While researching the bus from Tashkent to Khujand I noticed that there was some confusion so I decided to clear the fog.
First you must buy your ticket from a ticket booth that is located in the car park to the left of the main Tashkent Bus station. I bought my ticket on a Friday morning and left on Sunday at 18:10. I arrived at the bus station at 17:00 on Sunday and noticed that all 4 ticket booths had disappeared. They must remove them to a safe place after hours and/or on weekends so make sure you get there on a working day and during working hours. Don’t forget to take your passport with you.
This is the walking route from Olmazor Metro station to the Ticket Booth or you can take a Yandex Taxi from your hotel for around $3.00, the Metro costs 15 cents hahaha.
This is the far end of the car park with 4 ticket booths, the one on the right is where you buy your Bus ticket to Khujand, cost 50,000 Som or US$6.00.
This is a close up of the Khujand Bus ticket booth.
This is the ticket, you have to show them your passport.
This is the entrance to the main bus station, it is new and air-conditioned and has a restaurant inside. Pass the security check and go to the left corner past the restaurant and out to the bus platforms. Turn right and walk to the end, the bus leaves from Platform 22, this could change but look for the bus itself, you can’t miss it “Asian Express”. Be there at 17:30 to load your luggage and have your ticket and passport checked. The bus is air-conditioned and the seats comfortable. There were only 11 passengers in my bus and it left at 18:10, scheduled departure is 18:00 and apparently they sometimes leave 10 minutes early as well.
Ticket Booths have disappeared
The Khujand Bus at Platform 22, right at the end
When you arrive at the Uzbekistan border you have to take ALL your luggage off the bus and put it through a scanner, next immigration to get your passport stamped and then back on the bus. As there were only 11 of us it was quick, with a full bus load of 50 passengers it would obviously take longer. At this point I asked the Immigration officer where I could change some money and he said ask your bus driver. So I did and he gave me 10 Somoni for the 9000 Som I had left and he also changed US$10 into Tajikistan Somoni. He cannot change large sums, just enough to pay for the taxi to your hotel. Next stop the Tajikistan border where you get off the bus but only take your passport with you. At immigration they take your photo, stamp your passport and your eVisa, don’t forget to print your eVisa, I don’t think a PDF on your phone can be stamped. Back on the bus, the road improves and the speed goes up from 60 to 80kph, through a modern Toll plaza but the road stays the same, no Autostrada. We arrived at a patch of dirt on the outskirts of Khujand at 21:30, early by 30 minutes due to the small number of passengers. Taxi drivers are waiting and the cost of a ride to your hotel should be between 20-30 Somoni or $2-3.
Khujand, a fairly big town with some astonishing monuments and a cable car. It is 2,500 years old but under the USSR all the historic buildings were destroyed and replaced with concrete structures.
For Accommodation in Khujand contact Anisa on WhatsApp +992 938044444. She speaks English and is very helpful, getting a SIM card for me and arranging a taxi to Dushanbe. The apartment I stayed in was air-conditioned, had 2 bedrooms, a big kitchen and living room, TV’s, fridge, washing machine and it was on the ground floor. You can choose from a number of apartments.
Samarkand to Tashkent on the Afrosiyob high speed train, this time I went to the Ticket Office two days in advance and bought the ticket myself, it cost 105,000 Som (US$12.50). I first looked up the train times and available tickets online and the website I was looking at said “Sold Out” but while the online allocation may have been sold out there were still tickets available at the Ticket Office.
Tashkent, (Thash-kee-ent) capital of Uzbekistan, big city, spread out so basically to get anywhere you have to take the Metro or a taxi both of which are very cheap. A single ride on the metro costs $0.15, you buy a token, there are no smart cards and changing lines does not cost any more. None of the signs or announcements are in English so you just have to count stations. Every and I mean every time I boarded a train a younger person would stand up and give me their seat and this was not just for me it was for any older person. The only other cities I have see this done but not as conscientiously are Tehran and Perth. Use the Yandex Taxi app (it’s the Uber equivalent) to call a taxi and you can go just about anywhere for $2.00.
