I am assuming that everyone who has read my posts about Uzbekistan has been inspired to visit this amazing Central Asian country. Here are some notes that may aide in your planning.
Uzbekistan is a Carnivore’s Utopia, but Vegetarians Can Eat Well Too, Sort Of
Uzbeks love meat, and I ate my body weight in beef skewers, grilled chicken, lamb chops, and meat dumplings. If you are unconcerned with cholesterol, heart disease, animal welfare, and climate change, you’ll love eating in Uzbekistan.
My wife is a vegetarian, and in restaurants that cater to tourists, she ate some great food. Often, the vegetarian dish was an Uzbek classic like like dimlama, a hearty stew, or samsa, a local dumpling, made without meat.
At more local restaurants, none of the main dishes were meatless, and she often ate vegetable soups, fried potatoes, and bread. Lots and lots of bread. She survived, but she looked at me with envy as I knawed juicy meat off a bone like a savage.
The Afrosiab Bullet Train is Unexpected and Awesome
The sleek and comfortable Afrosiab bullet train whisks travelers across Uzbekistan at over 120 miles per hour. A high-speed railway seems a little out of place in a relatively poor and desolate country, but it was one of many ways the country is well-suited for travel.
The online rail booking website is mostly in English, except for critical areas like the departure and arrival city are in Cyrillic. I failed over and over to make an online booking, so I gave up and bought them in the country.
All the main cities have new, modern train stations that can be slightly confusing the first time. Here is what to expect with rail travel.
- Buy your ticket at an office outside the station.
- Go through security with your passport and ticket ready to show the guards.
- You can bring snacks on the train if you want, but vendors cycle through with food drinks.
- The trains are comfortable and have clean bathrooms.
- Upon arrival in the new destination, haggle hard with the taxi drivers. Some of the stations are out of town, and they will try to charge triple the going rate.
For more info on the trains and timetables, check out this link on Seat61.com.
Drink Sunset Beers with a View
Uzbekistan is a moderate Islamic country, and drinking alcohol is legal and common. Two of the best drinking spots, the Chasmi-Mirob Restaurant in Bukhara and the Terrassa Cafe in Khiva, overlook mosques and are best visited at sunset. In many Muslim countries, it is forbidden to drink near places of worship.
Don’t overlook Tashkent
People come to Uzbekistan for the Silk Road Cities, or perhaps a trip to the western desert or eastern mountains. No one, it is safe to say, comes to Uzbekistan for the capital city.
I liked Tashkent, and I think it is worth a few days if you have time. An earthquake leveled the city in 1967, so all the buildings are modern. When clearing away the rubble, they built a comprehensive underground metro system with beautiful stations and created many sprawling parks.
Wake Up Before Dawn
I woke up and went on a walk with my camera every morning in Uzbekistan, and rarely saw another tourist. Moreover, the locals at the markets and mosques were surprised and even delighted to see me, and I made several great connections with the people.
And by getting up early, I got to see this:
Getting an Online Visa is Easy and Impossible
Step 1. Make sure you are on the right website. USE THIS ONE. The government hasn’t taken down the old one yet, so don’t be like me and waste hours using the wrong portal.
Step 2. When you upload your photo, read the sizing info, and make sure the picture is exact. Otherwise, the website will not accept it, and you’ll spend hours being frustrated like me. Or worse, you will never get it uploaded and have to go to an embassy like one couple I met.
Hassles and Scams
I found Uzbekistan to be mostly hassle-free and didn’t encounter any con-artists or high-pressure salespeople, except for the taxis. Taxis have meters but some drivers try not to use them. Insist the driver use the meter and be prepared to haggle. In Bukhara, for example, we paid $15 to go from the train station to town, but only $5 to go from the city to the train. I paid my “Newbie Tax” before learning the going rate.
Some restaurants near the Registan in Samarqand, like at the Labi G’or cafe, try and overcharge, according to online reviews. Then again, if you eat at a place rated 1.8 out of 5 stars, you deserve to get ripped off.
Otherwise, Uzbekistan is an easy and safe country to visit.
Learn some Russian (Or Uzbek if You Really Want to be Cool)
Learn some Russian in advance like I didn’t do. I was a dumb traveler and should have learned some basics. Although English is spoken at train stations, banks, immigration, and tourist sites, if you want to connect with the locals and haggle with taxi drivers, Russian is essential. With apps like Duolingo and websites like italki.com, learning some language before going on a trip has never been easier.
Roam the backstreets
Aimlessly roaming the backstreets was the most enjoyable part of my trip. When I stepped away from the tourist areas and walked in the residential zones, I met tons of amiable and curious locals. Once, three grandmas sitting on a porch waived me over. As I approached, one disappeared inside and returned with a mat for me to sit on. I sat in comfortably awkward silence with the three babushkas because they didn’t speak English and I was an idiot and didn’t learn some Russian. The four of us watched the world go by, much to the delight and surprise of the passers-by.
Stay at the Friendliest Guesthouse in the World
My wife traveled with me for half the trip but had to go back to work. Since I am gainfully unemployed, I went on to Khiva without her. There, I stayed at the Khiva Angarik Darvoza Guesthouse and was treated like family.
The owner, a jovial Uzbek babushka named Zukra, went over the top taking care of me. Zukra fed me lunch or dinner each day. “I don’t normally do this, but I like you. You are American, and you stay here four nights,” she said.
When she initially invited me to eat, I thought I’d be dining with the family. Instead, she served me in a dining room with pink and gold walls, glass serving dishes, and crimson cushions. It was a room fit for a prince. During my stay, I had lunch or dinner somewhat awkwardly by myself but I couldn’t turn down her generous hospitality. And her food was amazing.
