My journey through Uzbekistan has come to an end.
In this post I’d like to give you a little recap of the places I visited, what businesses I recommend and how I got through immigration control at Chernyaevka border crossing.
Pictures in this post are all from the capital city of Tashkent, on which I will not write a separate journal even though I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there.
A cute introduction to an amazing country
Two weeks ago I started my trip in the little town of Khiva, a place that I highly recommend, as it is a great introduction to the heritage and desert culture of Uzbekistan.
If you ever go there, I suggest you stay in the small yet super friendly Laliopa Guesthouse. It’s a simple, family run business right outside the main entrance gate to the old town. Breakfast is wonderful, and so are the owners who will do anything to make you feel at home. My stay here has, without a doubt, been one of the highlights of my trip through the country.
If you don’t mind spending some time in the car, I also recommend the desert tours (like the one offered by the hostel). They are cheap and take you into the open rural plains, definitely something different from the cities I visited afterwards. The ruins themselves aren’t at all that impressive, but the chance to spend a day in company of other travellers, and to wonder and clamber around the vast scenery, is honestly worth it.
The rest of my trip has seen the cities gradually increasing in size.
Dusty tourist bubble
Bukhara was my least favourite town and, despite what some guidebooks say, I don’t feel like you need more than one or two days here. The heritage is, however, stunning. So I don’t recommend you skip it all together, that would be a shame.
In Bukhara I recommend two basic restaurants: Minzifa and Sarroy, simply because I was very unlucky with the food there during the first half of my stay, and very happy to have found these two places in the second. Both have open air terraces on the roof top and are close to Lyabi Hauz. Portion sizes and service are definitely best at Minzifa. Views are better at Sarroy.
Sparkling town full of grandeur
Samarkand is again a fair bit bigger and, despite my high expectations, managed to blow me off my feet. It is a city that is very much alive, with plenty of things to do in it’s verious neighbourhoods. At the same time it’s really walkable and enjoyable to just be.
There are no businesses that really stood out for me here. I do recommend B&B Bahodir but ONLY if you plan to stay in a private room. The dorm facilities are honestly unacceptable for a booking listed company and of the worst I have seen anywhere in the world. That said, the private rooms have much better facilities, the hostel’s backpacker vibe is the best I’ve seen in Uzbekistan, the common area super comfortable and the staff extremely hospitable and friendly. On top of that, the location – right next to the Registan – can’t be beaten.
For food, any taxi driver will know Pivzavod “beer factory” and around here are many little restaurants that do bbq and draft beer. It’s nothing special, but a nice getaway for sure.
Other than that, I enjoyed the having a simple dish on the topchans of the restaurant opposite the tourist office in Tashkent street. Their rice soup and plov are decent and there is a house cat to pet while you wait for the food, which is always a bonus.
A surprisingly relaxed capital
Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, definitely surprised me in a good way. There are not a lot of things to do here, and in half a day you can easily stroll passed the main sights (like the bazar and the government squares and monuments). The metro is a very convenient way to get around, however, traffic is far less hectic as I imagined and with it’s many parks, Taskhent is actually rather pleasant to just walk.
In this city, I recommend the Art Hostel since it is the most modern hostel I’ve seen in Uzbekistan. Service is perfect, beds extremely comfortable and staff super kind. There is a small swimming pool too, although I’ve not seen anybody use it.
For food, we stumbled upon a place called Plov-Somsa.uz. It’s a large restaurant with a small menu, and as the name suggest it’s all centred around Uzbek classics. The tables are set at the back of the building next to a green park that usually has at least 3 weddings taking pictures, and the Somsa’s were some of the best I had in the whole country. Toilets were exceptionally clean and prices are extremely reasonable.
I was told there are only three statues of Amir Temur in the world, all of them in Uzbekistan. Here is my little collection: the seated one in Samarkand, the walking one in Shahrisabz and the one on horseback in Tashkent:
In summary, I have absolutely LOVED my stay in Uzbekistan.
Since I focussed on the cultural heritage, I can’t say much about the country side. However the architecture and splendour surely deliver, and besides that, Uzbek people have proven to be extremely hospitable, warm and helpful.
There is, without a doubt, a huge language barrier in this country: almost nobody speaks any English at all. If you plan to get of the beaten path or have deep conversations with locals, it is absolutely necessary to learn Russian. If not, however, one should not forget that the kindness of the people will almost always surprise you. If you do get lost or stuck on the language, sooner or later someone will pop up to help. After all the countries I’ve been, and not in the least after Uzbekistan, I am convinced that no one should skip a country or feel intimidated because they do not speak the language. There is always a way, and there are always kind people.
The infamous Uzbek immigration
As for border formalities, there is a lot written about the strict and severe controls by the immigration police of Uzbekistan. Having read a lot of websites and stories while planning this trip, I was prepared to unload all of my luggage, have people sort through every singly one of my pictures, get memory cards wiped, being body checked, questioned at length about my hotel registration slips and whereabouts, waiting in line for hours and hours,… As I had read that especially solo travellers who carry a lot of cash (needed for Iran) are regularly asked to undress in a little booth to prove they are not hiding anything – I, polite as I am, I shaved my legs and washed myself with extra soap to be all shiny for the immigration police. I need to represent my country in a good way, don’t I? Hahaha. I had even started to ponder on how I would explain in a non-messy way that “no, I am not hiding any drugs up there, I am just on my period” in Russian.
But in the end, I did all that for nothing.
Just as my entry through Urgench airport went super smooth, exiting the country was a breeze. I left my hostel in Tashkent at 9:30 in the morning and found myself on the other side of the border, sitting in a filled Marshrutka bound for Shyment at 11:00.
Uzbek police didn’t ask me any questions other than what cities I’d visited. They spent less than a minute examining my declaration documents and didn’t even ask about the registrations. My bag went through the scanner, and that was that. Not one pocket had to be opened. The lady wished me happy travels, and happy indeed I walked over to her Kazakh colleagues.
They spend a little more time aimlessly flipping through my passports pages but then, as well, put their stamps down without further hesitation. After trading as little Kazakh Tenge as necessary in those dodgy exchange booths in border-land, I soon found myself enjoying the wide, waving landscape of a new and clearly distinct country. No messed up backpack, no grand stories to tell.
Yet I ain’t mad.