Turkmenistan is a Central Asian country, landlocked except on the west. It occupies a vast geographical area, but the Karakum desert covers most of its land mass. Turkmenistan has tried its best to become a developed country, but it is still lagging behind. Only its major cities have been able to modernize. The capital city of Ashgabat lies close to the southern border.
The eastern part of the country shares a border with Uzbekistan. This region is sparsely populated. Further south, is the Mary Province. Afghanistan borders to the south of the Mary region. Also, this section of the country is a popular tourist destination since it once belonged to the ancient Silk Road. The historical Dashoguz province is in the north. A stunning coastline on the Caspian Sea characterizes the western region of the country.
Places to See in Turkmenistan
The important cities are Dasoguz, Turkmenbashi, Mary, and Balkanabat. Apart from these cities, there are many other tourist attractions like Awaza, Bagyr, and Nokhur. Nokhur is famous for its Zoroastrian culture. Also, the National Museum of Turkmenistan, Nissa, and Gaplangyr Nature Reserve are points of interest. Nissa is full of Parthian history, and a fascinating site to visit. In addition, Kow Ata, an underground sulfur lake, and Darvaza are other popular tourist destinations. Darvaza is an artificial flaming crater also known as the “doorway to hell.”
There are places, however, you definitely shouldn’t miss in Turkmenistan:
Old Nisa was the capital of the Parthian kings, who ruled the country for around 600 years. Now it is partially destroyed but listed on the UNESCO Heritage Sites. The fortress is an example of past glory of the Empire, which stretched as far as Syria and prevented the mighty Roman Empire from progressing to the East.
Ashgabat, the capital of the country, is situated on the southern rim of the desert Kara-Kum. You should visit to see the fabulous Palace of Turkmenbashi, constructed of white marble, visit numerous museums, and, of course, enjoy the view from a 75m-high Arch of Neutrality.
The mosque in the town of Anau is famous for its beautiful mosaic tiles and 8m-long dragons. Anau is a modern town 20km away from Ashgabat, situated on the site of the formerly destroyed in the 15th-century city.
The Chuli Valley is a popular mountain resort. You can arrange a stay there, enjoy splendid hiking and climbing opportunities. Or just take a ride to the valley and enjoy the picturesque gorge outside of the window.
The largest city in the northern part of the country, Dashgouz has most of its sites outside of the town but is still worth visiting. Those are the ruins of Konye-Urgench, an ancient fortress town, Kutlug Timur Minaret, one of the tallest in Asia, and the mausoleums of Sultan Tekesh, Turabeg Khanym, and Najm-ed-din Kubra.
Bakharden is situated 90km away from Ashgabat and is home to an underground lake, known as Kov Ata, which means “father of lakes”. It is filled by hot springs and constantly has a temperature of 37oC. Keep in mind, the entrance is not free. Also, there are no accommodations available.
Take a look at the famous Silk Road, a trading route used by silk merchants from the 2nd till the 14th century AD. The Tolkuchka Market in Ashgabat, the historical cities of Konye-Urgench and Merv and the Kugitang Nature Reserve with dinosaur footprints are the must-see places along the route. However, it is advised to take an organized tour from one of the travel agencies.
If you want to swim in the Caspian Sea, head to Turkmenbashi, one of the major terminals of the Trans-Caspian Railway. Enjoy the panoramic mountainside views, good beaches and swimming. Or visit the Museum of Regional History and Natural History, which will also be an interesting experience.
When to Go
The country has an extreme continental climate. Summer temperatures can get up to 46oC. In winter, it is the average of -5oC, although sometimes the temperatures went down to -22oC. In the desert, day temperature during the summer can get up to 50oC and then fall extremely down at night. So, the best time to visit is mid-season: spring or autumn, when it’s not too hot and not too cold.
What to Wear
Lightweight clothes are obligatory for summer days. However, take something warm for the night, especially if you plan to visit a desert. During winter, warm clothes and layers are your way to go. In autumn and spring, medium wear will be your choice.
Turkmen and Russian are two languages used by the locals. You need to know some basic Russian before you visit the country. Only the young masses have any knowledge of English, and most are not fluent. Thus, you might have a problem communicating in English.
The currency used here is the Turkmenistani Manat (TMM). One USD is equal to 3.50 TMM. The currency exchange is available at banks and major hotels. US Dollar is the easiest currency to exchange. Credit cards are generally not acceptable.
