Harbouring nearly 18 million inhabitants within the bounds of its borders, the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan is by no means a tourist hotspot (though it is becoming one by the hour). Should this stop you from going there? Of course not! This is the place where one can catch a breath of fresh air after hitting the crowded shores of Bali (if you know what we mean) or the swarming streets of Tokyo. So, stretching upon an area of 2,724,900 square kilometres and helmed by the capital city of Astana, it generates over 60% of the entire GDP of Central Asia. Reaching into the Caspian Sea, it shares borders with the following countries: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, and China. So, before you pack those heavy bags and hit your closest airports, let us explore the most important need-to-knows.
What’s important to understand is that, basically, tipping is not part of the local culture. Extra service charges are added to the bills and these will theoretically reach the workers. However, in practice, things work a tad differently. Touristy areas are becoming more and more accustomed to international standards and this makes Kazakhstan a “pay-attention-if-you-have-to-tip-or-not” country. If you find yourself in the restaurant of a popular hotel chain, then chances are that standard tips of 10% will expected. If you go further away from the capital city, you will find that leaving extra is unnecessary. Oh, one thing, though: round up all taxi fares – the expectations of drivers vary depending on the person, so it is quite impossible to proclaim a general rule of thumb.
Since, technically, Kazakhstan is still a developing country by global standards, it does have its fair share of crime. Dilapidated trains are generally known to carry common thieves and pirate cabs are often on the prowl for unaware travellers. These unlicensed taxis can easily be avoided as they will not have metres and they can simply be refused. Within the bounds of larger cities, it is best not to roam the streets after dark alone as muggings and even violent robberies have been reported by travellers. Some extremist groups are known to operate throughout the country and they have, at times, targeted civilians in clubs and/or in other public places (although this is extremely rare). If you think that the police will help you in any way when you get into trouble, then you are terribly wrong, as it is a lottery in and of itself. Some cops are neck-deep corrupt and they will shake you off like the autumn breeze does parched leaves. In spite of these ill-boding heads-ups, it is important to know that the locals are extremely friendly and inviting – there is no large-scale danger to be avoided at all times. It is simply good to keep your guard up in Kazakhstan and blend in. Flashing expensive photo gear is not recommended.
3. Language barriers:
Like a few of its immediate neighbours, Kazakhstan also suffers from poor connectivity when it comes to language barriers. The official languages in the country are Kazakh and Russian and without dabbling in either of these, one will have quite a tough time. This is the time for pocket dictionaries and improvisations. In spite of this, customs officials and youngsters will generally speak English to some degree and they are the ones you should be gluing yourself to if you ever need help. See a teenager with a smartphone? Great, ask them for directions – not the middle-aged woman tending a terrace. If you speak Russian, however, you will feel as though you were in heaven as 90% of the population of Kazakhstan speaks it (wink)!
It is no secret that driving in Kazakhstan can get quite hectic, so opting to rent a car might not be the best choice for the average person. Roads within the bounds of the country range from terrible to good and you never know when you transition from one to another. This facet of the country, of course, is something that is currently undergoing major changes and you will see improvement over the next few years. Another thing, though: do not, under any circumstances, drive over the speed limit. If the cops catch you, you are in mighty big trouble as most of them are corrupt and they outright expect you to bribe them. Since that is much cheaper than the fines that they cast upon drivers, they often get paid and earn well on the backs of others. Oh, and drunk driving is a problem in the country, so keep cool and always stay safe!
5. Islam and gestures:
As the subtitle suggests, the most widespread religion in the country is Islam (more than 70% of the population adheres to its rites). What this means is that all visitors are advised to dress conservatively and to respect prayer times. Gestures also differ from those of western countries and smiling at someone may generate unwanted arguments. Family patriarchs are often quite protective and the conservative mind-set must be explored cautiously. Of course, if these basic rules are respected, you will find that the locals are overwhelmingly kind and interested in the outside world. Take the time to know them better and you will be rewarded with unforgettable interactions!
Did you enjoy our list? How was your trip to Kazakhstan and what unforgettable experiences did you lug home with you? Hit the comment section below and be sure to check back from time to time for exciting new content!