Category: Turkmenistan

Nov 23 2009

Turkmenabat, Turkmenistan to Bukhara, Uzbekistan

This is my 5th day in Turkmenistan so I better get out of the country soon because my transit visa only permit me to stay here for 5 days. Went to the taxi stand at 8 something and tried to take a shared taxi to Farab. Had to haggle hard and those guys weren’t honest. After getting my money, the drove me to another shared taxi stand and had to bargain with the driver again to get to the border. Finally, arrived at the border around 11am.

Passing the Turkmenistan border was quite smooth, I just need to fill up a custom declaration and a custom official just did a quick search on my bag. I heard some stories such as the police will look at every pictures and will check on the laptop but that didn’t happen to me.

In no man’s land, between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan border
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Had to walk around 2km to the Uzbekistan checkpoint.
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The Uzbekistan checkpoint is more bureaucratic, there are a lot more checks and forms to be filled. In total, I think the border crossing took around 2 -3hours. Changed into some Soms at the border.

The official market rate is 1USD~1500 som but the black market will provide 1USD~1900som. The biggest bill of Uzbekistan Som is just 1000som, around USD$0.50. So if I am changing USD$100 into Som, I will have around 200 bills of 1000 Som. Since I don’t trust the guys at the border, I just changed some small amount. It takes a lot of effort to count every single bill and the money won’t even fit in my pocket. Sometimes money changer will give stacks of ~ 400 bills of 500 Som for a bill of USD$100.

Then took another shared taxi to Bukhara from Uzbekistan border (an hour drive, 16,000 som~USD$8). The taxi driver quote me 60,000 Som at the beginning. Took some effort to haggle the price down. I am tired of taxi drivers, in most countries, taxi drivers are just waiting to pounce of unsuspecting travellers. That’s why I seldom take taxi, it’s not so much about the money than the feeling of being cheated.

Got to Bukhara at 3pm. There are many hotels and B&B guesthouses in the old city. After visiting a few hotels around Lyabi Hauz square which most of the hotels and attractions are located, got a deal at Nasruddin guesthouse. (16,000 Som~USD8 for a room because it’s the low season).
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Around Lyabi Hauz area
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Use the back road to city center
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Finally ate something at 4.30pm. Plov is sort of the national dish of Uzbekistan, every region has a different way of cooking it. (3000 Som~USD$1.5)
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Got some fries at a caf? and the people there are very friendly.
Friendly owner of the cafe
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The owner even drove me to the Ark at the north part of town.
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I remembered some travellers told me that the Ark is a waste of money, so I didn’t go in.

Across the ark
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Walked around the old town, Lyabi Hauz area.
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A Uzbek girl, Habiba invited me to her house
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for tea and pasta.
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She told me that the average salary in Uzbek is just around USD$40 a month and life is pretty tough.

Camera shy
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It’s very quiet at night around the old city because weather is getting cold and most guesthouses are empty.

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Nov 22 2009

Merv and Turkmenabat, Turkmenistan

Took a taxi (USD$10) to Merv which is around 30km away. Merv is a UNESCO heritage site and is a pretty big area which not possible to walk around in just few hours. In its heyday it was known as a great center of Islam, like Damascu, Baghdad and Cairo. However today, almost nothing remains because the sons of Ghenghis Khan destroyed the city and slaughtered its population in the 12th century.

Kyz Kala
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The driver drove around Sultan Kala then to Erk Kala

The taxi driver dropped me at a shared taxi stand in Bairam Ali bazaar. Took a shared taxi at 12pm (20 new manat~USD$7) to Turkmenabat which is around 2 hours ride. Arrived at Turkmenabat at around 2pm and figured I might as well stay a night since it might be dark if I continued my journey to Bukhara.

Walked around and found Hotel Lebapgurlushyk. After haggling, I got the price down from 50 new manat to 35 new manat ~USD$13.
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Turkmenabat is the 2nd largest city with a population of around 200,000. There isn’t a lot to see or do in the city. I decided to stay overnight here since I always prefer to cross borders in the morning so I will have more time and won’t feel too much pressure from the border guards and taxi drivers.

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Besides Ashgabat, other cities in Turkmenistan looks very old and poor.
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Guess who?
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President’s Niyasov statue is everywhere

Zelyony Bazaar
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Found a small restaurant and had lamb soup (5 new manat~USD$1.8).

A friendly Turkmen waitress
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Ate Shashlyk for dinner (3 new manat~USD$1 for a stick) and met 2 travellers who traveled with their bikes at the restaurant. There weren’t not many travellers around Turkmenistan, so I was kind of surprise to meet the 2 cyclists.

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Nov 21 2009

Ashgabat to Mary, Turkmenistan

I have not been posting any videos recently because the connection speed in Iraq, Iran and Turkmenistan has been pretty slow. Furthermore, countries like Turkey and Iran are blocking youtube. I will try to post some videos when I get a chance.

