Travelling in Central Asia
May 7, 2007 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Central Asia trip late May - early June. Suggestions?

I've looked at some previous questions about central asia, and it seems like we have some resident experts! I have the 2004 Lonely Planet for Central Asia, but it's always better to hear from people firsthand.

After spending a couple weeks in China, I plan to travel in late May from Urumqi to Almaty (I have a Kazakh friend there), then to Bishkek. In Kyrgyzstan I plan to do some CBT-related activies, including home-stays in yurts and trekking/horseback riding. After that I hope to make it to Uzbekistan for a while. All in all I will spend about 2 1/2 weeks in the area.

After that I'll have to get back to Beijing for my return flight, which I expect to take quite a while.

Anybody have particularly favorite spots around there to recommend - and any travel tips?

I will be getting my visas in Beijing (my LOI for Uzbekistan is forthcoming). And, time wise, I don't see myself making it to Turkmenistan. I am considering Tajikistan, however.

Я говорю не много по-русский, and I plan to practice my Russian while over there. I recognize that this will mostly be in the major cities, which I understand are predominantly Russian-speaking.

Also - in preparation for my trip, can anyone recommend a good book about the history of the area - something accessible, that ties cultural and art history into political history (such as "Russia and the Russians" does for Russia)? I regularly visit and - any recommendations for good central asia blogs (in English, unfortunately)?

Any help would be appreciated! I've always been really fascinated by this region.

I'm 26 and male. Thanks!
posted by mammary16 to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Don't forget your umbrella! When traveling by road, call fancy local hotels to find out which roads might be out.
posted by rush at 2:08 PM on May 7, 2007

Don't quote me on this, but late may early june may be too early for much of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan. I was there in July and it still got into the teens everynight we were up in the mountains.

If you do go I can't recommend enough the area around Song Kul in Kyrgyzstan
posted by JPD at 4:39 PM on May 7, 2007

I just took a great trip around Xinjiang in January. Though it was took cold and snowy to bross the border passes at that time I did get to see a good bit of Xinjiang itself.

Urumqi is a big, nasty han-zu town now. Don't expect to see much Uigur culture there. If you have time head to Turfan or Kashi.

More later!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:34 AM on May 8, 2007

Best answer: Sorry, I was dragged away by meetings.

As I was saying, the winter hemmed us in to Xinjiang in January. Urumqi (Wulumuqi, you'll find they all have several names depending on who you are speaking with, however Wulumuqi is the han-zu pronounciation and the one you'll need for planes, trains and automobiles) was, for the most part, just another typical Chinese city, though it did have a little more western interest than say Wuhan or Lanzhou (not that those are bad places).

Turfan (aka Turpan, aka Tulufan) has a lot more small town feel (with a mere 250,000 residents) and is worth a trip to get out of Urumqi. The Emin mosque and minaret are very beautiful. Be sure you head to the market in town. The food there can't be beat anywhere on earth and you'll find it served by sexy, brooding (but just a little flirty), kohl-eyed Uighur women with knives strapped to their hips who look like they might just as quickly kill you as make passionate love to you (just remember their husband or father is the large man with the equally large knife preparing the kebabs just outside the stall door).

Kashgar (aka Kashi) is the second-city of Xinjiang but the capital of East Turkistan, the failed Uighur breakaway nation. It is fabulous. The "Sunday Market" is actually operating 7 days a week and is not nearly the mysterious bazaar of old, but fear not! The muddy streets of the old city are still full of stalls cranking out tools, furniture, leather goods, hats, donkey bells and the other objects that keeps Uighur life running at it's 19th century pace. Drink pomegranite juice on the street, you will not regret it even if the glass may be in need of a good washing. There is a great restaurant above the square in front of the Id Kah mosque, the food is good and you get a birds eye view of the goings on down below. I suggest you stay away from the older, nastier hotels and head for the newer places in the Han-zu side of town that haven't had time to get revolting (there is a brand new place above the new Quan Ju De chain Beijing duck restaurant on Renmin road, the main drag, very near the heart of the old city). Kashi is also the point to strike out for Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan from the Chinese side.

The China International Travel Service (CITS) office in Kashgar (located in front of the disgusting and over-priced Chini Bagh hotel - also to be avoided, if the name wasn't warning enough, the Seman hotel - ) is fantastic. The women there were extremely friendly, helpful, funny and wonderful. They even let us leave a couple bags in their office while we went on a couple of overnight trips. They are brimming with advice and contacts to ensure that you have a safe and smooth trip.

Last bit of advice for now. If you head to Kashgar take some cream cheese. I kid you not, as the bagels, yes bagels, are fresh from the clay oven and can't be beat in New York, but are lacking the necessary schmear! Oy!

I'm username at homail if you need more tips! Have fun! Last thing, I swear, stay out of Yarkand (Shache) unless you're willing to "become Canadian" while there. They're not too friendly with Americans since some of their residents got snached up and shipped to Gitmo, but hey, who would be really?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:59 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks! I'll be spending some time in Xinjian so this is really helpful.
posted by mammary16 at 10:20 AM on May 9, 2007

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