Crossing into new Central Asia destinations, we visited Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, before going to Iran. Given the policies of Turkmenistan tourism, we had to plan our itinerary on the 5 days a Turkmenistan transit visa would allow.
The small country is not a well-traveled destination, and its visa requirements are among the most difficult, with a rejection rate of supposedly 50%. These limitations make Turkmenistan one of the hardest countries to visit. We were, however, lucky to be granted a 5-day transit visa and soon were traveling to visit Turkmenistan for a short trip.
Where is Turkmenistan?
Day 1: Nukus – Kunya-Urgench – Darvaza
Day 2: Darvaza to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Day 3: Ancient City of Nisa from Ashgabat
Day 4 – Merv
Day 5 – Border Crossing Turkmenistan – Iran
Visa to Turkmenistan
SIM Cards & Wifi
Changing Money & ATMs
People of Turkmenistan
Our Turkmenistan Experience
Where is Turkmenistan located?
Turkmenistan is a country situated in Central Asia, bordered by the Caspian Sea to the west, Iran in the southwest, Afghanistan to the southeast, Uzbekistan to the northeast, and Kazakhstan to the northwest. The country is covered at 70% by the Karakum Desert, and there are only a few major cities – Ashgabat, Mary, Kunya-Urgench, Türkmenabat, Daşoguz, etc – that are spread throughout the country.
Known for its archaeological ruins like Nisa and Merv, Turkmenistan was home to important trade centers along the ancient Silk Road. The capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, was rebuilt under the Soviet Era and featured impressive buildings and monuments.
See below our Transit Visa 5-Day Itinerary to travel Turkmenistan.
Day 1: Nukus – Kunya-Urgench – Darvaza Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan – Turkmenistan Border Crossing: Kunya-Urgench
We left our Hotel Art in Nukus Uzbekistan at 8 am, taking us a taxi that brought us to the Kunya-Urgench border at 9 am. The border crossing on the Uzbek side took about 30 – 45 minutes, but over 2:30 hours on the Turkmen side. A crazy border story involving illegal drugs in Turkmenistan (though legally obtained as prescribed by our doctors!) – more on that story later on! Around 12 pm noon, we finally entered Turkmenistan.
How to Get to Kunya-Urgench
A couple of taxis waited by the muddy roads. We negotiated ours for downtown Kunya-Urgench (Konye-Urgench) for US$2 per person, down from the initially asked US$4 per person. The 30-minute drive should cost US$1 max per person, but the long border crossing and the cold rainy day did not motivate us for lengthy bargaining.
The taxi left us close to the Mausoleum of Matkarim Ishan and the Dashmechet Madrasah by the Kunya-Urgench bazaar. Though these mausoleums are not the main sites Konya-Urgench is known for; they are worth visiting for 30 minutes, Since we had our backpacks with us, we took a turn to check it out.
These monuments are right by the taxi terminal so as soon as we walked out, taxi drivers surrounded us, yelling “Ashgabat, Ashgabat.” Most drivers started at US$50 for the ride to the capital of Turkmenistan but quickly dropped to US$30 when they saw we were not taking their offers. We found our driver for US$25, who also agreed to spend the night at Darvaza. We were the only ones in the car, so that was a pretty good deal space and price-wise.
What to See in Kunya-Urgench
Kunya-Urgench, meaning the old town of Urgench, features caravanserais, mausoleums, mosques, and a 60-m high minaret, several of these buildings dated from the 11th to the 16th centuries.
Before we exited the city, we stopped at the main Kunya-Urgench UNESCO World Heritage site to explore the different mausoleums and minarets, for about 30 minutes. These monuments are legacy of the Northern Khorezm empire, an ancient kingdom which held its capital there from the first century AD during the Achaemenid era.
Kunya-Urgench to Darvaza Turkmenistan
- Distance: 31 miles (50 km) from Nukus to Kunya-Urgench
- Duration: 1 hour from Nukus to the border, 30 minutes from the border to Kunya-Urgench
- Bring enough water and snacks for the road as there is no shop at all for hours as you cross the Karakum desert.
