Published: 11/18/19 November 18th, 2019
Kazakhstan is really a country I’ve always aspired to visit. Actually, I’ve always aspired to visit all of the “Stans”. It’s the location around the globe I most likely be interested in probably the most. After getting resided in Kazakhstan for 8 years, Doug Fears knows a factor or more concerning the country and the way to navigate it. Within this guest publish, Doug offers some in-depth advice on how to travel around Kazakhstan by train!
Night spilled over the Kazakh steppe. The train’s steel wheels clickety-clacked below, lightly prompting me to suggest toward a bowl of plastic-wrapped apples. All of a sudden, my drunk dining vehicle companion started gesticulating extremely while repeating his favorite, and possibly only, British-language phrase, “No problem!” Having a shake from the mind and wave from the hands, this newly found friend appeared to dismiss other apples as second-rate. Apples originated in Kazakhstan, in the end, so we had just departed the town of Almaty, “the father of apples.” I merely needed to try one. (It had been scrumptious.)
Using the train through Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, presents a altering cultural tapestry each time. Make a vast land, once secretive and closed to outsiders, where travelers are now able to receive an eclectic mixture of Silk Road culture, offbeat Soviet-era history, and wide-open spaces spiced with warm Kazakh hospitality.
I’ve shared cabins with youthful soldiers, border police, language professors and mma fighters, simply to name a couple of. My personal favorite recollections would be the meals and games enjoyed using these folks, even if I did not possess a common language.
So forget everything concerning the movie Borat, and climb aboard while you browse ancient bazaars, ride the rails, and trek to pristine mountain ponds.
Planning Your Route
We highly recommend the following itinerary: flying in to the capital, Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) (airport terminal code TSE), heading north to nearby Lake Burabay, going for a fast train back south to Karaganda, then a weekend classic train to Almaty within the southeast, having a possible extension to Turkistan (a town and region within the south of the nation).
If you wish to carry on in Central Asia, it is simple to extend your vacation from Almaty to determine the attractive mountain vistas of nearby Kyrgyzstan or continue by train from Turkistan south to Uzbekistan.
The optimum time to visit is between May and October, as northern Kazakhstan is covered in snow from November through April, with typical temps within the minus-20 range. Individuals attempting to snow ski or feel the excitement of recent Year’s, the country’s greatest holiday, however, should think about a wintertime trip.
Visas aren’t required for most people to Kazakhstan (for thirty days) and Kyrgyzstan (for two months), though advance visas are needed for Uzbekistan, Russia, and China.
Buying Train Tickets
You will find three kinds of trains: the short business-class Talgo, regular lengthy-distance trains, and regional electrics. Budget travelers should go for regular trains for many journeys. Regional electrics are usually slow and will also be of limited use.
On regular trains — highly suggested to find the best cultural experience — the 2 primary courses are kupe (a four-person closed compartment with two lower and upper bunks) and platzkar (a wide open moving dormitory holding 54 travelers on two-level bunks). The kupe is quieter and much more private, but single women may want to pick the somewhat safer open platzkar, as they may be inside a locked cabin with three men (no gender distinctions are created when creating reservations). Also understand that not every trains run daily.
The brand new Kazakhstan e-ticket website is difficult to make use of: while there’s an British menu, it takes you to definitely enter destination metropolitan areas utilizing a Russian keyboard! Some foreign bankcards won’t work with payment, as well as effective ticket purchases are frequently blocked by junk e-mail filters. However, there’s a choice to talk online by having an British-language consultant who will help you find and buy tickets.
My suggestion is by using this website like a mention of the find train timetables and also to purchase lengthy-distance train tickets that are more inclined to be offered out. You should use the useful site Real Russia for worldwide train ticket purchases (specifically for traveling from Moscow to Central Asia).
Then visit a stop or train ticket office within the city, as some have kiosk machines that you could try. An alternative choice would be to write your destination and date on certificates and offer it to some ticket agent in a station or train office for help.
After you have your ticket, the most crucial items to know would be the time and date of departure, and wagon number. Look into the published signs within the station to locate which platform number your train is on and walk toward that wagon — the conductor will look at your ID and ticket which help you board.
Traveling by train is a lot safer and enjoyable compared to bus, as well as an incredible value for that lengthy distances traveled. A typical overnight train ticket from Karaganda to Almaty is going to be about $9 USD for platzkar and $14 for kupe. In comparison, the company-class Talgo on a single route costs $25 inside a four-berth kupe, however it does reduce travel time by six hrs (and it has considerably cleaner bathrooms!). An evening train provides double value, becoming both bed and transport they’re cooler and much more comfortable within the summer time travel season too!
Local city buses are cheap, about $.20 per ride, no matter distance.
Rooms in hotels within the city centers of Nur-Sultan and Almaty vary from $30 to $50 every night with breakfast. Full apartments ($25/night) or shared guest rooms ($10/night) could be booked on Airbnb.
Meals are also affordable. I would recommend locating a hotel with breakfast incorporated on booking.com, eating picnic-style meals around the train, and having a streetside café for other meals (grilled shashlik skewers, bread, salad, and drink for around $4), though should you can’t peel it or prepare it, it’s better to no way. And make certain to test the neighborhood apples!
Essential Kazakhstan Travel Hacks
- Do reserve a maximum bunk if you want relaxing onboard (lower bunks are shared throughout the daytime and employed for communal meals), but you have to be reasonably fit to climb the small-ladder.
- Do bring an appropriate change of garments to put on onboard (track suit, shorts, and T-shirt). It’s perfectly normal to inquire about others to step outdoors when you change.
