Location: Places >> Central Asia >> Travel Central Asia
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trip to central asia in May
Posted January 14th, 2013 - 1:27 am from Seoul, South Korea
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Posted January 14th, 2013 - 3:57 pm by from Antwerp, Belgium (Permalink)
Hi Paul,

Some answers to your questions:
TRANSPORT
In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan you can take trains. Prices depend on the class, but the cheapest type is 'platskartny', which is comfortable enough for me. Transport in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is limited to shared taxis and a few (extremely slow) busses between major cities. On some routes transport can be scarce (in Pamirs, remote places in Kyrgyzstan and basically everywhere in Mongolia), which means you'll have to hire a driver + car in order to visit some places.

PRICES
Kazakhstan is expensive, prices are similar as in some Eastern EU countries (like Romania or Bulgaria). For Turkemenistan you'll need a guide (otherwise they aren't going to give you a visa), which makes it even more expensive. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are relatively cheap (guesthouse about 7 $ per night, decent meal around 5 $), but the transport costs can quickly destroy your budget. Nearly all the great nature spots in both countries (which I think is the main reason you should visit KG and TJ) are remote places, which are not accassible by public transport.
Uzbekistan is more expensive than KG and TJ, but here you can more easily use public transport (trains and lots of shared taxis). Admission fees are not cheap, neither is accommodation (minimum 10-15$ a night)

COUCHSURFING
I met people through CS in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but not for accommodation. Local people are generally conservative and I don't think you'll easily find a place to stay through CS, but it is a great way to meet people and of course you can try.

SAFETY
Central Asia is a very safe region, but you should take care in large cities at night. I never had any problems myself, but I have heard stories about people beaten up by gangs in Bishkek, Osh and Karakol. I don't carry expensive or important stuff with me at night (I leave my camera, laptop, passport at accommodation place) and in case I do happen to have things with me I don't want to loose, I take a taxi. Cities in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are generally safer than in KG and KZ. And overall I would say that I feel safer in Bishkek or Almaty than in London or Paris.

VISAS
The Turkmen visa is going to be your biggest headache. It is expensive, very hard to get and I would say not worth the effort. I have visited all the countries in Central Asia, except Turkmenistan, which is due to the visa procedure. The only easy way to visit Turkmenistan is by transit visa, but this only works if you travel between Uzbekistan and either Azerbaijan or Iran. With your route (KZ-TM-UZ), the transit option doens't apply.
The Uzbek visa is the next most difficult one. I got my Uzbek visa once in Bishkek (which is easy if you speak Russian or know someone who speaks Russian) and another time in Brussels through an agency (they did all the work for me). Uzbek visa is expensive, your looking at about 100 dollar.
Tajik visa is quite easy to get, but if you're planning to visit the eastern half of the country (Gorno-Badakhshan), you'll need a special permit. I got my Tajik visa in Islamabad (Pakistan) and the tajik ambassador made the permit for me. Usually I think you'll need to get this permit in Dushanbe, but I have no experience with this.
Kyrgyz and Kazakh visa are the easiest. Typically it shouldn't take more than a week to get either of them. I got a Kyrgyz visa in Tajikistan, which was very easy.
Russian visa is also difficult, because you need a letter of invitation (LOI) for visiting Russia. I would advice you to get the Russian visa through an agency in New Zealand / Korea)
Mongolia visa is easy, same like KZ and KG.

SOME OTHER TIPS
I think that your travel plan is way too tight. Three months is a very very short amount of time to complete the whole route you've written down. Remember that all the visas together will cost you at least 500-600 dollar and if you're spending a week in each country, I think it is not worth the effort.
Also know that you'll need to plan in advance all the dates of entry and exit between every country. I would advice you shorten your route, because this way you'll get the most of your journey and you can avoid some visa troubles.
I think a better route would be: China, Mongolia 3-4 weeks, back to China, China Silk Road (Beijing - Kashgar) 2 weeks, Kyrgyzstan 2-3 weeks, Uzbekistan 2-3 weeks (or Tajikistan 2-3 weeks), flight back home.

For me the nicest countries in the region are Kyrgyzstan (nature) and Uzbekistan (culture). The Chinese Silk Road is great as well and you should definitely take enough time to see Mongolia.
I would take Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan off your route. KZ is expensive and there isn't much to see. Turkmenistan is even more expensive + the visa issue is going to be a huge problem. The Russian visa costs about 100 dollars (including LOI) and if you're just passing trough, I would say its easier to backtrack to China.

I hope all this helps. Feel free to contact me if you have more questions.

Mart

Posted January 15th, 2013 - 12:27 am from Seoul, South Korea
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