Darvaza Gas Crater – Gates of Hell Turkmenistan
We arrived at Darvaza around 5:30 pm. Instead of looking for a 4×4 jeep, our driver drove us directly to the crater. The road was accessible for regular sedan cars, the sand hardened by previous vehicles and the constant winds. We arrived at the crater just in time to enjoy the sunset.
Also called the Derweze Gas Crater, or the Door to Hell, the open pit has been burning for over 40 years, with no end in sight.
The area around the crater was relatively bare, besides half a dozen basic yurts. The benefits of going in December is that there was no one in sight; we had the crater for ourselves!
Camping at the Darvaza Crater Turkmenistan
We pitched our tent not far from the yurts, mostly to stay away from the toxic fumes blasted from the crater by the strong winds. It was cold, the wind chills dropping as the night fell. We spent about one hour at the crater, admiring the burning dancing flames.
More on our Turkmenistan Darvaza experience in a later post! Signup to our newsletter to be received more about our Turkmenistan adventures.
- Camping is free but make sure not to camp too close to the crater as it is unsafe because of the toxic fumes.
- If you don’t have your tent, you can either rent one from the yurt owner or stay in a yurt. A stay in a yurt costs US$30 for two people with dinner and breakfast
- There is no store before Darvaza or around the crater. Make sure to bring all the food and water you need for your entire stay.
Some crazy guys arrived in a jeep around midnight and drove around our tent. I feared for a minute they would overrun us! They were loud and stayed in the yurt nearby. According to our driver who was sleeping close, they were drunk. That did not prevent them from being loud again at 5:30 am when they left.
Day 2: Darvaza to Ashgabat Turkmenistan
Strong winds blew all night, and the temperatures deepened below freezing. It was still icy when the sun rose at 8:30 am, and it took a while before we managed to get the water to boil, the cold temperatures slowing down the efficiency of our multi-fuel stove. And we needed our hot drinks before existing the warmth of our sleeping bags.
The sand storm had blown sand during the night, and sand was everywhere: in the tent, on the sleeping bags, in our shoes!
Shortly after leaving the main crater, our driver mentioned two other smaller holes. One crater called the Water Crater is now a lake where you can see the fumes from the gas. The other has bubbling pods of mud and is ably called the Mud Crater.
Darvaza to Ashgabat Turkmenistan
We drove 3 hours to Ashgabat, passing by the only other town Erbent in existence in the Karakum Desert where dunes, arid, rocky soil, and low bushes otherwise line up the road left and right. Here and there camels wandered by the side of the road.
Arriving in Ashgabat, we stopped at a taxi terminal changing taxi to enter the city. One of the many Turkmen rules that only allow Ashgabat-licensed cars to come into Ashgabat.
- Distance: 165 miles (266 km)
- Duration: 3 hours
- Taxi from Kunya-Urgench to Ashgabat: US$25, including one night at the Darvaza crater
- Taxi from Ashgabat to Kuwwat Hotel: 20 Turkmenistan manats down from the initially asked 40 TMT manats, for a 30-minute drive to the Kuwwat Hotel
Hotels in Ashgabat Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan Ashgabat hotels are not for the budget travelers, as many tend to be on the expensive side for limited amenities and low-quality services. That situation, unfortunately, applies to most Turkmenistan hotels.
In Ashgabat, we stayed at the Kuwwat hotel (101 Kemine street, Ashgabat +993 12 93 66 51) for a night. The Soviet-like hotel might have seen better days, but these are behind.
Hard mattress, cheap furniture in a deteriorated building, smelly bathroom, no internet, no breakfast, and unfriendly staff, people smoking everywhere – all for US$15 for a bed in a dorm, US$20 for a twin bedroom with shared bathroom, and US$30 for a double bedroom with ensuite private bathroom.
On the plus side, the shower was hot and strong, the room quiet, and there was a hot water dispenser. The staff doesn’t speak English, but they can get someone on the phone to help out.
Note that the location on Google map is wrong (correct street, but wrong house number location), though Maps.me showed the right location. It’s close to the city center, about 1 mile (1.5 km) from the railway station and several buses pass by to take you to different locations and bus terminals. No breakfast, no wifi.
