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.