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Central Asia Overland

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I've searched the archives and there doesn't seem to be much on Turkmenistn or Uzbekistan. My husband and I are considering a Dragoman 14 day overland trip that takes in Ashgabat, Tashkent, Samarkand, a camel and Yurt safari etc. Has anyone here been to this part of the world or taken a Dragoman trip in Central Asia? We love your impressions of the area, what to expect, safety etc. Many thanks

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    Its about 9 years ago I had the misfortune to have to stay 2 weeks in one of the two western tourist hotels in Tashkent, along with 4 other colleagues. We all hated it. The hotel was full of cockroaches. The bathroom facilities for $100 a night were revolting and the food - oh yuk! Our Intourist hotel had one of only 3 or so restaurants that could be regarded as totally mediocre by western standards - and what a rip off. The soup was $14 to $20 for basically a broth. Main courses were same price. This was a fantastic place to go on a diet. Every night except the first, one got rung up at least three times - more like 5-6 times for "sex or massage?" as the hookers would gather in one room in the hotel and ring everyone up - I kid you not. My female colleague got the same attention. The TV had one channel locked on a satellite channel - and then after 2 days of MTV you would get 3 days of CNN (found out that regulars rang reception and changed channels for the whole hotel). In one way it was amusing - it has proved to be a good story telling stay, it really was the wild west out there, but I was so thankful of returning, I even did not mind watching Free Willy for the second time on the return leg on Uzbek Air (the idiots of course had Free Willy on out and return flights). I think it has all improved a lot in terms of hotels and hotel food- with management from the west coming over. So do not let me totally put you off if you do have the sensew of adventure - it seems like you do! But simply be prepared - lots of developing countries can be quite luxurious if you have the money. You could have been a millionaire in Uzbekistan when I was there and it would not have mattered one bit - it was crap whether you were poor or rich .

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    thanks for your sounds like my experience in an intourist hotel in Moscow in the 1980's. Everyone lost weight and after the first awful and memorable meal I think all I ate was a candy bar I happened to have in my coat pocket!
    However, I've heard things have improved a little in Tashkent! Samarkand and Bukhara are meant to be lovely...has anyone visited recently?

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    Yes it was the wonderful Intourist Hotel! A bargain at only $100 a night for total crap. But the modern hotel next door was being developed by the Taj group until they got sick of the delays and gave it back to the government - I was told that they then ordered so many hundred childrens beds as they decided to open at a certain time and could not get adult beds in time.
    Samarkand always looks stunning but my colleagues that went there said it was quite industrial and that the main picture you always get is pretty much it for the tourism. Our scheduled flight there went 30 minutes early and noone told us that foreigners had to go to the international airport to get a local flight (as the local terminal was so awful (think of the crappiest largish British train stations 20 years ago) that they do not want foreigners to see it even though everyone else gets on the flight from the domestic terminal.
    Locals also told me that Bukhara was nicer than Samarkand as was Khiva. But then on second thoughts they thought the food in Tashkent was good.

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    I was there in November last year, entered Uzbekistan from Fergana/Osh border checking, took a taxi to Tashkent, then a train to Samarkand, Bukhara in around 10 days, and then took a taxi from Bukhara to the border with Turkmenistan. Unless you go with a tour group, you can't get a tourist visa for Turkmenistan, which means the best you can get is a 5 day transit visa, if you already have a uzbek and iranian visa to prove that you won't be staying illegally in the country (why would you want?).
    At the border crossing, I was questioned by the border guard for my reasons for being in the country, and I had to give him the details of where I will be in the next 5 days, and I was told that I should get out of the country as soon as possible as I was only on a transit visa. I panicked so I picked a random hotel in my lonely planet guide, and that I will be in Ashgabat the day after and leave from there.
    I met some really nice people there, who took me in, and I ended up staying in a village near Mary for 3 days with a young turkmen girl. When I got to ashgabat all the 'cheap' hotels were full because it was independence day, so I had to pay 75 dollars for a mediocre hotel. Then the next day when I went to the Turkmen/Iranian border, I was detained and questioned for 7 hours by the Turkmen border guard without food or water, they couldnt' speak english very well, and kept on asking me why I had stayed for so long (even though I only stayed the 5 days) when upon entry I said I'd be leaving in 2 days. They went through everything in my luggage, went through all the photos in my camera, asked who i was staying with, their names, address, phone number, why i was in the country, what I do at home, over and over. I was finally let go after they couldn't find anything just before the border was closing.
    It was the worst travel experience of my life.

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    As the OP I was amused to see this thread revived after ten years! We did finally make it to Turkmenistan in 2007 and went through a travel agency which involved a car and guide. We didn't have any trouble because of this and I was interested in what we saw but it's a strange place and clearly a repressive government. One of the major tourist attractions is a burning crator from an industrial accident in the 1950's in the middle of the desert. the weekly market outside Ashgabat was fascinating and there were almost no tourists and people were very friendly.

    In Uzbekistan we met several independent travelers (including those driving across Central Asia by car ) like jean-y23 who had similar problems with the police. We very much enjoyed our trip and found Uzbekistan and their amazing historical site, Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara fascinating. However, IMO this is an area of the world to pay attention to their rules and to avoid staying in large US chain hotel (Intercontinental or Sheraton in Tashkent for example) which could be terrorist targets.

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