Another option we read about is the Syyahat Hostel (Gorogly St 19-21, Ashgabat), the only hostel in Ashgabat. Prices are supposed to be cheaper at US$10 a dorm bed per night, or room from US$25, but it tends to be full quickly as this is the most reasonable accommodation in Ashgabat. Rooms cannot be booked in advance; they only accept walk-in. No internet was available either.
Things to Do in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Capital
If you had heard the name before, you still probably wonder “Ashgabat is the capital of what country?”. Well, that’s how we felt before coming to Turkmenistan.
The capital of Turkmenistan is known for its white marble buildings and flamboyant national monuments, to the extent of its nickname being The City of White Marble. Of note are the Ruhy Mosque, the Artogrul Gazi Mosque, the Turkmen Carpet Museum, the Wedding Palace, and the Oguzkhan Presidential Palace.
Founded in 1881, the capital of Turkmenistan is an interesting visit. Between researching on how to travel to Mary and changing money, we didn’t spend much time visiting Ashgabat. However, we did visit the Ertugrul Gazi mosque, walked by the Presidential Palace, and had time to ponder about the extravagance of the buildings and the megalomania of the president.
Changing Money in Ashgabat
The Turkmenistan currency is the Turkmenistan New Manat (TMT).
We hadn’t changed money in Kunya-Urgench and were only able to change US$1 when we arrived at the Kuwwat Hotel for a change rate of 20 manats. Rate changes regularly and greatly depending on the day and where you change.
We could not find a place to change manats at the train station, but we were told to go to the Hotel Nisa. ATMs are only giving manats at the official rate of so it’s better to change cash at the unofficial street rate. Indeed, the official rate was 3.5 to the US Dollar, but the street rate varied from 15 to 20. We managed to change some dollars at the reception of the Hotel Nisa.
Asgabat Train Station
- Buy your tickets in advance as there are only a few trains per day to each destination
- There is little difference in prices between a ticket for the 2nd class and first class, so we chose 1st class
- Pay tickets in cash only, no credit cards payment possible
- We ended up not buying any ticket from Ashgabat to Mary because the arrival time in Mary was in the middle of the night.
- However, we purchased our train tickets from Mary to Ashgabat for our last day in Turkmenistan so that we could exit Turkmenistan from Artyk, about 1 hour from Ashgabat.
Food in Ashgabat
Plenty of restaurants and food stalls to choose from in Ashgabat. There are several small restaurants at the Ashgabat train station – samsa, hot dogs, hot meals, all cash only.
Because Kuwwat Hotel has no wifi, and we did not buy a SIM card for our five days in Turkmenistan, we searched for a coffee shop that would have Wifi. We headed to the Melbourne Burger where Western food like burger, pasta, cake, and beers are available.
While we were eating there, we met a young man, an engineer who was working abroad. As we discussed our itinerary in Turkmenistan, and especially Mary where we would be headed to that night, we mentioned how hard it was to find a budget hotel. Saying he had friends in Mary, he put us in touch with one of his friends in Mary to see if he could host us.
Transportation and Food Costs in Ashgabat:
- Ashgabat Food:
- Train station restaurants:
- Dinner of simple local food of chicken, rice: 31 TMT manats
- Breakfast: 15 manats
- Melbourne Burger: one burger, one cake, one beer: 66 TMT manats
- Train station restaurants:
- Ashgabat Transportation:
- From Taxi terminal to Kuwwat Hotel: 20 TMT manats
- From Tekke Baazar to Nisa: 20 TMT manats
- Bus: per ride per person
- Buses are very cheap, around 0.50 TMT per trip per person
- #29 Bus between Kuwwat Hotel up to 1 block to the railway station “vokzal.”
- #38 Bus from Melbourne Burger restaurant to Tekke Bazaar (terminal for the Nisa buses)
- #28 Bus from Melbourne Burger restaurant to the Kuwwar Hotel
- #77 Bus from Kuwwat Hotel to Tekke Bazaar
Day 3: Ancient City of Nisa from Ashgabat
After a quick breakfast in our room, we took the bus close to the hotel to the bus terminal located at Tekke Bazaar. From there, we took a taxi to the Nisa ruins. Buses also go to Nisa, check out our section about transportation for details.
