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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