Chorsu Market, huge indoor and outdoor spread out over a large area
National Museum and Amir Timur Square
Thursday 9 May 2019 was a Public Holiday in memory of WWII and people were out and about celebrating.
The Plov Centre and TV Tower
Milliy Taomlar, best Uzbek food restaurant I ate at….
I travelled from Bukhara to Samarkand by train, ticket cost 85,000 Som or $10. The travel agent charged me 120,000 Som and he got me a ticket on the slow train (120kph) which takes 2:30hrs instead of the Afrosiyob High Speed train (upto 250kph) which only takes 1:30hrs. My Guest house arranged a taxi for me, the station is 7km out of the city and it cost 30,000 Som. There is security when you enter the station and your bags go through a scanner but they waved me through when I got beeped. There is a money changer at the station run by a bank and I changed some USD, the rates are much the same at all banks. I have not seen any money changers not run by banks though I heard you can change money in the market. This is because USD are freely available at ATM’s and there is no black market for them.
When it was time to board I tried to get on the Afrosiyob and that’s when the conductor told me that I had a ticket for the slow train which was leaving 20 minutes later. Anyway it was a comfortable journey with only two of us in a six seat air-conditioned compartment. The train made a few 5 min stops along the way, depart Bukhara at 16:10 and arrive in Samarkand at 18:45. There are taxi drivers waiting at the station exit and one guy said $5 or 40,000 Som and I agreed, it turned out to be an unofficial taxi which means a beat up old Lada hahaha.
Samarkand is a much bigger city with broad main roads but the back streets of the old city are still the same narrow lanes, clean but pot holed and dusty with an open drain running down the middle, not as charming as Bukhara.
Both Hotels I stayed at gave me a Registration slip, I have them in my passport, no one has asked to see them as yet.
The drive from Mary to Bukhara was interesting, we left at 10:00, speeds upto 140kph over rough bitumen, stopped by radar but got out of it by saying foreigner in a hurry hahaha. Police checks about every km or so but only had to pull over a few times, made good time and arrived in Turkmenabat at 1230. Kebabs and bread for lunch, off at 1330 arrived at the border check point at 1430 cars can’t go any further. Said goodbyes and got on a minivan to go from there to the Immigration building about 1km and got charged 20 manat or US$6, I was soon to learn that this was a total rip-off hahaha. First luggage gets scanned and then I had to fill in a Customs form which was not in English so one of the army guys took my passport and did it for me, next immigration no queue, took 2 min and then out of the building at 1500. Waited for the another minivan to come, about a 2km drive to the border and the guy only asked for US$1, took a pic of the van and he wanted me to delete it, people here are paranoid about photos. Got dropped off at the actual border, walked across to Uzbekistan only a few meters and waited with some Uzbek Border guards who were quite friendly. The minivan turned up after 5 min and took us about 2km to the Quarantine building, cost US$1 again, this seems to be the standard charge. My temperature was checked and the guy said go, about a 100m walk along a paved pathway to the immigration building, no queue, just one woman and her child who had been with me since the Turkmenistan border, 2 min to stamp my passport and say “Welcome”. After that a 50m walk along the same paved path to a gate, another and last passport check and I was in Uzbekistan. The driver I had arranged with the travel agent was waiting for me outside, there are also taxis waiting, either private or shared for around US$15-30, I paid $30 because it was pre-booked and the guy had to come from Bukhara just for me, on the way at 1540, arrived in Bukhara at 1700.
Checked in to my Guest House and found that there was no water coming out of the taps. Apparently Bukhara runs out of water in the evening and you have to wait until the next day for it to start again. Lesson – brush your teeth and shower in the morning.
