Almaty, Shymkent, Turkestan, Astana
25.06.2016 - 02.07.2016
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.
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.
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.
To think there's still sights I'd love to return to see in the region! One day.