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Stan: Kazakh

Almaty, Shymkent, Turkestan, Astana

From Bishkek I caught a shared mini-van across the border to Kazakhstan, to the city of Almaty. And Almaty...wow. What a stunning city. Tree-lined boulevards, an incredible backdrop of gorgeous and accessible mountains, modern, cosmopolitan, with amazing sights, and mouthwatering food and coffee options. The architecture ranged from crazy creative Soviet designs, to pastel Orthodox churches, to intimidating dark WW2 monuments. I went into the mountains one day and after a cable car through the mist arrived at the top to find a Paul Cafe! Anyone wanting to fly into Central Asia seeking a relaxing and delicious yet fascinating visit, this is definitely the place. This was perhaps the only city I could imagine living in in the region.

Zenkov Cathedral, Almaty

Zenkov Cathedral, Almaty

Almaty

Almaty

Almaty's mountains

Almaty's mountains

I was of course sad to leave Almaty so soon, but I flew to Shymkent, and then again to Astana. Kazakhstan is so huge, and with flights heavily subsidised by the government, it makes flying an easy choice. To be honest, I did want to train to Shymkent, however, the day I needed to travel was the one week day the train didn't run at the useful time. Drat, but at least flight was cheap and easy. Shymkent is back south, near Uzbekistan, and was a great base for me to visit the main historic site of Turkestan (an ancient mausoleum the main sight) as well as the even older mud fort site called Sauran.

Mausoleum, Turkestan

Mausoleum, Turkestan

Sauran

Sauran

Kazakhstan has less of these ancient physical sites, so it was great to see those that are still standing. I then flew north to Astana, the (new) capital city. This city was yet another massive change of scenery, with the nation's oil money funding a massive centre of quirky, crazy, ultra contemporary buildings and sculptures. In contrast to Ashgabat, the new architectural designs have been much better handled in Astana, with the area feeling more open, welcoming and integrated. Some of the buildings, such as the Opera House (a design based on an opening flower) and the shopping centre Khan Shatyr, which lights up at night like a giant illuminated yurt, were fantastic.

Central Avenue, Astana

Central Avenue, Astana

Opera House, Astana

Opera House, Astana

Shan Khatyr, Astana

Shan Khatyr, Astana

Kazakhstan is easily the most developed of the region, and the most Russian. People were always very helpful, in fact even on my bus into Kazakhstan a local woman took time out upon arrival to help me buy a local transport card and showed me how to top-up the card. My cheap hostel in Astana was at the top floor of a highrise (I think the 19th floor) and my view from my bed was literally a vista of the whole city. A wonderful way to end my journey of Central Asia.

Room with a view, Astana

Room with a view, Astana

To think there's still sights I'd love to return to see in the region! One day.

Posted by ksbacon 02:09 Archived in Kazakhstan

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