Square
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Mr. President rotating with the sun
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Arch of Neutrality again
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Earthquake museum
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Took a bus to Tolkuchka Bazaar.
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Colorful cloths
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Shashlyk
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Sheepskin hat
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Turkmen’s carpet
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Cloths
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Korean Kimchi
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Went to the terminal at 2pm to get a shared taxi to Mary. Waited for an hour for the taxi to be full. The ride to Mary is around 350km and that took 4 hours. (20 new Manat~USD7).
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There weren’t any hostel in Mary and had to check in to a hotel. There is a different price for locals and foreigners for hotel accommodation. The hotel is pretty old and paid USD$30 for a crappy room. This is the most I have paid for a night of accommodation in my trip so far.
I can feel that spring under the mattress all over my body.
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Walked around Mary at night. Mary is not a big city, with a population of just around 100,000.
Typical white marble buildings
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Mr. President
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Mosque
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Witnessed a local Turkmen bar brawl later at night.

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Nov 20 2009

Ashgabat 2nd day, Turkmenistan

Ashgabat looks like a land of fantasy, the city is very beautiful and is so white.
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The roads are wide and clean. Almost all of the buildings in the city are marble white tower blocks and there are parks, statues, fountains all over the city. People from Turkmenistan has all different kinds of look, Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Hispanics, Indians, gypsies… Everyone can blend into the Turkmen’s look and all the ladies here wear very colorful traditional dress.

Ashgabat is also a weird city. There are police everywhere, standing at almost every corner and there are many people cleaning the street everywhere.
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Most while marble buildings are empty and the street is very quiet. The city looks a little fake and as if the city is built for staging some film productions.

There are no ATMs in Turkmenistan that takes international card. Took a bus to Senagat Bank, south of Ashgabat to get some cash. Even though I was charged 3% on withdrawal, I was glad to be able to get cash advances because I was low on cash and money changers don’t want my old USD bills.
Next to the bank is Yimpas department store. This is the largest mall in Ashgabat.
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Took another bus to futher south to Berzengi.
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Independence Park

More marble white tower blocks
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Independence park.
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A big fountain.

Bus station beside Tekke Bazaar
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Russian Bazaar
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Arch of Neutrality (The previous president’s gold statue will rotate with the sun)

Another square.

Another fountain
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Ex President Niyasov statue again
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Again
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Plov (Rice) with Chicken for dinner
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British Pub.
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Beer is quite expensive in Turkmenistan, I paid 24 manat ~USD$8 for a beer. Vodka is much cheaper, around USD$2-3 a bottle.
Had to climb over the door to get back to the homestay because I got back late and the door was locked.

In 1948, Ashgabat was hit by a big earthquake. 2/3 of the population died and the city was destroyed. The city was completely rebuilt after that. From what I read before getting to the country, Turkmenistan is pretty isolated and the former president Niyasov is obsessed with himself. He built a giant statue of himself rotating with the sun and wrote a handbook called Ruhnama which is a compulsory reading for everyone. There are many gold statues and portrait of him in the city.
Internet is expensive here so not many people have email address.

Turkmenistan is a net exporter of energy and ranks 4th in the world for natural gas reserves. The country has a huge oil reserves as well. Electricity, natural gas, water and salt are subsidized by the government so it’s free. Oil is pretty cheap and it’s around 15 cents for a liter of petrol. I heard that around 5 years ago, oil is almost free.

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Nov 19 2009

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Took bus 83 to the terminal and got on the 7.20am bus (8000 Iranian Rials~USD0.80) to Qujan. Arrived at Qujan at around 10am and then took another cab (6000 Iranian Rials) to a different terminal for shared taxi. From Qujan to Bajiran, it’s around 75km on mountain road.
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Got to the Iranian border at 11am and then crossed to the Turkmenistan side.
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There is an entry tax of USD$12 at the Turkmenistan side. I heard some bad stories about the border gurads in Turkmenistan but the border guards seem quite polite. Spoke with a soldier and he is just 19 years old. Every Turkmen male has to join the military for 2 years after high school. After spot checking my belongings, there’s an official van that took us down the mountain. I think it’s around 20km to the foot of the mountain.

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I heard from some travellers before that the ride should be free but the driver will ask for $15-$20 from passengers. True enough, the driver wanted $15 from me. I think that’s just a bribe because I didn’t see the locals paying anything. I tried walking away but the driver tried to grab me. I managed to free myself, walked some distance on the highway
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and hitch hike to the city, Ashgabat.
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The time here in Ashgabat is 1.5 hours faster the time in Iran. Met a Turkmenistan guy at the bus station and he wanted to help me find my way around. Like in Iran, the money changer just want brand new USD notes. Since my notes are a little crumble, they gave me a bad exchange rate. Spent 3 hours walking around the city to find a budget hotel. All hotels are more expensive than stated in lonely planet. Locals pay much less than foreigners for hotels. Finally got to a Avanov homestay, after haggling, the owner aggreed at 20 New Manat, around USD$7. (1USD~2.85 New manat ~14,000 Old Manat).
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Russian Bazaar
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Night View
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