- Do bring extra food to talk about (tea/coffee, instant noodles, sausage, cucumbers, bread, biscuits, apples, sweets). Note: there’s always a steaming samovar of warm water in every vehicle to make tea or noodles.
- Do pack a little train package (mug, fork/spoon/knife, toilet tissue, plate, wet wipes, plastic sandals, collapsible hands fan, pack of cards, canned water).
- Do bring your street footwear off when entering a train compartment.
- Do plan your bathrooms visits, because the toilets are locked about fifteen minutes pre and post station stops (browse the timetable published in every wagon).
- Do try taking some small gifts out of your home country (magnets, key rings) to talk about.
- Don’t buy unsold seats from touts lurking around stations — I’ve been stuck discussing a four-berth kupe with six people along with a giant-screen TV!
- Don’t get scolded for laying on the bare bed mattress, but don’t pay extra for sheets and towels in kupe class. They are incorporated within the kupe ticket fare, but beware you might be awakened very early through the conductor collecting them on overnight trains!
- Never be bullied by transport police or immigration officials at borders — show your passport and ticket and absolutely nothing more.
- Don’t miss your stop, get stranded around the platform buying frozen treats, or, most importantly, have to jump off a moving train!
Best Kazakhstan Train Routes
Due to the challenges using the ticketing website, I’ve listed probably the most useful train routes to get around. Observe that many of these run daily.
While northbound trains from Nur-Sultan visit Borovoye/Shchuchinsk, it may be simpler to consider a shared van or minibus for that short 2.5-hour trip. Just listen or request “Borovoye” in the Nur-Sultan-1 stop, where vans wait to fill and then leave during the day. That you can do exactly the same if heading directly south from Nur-Sultan to Karaganda, like a new tollway has opened up, cutting the travel time between both of these major metropolitan areas to 2 hrs, although all Nur-Sultan-to-Almaty trains also hold on there. Observe that both Nur-Sultan and Almaty have two train stations around the town — make certain you want to the correct one!
Train #031 from Almaty to Semey within the northeast traces the historic “TurkSib” route — came from here you are able to mind east look around the Altay Mountain tops or continue north into Russia for connecting using the legendary Trans-Siberian route.
Note: +1 means “arriving the next day” p = persons
Things to See On the way
The main metropolitan areas of Nur-Sultan, Karaganda, and Almaty are around the primary rail line making both good stopovers and bases for going through the surrounding natural and historic sites. Other off-the-beaten-track locations, like the Baykonur rocket base and Altay Mountain tops, require special permission and advance planning. Here’s an introduction to the main destinations:
- Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana) – among the world’s youngest capital metropolitan areas, a advanced Tomorrowland-esqe mixture of gleaming structures, shopping malls, and sculpted monuments.
- Lake Burabay (formerly Borovoye) – a scenic, forested lake resort just 2.5 hrs north of Nur-Sultan, featuring an array of accommodations and attractions.
- Karaganda – Kazakhstan’s “third city,” using its leafy wide boulevards, is a great base for exploring Soviet-era history, specially the museum of political repression at nearby Dolinka, among the largest labor camps within the Gulag system.
- Almaty – Central Asia’s most cosmopolitan city. The stunning backdrop from the Tien Shan Mountain tops frames this busy business center, an excellent base to make day journeys towards the nearby mountain tops, the skate/ski center at Medeu/Chimbulak, and also the red rock Charyn Gorge.
- Turkistan – Kazakhstan’s holiest site, and also the country’s best spot to determine Silk Road architecture and tile work.
- Baykonur Cosmodrome – the world’s most active launch site for manned space missions. Rocket enthusiasts will have to book well ahead of time by having an agency like Nomadic Travel Kazakhstan to visit a launch.
- The Far Northeast – Rich the beaten path, Semey, Ust-Kamenogorsk, and also the pristine Altay Mountain tops have been in an attractive region well worth the extra effort to determine. Going to the sensitive border zone or former Polygon nuclear test site will need special permits and advance planning.
Growing up from the Cold War era, From the hiding under my desk during drills towards the seem of air-raid sirens, once we resided in genuine anxiety about nuclear war. Irrrve never imagined I’d go to the big blank spots into the spotlight labeled “USSR,” particularly the Siberian steppe and Central Asia.
Nowadays, with internet communication and open borders, an incredible chance awaits to wander across these once-forbidden zones, discussing goodwill and learning something too.
And something final tip: make certain to purchase apples before you decide to board the train! Though I only visited the train’s dining vehicle once, Used to do buy the pack of shiny apples your evening, eating things i figured would be a truelocal delicacy. The following morning when unpacking, though, one lazily folded over the table, revealing an unexpected sticker studying “Product of USA”!
Douglas Fears has always loved everything about trains, motorboats, and maps. After managing a marathon on every continent and dealing like a computer consultant for 25 years, he gone to live in Kazakhstan and spent 8 years employed in education and administration. He presently endures the Black Ocean and spends his time studying, mentoring youthful people, helping his wife educate British and writing funny travel tales for his blog Rails, Whales and Tales.
Book Your Vacation: Logistical Tips and Methods
Book Your Flight
Look for a cheap flight by utilizing Skyscanner or Momondo. They’re my two favorite search engines like google simply because they search websites and airlines around the world, which means you always know nothing has been left unturned.
Book The Resort
You are able to book your hostel with Hostelworld because they possess the largest inventory. If you wish to stay somewhere apart from a hostel, use Booking.com, because it consistently returns the least expensive rates for guesthouses and economical hotels. I personally use both of them constantly.
Don’t Forget Travel Cover
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