Looking for best NYE party in UTC+5.
October 11, 2012 3:15 PM   Subscribe

NYE in UTC+5 (West Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan) for two late-twenties Americans. Which country to pick, where to go, what to do?

Looking for interesting experiences, magnificent sights (natural or otherwise), good food, relatively easy transportation, and adventures. Not interested in group tours. Have never been to that part of Asia before. We plan to spend 6-10 days there.

Maldives are out, we're not into resort travel. Thanks!
posted by halogen to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Best answer: Tajikistan is beautiful and incredibly remote, Uzbekistan has all of the tourist "sites" (i.e. mosques, etc.) in the region. Kyrgyzstan is more accessible and friendlier to tourists (I hear you can get visa on arrival thee days - double check on that, because visas to the region are a bit of an ordeal). The thing is, those countries are really cold in the winter and mountain passes often close or are impassable. Transportation is usually shared taxis or minibuses. Personally, I think the difficulties of getting around Central Asia in the winter are not worth it. The more remote, beautiful areas will be inaccessible. You'll have adventures and see amazing things, but easy transportation and good food are not things I would equate with the region.

I haven't been to Turkmenistan, but you need to either travel quickly through on a transit visa or hire a private guide if you want a longer (10-day) visa. Keep in mind that more remote areas like Turkmenistan may require an expensive and/or multiple flights. I'm happy to answer any more specific questions or point you to the blogs of friends who have traveled more recently to the region. Most don't go in the winter, although the one friend that lived in Bishkek in the winter reported rolling blackouts and various shortages throughout the winter. I don't know if that's Kyrgyzstan-specific or is also an issue in the rest of the region.
posted by Bunglegirl at 4:17 PM on October 11, 2012

Friends tell me that Astana is colder than Anchorage. The more southern the better if you want to spend any time outside at all.
posted by bukvich at 5:35 PM on October 11, 2012

Don't go to Pakistan. Are you nuts?
posted by genmonster at 6:24 PM on October 11, 2012

Go to the Nukus Museum (Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan) AKA the "Desert of Forbidden Art." I envy you, it's on my bucket list...

posted by feets at 7:39 PM on October 11, 2012

The Nukus Museum is interesting, but I found the traditional textiles, jewelry and costuming much more interesting than the paintings. I didn't know the history of the collection, thanks feets. Nukus is a hike to get to (I flew) and mot people go there on the way to Moynaq to see the old rusted out boats that used to be in the Aral Sea before it was drained. Both places take some effort to get to. I was accused of being an American journalist and a spy in the market, and had to walk in to a school to get directions to the rusted out boats since my taxi driver didn't speak the local Karaplakastani language (there's adventures to be had).

Personally, I'd put all of Samarkand, Uzbekistan on my bucket list way before the Nukus Museum. It's really amazing! Still, I wouldn't go in winter.

I'm curious, OP... why pick these countries for NYE? Is it just that time zone you're looking for or something else? More details might help us give you better answers.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:15 PM on October 11, 2012

I would not go to these places in the winter. It is cold. People take NYE seriously, but with family (think American Christmas) and it will be hard to get services.
posted by k8t at 8:35 PM on October 11, 2012

Response by poster: My husband and I are celebrating every NYE in a different time zone (8 down,16 major ones to go) and are trying to get the difficult ones out of the way before we have children.
posted by halogen at 9:01 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Looking at the list of places in UTC+5, I would recommend the Maldives for New Years Eve.

I've never been to the Maldives, but I have lived in Central Asia and Pakistan. I really like Central Asia. But it gets spectacularly cold along the Caspian and Aral Sea in the winter. Clear crisp sunny snowless glass-shattering cold, or murky snowy sleeting suffocating cold, but down to 20-30-40 degrees below zero (celsius or farenheit, since they converge at -40). Samarkand and Bukhara are fascinating places and warmer, but still cold; many hotels and other tourist facilities are not open or poorly heated. Turkmenistan is surreal. Tajikistan is poor and rough but has amazing mountains and nature... though very difficult to reach in winter. Both are difficult places to visit. The one place in the region that has some winter travel infrastructure is Kyrgyzstan, which has several places to go skiing/boarding. As of a couple months ago, you can get a visa at the airport for about $50. New Years Eve is a big deal in the former USSR, but there are not really big public festivities like Times Square or eating the grapes in Spain. Maybe fireworks. As k8t said, its more like Christmas in some ways, since people do give gifts, though Christmas was banned under communism and not a big deal in culturally Muslim places anyway. People do get really drunk, and I'm sure would be more than happy to include you in their festivities. As for Pakistan many of the places in the mountains where it would be theoretically fun to be a traveler - like Chitral - are out of reach in the winter. Maybe Swat Valley; there's a nice Serena Hotel there. Otherwise, its not a very welcoming environment for Americans right now. No one would ever believe you're just there as tourists.

Side note: I think the Nukus museum is awesome, something that anyone who is interested in art or Soviet history and has a chance should see. For me personally, the textiles and anthropological material is interesting, but not very different from what you'll see in similar museums in other places in the region. Its the paintings and the story of the collection that make it unique. If you go be sure someone takes you to see the old museum building where they keep the majority of the collection. You can hire a guide to take you there and to the ruins of Khorzem nearby for not much money. But again, very rough in the winter.

