I didn’t really know what I was expecting from visiting Kazakhstan. Well, I didn’t even know if and why it’s worth going there in the first place. I had a very vague idea of the huge country located in Central Asia, the one that used to be part of Soviet Union and where Polish citizens (among other nations) were deported to after the Second World War. It was more the neighbor small Kyrgyzstan that brought my attention, I even was supposed to go there last spring. But when I found a really decent multicity deal, flying to Almaty and back from Bishkek, I’ve quickly decided it’s time to visit Central Asia, the area I’ve been dreaming of for such a long time!
In the meantime there were more good deals to get there and couple of my friends were visiting Kazakhstan too. From them I learnt quite a lot about the country and especially places I wanted to include in my Kazakhstan itinerary. Still it was Kyrgyzstan that got me more excited and that I had big hopes for, Kazakhstan was supposed to be only kind of a transit country. My feelings have changed very quickly, I started loving Kazakhstan and its people from the very first moment and I was actually very sad when I was leaving for Bishkek couple of days ago. Of course I’m not even close to call myself some kind of expert, not after a week in such an enormous country and after visiting only its two main cities. But I can still share some of my observations with you! So, here are my impressions from visiting Kazakhstan!
People! Some of the friendliest and most helpful I’ve ever met! From the moment I arrived I felt really taken care of. When I got off the airport to the bus stop there were at least 3 people asking where I’m going and explaining how to get there (and so what I’ve already knew my way). When my bus has arrived one older man literally took my hand to drag me to it. Then, when buying the ticket the driver asked me where I’m going and when we approached my stop he made sure I know where to go. When leaving the metro station (through the entrance door as I had to take some money from the ATM) someone asked me for some directions but I just answered with my favorite sentence here “я только чуть-чуть говорю по-русски” (I speak very little Russian). At that time a young student was passing by, heard me not speaking Russian and immediately asked if I need any help. In every single shop, cafe, restaurant people were more than friendly. In the train they shared their food with me and made me feel super comfortable. Even when I kind of caused some small riots at the train station (I blocked one of 3 working ticket desks for over 3 hours) no one from the workers seemed to be mad at me, they were sincerely apologizing for wasting my time and for not being able to help me. So, if you ask me what was the best thing about Kazakhstan I’ll answer people, no doubt about that. I just really regret that my Russian is so poor (and so was the English of everyone I met) that all of my conversations were just a small talk. And I so would have loved to learn more about the country and life there!
I’m not much a car person (ok, I’m not at all a car person!), I have no idea about them, I don’t even have a driver’s license. But I could easily tell that the cars I could see on the streets of Astana and especially Almaty were really fancy ones, mostly 4×4. And the best thing – in 80% of cases the drivers have stopped to let me cross the street.
Almaty and Astana, two main Kazakh cities, couldn’t be any more different from each other. Almaty is this cozy place where you just feel good and it’s hard to say why: could be the majestic mountains at the footsteps of the city, could be a lot of green spaces or just the laid-back vibe. It just reminded me of Yerevan – the city where I have left a piece of my heart – so much. There’s just something about both cities that make me feel like it’s my kind of place. On the other hand Astana is overwhelming and with no soul at all. The modern architecture can be spectacular and not like you’d imagine Kazakhstan but there’s nothing behind that. I literally had no feelings for Astana, there was no connection between me and the city. I’m glad I went to see it, it was interesting and somehow intriguing but I have no reason to go back there, or even to think about the city. Almaty wins over Astana big time!
I was surprised how both Almaty and Astana had an European vibe. I definitely felt much more like in Europe than in Asia in Kazakhstan, and all the cool cafes (often with hipster clientele) in Almaty didn’t help here. Also everywhere around I could see the adjective “Eurasian”. There were Eurasian banks, restaurants, shops – just about everything. Looks like Kazakhstan tries really hard to be part of Europe even if geographically it’s definitely Asia!
I was also surprised how diverse people of Kazakhstan look, it was especially seen very clear in Almaty. I didn’t even think about that before arriving but probably uncounsciously I have expected the majority of people be more Asian, with slanting eyes. Well, the recent history of Kazakhstan is probably the answer here. The Soviet past has brought so many various nationalities to what now is Kazakhstan, not only Poles were deported there. That said, Kazakh girls are so very pretty! I was impressed!!
Traveling to Kazakhstan in November wasn’t my smartest idea ever as it felt like I’m the only tourist there (hence I couldn’t do any day trips from Almaty as I planned since they were simply canceled and it was pretty impossible to do it with public transport). But also it seemed like the tourism didn’t really get to Kazakhstan yet. Every single person asked me if I came there for business and was really surprised when I denied. Then all the questions about my motivation to visiting Kazakhstan came. Another shock was when they found out I’m traveling alone – the concept of solo female travels isn’t probably very well known in Kazakhstan. Literally everywhere – in the train, in the bus, in the cafe, in the hostel… – the question if I’m alone was asked. But now, when I think of this I know maybe less than 10 people who have visited Kazakhstan and only two of them were women traveling solo (Megan and Katie).
At first I was supposed to spend a week or less in Kazakhstan but I enjoyed the country much more than I expected and I was actually very sad to leave after 9 days (this could have been also because of the winter wonderland that was around on my last day). Of course I’m no expert here, after all I’ve been only to Almaty and Astana but at least I learnt about all the amazing places I still would love to see there: Charyn Canyon, Big Almaty Lake, Kaindy Lake, Turkiestan, Aralsk, Sajram… There are so many reasons for me to go back there that I’ll eagerly looking for another good chance (aka cheap flights) to visit Kazakhstan again. Just this time I’d do it in a better time of the year and with (hopefully) a better knowledge of Russian.
Is visiting Kazakhstan on your bucket list? How much do you know about the country? Do you travel off season too?
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