5 ' stans with Adventures Abroad

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We're vsiting the 5 'stans in late September this year with Adventures Abroad. (It is a guaranteed departure so no worry over the tour cancelling for lack of participation.) I'd appreciate any comments / suggestions re: logisitics -- money exchange, border crossings, appropriate clothing, cultural etiquette, etc. And, if you've done the "stan's" recently, any other words of wisdom you gleaned from your trip would be appreciated. Thx. I was in the middle of posting this query when it dawned on me that I should have done a "search" of the message board and previous ITN issues but ..... Will now do so, but, please do reply with any additional hints you may have.

I have recently returned from a 5 Stans trip. Exhausting, but worth the effort. It was VERY hot in Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. I suspect it will be even hotter - in the 100s - in September.

Your tour leader/guide will take care of the logistics of border crossings and advise you on appropriate money exchange. Clothing should be moderate - no shorts or bare shoulders for either men or women.  I would suggest buying a good guide book and reading some travel literature on the Silk Road for advance information on the culture and history of the region. 

What stays with me most from the trip is the incredible friendliness of people everywhere, their willingness to engage in conversation and their eagerness to be photographed, and often to photograph you.

One piece of advice - bring some sweet and savory snacks to supplement the, mostly, dull food.  While we had some good chopped salads, this is not a gourmet destination!

I'm sure you'll have a great time.

This question is very timely for me as I just returned earlier this week from Eldertreks' 5 Stans tour. I agree with most of the previous response, especially regarding the friendliness of the people and the food. However, in addition to very good salads, especially in Uzbekistan, the bread was excellent.

As for advice, I would suggest the female visitors bring a scarf or other head covering for visiting religious sites. It may not be specifically required, but it shows respect.

You should also bring smaller denominations of new US dollars. I mainly brought $50 and $100 bills because they get a better exchange rate. However, in some shops, especially in Bukhara and Samarkand, they would not even accept the local currency, requiring US dollars or Euros. So a good selection of $5, $10 and $20 bills would have been helpful. And I only exchanged $20 in several of the countries, you might need to exchange a bit more depending on your shopping needs and what meals you will need to buy. But I really wished I had brought more smaller bills.

It was an excellent tour to a fascinating area of the world.

First, some reading you might enjoy --   Saudi Aramco World published a special issue on the Silk Road.  It is still one of the best and most readable group of articles I’ve seen on the area.  The entire issue is on their website:


  Visas -- leave yourself a lot of time to obtain your visas.  You need a double entry for Uzbekistan and single entries for the other countries, except  the Kygryz Republic, which does not require a visa.    I was on a group tour and one person’s passport was “lost” for two weeks when it was returned from the Kazakhstan Embassy - she was doing her own visas. It will be expensive, but you may want to consider using a visa service for the safety of your passport.

  Border Crossings --    Officials sometimes give preference to  foreign groups, so don’t be surprised if you are directed past  a long line of locals and  taken to the front of the line.    Locals  often have more rigorous checks.

  Changing Money -- At each border crossing, there will be money-changers.   Get small bills as you can use USD for most souvenir purchases.   The previous poster’s suggestion to bring lots of small denomination USD is a good one

Uzbekistan has a black market -- our local guide did all the changing for us on the bus at the black market rate   

Don’t change more than $20 at a time.

 Clothes -- We were told no Bermuda shorts or capris and to wear tops that cover the shoulders.   Turkmenistan was the most conservative of the countries.   Uzbekistan gets lots of tourists who wear anything and everything.    Kyrgyzstan is so-so and capris would be fine at the lake.    I kept a scarf with me and used it just about every day when visiting mausoleums and other holy places.

  Food --  Central Asia is not a gourmet destination!  Often in marginal places, our guide ordered vegeteranian for us.   So you might want to think about bringing some hi-protein bars as a supplement.

   The “bones” of your Adventures Abroad itinerary is similar to mine, so I’ve made notes on the places both itineraries visit.

Day 1 Arrival in Tashkent 

On your arrival card, you  must list how much money you are carrying and since you are arriving by air, you might want to know this amount beforehand so you don’t have to count in front of everyone.

You fill out two copies of the arrival card and the customs agent will make notes and sign one and give it back to you.  Keep it until departure.  

You must also list phones and other electronics. Be sure to list like this:

  1   Used Camera  (can put model number)     $100

1  Used  laptop  (list serial number)   etc.

Officials are most interested in the amount of money you are carrying and whether your electronics have left the country with you, though no one in our group was asked to open their luggage at any border.

Day 2 Tashkent: City Tour  

Be prepared to walk!   There are a lot of parks and your guide will want to show you all the important monuments.   After your long flight, walking will be welcome.

Be sure to check out the gift shops in any museum you visit during the trip.  They usually have very nice, high quality stuff, often antiques.

Day 3 Khiva: City Tour 

Khiva is a smaller walled city, and very manageable.    Try to wander in to the walled area  in the late afternoon/early evening after the day tours have left.   Vendors stay out until 8:00-ish.   If you want to buy furry Turkman hats, this is a good  place as there is a wide selection, but you have another chance in Ashgabat, but selection is smaller.  I think the best vendors for this were just inside the East Gate.   

Day 4  Cross border to Turkmenistan

Uzbekistan /Turkmenistan border-- there is about a mile of “no man’s land”. But there is often a van that charges $1.00 a person.     