Town Bazaars are places where you can shop at reasonable prices. However, make sure to use all your TMM before you head back home because they cannot be exchanged back into USD.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile companies. However, the coverage is limited to the capital area. The state also strictly controls Internet access. All Internet cafes were closed by the authorities. And Wi-Fi connection is not widespread.
The predominant religion is Sunni Islam, although there is a small Orthodox Christian minority. There are some social conventions you should obey. Never lay lipioshka (special bread) upside down. When entering someone’s home, remove your shoes. Women should be careful about their outfit, not to offend local religious feelings and not to attract undesirable attention from the local men.
Turkmen food is similar to the rest of Central Asia. Local specialties include plov, shashlik, manty, shorpa, and ka’urma. There are Western restaurants available in the capital area. However, they don’t often have a wide choice of dishes. On the other hand, hotel food usually shows a strong influence of Russian cuisine.
Although being a Muslim country, Turkmenistan, as all former-Soviet states, is not strict about alcohol. Beer, wine, vodka and sparkling wine are easily accessible in restaurants. Green tea is the most popular non-alcoholic drink. Also, kefir, a drinking yogurt, is often served for breakfast.
Airways connect major cities throughout the country, plus they are cheap. The national airline is Turkmenistan Airlines.
The train network is extensive, but their slow pace can be annoying when traveling. On the other hand, trains are cheap and allow a great view of the country’s landscapes, while traveling. There are two trains running between Ashgabat and Turkmenbashi, a train to Turkmenabat, and one to Dashgouz. A train to Gushgi via Mary is temporarily declined, due to Gushgi’s border with Afghanistan.
The international Trans-Caspian Railway runs from Turkmenbashi in the West, via Ashgabat and Mary, to Chardzhou in the East, and further to Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
The main Turkmen road runs along the route of the Trans-Caspian Railway. Another one runs from Ashgabat to Tashauz and Kunya-Urgench, continuing further in Uzbekistan. This road crosses about 500km of the Kara-Kum desert.
Road conditions vary and can even be dangerous sometimes.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
You can find taxis and chauffeur-driven cars for hire in all major towns. Many taxis don’t have the license, so you need to be careful and negotiate the price beforehand.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road here.
Turkmenistan Trip Cost
Turkmenistan is the most expensive country in the Central Asia. Be ready to pay a minimum of US$30 for a standard double room in a hotel. A street food snack will cost US$1 – US$3. And a lunch or dinner in a good restaurant in Ashgabat will cost around US$20.
Electricity & Plug Type
Turkmenistan uses types C and F sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 220 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
There are no direct flights to Turkmenistan from the USA or the UK. Options available are via Istanbul by Turkish Airlines, via Frankfurt by Lufthansa, and via Moscow by S7 Airlines. With stopovers, it takes 17 hours to fly from New York to Ashgabat. From London, it takes 9 hours, including stopovers.
You can come from Uzbekistan using the Trans-Caspian Railway. But it’s probably not the easiest way to get to Turkmenistan.
Where to Stay
About 20 years ago, there was a shortage of hotels in Turkmenistan. However, the situation is improving. A number of luxury accommodations have been built in the recent years in the capital area. Of course, every provincial center has at least one hotel. But you should not expect high Western standards. Keep in mind, the hotel payment is required in US Dollars, not the local currency.
Bed and Breakfasts
A guest house is called “dom otdyha” in Turkmenistan. A big number of those were built on the shores of the Caspian Sea, though most of them during the Soviet period. Travelers may experience difficulties, trying to book accommodation there, so it is better to contact tour agency.
There are campsites available on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The facilities are not great at the moment, but they are improving.
How Safe is Turkmenistan
Crimes such as mugging, theft, and pickpocketing are quite rare. However, taking sensible precautions and being careful will never hurt. Keep your valuables out of sight and don’t walk around alone at night. Keep in mind, after midnight, the police can be extremely suspicious of people in the streets. This particularly relates to single women.
Medical facilities in the country are quite poor, so good medical insurance is highly recommended. It is also advised to have a well-equipped first aid kit with necessary medicine.
Before coming to Turkmenistan, you should have vaccinations against the following disease: diphtheria, hepatitis A, tetanus, and typhoid. Sometimes, vaccinations against malaria, rabies, encephalitis, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B are also advised.
All water you drink in Turkmenistan should potentially be seen as risky. Water used for drinking, brushing your teeth or making ice should be boiled, filtered or sterilized some other way. Pasteurized milk and dairy products made from it are safe for consumption. You should only eat well-cooked meat, fish, and vegetables. Fruit should be peeled.
August 22, 2016 12:00 am 1 Comment