risky. Flying really is the safest way.
Yea, when I walk on the streets and go to a shop some people talk directly to me in Dari, assuming im a local. The moment they pay attention they can already know I'm not a local without even hearing me speak.
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gaz457
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Re: Afghanistan (Kandahar, Kabul, Bamiyan) Solo female backpacker (no tour) – Trip Report

Postby gaz457 » Wed Aug 28, 2019 9:41 am

Hi Jean! I sent you a message on Insta but not sure if you saw it. I'm interested to know more about obtaining the Afghan visa in Islamabad on a UK passport. I'm hoping to do it soon. Thanks!
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