Central Asia may not hit the headlines regularly as a popular travel destination, but for an intrepid traveler keen on discovering least travel paths in some of the unique corners of the globe, then Central Asia may just be the perfect destination.
It is a region where east and west come together in perfect harmony, extraordinary Silk Road empires littering the peaceful deserts and rugged mountain peaks waiting to wow you with the magnificent views of the lands below. Irrespective of how you define yourself as a traveler, this is a destination that will not fail to meet your expectations, whether you are traveling for history, food or adventure.
You may have probably heard about some not-so-pleasing experiences from past travelers to Central Asia, but you will be pleased to know that a lot has changed and things are still changing to make the region as friendly as it possibly can be to travelers.
Back in the days, horror stories of bureaucracies, bribes and needless bag checks used to be the daily agenda for travelers, but thankfully, you don’t have to worry about such at the moment. This is not to say that you will not encounter an instance or two where you think things have not been done right, but generally, it is now a relatively friendly place and a very charming one, especially for first-time visitors.
If you are planning a trip to this underrated, yet gratifying destination, here is a beginner’s guide on what you need to know for a beautiful trip in Central Asia, including how to move around, where to stay, when to go and which visas you will require.
Visa information for traveling to Central Asia
It was due to stringent visa requirements that made Central Asia remain under the radar as a cool travel destination for so long. But things are a bit relaxed now, and it has become a lot easier to get a visa to this region.
Most nationalities can visit Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan without any visa, while for Tajikistan, one will need a no-fuss e-visa. For Uzbekistan, all you need is a Letter of Invitation and a trip to the embassy, but this will probably change in 2018. It is only Turkmenistan that still has stringent conditions of entry, and their refusal rate for visa application stands at 50%. For more details about visas or passport renewal and any other special conditions attached, be sure to visit your consular or embassy for the specifics.
Transportation in Central Asia
Transportation in Central Asia is relatively robust, and you will have a plethora of options at your disposal, depending on your desired level of convenience and the specific places you will be traveling. Here are some of the options you will have to consider-:
Marshrutka – these are mainly minivans used for moving within the cities or for medium-distance destinations. It is the most common form of transport in Central Asia and also the cheapest form of transportation to get around.
Shared Taxi – this is the preferred mode for most locals. In most places, taxis gather around central locations such as marketplaces and bus stations and they leave for a common destination when full. They cost slightly more than marshrutka, and they are ideal for short distance trips.
Trains – most people in Central Asia drive like loons, and if you don’t like this kind of driving, then the train rides will be the most comfortable option for you. There are three classes of trains-: First Class, Second Class, and Third Class. It goes without saying that prices and level of comfort vary depending on the class. But you will find the rides only in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and they are ideal when you are considering long distance rides.
Buses – there are also large buses for long distance travels, though they are not very common. When you miss out the train or when they are sold out, buses are the best option for doing the long distance journeys.
Accommodation in Central Asia
It is refreshing to observe that the accommodation options in Central Asia will suit any convenience and any budget. It doesn’t matter whether you want a cozy guesthouse in the mountains, luxurious five-star hotel in the city or a traditional yurt in the countryside.
Away from the major cities, you will not find the high-end luxury and the standard backpacker accommodation, but instead, you will have plenty of basic guesthouses, yurts, and homestays. The hosts are usually warm and welcoming, and you will be treated to lots of sumptuous traditional cuisines.
Unlike most destination, one thing you will find unique with accommodation is Central Asia, is that you don’t have to book in advance unless you are traveling during peak seasons and you are headed to the popular destinations.
The Food in Central Asia
Food is always a great concern for the avid traveler. It is part of the experience for which they are taking the trips, and when it comes to food in Central Asia, you will never be disappointed. The region has fantastic restaurants and cafes, and the countryside eating also offers an excellent selection of cuisines. There are lots of fresh and creative salads, as well as a humongous selection of veggies options.
Some of the favorite dishes you must try include-:
- Shivit Oshi – this is a specialty in the Khiva region of Uzbekistan, and it is a meal featuring infused noodles with tasty meat or vegetables.
- Pumpkin Samsa – it is one of the wonderful pastries you will find in the region
- Ashlyanfu – a noodle dish served cold with tomato vinaigrette. It is so common in Karakol market in Kyrgyzstan, and it is a specialty of a Muslim minority ethnic group known as Dungan from China.
- Plov – this is a universal dish in Central Asia, and it features fried rice concoction with full bulbs of garlic and lamb. It is available in a wide variety, and it is a dish you must never miss when you visit Central Asia.
- Manti – this is steamed meat served with sour cream source – incredibly tender and delicious.
- Nan and Chai – translates merely to bread and tea. You can always find posts of black or green tea taken with fresh bread alongside the main meals
The best time to travel to Central Asia
Almost any time is an excellent time to visit Central Asia. If you are planning for an extended stay, however, you should remember that the region does experience harsh winters and the mountain regions may be rendered utterly impassable at such times. If you are planning hiking the fantastic Tien Shan or going for a road trip on the Pamir Highway, then you should travel during the warmer months.
For touring the ancient Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan is your primary interest, then you should plan your trip to fall in spring and autumn when the temperature is very favorable, and there are no crowds.