No place takes the logic out of logistics, from pillar to post, like the former Soviet Union. Inspired by our own experiences, the following entries are in no logical order. Let’s dig in.
I thought Americans liked to travel in comfort. I don’t know why you take a marshrutka.
You should take the marshrutka. There you will meet the real people.
— Two competing local views on whether or not we should subject ourselves to long-distance rides on marshrutka minivans, the dominant form of public transport in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
When we traveled across Central Asia years ago no one seems to know what was needed to get a visa to Tajikistan and a GBAO Permit to visit the Pamir Mountains. At that time it seemed to be embassy specific and heavily dependent on the relationship between Tajikistan and the country from which you happen to be applying.
Fortunately, a lot has changed — for the better — regarding obtaining Tajik tourist visas and GBAO permits.
Kyrgyzstan is known as the most visa-friendly country in Central Asia as it offers visa-free travel of up to sixty days to travelers of sixty nationalities. This allows you to focus your planning time on what you want to do inside the country vs. navigating Kyrgyzstan visa bureaucracy. So nice.
While most people don’t travel to the Caucasus and Central Asia solely to explore its foods, we did have our share of pleasant to exceptional eating experiences there. These included discovering some new-to-us cuisines and dishes that are unique to this region.
On the surface, a Kazakhstan tourist visa should have been our easiest visa to obtain when we first visited the country. Kazakhstan is arguably the most developed of the former Soviet countries. But the bureaucratic machine still runs strong at the Kazakh Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and in Kazakhstan itself.
Fortunately, Kazakhstan visa requirements have eased and become more simplified since our first visit. But if you're curious as to how it used to be, read our Kazakh visa and OVIR registration war stories.
In the last couple of years Uzbekistan tourist visas have become quite a bit easier. Starting from July 2018 travelers from 51 countries are able to get an evisa to the country, which vastly simplifies the and speeds up the visa process for Uzbekistan.
“How did you get into Turkmenistan? Isn’t it closed to foreigners?”
Turkmenistan is a special bureaucratic animal when it comes to trying to get a tourist visa to visit. But, with a little bit of advanced planning and an expanded daily budget, it usually is possible, particularly if you don’t work for a media company or human rights organization. We believe our visit to Turkmenistan was well worth the effort and adjustments required.
I just want to go home. I'm tired of all this visa stuff.
— A distressed traveler at the Kazakh embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
So what does sex have to do with Central Asian visas? Simple, really. Thinking about, planning around, and procuring visas for Central Asian countries begins to dominate one’s time and mindspace — almost to the point of obsession. We'll leave it to you to do the rest of the comparison.
Mystery vegetables are better than mystery meat.
– the mantra we adopted after eating Central Asian meals for over three months
Although we would not advise an exclusively culinary expedition to Central Asia, the region does have its appetizing moments. Surrounding those moments, you’ll primarily find a nomadic carnivore’s dream or a vegetarian’s nightmare.