After 30 minutes, the taxi reached the entrance gate where we paid the entrance tickets. The cab wanted to offer us to stay for 30 TMT manats, but this was too much for waiting for one hour, so we declined. We had seen buses and planned on taking public transportation to return to Ashgabat.
Parthian Fortresses of Nisa Turkmenistan
One of the most important sites from the Parthian Empire from around 250 BC, the Old Nias fortress and royal palace Turkmenistan Nisa, however, shows settlements dated back to the 4th Millenium BC. Successive empires used Nisa (Nissa) as important economic centers throughout the centuries.
Make sure to see the billboard at the park entrance to get an idea on how archeologists thought of its appearance. The billboard will help you visualize how big Nisa was.
Part of the complex has been renovated, but two large sections are still pretty much unearthed. Visit the three different locations at the site. It was interesting to walk through each area, as the renovated part gave us an idea on what the site might look like, but the unearthed sections were also a great indicator of the importance of Nisa.
The main area is being renovated, but there are two other areas on each site that are still covered under the dirt. You can still see some of the ancient columns and even a few broken urns/pots. The surrounding walls are mostly covered, but the size and spread are a testament to the extent of what Nisa must have been.
Go up the ramparts to get an idea of the size of the compound, as well as high views all around Nisa.
How to Get to Nisa
- Duration: 30 minutes drive from Ashgabat, plan to visit between 1 to 2 hours
- Entrance ticket:
- 50 TMT manats for two people (about US$3.50 at 15 manats/US$1 street rate), though they wanted US$2 (US$6 x 2) if we were to pay in US$. As you can see, it’s much better to spend on TMT manats!
- US$3 for the camera
- Shared Taxi
- From Tekke Baazar to Nisa: 20 TMT manats
- Take a bus from the Tekke Bazaar to Bagir, a small city about 2 km to Nissa entrance.
- Entrance ticket:
Here are some the buses we saw going to Nisa. Double-check locally to ensure this is still correct at the time of your travel:
- #6 Bus from Tekke Bazaar to Nisa
- #50 Bus – Dasgala to/from Tekke Bazaar, stops at Bagir (Nisa)
- #10 Bus Autokombinat to Bagir (Nisa)
- #21 Bus might be going to Bagir
After our visit to Nisa, we took a bus back to Ashgabat, and explore the city.
We walked back to the main intersection of Bagir, where we grabbed kebab for our lunch. There we boarded one of the buses headed back to Ashgabat. Back to the hotel, we retrieved our bags and made our way to the taxi terminal for Mary.
After returning to the Kuwwat Hotel to pick up our backpacks, we jumped on a car which took us to the taxi terminal in Anew.
How to Go from Ashgabat to Mary Turkmenistan
- Shared Taxi to Mary
Because of one of the odd rules in Turkmenistan, taxis that are not registered in Ashgabat cannot enter the city. So we had to take one taxi from the hotel to the taxi terminal in Anew. We ended up flagging a regular car in the street, an elderly man with a big smile. At the taxi terminal at Anew, we were almost immediately surrounded by taxi drivers offering their services to Mary.
Once again, taxi driver surrounded us, fighting for our attention. We are no strangers of discussing with taxi drivers from our past trips, but the Turkmen drivers are by far the most aggressive when it comes to getting a taxi. It was to the point that two different drivers were physically grabbing Bruno’s arms to pull him in different directions, same for me, grabbing our bags as well. We had to yell and push them all away, making them understand not to touch us or take our belongings.
We finally settled for a shared taxi for 50 TMT manats per person but had to wait for two more passengers before we could go.
- Distance: 233 miles (375 km)
- Duration: 4 to 5 hours
- Shared Taxi Costs Ashgabat to Mary: from 50 TMT manats per passenger (the driver lived in Mary), or 100 TMT per person
- Pack water and snacks as there is almost no towns or shops, as the landscape is mostly desert
Overnight Train from Ashgabat to Mary
- Costs: depending on the train, around 35 TMT manats for a sleeper train in 2nd class, and 50 TMT manats for 1st class per person
- Schedule: 4 trains per day to Mary
- Duration: between 8 hours for the fast trains to 12 hrs for the slow trains
- We ended up not buying any ticket from Ashgabat to Mary because the arrival time in Mary was in the middle of the night.
