Uzbekistan May 2019 big trip report

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Uzbekistan May 2019 big trip report

Postby steven » Wed Jun 26, 2019 7:33 am

Got this e-mail from Jason, posting it in his behalf:

I thought I would write an updated account of our travels and perhaps some tips for Uzbekistan as well as Mangystau/Aktau and the Baku Ferry.

This information is current as of May 2019 but of course things can always change.

We spent nearly 4 weeks heading from Tashkent, through southern Ferghana Valley and then back all the way to Kungrad/Muynaq. Up until Khiva we took the train, after which we took shared taxis and buses. From Kungrad we took the Nukus/Aktau overnight train via Beyneu to Shetpe. We wanted to see Sherkala mountain and the Valley of Balls, both, I can assure you, are well worth a visit. After Shetpe we hitched a ride to Aktau and to our surprise, the next day, the ferry to Baku was ready to sail.

All in all, I think we had a very smooth ride all the way. All of the blogs and info we found made us anticipate some hardships, but I really can’t say we had any! I hope the following information is helpful to all of you.

A quick word on trains and tickets.

You can check schedules and buy train tickets online ensuring you have a reservation. There is a catch! You must show your electronic receipt order number on your phone to the desk at the station anyways so they can print the physical ticket! It’s still worth it to get comfortable with the online system because it saves you a trip to the station for just a reservation - its not that hard to use and trains seem to fill up fast! To sign up is free and in English, but you will need to learn the cyrillic names for cities/stations to check schedules and/or book. Everything else is in English! The first time is tricky, but then it becomes easy and it even allows you to choose your wagon/seat.

When searching for trains to Khiva, for example, its хива. So spend a few days and learn the alphabet, its simple!

A quick word on taxis in Tashkent.

Download the app Yandex. Its like Uber, but has a simpler layout. Its a wonderful app, its in English and the rates are extremely cheap!

Tashkent

At the airport they sell UMS sim cards for 84000 som - it’s not worth it, UMS had the weakest signal throughout the country, better wait until you get to town and choose Beeline, from what we’ve seen and heard, its the best.

Bring hard cash with you, because the airport atm that allows you to withdraw in som doesn’t seem to work with foreign cards. There is another atm there which will work with foreign cards, but you can only get US dollars from it. Then you will need to exchange anyways. The rate is not terrible but you probably have a high atm charge on top of it!

Stayed at Samia Guest House - great place, 10 minutes walk from Chorsu Bazaar/station. Very helpful owners, free laundry, strong wifi and great kitchen. Private room for about $17

Call Avaz for rates and availabilities - +998 971556669

Remember that Tashkent has 2 large train stations. The central station which is located on the metro lines and the south station which is not! The south station must be reached by taxi or bus.

Kokand

We took the train from Tashkent leaving from the South Station. It’s a beautiful ride that takes you past some of Uzbekistan’s highest mountains. Do it during the day so you can enjoy it!

We couchsurfed with a wonderful host and family. There are a few active hosts in Kokand, look them up and send them a message! If they cannot host, I’m sure at the very least they will help you with anything you need.

Rishtan & Margilan

We went with our Kokand CS host but the distances are small and getting a marshrutka/shared taxi or hitch hiking would be simple!

Rishtan was nice but was nothing compared to the unbelievable free tour offered by the Yodgorlik Silk Factory in Margilan. You will see the ENTIRE process of making silk clothing & rugs - starting with the worms. Its a wonderful experience and its not to be missed. At the end, the factory has a boutique where many of their products are for sale at reasonable rates and no one pushes you to buy anything. 100% hassle free.

Samarqand

We took the Afrosiyob. It was, as you would expect from a modern train, painless and costs about 80-90,000 one way. Book in advance as they do sell out quickly!

For the first few nights, we couchsurfed and then stayed at Amir Hostel. Here we experienced our only issue on the whole trip and it has to do with the archaic registration system. Our first days in Tashkent, we were automatically registered but after we were moving quite a bit and couchsurfing... in other words, we didn’t register for about 1 week.

So heres a note on REGISTRATION!

When you stay at any guesthouse or hotel, they must register you in the online Uzbek registration system. It costs about $2 to register you and thats why you will often see this charge as an extra on hotel booking sites. After they register you, they will give you a piece of paper with a stamp. This could be a printed official looking document or it could be a post-it note with handwriting on it. Anyways, the registration is also online but as a precaution keep this paper! I will repeat - keep all of your registration papers, just in case... you’ll understand why below.