My two rubles.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:33 PM on October 11, 2012

Response by poster: Oh cool, we're definitely open to hauling the snowboards along.
posted by halogen at 11:25 PM on October 11, 2012

Then Kyrgyzstan is your best bet. Lots of google hits on Kyrgyzstan skiing and boarding lke this. A couple of days with a guide may not be a bad idea if you don't speak Russian. English is thin on thr ground outside Bishkek. Turkish air flights through Istanbul are the best way to go in my experience. Mefi-mail me if you want more suggestions; I may actually end up in the region around that time too.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:39 AM on October 12, 2012

Oh and looking at your profile, you'll be fine speaking Bulgarian... Have fun!
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:43 AM on October 12, 2012

Best answer: It's better to see Kazakhstan in the summer, but Uzbekistan in winter won't be THAT cold - maybe the equivalent of NYC winter. You could visit the old silk route cities - Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva. Think: fantastically tiled madrasas, minarets, old walled cities (Bukhara, Khiva), tombs of conquerers, sites pertinent to islamic history, art and science, traditional courtyard style homes.

You'd need a visa (apply early), and to fly into Tashkent. From there you'd need to hire a car to get from city to city - so you'd either need someone to negotiate that for you or have language skills yourself (Russian or Uzbek - a Turkic language). Expect English to be spoken only at fancier hotels, and not spoken well. As others have noted, New Year's is an important holiday in that part of the world so expect things to be closed or services to be hard to get. In cities that are not the capital, shortages (such as blackouts) will be more common. These general precautions hold for all the post-Soviet Central Asian countries. Turkmenistan would be even more temperate, but would be more logistically challenging in terms of visa and travel regulations.
posted by scrambles at 3:04 PM on October 12, 2012

Response by poster: Flights into Tashkent, although terribly inconvenient, are actually surprisingly affordable (less than half of what it takes to fly to the Maldives from Seattle), so that would totally work. How realistic would it be to rent a car in Uzbekistan for about a week, and then cross borders with it into Kyrgyzstan or other neighboring countries (assuming we'll return it at the same airport where it was picked up)? Are border crossings an issue? I hold a Bulgarian passport as well, if that's of any help, but I am too young to have studied any Russian as a compulsory second language in school.

Is this itinerary complicated enough that it might be worth paying a travel agent (oh, the horror of the idea itself)?
posted by halogen at 12:43 AM on October 14, 2012

Best answer: Have you done much research on traveling in the region? It's not like traveling around the U.S. with easy car rentals and taking expensive belongings over borders without questions. Uzbekistan is not extremely fond of the U.S. which can complicate things like visas. I tried to get a visa in advance in the U.S. and after holding my passport for 2 weeks I eventually was able to get someone on the phone who spoke English by calling late at night. It was obvious that they weren't planning on giving me a visa and I eventually got one in Kyrgyzstan, although it took me a week just to get an appointment to apply. Look into and arrange your visas well ahead of time! You may have a different experience, and I was there around 2007 so some things may have changed. I'm just spelling this out so you understand that you will have some planning to do.

Back then I had to arrange a LOI (letter of invitation) just to be able to apply for a visa, as well as a special travel certificate to be allowed to go to remote areas of Tajikistan. I used Stan Tours who were very nice about bouncing ideas around and offering advice. Looking at their site, it seems that you don't need a LOI to Uzbekistan if obtaining your visa in the U.S. It might be worth a look just to get ideas and information. And believe me, I don't do package tours or use travel agents, but sometimes in areas like this that have weird restrictions it may help. I met up with a Stan Tours agent in Dushanbe to hand me a permit that I needed, then ran into him again when he was driving some tourists from Kyrgyzstan through the Pamirs. So, apparently they do arrange drivers and it may be a good resource to use since you have so little time.

Look into border crossings - there aren't as many as you think. When looking at routes between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, for instance, I could either take a bus through Kazakstan (and pay for another visa even though I was only transiting though overnight) or go by land in the south. The embassy told me they would only give me a visa if I avoided the South so I flew. Flights between those countries are actually affordable and save you a lot of time. The South can be somewhat volatile and this was back before the last Kyrgyz revolution and the ethnic violence that took place in Southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. These border crossings are very small. The crossing from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan near Samarkand, for instance, is just a shipping container with a guy hanging out the window on the Tajik side. I don't speak any languages of the region and got along fine with hand gestures and a smile.

Also keep in mind that there are mountains in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and at that time of year there could be snow. I personally would rather hire a car and driver than rent my own car. Since I was traveling alone I just got a spot in a shared taxi after I crossed a border. It's affordable even over long distances, but you have to have a good attitude because it won't leave until it's full.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:45 AM on October 14, 2012

Just to clarify, I adore the region and would love to go back. My comments shouldn't dissuade you - I just wanted to make sure you're prepared and know that it can be rough travel with a lot of red tape. Still, it's totally worth the effort. Have fun and memail me if you want more info on my trip.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2012

Response by poster: This trip will require more planning than my usual travel, so I'll put it off until next year. Thanks everyone!
posted by halogen at 11:30 AM on December 6, 2012

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