- Overnight sleeping tickets for two people: 70 manats
The reason we chose to travel to Mary by shared taxi instead of the train is that, to maximize our 5-day transit visa in Turkmenistan, we would need to take a late train from Ashgabat. These late trains arrive late in Mary, which makes finding a hotel then tricky. Traveling by shared taxi allowed us to reach late in the afternoon, early evening, and settle for the night.
Hotels in Mary
As it is, unfortunately, the case in Ashgabat and throughout Turkmenistan, hotels in Mary are expensive even for budget quality. We did not get to stay in a hotel but instead spent the night at a private person. However, we had done our research before that and found the following options.
This hotel, maybe called Mymanhanasi Hotel, is in a white building with a green and yellow sign, close to the Marshrutka and railway stations. The rooms would be at 15 TNT manats for a bed in a dorm, a single room with shared bathroom for US$35, and a double room with shared bathroom at US$45, Some people reported paying 50 manats for a double room.
However, the check out time is 8.30 am, or you have to pay for another night. Given that the night train from Ashgabat can arrive at 3 am (if you take the latest train), this very early checkout time doesn’t leave you much time to sleep. No one speaks English, but Russian. Reports from other travelers mentioned a smelly and not really clean hotel, that did not let the visitors leave their luggage after checkout, and limited to no running water in the bathroom.
The costs for foreigners seems to be whatever amount is in manat for the locals, is in US$ for the foreigners. A twin room was as 20 manats, but the staff asked us to pay US$20. Negotiating has been unsuccessful, from our side and other travelers. When successful, the discount has been reported minimal.
That other Mary hotel, also Soviet-era style, would offer a deluxe double room for US$60, with some running water, basic amenities. They might not let you leave your bags for the day.
Day 4 – Merv Turkmenistan
After a good night sleeping on the floor mattresses traditional across Central Asia included Turkmenistan, we took a taxi for the site of Merv.
Merv is an ancient city of importance along the Silk Road and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Given its history spreading dated back to the 8th century BC, it’s not surprising that the site is covering five settlements as the city got destroyed and rebuilt several times over.
Among the different areas, we really enjoyed:
- The Kyz-Kala fortress from the 6-7th centuries
- The Icehouse
- Wander among the ruins and walls, to get an idea of how wide and large the different complexes were
- The site is gigantic and we spent almost 5 to 6 hours exploring the various areas
Note that Museum was closed, not sure whether it was because of the winter season, or permanently.
How to visit Merv
- Distance from Mary to Merv: 40 km, about 1-hour drive
- Rent a taxi as the site is rather large
- Plan for several hours on the site as you explore different areas
- Costs for a private taxi for 6 hours around Merv: 150 TMT manats
- No entrance fees
After visiting Merv, we went back to Mary for dinner before we headed to the train station to board our overnight train from Mary to Ashgabat.
Overnight Train from Mary to Ashgabat
- Schedule: 5 trains daily from Mary to Ashgabat
- Duration: 8 hours on fast trains, 12 hrs on the slow trains
- We headed back to Ashgabat as our exit was through Artyk, about 1 hour from Ashgabat.
- Costs: Overnight sleeping tickets for two people: 70 manats
Our cabin was an open berth for four people in an open-wall cabin, clean, with bedsheet and pillow sheet. The train stopped at several stations and was quite slow. Large pieces of luggage can be stored under the lower berths or on the top storage. If you have big luggage, make sure to arrive early to get a spot.
The train ride was uneventful, and we were able to get some rests ahead of our Turkmenistan – Iran border crossing.
The train passed by the Artyk train station, which was ideal for the border of the same name. However, it would arrive in the middle of the night. The train station would be closed, no taxi available according to the several people we talked to and without any place to wait than being outside in the rain in almost cold temperatures.