You only need to be registered once during each stay. So if its 1 night or 5 nights in Khiva, they will register your stay there only the first night and mark your expected duration of stay. Officially, if you move about, you should be registered every 3rd night.

We learned the ‘hard’ way... back to Samarqand.

We booked at Amir Hostel after a few nights couchsurfing in Samarqand. We arrived around 9:30 pm, exhausted from a day of hiking in nearby Urgut. The receptionist asked us for our registration papers, which we had thrown out because in Tashkent we were told that its online anyways and figured it was essentially a receipt. When we told them we threw them out, he got upset with us and began checking the online system for proof that we were indeed registered. He found nothing! He called the owner and then told us we should go immediately to the police station and explain ourselves before he allows us to check in or stay there. I called the guesthouse owner Avaz in Tashkent and explained to him that we threw his registration papers out and that we weren’t in the system. After about an hour of arguing with the receptionist, Avaz took pictures of our registration info from his computer and sent them to me. Only then were we allowed to check in and stay. Apparently, hotels must allow you to check in and have no right to do this but this receptionist was obviously very bored and wanting to cause problems! Lesson learned - keep the registration and every once in a while change between couchsurfing and hostel/hotels to show a paper trail. I would not suggest Amir Hostel from that experience!

What to do in Samarqand besides the obvious -

Local wine tasting for 50,000 som. Beware, you will get drunk, very drunk. For 50,000 som at the Wine Museum, 100-200 meters south of the World War II Memorial, you will get to try 10 glasses of local wine, port and brandy. It wasn’t the tastiest but it was fun!

Blues Cafe is a nice place to get something a little different to eat at an affordable price. Cold beers, good music and cozy ambience. Probably the best pub in Samarqand.

Chocolate, 1-2 blocks down from the train station, had fantastic coffee, strong wifi and baked sweets.

Urgut, a worthwhile daytrip idea from Samarqand.

About 45 minutes Southeast of Samarqand lies the town of Urgut. While the town itself is nothing special, nearby is an important shrine called Chor Chinor. It’s about 3km towards the mountain from the town center. Its a peaceful place where you begin to see the beautiful mountain valleys which eventually lead to Tajikistan.

If you keep heading up from behind Chor Chinoor you will be blessed with amazing views of the mountain glaciers above and expanse of the plains below in the distance. Take a few hours and just hike around. You will likely be invited by families for tea and snacks along the way. Just a magical, relaxing experience and worthwhile daytrip from Samarqand for those looking to escape the city.

Bukhara

We took the train from Samarqand to Bukhara... except trains don’t stop in Bukhara, they stop some 15km away in Kagan. Worry not! Its painless and a full taxi shouldn’t cost more than 30-40,000 som to the center of the old city. Don’t forget to look at the old Kagan palace immediately outside the train station!

In Bukhara we couchsurfed the first 2 nights. There is an amazing host there named Jamik. Message him!

You will stay in a several hundred years old caravansarai in the heart of the old city, 200-300 meters away from the Lyabi Hauz central pond. Even if you don’t want to couchsurf, go to their and say hi as its filled with fine craftsmen, artists, musicians and chess players enjoying the peaceful garden.

Our 3rd night was at Uncle Kolya Guesthouse, also very closeby. Extremely nice owners with a fantastic breakfast! We had a private for $17 but I think there are also dorm beds available!

I can absolutely recommend the restaurant in the courtyard of Lyabi House Hotel. It looks like it would be very pricy but it is not! One of the best meals we had on our trip. We went back twice in a day.

There’s a great banya/hammam right in front of Madrasa Goziyon. For 20,000 som you get 1 hour access to sauna. For 30,000 you get a 30 minute massage! Cold beers are 6-8,000 and delivered right to the sauna! It’s a bit rundown, but it was a great experience. It’s listed as Sauna No1 on Maps.me.

Khiva

We took the train from Bukhara (Kagan) to Khiva. YES, depending on train you booked, it goes directly to Khiva and there is no need to get out at Urgench. After leaving the station, walk 150-200 meters to the road and take Marshrutka/bus #4. Take you right to the city for 1000 som. Anyways, its only 2-3 km away.

We stayed at the hostel 1 km north from the old city gate. It was small, but comfortable and had strong wifi.

