If you want bargains in Ashgabat, you’re going to have to venture out beyond the landmarks (Photo: Corbis Images)
Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, whose name means “city of love,” has a lot to love for the serious, bargain-hunting shopper. You can buy babydoll lingerie, furnish a house, entertain a toddler, and satisfy your taste buds with local food fare all in one spot.
But to find a bargain, you’ll have to travel beyond the pristine white marble buildings that comprise the new city of Ashgabat — a safe, modern and somewhat sterile metropolis.
The Russian Bazaar is a popular spot for adventurous bargain hunters (Photo: David Stanley/Flickr)
The Russian Bazaar
There are several bazaars where you can experience how the locals shop for groceries and everyday household goods. They include the Teke, Daşoguz, Mir, and Jennet bazaars. The most popular and oldest of these is the Russian Bazaar in the Ashgabat city center on Azadi Street. The two-story, open-air covered bazaar is also known as “Gulistan.” You can get there in a gypsy cab, which is the normal mode of transportation in Ashgabat. A one-way ride anywhere in the city costs about 1-5 manat.
You can arrange a taxi through your hotel, but the service charges 10 manat for pickup on top of the fare. Taxis have meters but they are seldom used. You’re better off agreeing on a price before you get in a taxi or gypsy cab. These impromptu cabs are the equivalent of hitchhiking but are extremely safe.
The Russian Bazaar’s first level is full of tasty food (Photo: Corbis Images)
Once you arrive, you’ll notice the downstairs stalls of fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, meats, herbs, and alcoholic drinks are all haphazardly put on display. The wine shops sell locally made vodka, brandy, and wines. You can get shawarma for just under two dollars. The second floor has electronic and clothing shops with mostly Turkish and Turkmen-made clothes.
It’s a treat to walk around in the bazaar even if you aren’t in the mood to shop. You’ll find everything here: from beautifully decorated cakes fit for a wedding, to hairpieces of all hues (which girls use to elongate their braids), to a variety of spices from all over Central Asia.
Organized chaos reigns at the Tolkuchka Bazaar (Photo: Corbis Images)
The Tolkuchka Bazaar
The largest bazaar in the country is located about 25 minutes north of Ashgabat. We paid two dollars per person one-way for an eight seater private van that took us out to Tolkuchka Bazaar. It’s the American equivalent of an outdoor outlet mall. There is a 98-foot-tall clock tower placed right in the middle of the complex to help you navigate in case you get lost in the massive bazaar.
The cluttery feel of the Russian Bazaar is replaced with organized chaos at Tolkuchka. The bazaar is sectioned off into places to buy food, carpets, scarves, souvenirs, electronics, and clothes. Each section sells only certain types of goods. For example, section C sells handicrafts. You can buy food products in section E. I bought tea along with mixed nuts and dried fruits here for half the price I would have paid in the US.
(Photo: Corbis Images)
You can get beautiful silk and locally made cotton scarves from $8-$25, depending on how many you get (editor’s note: buy silk in Uzbekistan if you can). A lot of imported goods from China, Russia, and even Dubai — such as fabrics, scarves, and hats — can be found here. A fellow traveler bought two Russian mink hats for $150 each (she could have bought just one for $200; as a general rule, the more you buy, the more you’re able to bargain down the price). Vendors also sell bracelets that ward off what the locals call “the evil-eye.” It’s a popular souvenir for tourists, and the locals love to wear and give them away as gifts.
Yimpash Shopping Center has more of a mall-like feel (Photo: Yimpash Shopping Center/Facebook)
If an open market bazaar is not your thing, then head over to Yimpash Shopping Center located on Turkmenbashy Avenue. It’s easy to get to via car from anywhere in the city. Yimpash is the only shopping mall in Turkmenistan with a grocery store. If you are craving American and European brand food items, this is the only place you’ll find Doritos and Godiva chocolates. The ground floor has groceries, fresh produce, meats, imported cheeses, cosmetics, pet foods, and toiletries. The second floor has Turkmen and Turkish clothing stores, linens, furniture, and other household items. The third floor has a great food court with mostly Turkish food, a play area for children, a bowling alley, and a hair salon.
Turkmenistan shopping: It’s not for amateurs
Don’t make the mistake of venturing out on your own if your bargaining skills are not up to par. Otherwise you may end up paying 3 times the price. Make sure to bring plenty of crisp US dollars with you if you are running low on manat. Most shopkeepers will take dollars over manats, but refuse to take anything smaller than a five-dollar bill. Credit cards are not accepted anywhere.
This article was written by Aizzah Fatima, who performed her one-woman-show “Dirty Paki Lingerie” in Ashgabat.