For these reasons, we were headed back to Ashgabat, knowing we would have to retrace our way back towards the Artyk border crossing.
Day 5 – Border Crossing Turkmenistan – Iran
The train arrived in Ashgabat at 6:15 am. We decided to get breakfast at one of the small restaurants, grabbing tea, coffee, and some sweet cakes. Being at the train station provided ample taxi drivers to choose from, to take to the taxi terminal for Mary, the main direction to reach Artyk.
After negotiating a taxi for Artyk, which was more expensive than our first ride, we arrived at the Artyk border within one hour. This border is mostly used by truckers and lorries that snake a long way on the road, but cars can make their way up to the border directly.
Taking one more time a city taxi to the taxi terminal, we boarded a taxi for the border of Artyk. The ride takes about one hour and cost 50 TMT.
- Distance Anew to Artyk: 62 miles (100 km)
- Duration: 1 hour
- Cost: 50 TMT manats
Turkmenistan – Iran Border Crossing: Artyk to Loftabad
The border crossing exiting Turkmenistan and entering Iran took about 1:30 hour, especially as foreigners are given priorities in the line. Note that there is a 1:30-hour difference with Iran, so there is no need to be too early in Turkmenistan as you will still need to wait for the customs side of Iran to open.
Another Turkmenistan travel blog post about our experience crossing from the country to Iran will be available later.
Changing Money & ATMs
We did not search or find any money changers in Kunya-Urgench, but we paid in small US$ notes which are readily accepted. The tricky aspect of Turkmenistan is that the official rate is so much lower than the street rate. If you get money from the ATMs, the official rate was around 3.5 manats to the dollar, whereas the street rate was between 15 to 20 depending on where and who was changing.
In Ashgabad, it was harder to find money changers than we thought. Bruno managed to change US$ 1 for 15 TMT manats at the Kuwwat Hotel But then changing was not available around the train station.
The only other option we found was at the Hotel Nisa, a fancy hotel close to the Presidential Palace. Getting cash with your credit card is possible there, either through the reception or via the corner ATMs (which had the Visa and Mastercard logos), but we settled for the street market at 17 manats (started at 17 but went down to 15 when we proceeded with the transactions).
We managed to change more money with someone at our hotel, at a rate of 17 TMT manats.
Any official ticket entrances like Nisa will be in both TMT and US$, but you better pay in TMT because the rate is not favorable to the dollars.
The official currency of Iran is the Iranian Rials (IRR). You might hear about the Toman as well.
Once in Lotfabad on the Iran side, there are plenty of money changers waiting for you with their large black business suitcases, and a couple of restaurants to grab some breakfast. Double check the rate and the currency that are in IRR. Like in Turkmenistan, the value changes daily, but unlike Turkmenistan, there is only a slight difference between the streets and bank rates. However, given the current embargo situation in Iran, credit cards like Visa and Mastercard won’t work. Bring lots of cash (US$ or Euro) to change.
Visa to Turkmenistan
There is no Turkmenistan transit visa on arrival and you need to be applied before arriving at the border. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the visa for Turkmenistan is among the most difficult to get. I am not sure what the Turkmenistan Visa Policy is, but many get rejected, and there seems to be no real logic behind who get approved or denied.
Tourist visas are either a regular Turkmen visa that you can only get if you book a Turkmenistan tour for the duration of your stay. Or you can apply as we did for a Turkmenistan Transit Visa, provided you are crossing by land from and go through two of the neighboring countries.
The details on how we got our Transit Visa Turkmenistan will be explained in a separate post. However, some of the most important take away are:
Important Facts for the Transit Visa Turkmenistan
- Exact entry and exit dates are required when you fill the application
- Once approved, you can, however, enter the country whenever you want, within a 3-month period after visa acceptation
- Exact entry and exit border points are required for the application
- But these cannot be changed later on
- Visa fees
- It’s cheaper if you go and get your visa from the Embassy
- More expensive if you use the code and letter of invitation to get your visa directly at the Border.
Turkmenistan SIM Cards, Wifi, & VPN
We did not get a SIM card ourselves, but we know of other travelers who had no problem getting an MTN Sim card while in Turkmenabat. A copy of the passport and the transit visa were required. Cost for getting the SIM and 200 MB data was 10 TMT manats.
