7 Reasons to Visit Central Asia aka The Land of the Stans
Updated: Feb 27
Whenever I post photos about my Central Asia's travel, the first question I always get is, where is this place? Does it even exist? I can't blame them for this region remain 1 of the less traveled places in the world.
The majestic Poi-Kalon Mosque of Burkhara, Uzbekistan
Central Asia? Mana tu?
As its name implies, Central Asia is a region that stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China on the east, bordering Afghanistan and Iran in the South and connected to Russia in the North. Due to its strategic location, it had melting pots for various civilizations for centuries. This region fits the tag of East meeting West.
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (pronoun as ke-gi-stan) aka The 5 Stans were located in Central Asia. These 5 countries are part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in the 1990s.From the high rise Tian Shan Mountain to the dried out Caspian Sea and from desert to snowcap mountain, this region has many to offer.
BUT I AM WRONG THE MOMENT I FIRST STEP INTO HERE. This ancient land is full of history and unique culture where you can’t find it anywhere else in the world. Here, I would share 7 reasons why Central Asia should be inside your bucket list. #bucketlist #travel
1. Experience the Ancient Silk Road
Silk Road was a network of trade routes that connect East to the West in ancient time. It was central to cultural, religious and economic interaction from the 2nd century to the 18th century.
To follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost. It flows through the heart of Asia, but it has officially vanished leaving behind the pattern of its restlessness: counterfeit boarders, unmapped peoples. The road forks and wanders wherever you are. It is not a single way, but many: a web of choices. - Colin Thubron
When I first step my leg into the ancient city of Khiva in Uzbekistan, it feels like I had ridden on a time machine and travelled hundreds of years back to experience how it looks like in ancient silk year. Here, you can witness the bazaar as it is it during the gloriest period of the silk road, see the local caravans travel by horse or experience staying in one of yurts.
If adventure is in your genes, Central Asia will be your favourite playground. From viewing sunset at Charyn Canyon to the sunken lake of Kaindy to beautiful pasture of Song Kul, Central Asia has it all to fulfil your adrenaline rush. Join the locals in horse riding or camp in the vast steppe.
If I need to choose what makes this region very attractive, I would say, it is its culture. Here, you can trace the legacy of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Marco Polo to Soviet Union. The mixture of Mongolian’s nomadic lifestyle, the hospitability of Muslim to influence of Soviet Union resulted in a unique blend of Central Asia culture.
You will be surprised by the hospitability of the locals where local kids will ask you to join in their football games, elderly man with their chess game as well as offering of Non (Central Asia’s flatbread) by the ladies.
There is a joke among backpackers travellers that I met along the way. You will never get hungry in Central Asia as the local will keep you full with their local dishes. Sharing is part of the culture here.
Travelling here will make you experience the hospitability that you will never experience in the modern world. The locals will make you feel you are part of them. Don’t be surprise if the local invite you to their wedding.
4. The Peoples
Central Asian peoples are beautiful. Historically, Central Asian are meeting pots of East and West. With the ancestry of East Asian and Turkic, Central Asian have one of the best looking gene. Further integration of Soviet Union into it resulted in a beautiful look of Eurasian. It not uncommon to see local with blond hair, blue eye with facial feature of East Asian.
Unlike other parts of the world where we identified ourselves as white, black or yellow, the peoples here proudly identified themselves as either Kazakhs, Uzbeks or the Kyrgyzs instead of European or East Asian or Turkic. And this is what make Central Asian truly the most beautiful peoples I had ever met as they unite in a common identity.
Central Asia has one of the world most diverse architecture from as old as 14th centuries mausoleum of Khiva to the modern-day architecture in Nur-Sultan and Asghabat, you can find it all here.
In Uzbekistan ancient town of Khiva, Burkhara and Samarkand, immerse yourself in mind beautiful mosques and mausoleums clad in blue tiles surrounded by amazing minarets. Meanwhile, in Kazakhstan new capital city of Nur-Sultan (formerly know as Astana), you can find futuristic buildings such as Bayterek tower and Khan Shatyr that resemble giant circus tent.
Of course, it has more than these and is awaiting you to explore it.
6. The Foods
You have to taste a culture to understand it - Deborah Cater
While foods are not Central Asia strong point to attract more visitor, it is a place where you can enjoy the fusion of Middle Eastern, Turkish and Russian. Nomadic style meat stews, rice cooked with olive oil and Nan to be eaten together with tomato salad.
Although Silk Road is central of spice trading, surprising, the cuisine here is not as spicy as those that we found in other countries such as India. Most of the cuisines are mild. The staple food here is a local bread known as Nan. Unlike Nan from other regions, Nan here is typically thicker and hard at the outside but soft in the inside.
As most of the population still practice nomadic lifestyle, a lot of cuisines here are meat and dairy-based with a lot of vegetables. I would recommend for those that are adventurous with their stomach, please try the horse meat. The unique point about it, is that it tastes the best in cold weather.
Among the unique cuisine you can find here are Plov (national dishes of Uzbekistan), Shashlik (grilled cube meat), Manti (dumplings), Lagman (noodles to be eaten either dry or soup, personally I would recommend fried Lagman), Samsa and tomato salad (Archichuk Salad). And local snack here are highly recommended as well.
7. It is CHEAP
As Central Asia's countries just open up for tourism, it still hasn't been 'polluted' by mass tourism, it is relative cheap to travel here. Except for Kazakhstan which is slightly more expensive, I would say traveling cost here is about the same as travelling in South East Asia's countries. You are less likely to be 'chopped' here by touts or scammer.
However, as the region is mostly underdeveloped, it will be difficult to locate ATM or money changer. Tips, please bring along some USD or EURO. I had tried to change some Uzbekistan's SOM at Kazakhstan but most of the money changer doesn't carry it due to its low value.
I would say the chunk of cost here would goes to VISA application.
Since the end of Silk Road glory day, Central Asia had become a forgotten spot in the world’s map. As the region is started to open up to the outside world, it is just a matter of times before hordes of tourists started to flood this pristine and basically untouched part of the world.
Wonder off a bit from the norm, and you will found the best that mankind and nature had to offer. As Malaysian always say, Tunggu Apa Lagi.