Encompassing a total land area of 491,210 square kilometres and housing nearly 6 million inhabitants, the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan lies along the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road. This in and of itself would be enough to promote it into a tourism-heaven but still, it is not that crowded. Neighbouring Iran, Uzbekistan, the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan, it largely reaches into the Karakum Desert (about 70% of the country is comprised by this vast sandy stretch). Harbouring three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it is worth visiting if you like to explore cultures vastly different from western standards. So, without further ado, let us see its pros and cons!
1. Hearken to Arrakis:
While that subtitle was indeed a nod to Frank Herbert’s masterpiece “Dune”, the climate of Turkmenistan perfectly reflects the planet mentioned above in terms of droughts. Precipitation is so low due to the large extent of the country being swallowed by the mighty Karakum that some parts of the country see rain-rates as low as 12 nanometres. The capital city, Ashgabat, is a bit more fortunate than that with its 225 millimetres of annual downpouring but even that is well on the dry side of things. If you plan on visiting the country between May and September (the local long-lasting and warm summer), make sure that you pack enough money for bottled water because you’re going to need it more than ever. Which leads us to our next point…
2. Food and Water:
First and foremost, the Turkmen cuisine is as unique as it can get. Central Asian food is generally known for its exciting quirks but Turkmenistan takes that to a whole new level. Nowhere else have you tasted beef, camel, or even goat seasoned in such precise and profound ways. Pilaf, vegetables, and whole-wheat bread are also common and you’re probably going to enjoy every single bite of each meal. On the water side of things, however, we cannot offer you news so cheering. The tap water is downright dangerous as it may contain traces of heavy metals so do not drink it under any circumstances! This is not a preponderant issue, of course, but you can never tell and it’s better to stay on the safe side of things. Bottled water all the way!
As with most Central Asian countries, you will find that the western way of going about things does not apply in Turkmenistan either. Tipping is by no means expected throughout the state and if you do it in remote areas, you might even discern puzzled looks. The more touristy locations of central Ashgabat may show a different facet of reality but the no-need-for-tipping zones vastly outweigh the ones where you have to leave extra. If you find yourself in a place where things look tipping-friendly, you can always stick to the 10% rule – in Turkmenistan that is more than enough to cause beams of appreciation! Stay polite and the hearts of the locals will open up like never before!
4. Language barriers:
Well, if you do not speak Turkmen (the official language) in Turkmenistan, you are in mighty big trouble, so to speak. The second-best spoken tongue there is Russian with about 50% of the population having an understanding of it, but English will get you next to nowhere. The younger generation studies it in schools and if you want help, these smartphone-loving candidates are your best bet. Some cab drivers only speak Russian and others only Turkmen so getting somewhere can prove challenging – not to mention the haggling that is mandatory before each and every trip. So, travel dictionaries or apps are more than welcome here!
Turkmenistan is a generally safe country according to reports but it is by no means bereft of problems. First and foremost, avoid the Afghan border by all means as it is highly hazardous and terrorist encounters do occur. Secondly, alcoholism is a social issue within the bounds of the state and evidently drunken people should be avoided at all costs. Travel in groups if possible if you wish to embark on a train ride as that is where most petty criminals operate (not to mention the immediate vicinities of nightclubs). Oh, and on the side-note, understand that prostitution in Turkmenistan is illegal but common.
Did you enjoy our list? How was your trip to Turkmenistan and what lasting memories have you lugged home with you? Would you go to this Central Asian Silk-Road haven? Tell us all about it in the comment section below and be sure to explore our new content every now and then (triple wink)! Safe travels!