Wifi is not readily available in Turkmenistan. Many hotels don’t have it, but a few coffee shops will offer a free connection. You will need a VPN as the internet is widely controlled and restricted.
The people in Turkmenistan are ancient Turkic people. Most Turkmen were nomads until the Soviet era when they started to settle down in cities. Though the country is rich with large gas reserves and the Turkmenistan economy is considered to be one of the fastest-growing, the authoritative government together with what many called a Turkmenistan dictatorship, the corruption is high and the Turkmenistan population impoverished.
We met incredibly welcoming Turkmen symbolizing once again the famous Central Asia hospitality. An old lady offering me a plastic mug on the bus after I gave her my seat. Ladies offering us cups of tea when we visited an old shrine. Our driver in Darvasa taking us up to the crater. An old man giving us a lift. And most of all, a stranger putting us in contact with a friend for our overnight in Mary. And of course, that stranger welcoming us in his home and showing us around in Merv. Encounters like that make travel special, the kindness of people transcending nationalities, languages, religions, and culture.
However, during these short five days, we also encountered aggressive behaviors from several people. A policeman yelling and threatening because I was taking a photo of a statue. A driver that almost run over Bruno as he was standing by the crosswalk, using his car to push him off the road. A hostel staff grabbing my passport and bag to get us out of the room. A fellow traveler who scammed us and asking us to pay – again – for the ride. I won’t go into the full details of each of these occurrences, and we usually don’t like to mention them because we want to believe these are isolated incidents that don’t represent a country. Having said that, these circumstances were highly unusual from all our travels through 50+ countries.
Granted, we spent only five days in the country. But the numbers of uncomfortable moments during such a short time in Turkmenistan were even more troubling. Given the economical situation in Turkmenistan, the lack of political and speech freedoms, the hardship, the absence of prospects, we can only suppose that the stress of the daily uncertainty impacts the citizens and generate a background of mistrust, anger, and hostility. These conditions were also the reminders on how lucky we are as citizens of a democratic country, where we are free to speak our minds.
Our Experience on this Turkmenistan Transit Visa
Traveling to Turkmenistan was definitely an experience to remember. Being one of the few people that travel there and seeing the country with our own eyes made a difference. The country has a lot more to see but we were glad of these 5 days to let us explore by ourselves.
We hope you found our Turkmenistan travel guide useful and will keep adding more details about this Central Asia country shortly. New Turkmenistan blog posts will include details of our border crossing.
Have you been to Turkmenistan? What was your experience? Are you planning your Turkmenistan travel soon? Share with us your adventures in this lesser-known Central Asia destination.
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November 15, 2020 at 7:38 am
I’m considering visiting the 5 Stans by the end of next year (depending of the COVID situation), and this was such an informative post. I know you didn’t travel on your own, but as a woman, would you recommend visiting solo? I’m used to traveling solo but I wonder if its safe for me since its such a mysterious and off the beaten path country. Thank you and safe travels when its possible.
December 1, 2020 at 5:11 am
Glad you found our post useful! Turkmenistan is indeed so off the beaten path, a mystery for sure, and the few short days we spent there doesn’t make us any expert on that country. As to your question about visiting solo and safety, it’s always difficult because safety is such a relative feeling. What can feel safe enough for us might not for other people, and there are situations where friends felt ok, and I wasn’t. In general, I would say that we felt safe traveling in the Stans, though Turkmenistan felt the least welcoming of them all. Having said that, we met really friendly people that welcomed us in their houses, for cups of tea or even staying the night. It’s just that we had more unfriendlier encounters in Turkmenistan in 5 days than we have in other Stans over a full month. I would suggest trying to find people to travel with as it would also help reduce the costs of a taxi. Besides the trains which are few in-between, taxis are the best way to get around but can get expensive. Depending on where you apply for your visa, you might find other folks looking at traveling there around the same dates. Hope you can visit there, it was definitely an experience. Safe travels to you too. And if you do go to Turkmenistan, we would love to hear back from you, and get your experience as a solo traveler.
