Self-driving the Silk Road: a great way to get around. A lot of interesting places are hard to reach with public transport, and if you’ve taken some buses and taxis in Central Asia before, you know of the simple delight of being able to pick your own music.
But there are pit-falls. Most importantly, if you are driving your own car, think of a back-up plan if you get refused for a Turkmen transit visa. Driving through China is the other big issue: you need a guide unless you have a Chinese driver’s license, which is expensive.
As a rule, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. In fact, be a much better driver than you are at home. Rules are often ridiculous, forcing you to drive 50 for long stretches in the middle of nowhere on a perfect road. Just do it. Police know exactly where people get annoyed and say “This is fucking stupid”. They will be standing right around the corner.
If you get stopped by the police, playing the dumb foreigner has worked well in the past, getting travelers out of paying even legitimate fines. For the police, it is a matter of economics: the longer they are occupied with you, the more money they are losing out on catching other drivers. Eventually they will tire of you. English is still not understood, but it’s best to communicate in another language. Some police use Google Translate though. In that case, you need to mangle your language to a degree to make sure something strange comes out.
Do NOT give out any essential documents like your driver’s license or passport to the police. Colour copies that look like the original are good. Flood them with useless paperwork. Give them any old document, give them a copy and tell them you are getting a visa, whatever. Once they have your driver’s license or passport, they will tell you to come to the station, they say they will burn it. That’s when you start paying big money.
Keep your lights on at all time. This is a requirement in Kazakhstan and Russia only for now, but it is a good habit to get into before you go there.
You can find alcohol limits below, courtesy of RFE/RL. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, not on the picture, all have 0,00 alcohol limits while driving.
Speed limits (in km/h)
- Kazakhstan speed limits: 110 on motorway, 90 on some bigger roads, 60 inside the city.
- Kyrgyzstan speed limits: 60 in the city, 90 outside of the city.
- Uzbekistan speed limits: 60 in the city, 90 outside of the city.
- Tajikistan speed limits: please let us know if you find out!
- Turkmenistan speed limits: 60 in the city, 90 outside of the city.
- Loose animals crossing the road are a serious danger when driving with low visibility.
- Police will try to extort money from you. The best way to deal with this is to not do anything wrong and to not give in if you do get stopped.
- Drunk, reckless, irresponsible driving is the norm.
- Central Asia’s elite knows that they will not be held accountable if they damage another car or kill a person. Stay out of their way. They drive black or white 100,000$+ cars with tinted windows and a vanity plate like AA 007 XX.
Right-hand drive cars
All countries we discuss at Caravanistan allow tourists to drive their right-hand drive car. Not all countries allow a permanent import of a right-hand drive vehicle, but as a tourist, you are allowed.
Basic Russian for drivers
Russian is still understood by most people in Central Asia. A short dictionary for drivers (bold syllables are stressed)
- Petrol: Ben-zin
- Diesel: Di-zel, solyarka or diz-top-li-vo
- Fill up the tank completely: Pol-nyi bak
- To which direction is …?: Koo-da…?
- Map: Kar-ta
- Tire: Shy-na
- Engine: Dvi-ga-tel