Advice for Almaty, Kazakhstan (and Central Asia in general)

My wife and I are heading off in a bit over a month to spend the next several months in Almaty, Kazakhstan (she’ll be working, I’m getting some unpaid leave from work to finish off some uni subjects while there)

Anyone here have any tips, suggestions or useful info on living and/or travelling in the area? Will mostly be in Almaty, but hopefully should be able to get a few long weekends or a week of travelling here and there where possible. We’re also hoping to get some time at the end to do a bit of travelling around the region, so any advice for central asia in general would be much appreciated too.

We’ve been taking some Russian lessons, and while not being particularly great at the moment, we’re hoping that we can build on our beginners-level with some hard work and lots of practice while over there.

Get the book Mailman by J. Robert Lennon, in the book the character goes to Kazakhstan, for some of the book. It’s a very funny book, weird ending but a very funny book.

This is from my brother who has been working in Kazakhstan for about a
year and a half now. I’ll add a bit from myself a lil later.

Thanks, probably won’t get time to check it out before we go across (got enough books to work through right now as is :)) - but will definitely keep it in mind for checking out down the track.

Wow, thanks for all that Caveat (and thanks to your brother too!)

Thanks, will definitely want to try checking out some smaller towns/cities nearby. Any in particular that would be worth giving a look on a weekend and not too far from Almaty?
We’ve booked in for a long weekend in Astana, thought we’d give it a bit of a look. Heard the same sort of stuff about its fakeness etc, but figure it should be interesting anyway

My wife’s currently reading that one (Apples are from Kazakhstan) now - seems to be really enjoying it, I might give it a look after she’s done with it. Haven’t read the Great Game, though might have to look into it. Jjust finished reading ‘A Ride to Khiva’ by Frederick Burnaby, a travelogue of his trip through central asia during the great game period which I really liked, so might be good to read more on the period.

Martha Brill Olcott would be the name you’re after. I picked up a copy of her ‘The Kazakhs’ last year when the prospect of going there came up. Very interesting, but yeah it was really heavy reading.

Saw Nomad, lots of beautiful shots of the Steppe. Heard of Tulpan, but not had a chance to see it yet.

Thanks, we picked up a little central asian phrasebook, so I’ll try to at least remember some of the main phrases & greetings.

Anything in particular worth avoiding? :slight_smile: (though will probably have to give everything a try at least once I suppose). Uighur food sounds good, I’d eaten it once in Sydney, wouldn’t mind checking out some more. Not tried Dungan though.

That’s good to know, thanks. Though I’m blaming you if I show up at someone’s house and they ask “What the hell are you doing here?” :stuck_out_tongue:

Will try to get over there at some point when the weather turns nicer. Would like to see that region too.

Thanks a lot!

I visited my brother for about two weeks so here is some from me.

I spent most my my time in Taraz. It was pretty nice. The majority of the time I was visiting people so I didn’t see too much touristy stuff. There is an okay museum in Taraz and a pretty good Bazaar there. (They charge more if they know your foreign because we are all very rich. :wink: ) I’m sure there are more things as well, but I spent most of my time gosting and such.

The cheapest way to stay overnight is to rent a temporary apartment. Yes, you can get one for a few nights. There are agencies that rent them. I don’t know where they’d be though. My brother found those.

In some cities there are official cabs, but elsewhere there are only gypsy cabs. These tend to be anyone one that stops when you stick out your arm. They seem to be pretty safe. You can get them within the city and between towns. If you fly in to Almaty you will have no trouble getting one from the airport (if needed). In fact the hard part is not knocking over drivers as you push your way though the crowd outside the gates. This seems pretty accurate with my experiences. Though I was never asked about the women.

The trains were actully pretty good. I travled platzkart (not my photo) which is the cheapest way (I think). Basically it was a train car full of bunks. If you travel on the train bring food and water. People will share theirs with you, but you are expected to share back. Also, getting a top bunk is good because I have been told he people may sit on you if you are on a bottom bunk.

The majority of the people we met seemed very friendly and seemed happy to meet foreigners. America seems to be viewed positively and the one time they thought I was British they seemed happy about that too. Though if your white they’ll likely think your Russian until you open your mouth.

I’ll second learning some Kazak. It really does impress them.

You must also have Kumis. This is fermented mare’s milk. It is somewhat sour. There is another food (I think called Kurt though it could be something different) and it often looks like a pastry, but it actually takes like Parmesan cheese x 1000. This can be somewhat of a shock.

They also seem to have a thing for dill. Lots of dill.

Overall it seemed to be a nice place with nice people.

Hi. I am originally from Almaty though I have lived in the U.S. for the last ten years so some of my info may be dated.

First, suggestions for travel while in the region. I would recommend visiting Semipalatinsk (or Semey as it is called in Kazakh). It is one of the few cities in Kazakhstan that have some tangible history (as Kazakhs were mostly nomads until the October revolution, there is not much in terms of historic architecture). It is also in the North of the country, which is significantly different from the South where you would be. Another place to visit is Pavlodar and the surrounding area. Near Pavlodar is a mountain range with numerous lakes called Kokshetau (means ‘blue mountains’ in Kazakh). The land is full of legends, beautiful sites and decent hiking trails. Of course, you would be a little off the typical Western tourist areas, so expect some limited accommodations. There are tourist agencies in Almaty that specialize in internal tourism. Turkestan is the site of the mausoleum of Khodzha Ahmet Yassawi and is a an example of Muslim architecture in Kazakhstan.

Second, learn as much Russian and Kazakh as you can. I don’t know where you are in the U.S., but in D.C. you can get some language courses from native speakers.

Food. What has been said is true - lots of meat, lots of dairy products that are different from the West. I cannot say which foods to avoid as I grew up eating it and don’t find it weird. However, many of my Western acquaintances in Kazakhstan did not like Kazakh kuurdak (meat from internal organs and potatoes dish), as well as Uigur tatti manty (steam dumplings filled with tail fat and raisins).

Good luck and enjoy your stay in Kazakhstan.

Thanks Sapar (and Caveat Lector again) I’ll note down the places you mention for whenever we’re looking at doing some internal travel (though not sure how much we’ll be able to do).

I’m in the UK at the moment (Australian originally, moved over in 2008), but we’ve managed to get some lessons with a native speaker. Been very busy with work so we haven’t been to as many as we’d have liked, but at least there’s some groundwork there.

I’ll definitely try to give the foods mentioned above a try (even if some are an acquired taste).

One rather important question I forgot to ask though that I should have asked right away: is there much fish or seafood in the cuisine around there? And if there is, will it be easy to avoid if I’m able to say that I have an allergy to fish? I have a really bad seafood allergy (outrageously allergic to fish, and most shellfish i’ll have a mild reaction to - prawn and lobster are pretty much the only ones that are safe).

Are there any sneaky dishes that might have some fish in them that I wouldn’t otherwise expect to ask about? I gather that a few Russian dishes are like this (a russian we visited once made us some sort of harmless looking ‘salad’ dish in which the bottom of the tray was entirely lined with herring! luckily we’d asked what was in it.)