Before you pack your bags and head to Central Asia, you should ensure that you have an idea about the region, you have the right things packed. The following tips will help you prepare for your upcoming travel in Central Asia:
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- CHECK VISA REGULATIONS: Since 2013, the border of Kazakhstan has at least fallen under three different visa schemes. There has been the expensive visa, the visa-free, albeit for only 15 days, and the visa-free for 30 days. Uzbekistan has recently changed their regulations and it is imperative that you know what to expect before going or you may end up stuck somewhere stressed out. Or, better still, you can just go to Kyrgyzstan while you sort things out. They take in almost everyone and are very relaxed with procedures.
- DO YOU NEED TO REGISTER: This is another piece of information you must check prior to visiting all countries in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan does not currently require registration but you are handed a white piece of paper at the border that you must turn in when you depart the country or you will be fined an absurd amount of money. Be sure that white piece of paper has two stamps on it or you will have to register.
- KNOW WHICH BORDERS ARE OPEN: Many people think they can just casually cross into Uzbekistan from somewhere near Osh, Kyrgyzstan but that is not the truth. Try to prepare your journey ahead and ensure that all or any border you intend to cross will actually be open and operational.
- LEARN A FEW PHRASES: Knowledge of Cyrillic and a few key phrases like “How much?” will go a long way. On the flip side, Russian is the default language in many parts of Central Asia. It is not necessarily and universally the ‘official’ language but it is what you will hear spoken across different nationalities and you will hear it more often than not in the larger cities. Do attempt to learn a few courtesy words of the local language when going to places where it is more commonly used.
- PACKING AND HEALTH INSURANCE: Over-packing can be a pain in Central Asia as sometimes marshrutkas will charge you a fee for excess luggage. It also is a pain because you will have to drag it around in uncomfortable situations. Also, be sure you have a proper adapter and get health insurance before you travel to Central Asia. If you are trekking, you will be thankful to have that security. The food can also make people with sensitive stomachs ill at first- especially if you’re out in villages and eating meat.
- TRAINS EXIST BUT MARSHRUTKAS ARE KING: The trains in many areas (not all) are slow and taking them can be a cumbersome process. Getting around by marshrutka is the cheapest and most efficient way if you don’t have your own private vehicle or the means to fly.
- CORRUPTION IS RAMPANT: Corruption in the region is rampant and ever-present. The locals experience it regularly and you may even encounter it as a traveler. If you can’t accomplish travelling to Central Asia respectfully and ethically, please stay away and do not add to the corruption.
- CASH IS IMPORTANT: While you can use your card in many places, cash is always the easiest way to pay for things. ATMs are common enough in certain countries and you can almost always find a currency exchange if you arrive with cash.
- ALWAYS ASK PERMISSION BEFORE PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE: You will find out that most people in Central Asia love being photographed, especially outside of the cities, but just get permission prior. Don’t exploit people and places.
- YOU WILL BECOME A TEA ADDICT: Drinking tea is as much a part of their lives as waking up in the mornings. Called ‘chai’, you will inevitably be asked for tea multiple times a day if you’re staying with locals. There are also chaikhanas, or tea houses spread throughout the region and are a regular part of daily life.
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