trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

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netllama
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trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

Postby netllama » Sun Jul 28, 2019 4:37 pm

I recently returned from spending three weeks traveling around central Asia (specifically, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan & Kazakhstan). This was my first time in that region, and it was a fascinating experience.

Trip Length:

Including round trip flights, I spent 21 days traveling. It worked out to 6 days in Kyrgyzstan, 10 days in Uzbekistan, and 4 days in Kazakhstan. I definitely could have spent much more time in all 3 countries, but $DAYJOB somewhat limited my total trip duration. I also would have loved to have had time to see more of the region (Tajikistan & Turkmenistan, maybe even Afghanistan), but there was a point of diminishing returns if I had attempted to squeeze in even more countries.

Destination(s):

    Kyrgyzstan: if you love hiking, backpacking or mountain scenery, this is the place to go. There was no where that I went in the country that I didn't see snow-capped mountains.

    Uzbekistan: history, history, and more silk road history. Lots of thousand year old buildings, and islamic history sites. Gorgeous art work on many of the mosques and madrassas.

    Kazakhstan: due to travel logistics, I was only able to spend time in Astana (which is now officially known as Nursultan because politics), and Shymkent. Shymkent is culturally and historically similar to Uzbekistan in many ways.

Activities:

    Lots of amazing hiking in Kyrgyzstan. I only did day hikes, but they were all spectacular. The area around Tash Rabat is above 3000m, so I had a killer headache for a bit, but the scenery more than made up for it. Also went hiking south of Issyk Kul at Skazka Canyon (desert scenery) and above Jeti Oguz (mountains, streams, etc). I did a spectacular day hike in Ala Archa National Park (an hour south of the capital, Bishkek), although it was pouring rain for the first few hours which made the trail a muddy, slippery mess.

    In Uzbekistan, it was basically exploring historic areas and sites in Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, and to a lesser degree, Tashkent (the capital). Lots of walking, in extreme heat (see below), but it was all urban exploration, so not difficult if I had gone at a different time of year.

What Went Wrong:

    OMG, the heat was absolutely brutal. Especially in Uzbekistan, it was over 40C most days. I'm a spoiled westerner who is used to escaping the heat with AC, and that was mostly not an option in Uzbekistan. Most places didn't have AC at all. Those that did, would often set the temperature to ridiculously pointless temperatures (30C!?!). Even when the temperature was set to a sane level, the AC was woefully under powered for the size of the space, rendering it mostly useless if you didn't stand within 1 meter of the air vent. The heat completely wrecked my plans to visit Termez (UZ), as I aborted the 15 hour overnight train trip down there when I was struggling with the temperature inside the train in the middle of the night.

    Food poisoning. Despite my best efforts to only drink bottled water, I managed to get food poisoning two different times. I brought immodium & an antibiotic with me, so it wasn't the end of the world, but I still felt rather miserable for a few days. I skipped going up to Muynak because I didn't want to chance being stuck in a taxi for hours if I desperately needed a toilet on short notice.

    In what was not too surprising, people drive horribly in all of these countries. Too fast, recklessly, and worst of all, while seriously exhausted. I had a driver in Kyrgyzstan who was literally falling asleep while driving. He spoke virtually no English, but I basically had to keep yelling at him every few minutes to keep him awake. He almost veered off the road into a ditch at one point. I saw so many accidents and wrecked vehicles.

What Went Right:

    While I'm sure the heat played a role, thee really isn't much tourism in this part of the world. Most of the people that I saw were domestic (or perhaps regional) tourists, but very few Westerners. When I arrived somewhere early in the day (before 10AM), I often had the entire place to myself. It was rare that I needed to wait for random people to walk out of the way to get a good photo, as there simply weren't many people anywhere.

    The weather? I mean, yea it was brutally hot, but that meant that rain was almost never a concern. Other than one day in Kyrgyzstan when it was pouring rain in the morning.

    Uzbekistan Airlines. I'd read some horror stories about how they randomly changed flight schedules, cancelled flights, or were hours late. I flew them 4 times on this trip, and all the flights arrived on schedule, if not a little early. Zero issues or drama.

Recommendations:

    Hiking just about anywhere in Kyrgyzstan. You really can't go wrong. While Ala Archa NP had marked hiking trails, everywhere else that I went was basically just 'walk in whatever direction looks good'.

    Of all the cities that I visited in Uzbekistan, Khiva stood out as a gem. The old walled city is spectacularly well preserved/restored. You can walk around for a full day and feel like you've gone back in time a thousand years, as everything looks & feels authentic.

    Unless you absolutely love 40C heat (over 100F), don't go to Uzbekistan in summer. Spring and Autumn would have far nicer weather.


Final Verdict:

If you're looking to travel somewhere that (relatively) few have been, with amazing scenery and tons of history, you can't go wrong in central Asia. Its definitely not for everyone, and isn't the easiest part of the world to explore, but its absolutely worth it for an experienced traveler with realistic expectations.