On the morning of my departure, Zukra told me to pick a pomegranate from the garden to take to my wife. After lots of hugs and photos, I departed like a son going off to college, not like a guest in a hotel.
Have you been to Uzbekistan and have some tips to add? Are you planning to go? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Thanks for all these tips, Jeff. I remember reading a blog post that says in Uzbekistan foreign tourists will be given some kind of slips from the hotels where they stay, and they’re expected to bring these documents everywhere they go. Was that still the case when you were there? And how about thorough check by customs officers at the airport? I heard that they will go through your personal belongings one by one to make sure you don’t smuggle anything.
Hey Bama, in most Central Asian republics arrival halls have X-ray scanners. But if you arrive with a small cabin-sized backpack, 9 times out of 10 they won’t bother checking them. Plus, with the amount of stuff the locals bring back from Russia… I’ve never been stopped and searched to be honest with you.
Good to know that, Fabrizio. I’m seriously thinking of going to Central Asia now (maybe sometime in 2020).
I’m glad you mentioned the hotel registrations – I need to add that into the post. As of very recently, the law changed and these are no longer required.
Customs and passport control was easy with no luggage checks. Departing there seemed to be a few extra layers of people checking the passport against the ticket. I think the country is really trying to make it easier to visit.
Great post 🙂
Thank you so much for the great series of the posts on Uzbekistan. I thoroughly enjoyed every one and hope to visit there some days (soon). I have always been fascinated about Central Asia! —– Stephen
Thanks Stephen. It was my first time to Central Asia and I loved it. I can’t wait to explore more of the region. Thanks for following along!
Wonderful tips, thanks Jeff. I guess I’ll have to add “learn Russian” to my list of things to do in 2020. I love your story about sitting with the three grandmas. The photo taken from your drinking spot is stunning! I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Uzbekistan through your posts and great photos.
Thank you Caroline. I’m disappointed in myself for not learning some Russian! My wife used Duolingo before going to Japan this summer and it made a big difference. Learning some words will enhance your trip.
Jeff, you have inspired me to visit Uzbekistan, a place that I knew very little about. Thank you for all the tips, I will save them for when I visit. Merry Christmas to you and your wife.
Thank you Gilda! Merry Christmas to you, too.
One thing that irks me about the Afrosyob is that it’s basically just tourists or people “who know other people”, if you get my drift. The trains, as unfortunately it’s always the case with the Spanish Talgos, are minuscule and fill up in a moment. The slow ones are pure Central Asian fun though!
One scam I’ve seen in Uzbekistan (and Tajikistan) is the “fine for photos”, or the “passport problem”. In both cases I found that giving the cops a printed address, and phone, of your embassy works wonders!
In my first draft, I mentioned that we took the regular train and I liked it better because I could see the countryside better. I need to add that back in.
I read blogs from people who’d been to Uzbekistan 5-8 years ago and they told of frequent overcharging and petty scams like the ones you mention, but I think that is getting cleaned up. We never got overcharged at a restaurant and other than the taxis, everything was straightforward.
Thanks for your insight!
Thanks to your blog an one other we’re seriously considering a trip to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan next fall. I’ll study your helpful information in this post again in a few months. Thanks for posting it!
Fall is a great time to go. I went late October/early November and had 70 degree days and chilly nights with lots of sunshine. The locals told me peak season is spring and September and early October. Let me know if you have any questions closer to time.
Thank you for all this excellent info!
No problem. I hope you make it there someday.
Beautiful images Jeff! How on earthbound did u smuggle a pomegranate into Thailand???
I can’t tell you because I am being monitored by Interpol for unrelated crimes.
Like smuggling a tiny banana out of Thailand? Those are the best. Haha
Thanks for sharing the do’s and don’ts . I’ll never get to that part of the world so thanks for bringing me along through your wonderful pictures and posts!
I’m glad you could come along vicariously. I get to go on RV road trips vicariously with you so it works out.
I wish I were gainfully unemployed!! I’ve never seen a pomegranate tree before. I love the story of just sitting with the three grandmas. Hilarious!
Being gainfully unemployed is hard work. It isn’t for everyone 🙂 I’d never seen a pomegranate tree either. They are so delicious straight from the tree.
Thanks for sharing this, Jeff. I wish I had read your post before planning our trip to Uzbekistan. We’ve settled for a guided tour because we don’t have enough time and didn’t want to get into trip planning. 🙂 It would have been fun to travel on our own though. I’m picky with meat and was a bit worried about the food. My husband is the opposite and can’t wait for the meat platters. 🙂
If you like bread, fruit, and seek out restaurants that understand vegetarianism, you’ll eat well. When are you headed there? A guided tour should be great as well. It is an awesome country.
We just got back. It is an awesome country and your observations were spot on. I ate a lot of bread, dry fruits, and soups with generous portions of meat floating. 🙂
Haha. Are you a vegetarian? At least the bread is a meal unto itself usually. I don’t eat meat often, but I bet I ate more meat in two weeks in Uzbekistan than I ate the other 50 weeks combined last year. Glad you enjoyed the trip, and I look forward to reading about it.
You’s better believe you inspired me to go to Uzbekistan! Now, if you could just find me some time and/or a travel companion …
Uzbekistan would be really easy to travel solo if you can’t find a friend, or maybe the Bells will go with you! We’d go again. As for time, that one I can’t help with unless you want help getting fired from your job.
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You’ve made me add Uzbekistant to my list. Thank you for the tips- pictures are amazing!
It is a great country! Go! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Your posts are always so well written and enticing, Jeff. And your photos are wonderful..the sunrise shots and street portraits…love them. The food looks great and I had to laugh at your description. 🙂
It looks like a marvelous place to travel. Thanks!
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I’ll check it out.
Great tips! I have fond memories from my visit there two years ago
I love food and traveling