Day 5 Ashgabat: City Tour 

This is a strange city -- you’ll see why when you get there.  But hotels and restaurants are good.   You will have the city and museums all to yourself.

If you have extra time (maybe 2 hours) take a taxi to the Tolkuchka Bazaar - it is on the outskirts of the city and is great for people-watching though it is a modern bazaar and a good-size site with several buildings.  Check with the hotel to make sure its open -- as Turkmenistan has lots of local holidays.  In the “C” building (where womens stuff is), you can look for  antique Turkman jewelry. I wish I had bought here as it was the best selection and best price of the trip.  

Another market (located in-town) is the “Russian Market” ---  this is mostly a food market but interesting to walk around.  They also sell the furry hats here -- best price I found was 2 for $75.    Close by, in a building across the street from the Grand Turkman Hotel,   sells items made in Turkmenistan --  clothes, linens,etc.  I saw good quality T-shirts here.  They just say “Turkmenistan” across the front with no other writing. 

Day 6 Ashgabat - Merv (Mary) - Turkmenabat

Merv is a large archaeological site -- wear good walking shoes here and if you usually use one, a walking stick.

Day 8 Bukhara: City Tour 

 Bukhara is well touristed and vendors are used to bargaining but are not pushy.   Best buys are in textiles,  especially suzzannas (embroideries).  There is a new ice-cream shop along the main street and if it is a hot day, its a good place to stop and rest a bit.    Don’t buy ice cream from the street vendors -- it may be re-frozen.

Day 10 Samarkand: City Tour 

Samarkand was the “big event” of our trip -- it is fabulous!  You will see lots of fellow tourists here. Your whole day will be spent visiting the various monuments.  In the evening, try to get back to the Registan as it is often lit up.  Several people on our tour did this and considered it a “golden moment”.

The summer residence is interesting. If you like miniature paintings, this is the place to buy them.  There are artists along the walkways.

Day 18 Bishkek - Lake Issyk-Kul 

The border crossing into Kyrgyzstan is the easiest in the world.   You don’t need a visa  and officers are very laid back.    He just opened a page, stamped my passport and shook my hand and said “Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!

Lake Issy-Kul is a wonderful relaxing place to end your trip.  I loved the petroglyph site and the guide will show you the best ones, then give you time to wander around and find more on your own.  There apparently is a small book on the site, but the caretaker wasn’t there to sell it when we visited.

We stayed at the Three Crowns Hotel which was an all-inclusive, and I think most of the places around the lake are.  If your hotel is multistory, ask for a room on the top floor (usually no elevators) so you have a view of the mountains and maybe the lake.

When you stop at the Burana Tower, you will see the country’s best examples of  carved tombstones. They have brought them here and set them in a large field. 

You can climb the tower, but our guide said it is narrow,steep and dark.    The site has a small museum and the gift shop is in the yurt.  The shop had some good books (in English) at reasonable prices.  

Bishkek  has a lot of monuments and their  National Historical Museum is excellent.   Top floor has ethnography, middle floor has Soviet-history and the main floor has two good gift shops.

If you want to do some final shopping - the Tsum store  (pronounced like zoom) is considered the best department store in Bishkek.  Go to the top  (4th) floor and there are about 50 souvenir vendors. Other floors are worth investigating if you have time.    The store is open until  8pm-ish most nights. Vendors will take USD.

Departure from Bishkek:

Airport is small.  You put your luggage thru two x-ray machines before you get to the check-in counter. They have no problems with taking water thru security. Carts are hard to come by, but there are porters who are happy with $2 to help you thru the screenings.  

Central Asia if a fabulous part of the world and you are sure to enjoy this adventure.  





If the water in the countries of the 5 Stans is not drinkable by our standards, how can the salads be so great?

My husband and I were on the same trip as Adventuregirl and travelseg.  While they didn't get sick, several other people did.  I didn't eat any raw salads or fruit and still got VERY sick on cooked chicken.

As I wrote in response to the question about food in Turkey, I generally eat whatever I want while traveling and do not get sick. Obviously you have to act as you see fit, but Anthony Bourdain is my model. The bread and salads were very good in the Stans, but I didn't like most of the meat.

I took a similar trip about 2 years ago.  There were 12 of us and everyone got sick at least once.  All of us got sick one  night in Uzbekistan on raw tomato salad.  Be very careful of raw fruits and vegetables.

We'll be going on the 5 'Stans tour with Adventures Abroad in October and appreciate your detailed comments for each of the cities.I do have a few questions:  What kinds of pricing should I expect for local handicrafts?  Do vendors prefer US$ or local currency?My husband is a runner and likes to run outdoors in the morning.  Is that permitted in running shorts and short sleeved t-shirts?  We were in Iran on a cultural tour and it was ok only with long pants & long sleeved t-shirts, no matter the temps.Also, my husband has to have dessert and is always in search of a bakery.  Are there bakeries near the hotels?  Or should he just suck it up and forget it ?  Sometimes we have wandered into not so good areas because of this obsession and it is scary for me.  With all that is going on with ISIS in those regions, I would prefer to place it very safe.Are there any countries that take Visa if we plan to buy something expensive or should we just bring US$?  Some posts by travellers have many in their group getting sick from the food.  A traveler got sick from chicken but that's because of salmonella issue.  We ate lots of lamb dishes  in Iran as our guide only went to restaurants she had been to previously and everything was "home-cooking" style.Thanks.