The official cost of entry to the Ichan-Kala (old city) is 50,000 a day not including any museum/attractions. Its much higher for all access passes - about 100,000.

Hint! They only seem to charge at the West gate where all the package tourists come through. Also, it seems even there, after 5 or 6pm, the entry seems unguarded. Khiva is small, and personally, we thought the entry price was exorbitant for what it is. We snuck in both days and opted to skip the museum.

There is a nice shashlik restaurant on the road just south of the hostel. Going from the hostel to the old city, take the first right, and its on the right before the next street. Cheap, tasty and cold beer. I put it on Maps.me but someone will have to confirm that its been added to everyone’s map!

At the Khiva train station, we bought our tickets from Kungrad to Shetpe (Aktau) tickets. It was painless and it seems the official price is 340,000 a person. It goes everyday and stops in Beyneu for a few hours. More on this later...

Nukus

To go from Khiva to Nukus first you must get to Urgench. There is a bus apparently. We hitchhiked and it was painless. When you get to Urgench, you have to go to the Northwest of the city next to the big stadium to take a shared taxi to Nukus. Bargain hard! Pay no more than 150,000 for a private cab or 35-50,000 a seat!

The museums was surprisingly expensive relative to all the other museums we visited. It costs 48,000 a person for just one of the buildings, more for both. Its enough, especially if you only have one day, as there is plenty wonderful works of art to gaze it in the main building.

Theres a cafe called Restaurant Neo not far away that had very tasty food and a diverse menu! Once again, cold beers!

Muynaq

A bus leaves at least once a day from Batis Avtovoksal... its all the way in the West of Nukus. We took the 9 am bus. Go early! Otherwise you will be left without a seat. Make sure to use the toilet because there will be no stops ok the 3-4 hour journey through the desert. People will constantly get off and on... mostly on. It will be packed but hey, for 15,000 som a person, its not bad! When you arrive at the station in Muynaq, you can take Marshrutka #1 up and down the only real street in town!

The first day we stayed in the yurts besides the lighthouse next to the ship graveyard. Comfortable, clean and connected to a delicious cafe. Bargain for the price, should be between $10-15 a bed plus breakfast. Some yurts have 5-6 beds, ours had only 2. Also, we can highly recommend their lagman qorma... like bolognese with a fried egg on top... Delicious!

The second we moved to the hostel on the main road just North of the bus station. Its $10-15 a bed depending on the room and includes a big breakfast.

Both places did register us! We read somewhere that guesthouses in Muynaq don’t...

Kungrad

We took a shared taxi from Muynaq station to Kungrad the day before our overnight train to Aktau, Kazakhstan (we were getting off a little before at Shetpe). The shared cab is only 15,000 a head, simple and painless.

We stayed at the guest house directly east/southeast of the train station in Kongrad so that we could walk the 200 meters at 6 am and not have to hail a cab in the morning. It was brand new, nice owners, strong wifi and around $10 a person.

Cafe Lavanda directly up from station was a real treat. Delicious Uzbeki/Russian/Georgian cuisine and very affordable. As always... cold beers!

Train from Kungrad (Nukus) to Aktau

The day had come, a 25-32 hour train ride through Karakalpakstan and Mangystau to Shetpe. We read many stories of annoying border procedures, delays and dirty wagons... Well, my friends, I am happy to tell you that either we were very lucky, or that its just not the case anymore! Also, there is a train daily, although I’m not sure if it’s always the same time. We took the train departing 6:30 am from Kungrad, arriving 8 am the following day in Aktau (6:00 am Shetpe).

The beds were super comfortable on the train! The staff were incredibly smiley and friendly. The Uzbek guards were very nice and relaxed, not a word about registration and they didn’t even care to see our stack of registration papers - take that Amir Hostel. The Kazakh guards were even more so. One even played a game of chess with me.

Some things to note... at the borders, bathrooms are closed, so use them before. Bring TOILET PAPER! There’s none aboard. The first 5-8 hours from Kungrad, woman are constantly getting on and off selling all sorts of food and drinks. The train has drinkable boiling water at no cost, so bring a cup and coffee/tea bags and DO NOT FORGET buying water when you can. It gets hot when you are waiting for the border check to be finished.

The train will stop in Beyneu. We had about 4.5 hours to go out and get a meal. Theres tons of woman selling food on the station platform or you can go to the main bazar across the street from the station.

