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Traveling alone in Central Asia
September 19, 2008 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Can I, as a blond European girl in my mid-twenties, travel alone in Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
What does being blonde have to do with it?

I assume those with all hair colors are welcome in Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan.
posted by nineRED at 7:31 AM on September 19, 2008


I think she's concerned about being an attractive, young white female in the region. It's a reasonable question- Some areas are much safer than others for women to travel alone.
posted by GilloD at 7:32 AM on September 19, 2008


Blond would definitely stand out as being exotic and probably make pervy men approach you more.

I'd be concerned based on the Kyrgyzstanian(?) men (and surrounding regions) that approach me here in the US. And I'm not even blond. Something about that region of the world that makes men thing that they need to hit on every girl walking by, at least that's the way it is in Brooklyn.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:48 AM on September 19, 2008


think*, not thing. AHH.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:49 AM on September 19, 2008


I'd check for similar questions on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum - they get those types of "Can I travel in X as an X" questions all the time.
posted by HopperFan at 8:06 AM on September 19, 2008


Yep, sure can. I (mid twenties male) actually befriended a young blond European girl doing just that during my own travels there. Just be sure to take the precautions any traveler in the area would. Maybe consider paying a bit more for a guide in the more remote areas.
posted by FuManchu at 8:17 AM on September 19, 2008


I had a friend who travelled on U.S. government business in western China. She is blond. People ignored all decorum and approached her in restaurants and touched her hair without her permission. She was travelling with a male co-worker and other western males.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:44 AM on September 19, 2008


My stepdad used to live in a remote province in Xinjiang, and he just told me that the only attention he got was from children who were fascinated with his beard because most Chinese men can't grow thick facial hair. His female English co-worker had light brown hair and freckles and was found similarly exotic, but neither of them were ever picked on. He then offered fatherly caution that you should always be careful no matter how safe you feel.

When I was in Beijing two summers ago--which is obviously a large metropolis that sees a lot of international foot traffic--no one approached me, but people did stare at me as if I was missing a nose. I found southern Italian and Turkish men to be much handsier than the Chinese--stroking my red hair while waiting behind me in line. Eeesh.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:47 AM on September 19, 2008


My experience in that part of the world mirrors Ironmouth's -- when traveling with a redheaded girlfriend in that part of the world, we had to deal with strangers approaching her at all times, guys hitting on her (with me right there!) and what seemed to be a never-ending stream of sideshow gawkers. As it was, it was unsettling but not impossible to deal with. I can't speak for what it would've been like had she been alone, but I'm certain it wouldn't have been easier. Everyone was nice, certainly -- just creepy.
posted by incessant at 9:50 AM on September 19, 2008


A friend of mine recently spent an extended period of time in Kyrgyzstan. Apparently, a popular game consists of pitting a guy and a girl against each other. She gets a ten foot head start, and he has to chase her down and kiss her. Okay, doesn't sound too different than things middle schoolers may have played in the US before we went all nanny state. But then he gets a ten foot head start, and she gets a whip, and she has to chase him down and apply it.

That's a bit different, but not necessarily any more disturbing, except that sometimes the stakes for the game are, in fact, the girl.

I'd watch your step.
posted by valkyryn at 9:51 AM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Blond would definitely stand out as being exotic and probably make pervy men approach you more.

At least in Kyrgyzstan, there are plenty of local blondes (Russians). But your clothes and mannerisms will betray your foreign nature. Don't get drunk with strangers. Don't go anywhere with Kyrgyz men. Everything will be OK.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:48 AM on September 19, 2008


Dudes are going to hit on you and be disrespectful. But that's it - that does not mean they're plotting to rape you.

Everybody and their sheltered existence is going to tell you that it's dangerous, that it's unwise, etc, but the truth of the matter is that if you want to travel to places outside of the West you need a thick skin. Maybe a thicker skin than a male, but all the same. You need to accept that most people think in ways that you do not, and in ways that you might find repugnant. But that's the way things are, and being upset by it doesn't help anything.

To answer your question directly, yes, you can buy a ticket and learn Uigher just as well as anyone else can. Choosing not to go because you may be hassled is only reinforcing negative stereotypes, against women, against Europeans, against Asians.

You shouldn't deny yourself an experience like this just because some people might tell you it's dangerous. Those people will never truly live.
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:54 AM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just traveled to South East Asia with a very attractive blonde european. She was very happy to have me around because it really is a big deal in a lot of places.

If you go alone you should be able to find someone at the hostel/guesthouse you are staying at to travel around the local area with if it turns out that your in a place that you need company.

If your interested i could put you in contact with her and you can ask her more about it.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 12:57 PM on September 19, 2008


A blonde colleague of mine recently traveled on her own in and around the Shanghai area of China. I know it's nowhere near Xinjiang, and it's not Kyrgyzstan, but I thought I'd share her experience anyway. She got questioned extensively on trains and at one point was hauled off the train into a police station for questioning. Valid US passport, valid visa, but she still encountered several difficulties traveling alone. This was right before and during the Olympics this summer, so it may be that they were particularly concerned about a solitary foreign traveler at that point in time. But be cautious and make sure you know the rules about registering your location with your hotel and/or local police station.
posted by bassjump at 12:09 PM on September 20, 2008


The blonde friend could wear a head scarf. Locals who talk to her will realize she isn't a Muslim, but hiding her hair and wearing relatively modest clothes will both seem culturally respectful and discourage the constant attention.

It's unwise to generalize about all Muslim countries, but when I attended an archaeology conference in Jordan (before 9/11) and paired up with a blonde female graduate student, both of us women were pursued, albeit not literally and very politely, by young Jordanian men, mainly taxi drivers because we otherwise were attending the conference (a British affair, with many Europeans).

We were wearing skirt suits. We should have worn longer skirts and scarves or hats. There were few other women at the conference and most of them, academics, were much older.
posted by bad grammar at 9:23 PM on September 20, 2008


Sure, I did. Well, I was a 28 year-old American woman traveling alone with light brown hair. I saw plenty of blonds in Kyrgyzstan, especially in Bishkek (tall, leggy supermodel-type blonds). Most people in Bishkek who spoke to me seemed to think I was local. I figured out they were asking for the time. By the way, I also traveled alone in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, no big deal. I think the usual about common sense, sticking to your instincts etc. apply. I wore t-shirts and trousers, never a scarf.

In Xinjiang I hung out with a Taiwanese girl traveling and everyone stared at her more than me. They could tell she was "foreign" but not foreign, it was funny. She got pretty sick of everyone telling her she couldn't use her Taiwanese student ID for discounts while towing the line about "one China." There aren't as many foreign tourists in Xinjiang and I would say that I got the same, if not slightly less, number of stares as I got in the rest of China.

As for the problem being "too beautiful" (which I don't think you're trying to say but other people have taken up), remember that beauty is different everywhere. In a lot of countries a typical European is considered to be too skinny to be attractive!

Send me a message if you want more Central Asian travel advice.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:08 PM on September 21, 2008


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