Phrasebook for Kyrgyzstan

Feb 12th, 2009, 05:50 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,778

> I do however, like to have something ready upon arrival - we're pushing 60 and don't like nor need to be put out if we can help it - for example, upon arrival after what is always a grueling international flight, transportation awaiting to take us to a hotel already booked.

I'm not sure about current services, but flights to Almaty arrived at appallingly early hours of the morning both times I flew in there, and haggling with taxis was something I would happily have skipped, although I ended up visiting the airport several times and survived.

> Backpacker lodging won't work unless there is nothing else available.

If you read again you'll see that the point being made is that there's plenty of reasonably priced locally-run accommodation, *even right down to* at backpacker level. I once rented an apartment in Almaty through Internet contacts, one rented an apartment in Bishkek via an agency, and all the other times just walked up to locally-run hotels and was never turned away.

I've crossed overland solo twice from Almaty to Urumqi, once in the other direction, and once over the Torugart pass from Kashgar to Bishkek, but that is tricky, and I believe it is now impossible to do it anyway other than with an organised meeting using (horribly overpriced) agencies on the Chinese side, and another on the Kyrgyz side. The Irkeshtam crossing can be done independently involving buses, but also hitch-hiking and walking, so you probably won't want to tackle that.

The on-going Hanification of Kashgar has made it less attractive, but there's plenty in the town and in the lands around it to see, and you could always consider taking the train from Kashgar and stopping at Aksu or (better) Kuqa (a remarkable set of cave temples) or Turpan (plenty to see there), and then going on to Urumqi and returning by train to Almaty. This depends on your visa situation and the time you have, of course. The Chinese border guards are no problem, but the Kazakhs are thieves, and unless there have been recent radical changes, even if your paperwork is in order they will try to demonstrate there's a problem, and demand an on-the-spot fine. They are, however, paper tigers, and you just need to stand up to them so that they go and find another easier victim (usually some miserable Chinese trader whose government won't stand up for him).

Peter N-H

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Feb 13th, 2009, 09:59 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 492
After looking at your photos, thursdaysd and wasleys, I wish I could go tomorrow. Kashgar still beckons because not only are the photos intriguing but PeterN_H confirms there is still a lot to see there. The Awat market or others in the area would be right up my alley as well. I'll just have to find a way to get there. We probably won't have enough time to just keep going and fly home from some destination in China, continuing on the Karakoram Hwy....maybe next time. Right now we're looking at a little over three weeks - maybe stretch it to one month. BTW, "China Road" by Rob Gifford is an interesting account of his travel along the Karakoram through China.

PeterN_H, your wealth of information (an overused but appropriate phrase) is a great help. Arrivals in Almaty sounds a bit like arrivals in Delhi (maybe not quite as frantic)- I bet Bishkek is the same. We haven't decided which to fly into or out of yet - that will depend on the itinerary we finally decide on - but I know already prearranged plans for arrivals will be made.

I'll compare costs for transportation but a car and driver for some part of the trip might be worth it to us. We can hire those locally ourselves but I'll ask a local travel agency (like Celestial Mtn) for a quote too. Sharing rides and busses are possibilities. We've walked across borders before, but only by being dropped off on one side with transportation waiting on the other. I'll also prepare myself for sudden changes in border crossing regulations, closures, political and social traumas - I think we'll have to be very flexilble.

Can anyone tell me which pass is the most beautiful or culturally rewarding? Torugart (expensive) or Irkeshtam (less expensive)?

PeterN_H, thank you for the bribery heads-up. But we've paid those before too and I'd be shocked if we'd get out of this adventure without paying a few more. It's good to know where to expect them though and when to dig in your heels. Rahmat.

jahlie is offline  
Feb 14th, 2009, 09:18 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,778
>PeterN_H, thank you for the bribery heads-up. But we've paid those before too and I'd be shocked if we'd get out of this adventure without paying a few more. It's good to know where to expect them though and when to dig in your heels. Rahmat.