Pictures!:


Kyrgyzstan

ImageTash Rabat, a 15th century stone caravanserai over 12k feet up

ImageNomad guest camp near Tash Rabat

ImageNo trails

ImageSkazka Canyon

Imagecolors

ImageLenin was here

ImageAla Archa NP

Imagefog below, rain above

Kazakhstan

Imagethe ruins of the city of Sauran

ImageSauran

ImageTurkestan mausoleum

Uzbekistan

Imagemetro stop

ImageChorsu bazaar

ImageKhiva

Imagecity gate

ImageKhorezm fortress ruins

Imageheat

Imagereconstructed

Imagesand

Imagefallen empire

Imageon the hill

Imagecurly

ImageBukhara fortress

Imagefour minerets

Imagesomeone loves onions (and old Soviet cars)

Imagetigers

Image15th century mineret

ImageRegistan ensemble


For the curious, there are hundreds of additional photos here and a detailed day by day travel diary here.
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Jenksta
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Re: trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

Postby Jenksta » Mon Jul 29, 2019 3:20 am

Did you travel to any of the silk road trading centres in UZ? Like Rishton, Margilan, Fergana?
I've got a couple of spare days between KG and TJK and thought I might pop over the border to check out the ceramics and silk.
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netllama
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Re: trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

Postby netllama » Mon Jul 29, 2019 3:23 am

Jenksta wrote:Did you travel to any of the silk road trading centres in UZ? Like Rishton, Margilan, Fergana?
I've got a couple of spare days between KG and TJK and thought I might pop over the border to check out the ceramics and silk.


No, I didn't have time for those cities.
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acsherman
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Re: trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

Postby acsherman » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:46 pm

Thanks for this! I'd love your advice on packing for these 2 very different climates.

I'm planning a similar trip for Aug 16 - Sep 2. I'm starting in Kyrgyzstan, with plans to do hiking, a multi-night trek to Song Kol, and just generally trying to do homestays in jailoos. Then, I'm planning to visit Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara.

I'm trying to pack light, so these two drastically different climates have me a bit concerned. Any articles of clothing you found worked well in both?
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netllama
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Re: trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

Postby netllama » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:52 pm

acsherman wrote:Thanks for this! I'd love your advice on packing for these 2 very different climates.

I'm planning a similar trip for Aug 16 - Sep 2. I'm starting in Kyrgyzstan, with plans to do hiking, a multi-night trek to Song Kol, and just generally trying to do homestays in jailoos. Then, I'm planning to visit Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara.

I'm trying to pack light, so these two drastically different climates have me a bit concerned. Any articles of clothing you found worked well in both?


If you have a decent sleeping bag for the multi-night trek, then you shouldn't need to worry about clothing too much. Maybe bring a light jacket. During the day its not cold, plus you'll be moving which will warm you up.

Everywhere that you've listed in Uzbekistan will likely still be quite hot. I wore t-shirts and long hiking pants the entire trip, with a cotton long sleeve shirt as an extra layer.
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acsherman
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Re: trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

Postby acsherman » Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:07 pm

netllama wrote:
If you have a decent sleeping bag for the multi-night trek, then you shouldn't need to worry about clothing too much. Maybe bring a light jacket. During the day its not cold, plus you'll be moving which will warm you up.

Everywhere that you've listed in Uzbekistan will likely still be quite hot. I wore t-shirts and long hiking pants the entire trip, with a cotton long sleeve shirt as an extra layer.


Thanks! Any tips on dealing with the heat? I assume you just need to start your day early and get as much sight-seeing done before the sun is fully up. Any tips on SIM cards / cell providers there?
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netllama
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Re: trip report: KG, UZ & KZ

Postby netllama » Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:20 pm

acsherman wrote:
netllama wrote:
If you have a decent sleeping bag for the multi-night trek, then you shouldn't need to worry about clothing too much. Maybe bring a light jacket. During the day its not cold, plus you'll be moving which will warm you up.

Everywhere that you've listed in Uzbekistan will likely still be quite hot. I wore t-shirts and long hiking pants the entire trip, with a cotton long sleeve shirt as an extra layer.


Thanks! Any tips on dealing with the heat? I assume you just need to start your day early and get as much sight-seeing done before the sun is fully up. Any tips on SIM cards / cell providers there?


To be honest, I failed at dealing with the heat. Even when starting at 8am, it was already quite warm. Even overnight, the temperature was above 20C. If you can at least retreat to your lodging that has AC, it'll be a welcome relief. Otherwise, be prepared for some fairly miserable temperatures.

I used the UMS SIM that they sell at the airport in Tashkent. It was good enough for my needs, covered all the urban areas. They cost about US$10 with data included.

I've read that Beeline is better, but I didn't have any issues for my light usage (mostly email, and light web browsing). People were handing out free O! SIM cards at the airport in Bishkek, which worked well enough for me. I think I paid something like US$2 for 5GB of data.
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