Transportation in Central Asia

Traveling through Central Asia can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to transportation. Roads are often in bad shape and long distance busses are not very common. The two most convenient means of travel are trains (especially for long distances where overnight trains literally save you the day) and minibuses.

Riding the Train

…is very convenient – cheap, relaxing … and slow. You get a feeling for the vastness of this part of the world, when you cross seemingly endless steppes. While an American may already have a good understanding of what it means to drive through the same landscape for hours and hours, for a European this is a new experience.

Although traveling by train is easy, there are a few things you should know:

  • Only buy train tickets at the local train company’s counters. Ideally in advance at the train station where you will depart from. They also know best the current schedule.
    Do not buy online on any train company’s website even if this is explicitly offered and the train is operated by the Russian company. We made the mistake and didn’t get into the train with the online ticket. It was an expensive experience (as we had to buy a new ticket from the Uzbek train company for the same train) and ridiculously bureaucratic (as our reserved, paid for seats remained empty and we were still not allowed to use them).
  • Choose upper bunks if you like to sleep longer as the lower beds at the same time serve as regular sitting benches. However, if you don’t like climbing up, the lower bunk may still be your favorite.
  • Hot water for tea or instant noodles is always available from the cabin staff upon request
  • Never go with the taxi drivers already waiting at the platform. Taxi drivers are a very special species all around the world. Here in Central Asia they tend to get aggressive and loud. Once you arrive at your destination rather walk a few meters to the next main street and take a taxi from there. This will usually save you 50%+ of the taxi ride costs and a lot of soap opera around your luggage.

Going on a Minibus

…is the local’s choice and gets you from A to B in least time. It’s suitable for “medium” distances that you can reach within day’s light.

How to catch a Minibus:

  • The most challenging about this option will be finding the correct departure point for your destination, as there will be several bus hubs within one city and one has to ask a (most likely Russian-speaking) local where you find the bus departing to your destination.
  • Usually there is no schedule: the drivers wait until the bus is full and start their journey then. If you go to a popular destination (=big city) waiting time will not exceed more than a few minutes up to half an hour. Make sure you will not be too late as there will be less (if any) buses leaving at night time.
  • Once you found the correct bus, everything is easy: You pay the driver some little money(negotiate!) for the ride and squeeze into the minibus on a random seat that is still free.

Don’t forget to buy some fresh samsas as a snack from the vendor peeping in before you leave, and enjoy a nice ride together with locals!

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One thought on “Transportation in Central Asia

  1. Useful tips. I Always try to travel by train. The railroads are often crossing the most amazing spots, things you don’t see by traveling by bus or plane.

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