Pay no bribes!

The standard conversation for anyone holding the passport of a developed nation and whose paperwork is otherwise in order (being sure this is the case takes time, but is worth taking time over--make sure you are in possession of no tenge as you leave Kazakhstan) goes like this:

Customs officer, looking at your paperwork: Ah. Probleme! You must pay fine. US$25.

You: I'm not paying any fine.

Officer: You pay fine or we arrest you and take you off the train.

You: OK, let's go.

Officer: You don't understand. Either you pay the fine or we arrest you and take you off the train.

You (Reaching for suitcase): OK let's go.

At which point the officer gives up and goes to look for an easier mark.

Don't be threatened. Arresting you means reporting to a senior officer, and requires a report to your embassy. If there's nothing wrong with your paperwork, just face them down.

The key issue is the wretched deklaratsy on which, when arriving, you declare all your cash in detail. You must keep the copy to show to the customs officials when you leave, at which point you fill in an identical form with the state of your current cash in hand. Where the figures for hard currencies are now lower, you must show a receipt for each exchange, and the figures must balance. But if change at a booth on the street (as you should--rates are much better) then you won't have a receipt. So either fail to declare quite all your hard currency on the way in, change at the banks and get receipts, use a credit card wherever possible, or otherwise fiddle the books (but they may well search your luggage hoping to find hidden cash on the way out, so don't try that one). The problem seems mainly to be on the trains into and out of China, but I've crossed three times without yet paying anything. Paying something not only loses you money and encourages further corruption, but makes life more difficult for those who follow.

On the trains the officers love to get you to hand over your money so they can count it to check. Never do that, but simply count it in front of them. Actually let it get into their hands and there's no chance that all of it will come back. Get rid of all your tenge before leaving as export is illegal, and if you are found with any they'll take that instantly and want US$25 (or whatever) on top.

I hasten to add that this information is a few years old, and there's always a possibility that currency regulations have changed, and some rule of law brought to border operations. But I doubt it.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Feb 14th, 2009, 10:05 AM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,907
What amazing info! I just love reading about these destinations! Many thanks for the tutorial, Peter.

ekscrunchy is offline  
Feb 14th, 2009, 10:32 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,622
Loved the bribery dialogue! I've only paid a bribe once, on the Ukraine-Transnistria border, where I figured it counted as an informal visa. Transnistria is only recognized by Russia, so you can't buy a formal visa.

Interested to read about the declaratsia - Russia had just dropped the requirement (unless you had more than $3,000) when I went through. Do all the 'stans require one?
thursdaysd is offline  
Feb 18th, 2009, 01:01 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 492
I bet that even if the currency regulations have changed, I should be prepared for the process to be the same. Peter N-H, you have probably just saved us some money AND grief. Now, that's the kind of thing I usually don't read in guide books - maybe I'm reading the wrong ones. Whatever the case, this discussion has helped far more than any hotel or restaurant recommendation.

You mention the deklaratsy is mainly on trains in and out of China/Kazakhstan. Do you know if that is a problem at airports between stans? Road border crossings between stans? Are the Kazakhstan borders(regardless of which country you're crossing into) the most problematic?

If the moral of the story is know what paperwork you need, keep it in order, don't hide currency, make sure it all adds up, and don't be intimidated. I'm more confident already.
jahlie is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2010, 02:22 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,622
jahlie - I'm starting (again!) to plan for Central Asia. Did you get there this year?
thursdaysd is offline  
Feb 19th, 2010, 04:17 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 492
NO, darn it. It's all very complicated but things happen and we have to postpone our trip yet another time. I'll keep following the discussion because we will go someday. You plan on a trip report, don't you?
jahlie is offline  
Feb 19th, 2010, 04:33 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,622
Sorry to read that. I'm hoping to make it late this summer. There will at least be blog entries, it not a TR here as well. I'll probably blog the planning, too. ( )
thursdaysd is offline  

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