Went for a walk to Lyabi Hauz which is the main Square with a pond in the middle and it was crowded with tourists, mainly Russian but also some Europeans, British and I heard one American accent. Many souvenir shops and restaurants and a market nearby. First I needed cash and my Visa card did not work in any of the ATM’s so I got hold of a taxi driver and we drove around to a few banks, still no luck but one of them said try the bank opposite, they have a machine that accepts Visa cards. Tried that machine and it said no cash so I decided to select the option to withdraw US$ and it worked, so I took the US$ into the bank and changed it into Som the local currency. This is what I did for the next couple of transactions as well, it wasn’t my card, it was because I was trying to withdraw the local currency, withdrawing US$ worked with no problems. Kapital Bank has Visa ATM’s that dispense US$ and they are all over the country. I also tried to change some leftover Manat but no one wanted them.
Next a SIM card, Beeline was recommended as the best so that’s what I got, cost 75,000 Som (US$9) for 4000 minutes and 6GB Data and it worked straight away with a 4G connection. I did not have my passport with me so the guy in the shop used his ID instead hahaha, anything to make a sale.
Next food, I went into a restaurant and the prices were very cheap, a bowl of meat and vegetable soup with noodles which had a local name cost $2 and a beer $2.50, there was also a 10% service charge. I found there are more expensive restaurants about double the price but still cheap.
After a restless night freezing in a tent at the Darvaza crater, we drove back to Ashgabat. The train to Mary left at 15:00 and a whole 4 berth compartment had been booked for myself and the guide, total cost US$36. The train crawled and bumped along at an average speed of 60kph arriving in Mary (pronounced Murry as in Slurry) at 2220. A driver was waiting and we were taken to a hotel without Wifi which had seen better days. This place is in complete contrast to Ashgabat, it is normal with all kinds of cars new and old and of many colours and the buildings were just as varied but it still had the army of street sweepers keeping the place clean.
Today we drove to Gonur Depe down some fairly rugged roads, high ground clearance required and we were in a 4WD, the driver, his pal, the guide and myself. After that we stopped at Soltan Sanjaryn’s Mausoleum and the sights around it in Ancient Merv.
The first step in travelling to Turkmenistan is to contact a local Travel Agent (I used Oguz Tour) and give them precise details of your plans, they will then apply for your Letter of Invitation. You need to start this process at least 2 months before your planned departure date. They will email you the Letter of Invitation which you must print and that is all you need to get on the plane to Turkmenistan.
Getting to Ashgabat is not easy because not many airlines fly there. My route took me from Perth to Bangkok (7 hrs) on Thai Airways, 6 hour layover and then a 7 hour flight on Turkmenistan Airlines to Ashgabat. The airline does not have a website and I made the booking through their main Agent Deepika Travels in London, you cannot book through the website in the link, you have to call them and they are about half the price of any other booking website. I had read some funny stories about this airline but it was a very pleasant flight, only about half full, more than enough leg room, wide seats and they served two meals. The Ashgabat Airport looks brand new and everything was immaculate, it was also completely deserted. First stop is the visa counter where I was the only one and handed in my Letter of Invitation, paid US$99 at the counter next door and the visa was pasted into a full page of my passport. Next Immigration and except for 3 passengers myself included (I was the only tourist) the rest of the passengers were in transit so we were processed immediately, my suitcase arrived soon after and I was out of the airport very quickly, quite a painless experience.
Driving into the city I was confronted by a mass of white, marble clad, blocks of flats and practically no traffic, and no people, the few cars I saw were also mainly white Toyota’s. The streets were very clean, this is one of the cleanest cities in the world if not the cleanest. The old city is gradually being demolished and replaced with these white marble clad buildings. There are also very few signs or billboards anywhere just this unbroken whiteness with a splash of gold here and there. There are police everywhere randomly checking cars, which have to be white or silver and clean, a dirty car will result in a fine hahaha. People are very law abiding, crime is low, education and medical services are free though people who can afford it go to Turkey or India for treatment. There are many excellent restaurants and prices are high for everything, this is not a cheap place to live. All social media is blocked though you can get around this with a VPN but the speeds are so slow it not worth the effort. You must be accompanied by a guide at all times, you are not allowed to wander off on your own, apparently in the name of Safety but aren’t we living in a very safe city with little or no crime hahaha.