Shetpe

We stopped in Shetpe because we wanted to see Sherkala Mountain and the Valley of Balls. Actually, you are crazy to miss these beautiful sites!

We negotiated a half day with a driver for 10,000 tenge to take us for the 120 km loop through the beautiful Mangystau region.

We stayed ar Satti Motel. Theres a dorm and privates there as well as a cafe. The location on Maps.me and booking.com are wrong though... its 2km south of the town by the first roundabout on the highway to Aktau. The food in the cafe was tasty and beer was cold. Rooms/beds are between $5-25.

Heres the number of the owner... he speaks fluent English as he studied in the US... he can also help you set up a driver for a tour of the area.

+7 (701) 533-28-28

Aktau

We hitchhiked from Satti Motel in Shetpe to Aktau. Its not far and only took us 15 minutes of waiting to be picked up. “Без плата” (no need to pay) our ride said... perfect.

Ferry to Baku from Aktau

Once again the time had come. We had read of people waiting days for the ferry to arrive... I think those days are through or, at the worst, numbered (at least if the weather is good). We spent 1 night in Aktau and the next morning we were picked up by an agent who works for the port and brought to the ship. By 11 am we boarded, 12 pm we had lunch and passport formalities and by 2 pm we were on the open seas! 40 hours later we were docked at Baku (Alat) seaport and disembarked after some quick and easy passport formalities. If you walk 2 km straight out of the port, you will reach the highway and there for 1 Azeri Manat take bus #195 where you will be dropped off just south of Baku. At this station, take bus #125 to reach the center.

The ferry costs $80 a person, 2 people per room. We had a comfortable room WITH a window that opens! Food was tasty and staff were very friendly and funny Azeris. We sailed aboard the Mercuri-1.

Here are 2 numbers you should contact for tickets and info. Contact them when you are close to Aktau! NOT weeks before.They both work with whatsapp and know good English.

Don’t know his name
+7 (707) 292-99-55

Aslan
+7 (775) 365-84-07

Aslan also picked us up from our guesthouse and dropped us at the ferry for only $10. Remember, the port is about 100km away from Aktau!

The new port also has wifi and a money exchange inside. The ticket office accepted a mix of tenge and dollars! Easy and painless.

Well, there you go folks. It seems travel in Uzbekistan is not the pain it once was. Everyone, apart from the receptionist at Amir Hostel, was as sweet as pie and extremely helpful!

We hope this information will be of use to some of you and we hope you guys have a wonderful trip!
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netllama
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Re: Uzbekistan May 2019 big trip report

Postby netllama » Sat Jul 27, 2019 6:19 am

Great trip report. I just returned from central asia last week, and spent time at many of the places that were mentioned in this report.
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joaopdx
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Re: Uzbekistan May 2019 big trip report

Postby joaopdx » Sat Aug 10, 2019 5:12 am

Thank you for the updates, especially when you mention about WIFI. I am planning 4 weeks trip throughout the region and really need good internet service since I need to keep up at least with emails and put some hours working remote (home office) not to use all my vacation time :)
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joaopdx
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Re: Uzbekistan May 2019 big trip report

Postby joaopdx » Sat Aug 10, 2019 6:24 am

netllama wrote:Great trip report. I just returned from central asia last week, and spent time at many of the places that were mentioned in this report.

Sorry to insist :) could you give some extra ideas on wifi/internet services in general?
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netllama
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Re: Uzbekistan May 2019 big trip report

Postby netllama » Sat Aug 10, 2019 2:30 pm

Wifi was available at all the places that I spent the night across the region. It worked fine, but wasn't blazing fast. I didn't need fast internet access, just something that allowed me to keep up with emails, and basic web surfing (not video streaming, etc).

I got a SIM card in both Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan. They were handing out free SIM cards in the arrivals hall at the airport in Bishkek, and I ended up paying roughly US$1 for 10G of data. It worked fine in urban areas, but not as much in rural areas.

They sell UMS SIM cards at the information counter in the arrivals hall at the airport in Tashkent for about US$10, which comes with 8GB of data. Worked ok in urban areas, and sometimes in rural areas.
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joaopdx
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Re: Uzbekistan May 2019 big trip report

Postby joaopdx » Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:51 am

Thank you again. It will help a lot on my itinerary;
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