September 23, 2019 at 1:35 pm
This is such a great guide. Turkmenistan is somewhere we want to visit on a trip around the central Asian region, in fact it’s one of the regions we are most looking forward to visiting but probably know the least about. So this article is so useful for practical information.
September 26, 2019 at 5:48 am
Turkmenistan is indeed not on the usual travel path. We have more info about the country that we have had time to put in our post. Feel free to reach out with questions if you have.
September 3, 2019 at 11:14 pm
Wow, sounds like a great journey.
We are going the opposite way but hope to do the same thing. $25usd sounds like a good deal with a night spent at the crater. We heard people on a transit visa cannot take public transportation, do you know if this is true?
Also you mentioned being able to hire a yurt/tent, are the people just hanging around when you arrive to offer up the accommodation or could you book before?
Anyway, great post!
September 22, 2019 at 6:05 am
We had no problems taking public transportation – we took the train and buses without any issue. It’s true that things change quickly in Turkmenistan, but from what I know, the regular tourist visa, not the transit visa, is the more restrictive in terms of transportation.
We had our own tent at the crater, but there were a few yurts there so you can probably arrange your stay there. I don’t think you can reserve in advance but even in late December, there were 2 yurts available (and we were the only ones staying around the crater). Where are you crossing into and out Turkmenistan?
June 13, 2019 at 1:54 pm
Excellent post! It´s been too long since I´ve travelled to place that feels ¨undiscovered¨ and your post made me crave an adventure. Camping in a yurt next to the Gates of Hell would definitely be one for the books in my book 😉 I´ve yet to visit central Asia, but there is so much about the region that calls to me, especially the ornate architecture like in your photo of the Kunya Urgench Turabek Khanum Mausoleum ceiling. Thanks for this!
June 27, 2019 at 11:16 pm
If you like incredible architecture, you will be in for a treat in Central Asia! Be prepared to spend hours admiring the detailed tiled arches and walls!
May 28, 2019 at 10:37 pm
Wow! This was quite a stressful trip for you guys. You certainly handled the difficult situations well. I don’t think I will be going there though, as I’m not as adventurous. The fire pit looks incredible. And that palace is enormous!
June 10, 2019 at 1:49 am
These 5 days in Turkmenistan made indeed for an interesting trip. The Darvaza gas crater was probably the most impressive of all, incredible to think it’s been burning for so long, with no end in sight!
April 19, 2019 at 1:35 pm
Your post is a huge portion of valuable information about Turkmenistan! As I am planning to enter this country this year, I can’t wait for the post regarding a transit visa 🙂 Could you tell more about where you applied for a visa? ( Iran? ) I would really appreciate it.
April 25, 2019 at 5:44 am
Glad you found our post useful. We applied in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent. The process was rather smooth, much easier than we anticipated, to be honest. We brought our applications at the Embassy there, got an answer via email about 2 weeks later. That’s the border crossing itself that was a different story entirely! You are planning to cross on a northbound route?
April 14, 2019 at 12:29 pm
What a fascinating trip! I’m not sure I’m brave enough to deal with all of the challenges with accommodation, money exchange and difficult people. But that crater though! Your photos of the Darvaza Gas Crater and Ashgabat, in particular, are amazing. I’m looking forward to hearing your border crossing story. In any case, it looks like the experience and the kindness of strangers won the day.
April 16, 2019 at 2:06 am
The kindness of people in Central Asia was indeed one of the incredible experiences. Turkmenistan brought some challenges and unexpected rough moments with the local people but it’s true the kindness of the Turkmen still won over the disagreeable encounters with others.
April 14, 2019 at 4:57 am
The aggressiveness of the taxi drivers at the Anew Taxi Terminal sounds scary. I would’ve been terrified if it were me.
Nevertheless, you certainly have seen and experienced a lot in just 5 days. The ruins and the Door to Hell sounds very interesting to visit!
April 16, 2019 at 11:24 pm
The taxi drivers were quite overwhelming indeed! The Gates of Hell were a rather unique sight for sure and were totally worth the detour north of Turkmenistan.