|Capital||Astana; note - the government moved from Almaty to Astana in December 1998|
|Area||total: 2,717,300 sq km |
water: 47,500 sq km
land: 2,669,800 sq km
|Population||16,741,519 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Kazakh (Qazaq, state language) 64.4%, Russian (official, used in everyday business, designated the "language of interethnic communication") 95% (2001 est.)|
|Religion||Muslim 47%, Russian Orthodox 44%, Protestant 2%, other 7%|
Kazakhstan is by far the largest of the states of Central Asia of the former USSR. It is the world's ninth biggest country by size, and is more than twice the size of the other Central Asian states combined. Its lack of significant historical sites and endless featureless steppe have put many off Kazakhstan, but many are captivated by the emptiness and mystery of this goliath state. Bordering both China and Russia it will be many travellers' first port of call on their Central Asian adventure, and there is much for the intrepid traveller to enjoy.
Native Kazakhs, a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated into the region in the 13th century, were rarely united as a single nation. The area was conquered by Russia in the 18th century and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936. During the 1950s and 1960s agricultural "Virgin Lands" program, Soviet citizens were encouraged to help cultivate Kazakhstan's northern pastures. This influx of immigrants (mostly Russians, but also some other deported nationalities) skewed the ethnic mixture and enabled non-Kazakhs to outnumber natives. Independence has caused many of these newcomers to emigrate. Current issues include: developing a cohesive national identity; expanding the development of the country's vast energy resources and exporting them to world markets; achieving a sustainable economic growth outside the oil, gas, and mining sectors; and strengthening relations with neighboring states and other foreign powers.
- Zaliyisky Alatau
- Karkara Valley
- Altai Mountains (http://welcome-ural.ru/news/70/)
Air Kazakhstan stopped flying at the end of March 2004. The most important carrier is now Air Astana (http://www.air-astana.kz/) which flies to Almaty, Astana, Aktau, Aktobe, Atyrau, Uralsk, Dubai, Moscow, Beijing, Istanbul, Bangkok, Hannover, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Seoul. Lufthansa has also seven days flights to Almaty, the best city in Kazakhstan, from where you can go anywhere. Turkish airlines is good passenger carrier. There are twice a week flights from Seoul to Almaty, one is Asiana Air Line and the other is Astana.
Popular routes include Almaty to/from Moscow (77 hours), Novosibirsk (35 hours) and �r�mqi, China.
The trains are a great way to meet people. A lot has been written about the pitfalls of being included in a vodka drinking party on a train, but for the most part fellow travellers are friendly, and keen to find out about you ("why aren't you married?" and if you are "why don't you have children?" and if you do "why don't they have children?"!). Most travellers take food for the journey as restaurant car provision is sporadic (and they expect you to share yours too!). If you don't have enough to last the distance, the trains generally stop for 15-20 mins at each station and there are always people on the platform selling food and drink, at any time of day or night.
Public transportation in big cities is rather popular. You can use buses, trolleys, trams and minibuses. One big minus of all of them is that they never come on schedule and very crowded on peak time. I would suggest you to use taxis as they are very cheap (1-4 euros within city). You don't have to use official taxis, basically you can stop almost any car on the street by raising your hand. Official taxis cost 3-5 times more.
You can travel within country using taxis, buses, trains and planes, it depends on your pocket and demands. Renting a car is rather costly comparing to other means of transport.
The Kazakh language is very difficult to understand and to pronounce. If you speak and/or understand the Russian language, then you should be fine.
- Hand made carpets from Kazakhstan (http://www.bukhara-carpets.com/)
Meat, potatoes, rice and pasta. And lots of it. If you're vegetarian stay at home, because if it doesn't have meat in it, it was almost certainly cooked on meat stock.
Here are some dishes I'd recommend:
- Laghman - A thick noodle dish, usually served as a soup.
- Manty - Large steamed dumplings full of meat and onions.
- Plov - A wonderful dish of fried rice, meat, carrots, and sometimes other bits such as raisins or tomatoes.
- Beshbarmak - Wide, flat noodles, with boiled horseflesh on top. The traditional meal of Kazakhs.
- Shashlyk - Skewered, roasted chunks of meat, served with some sort of flatbread (usually lavash) and onions.
If you're a vegetarian, you're probably thinking there's nothing for you in Kazakstan. And you're right - so long as you eat out. But if you're cooking your own food, you'll be more than satisfied. Kazakstan has some excellent produce available at little markets everywhere.
On the other hand, in Kazakshtan you can find any dishes you want, but Chinese and Japanese dishes are very expensive. The most delicious is caviar, which is very cheap, you can buy 1 kilo of caviar for less than 300 US dollars in Almaty Zelenniy Bazaar, but you can't export or take it with you home, you will be stopped at airport and pay high fines...
You can find any drink you want, but try to have two traditional:
- Kumiss - Fermented mare's milk.
- Kumyran (Shubat)- Fermented camel's milk
There are numerous hotels, from very cheap ones (10 euro per night) to the luxirous ones. You wouldn't find the cheapest ones on the web, the only way to book them is to call directly, but in that case you'll have to speak Russian at least.
- List of hotels (Almaty only) (http://www.infokz.com/base/eng/index.php?type=firms&sscd=243&p=0)
- Hyatt Regency Hotel (http://almaty.regency.hyatt.com/)
- Kayak: Kazakhstan Hotels (http://www.kayak.com/s/kayaksearch.jsp?tab=hotels&location=Astana%2C+Kazakhstan&gclid=CKHpsYj604ECFTFjEAodEAROYg)
- Regent Hotel Almaty (http://www.regenthotels.com/almaty)
- South Travel: Kazakhstan Hotels (http://www.southtravels.com/asia/kazakhstan/)
The general rules of safety in Kazakhstan are the same as in any other civilized country of the world. Just one tip, avoid everything that is very cheap: hotels, restaurants, trains, taxis, because these places attract many poor and uneducated people and you can easily get into trouble. But in general this is a very friendly country where foreigners are respected as the hospitality is one of the Kazakh main traditions.
Fire brigade: Dial 01 (land line phones), dial 101 from any mobile
Police: Dial 02 (land line phones), dial 102 from any mobile
Ambulance: Dial 03 (land line phones), dial 103 from any mobile