It seems like only yesterday that I embarked on my virgin trip to Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Yet, looking back on the dates of my backlog of unedited travel photos has served as a stark reminder of how much time has passed since my first (yes, first!) backpacking trip and the quagmire of work and distractions got in the way.
But as they say, better late than never. So I’m back to revisit old memories and hopefully, shed some light on this unexplored part of the world!
But first things first… where is Uzbekistan?!
A Central Asian nation and former Soviet Republic, Uzbekistan is historically significant for her strategic position along the Silk Road, an ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. It occupies a landlocked, mountainous terrain surrounded by Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Tips and Rules for Travelling to Uzbekistan
While notoriously tricky to travel to in the past, Uzbekistan has since started opening up to foreign tourists under her new presidency. With that said, there are a few things to bear in ind about travelling to Uzbekistan:
Travelling by air
If you intend to stay within Uzbekistan for the duration of your trip, Uzbekistan Airways operates direct flights from Singapore to Tashkent, and vice versa. Score!
City hopping is commonplace for travellers in Uzbekistan, with major stops including Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, and the capital city of Tashkent.
We opted to take a connecting flight to Khiva and make our way back to Tashkent via Bukhara and Samarkand over our one-week trip.
The route from Khiva to Bukhara is the longest, spanning almost six hours by car which you can hire through your hostel or hotel.
The commute via train to the last two stops on our list is less gruelling, and you can book your train tickets on the Uzbekistan Railways website. And yes, there are immigration and luggage checks at each inter-city train station. You’ll also need to print your train tickets to hand over to the conductor to board your train. Every train leaves on the dot, so don’t be late!
While Uzbekistan’s official currency is the Uzbek so’m, some major hotels and tourist establishments also accept US dollars.
As most travel blogs reported ATMs being few in number and inoperable at times, it’s best to change enough money at the tourist centre in the airport, the easiest being US currency. You will be handed a slip declaring how much currency was exchanged, which is mandatory if you want to convert your remaining s’om at the airport. Which brings me to my next point…
Budgeting for Your Trip
Having travelled extensively in urbanised cities like Tokyo and Shanghai, Uzbekistan came across as ridiculously affordable. In fact, you would be hard pressed to spend more than US $70 per day on food and shopping. Hostel accommodations come up to about US $20 per day.
One thing we noticed is that certain attractions are priced differently for locals and foreigners – almost two times difference, a common grouse among fellow tourists. Additionally, taxes are imposed on visitors carrying semi-professional photo or video equipment. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to pay the price or not.
Over 200 narcotic substances are prohibited for circulation in Uzbekistan, the complete list of which can be found here.
Accounts differ greatly on the extent to which the immigration officers at Tashkent International Airport check through medications in your luggage. Some described lengthy explanations at the immigration counter, while others slipped by with nary a check on their luggages.
Personally, we did not encounter such checks. Nevertheless, always be prepared with your medication in its original packaging, accompanied by a signed letter from your doctor or pharmacist. Cross check the list of ingredients against the prohibited list and see if you can source alternatives. You can always keep that extra slip of paper in your pocket, but you can’t ring up your home clinic when you run into trouble at the airport!
For reference, I brought the following prescriptions on my trip: Diane-35 (for my ongoing PCOS treatment) and Symbicort (for my asthma).
With ample preparation, Uzbekistan can be a promising destination for travellers looking out for a different experience. Got any more tips for travelling to Uzbekistan? Share them in the comments below!
(Accurate as of August 2019.)