A small visit to the country side of Kazakhstan (Shymkent, Turkestan and Aksu-Zhabagly)
For the first time in this trip, we used the train. Probably the more convenient way to travel in Kazakhstan, since there is a huge distance between cities. We embarked at 21:42 and fell asleep at 23:00. We got waked up only three times during the night… when the electricity got turned on at around midnight, when the window suddenly opened letting cold air in at around 3:00am and when our cabin neighbours had smelly chicken and potatoes for breakfast early in the morning.
We got off the train in the small village of Tyulkubas heading to Zhabagly. We felt like being on the set of a Kazakh postcard surrounded by the steppes, mountains landscapes and children in Kazakh outfit riding donkeys bringing back the flock to the village. After one day hike in the national reserve (see our latest newsletter), we took a minivan to Shymkent.
It is now full summer in this part of the country. We were suffering the heat (35 to 40 degrees Celsius). Nevertheless, we managed to visit some parks and some sights here between stops in air conditioned cafes and restaurants. Although Shymkent is not very popular among the guidebooks (lonely planet and petit futé), we didn’t regret stopping here for three days.
we did specifically enjoy
- The Shymkent bazar, the perfect mix between order and disorder.
- The Aksu-Zhabagly natural reserve.
- Taking the night train (2 times 13 hours) and getting to speak with locals.
- All the smiling Kazakh children we met!
- Almaty: Sky hostel located on the last floor of a building, the hostel is calm, clean and staff is very friendly.
- Zhabagly: Zhenja and Lyuda’s boarding house. A homestay near the reserve that was nice until we found out that we paid three times the regular price.
- Shymkent: Sary Arka Hotel. A rather okay hotel for the low price they ask.
- The Istanbul restaurant in Shymkent, it reminded us of our good time in Turkey.
- The Karavan restaurant in Ken Baba park, Shymkent, the best shashlyk (skewers) in town.
Best Kept Secret Tip
While in Shymkent, it is rather recommended to visit Turkistan. Turkistan is well known for its beautiful mausoleum. We didn’t know how to get to Turkistan and searched for travel agent to book a tour. After a little browsing, the tours proposed by the tour operators were quite expensive as about 100 dollars per person or more. There is very little information on the web on how to reach Turkistan on your own. We are glad to share our plan for about 20 dollars for two, including lunch.
First of all, you need to reach the “SAMAL” (Самал in Russian) bus station. This can be done using bus line 69 from Shymkent famous Tauke Khan avenue (bus stops on same side of the road and close to Ken Baba park and Mega Mall). If you want to be sure you’re heading in the right direction, ask the driver or the controller of the bus for “Avtovoksal Samal?” and jump in it. At Samal station, go down the little road on your right hand side and ask for the Turkistan mashrutkas. The ride from Shymkent city center takes approx. 25-30 min.
Better to be there just before 9:00 and you’ll hardly wait more than 10 minutes before you’ll be on the road. The ride takes about 1:45 min. The driver will probably drop you off close to the mausoleum. Allow about 1,5h to visit all the rooms and walk on the citadel. Then have lunch in one of the cafes close by. When it is time to go back to Shymkent, take minibus 2 or 5 on Khozanov road to “Avtovoksal” again. Once at the bus station, ask for the next mashrutka to Shymkent (most probably men will ask your destination). Fairly easy don’t you think?
- Bus in Shymkent (line 69 back and forth) 70x2x2 = 280 Tenge
- Mashrutka from Shymkent to Turkistan and back 800x2x2 = 3200 Tenge
- Lunch in Turkistan, shashlyk, salad, bread and water = 2000 Tenge
- Turkistan Mini bus nr. 2 or 5 to the Mashrutka Bus station 40×2 = 80
- Total 5560 Tenge! (about 16 dollars)