Show Trip | AXK

The Five Stans of the Silk Road

5 countries, 3 weeks, 1 epic trip through Central Asia's Silk Road

Trip CodeAXK
Duration23 Days
ActivityCulture
Group Size6-16
Minimum Age16
Leisurely / Moderate
Leisurely / Moderate
Prices (excl. flights & transfers) from

R90,279

To book   call us on 074 340 4587 or email info@earthwanderer.co.za

5 countries, 3 weeks, 1 epic trip through Central Asia's Silk Road

Vast deserts, rolling steppe, fertile valleys and majestic mountains form the backdrop to the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia which are commonly known as the five Stans. Amongst this changing and varied landscape are traditional villages, ancient towns and modern cities which tell a tale of advancing Greek and Persian armies, marauding Mongolian hordes, traders selling their wares along the Silk Road, philosophers, astronomers, Communist experiments and post-Soviet eccentrics. Journey past giant burning gas pits, intrinsically tiled mosques, alpine lakes bordered by yurt camps, grand monuments, rural villages and colourful markets on this epic trip through the heart of Central Asia.

Highlights

‘Door to Hell’ giant burning gas pit in TurkmenistanIslamic architecture and  ruins along the great Silk RoadVillages and lakes of the Fann and Tien Shan MountainsPost Soviet grand monumentsHistory of traders, preachers and invaders

Key Information

23 days land only / flight inclusiveTravel by minibus15 nights hotels, 3 nights home stays, 2 nights yurts, 1 night cottage and 1 night guest houseAll breakfasts, 3 lunches and 8 dinners includedSingle supplement available

What's Included

All accommodationAll transport and listed activitiesWestern tour leader throughout (plus a local guide in each country)All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 8 dinnersFlights from London (if booking incl. flights)Arrival transfers for any flight, departure transfers for group flights only

What's Not Included

Travel InsuranceSingle accommodation (available on request)Visas or vaccinations

Day 1

Start Ashgabat

Arrive at Ashgabat at any time. The group flights usually arrive very late at night (i.e. around 2am on day 2). Please note that it is obligatory by Turkmen law for tourists to have an arrival transfer arranged by the inviting party (as per your LOI/visa) from Ashgabat airport. For anyone not joining the group transfer, Exodus offers free arrival transfers for any flight, provided you have supplied your flight details in advance - please see the 'joining' section of the Trip Notes for more information.Hotel Ak Altyn or similar

Day 2

Explore Ashgabat

Ashgabat holds the world record for the most white marble buildings in the world. In the post-Soviet era successive Turkmen leaders have invested in these impressive buildings as a show of the country’s strength and grandeur and can make for quite a surreal experience. Ashgabat has been described as Pyongyang meets Las Vegas and you can see why. Following an initial briefing, we visit some of the city’s greatest monuments, buildings and fountains including Ertogrul Gazy Mosque, Independence Park, the Neutrality Arch and the National Museum. Hotel Ak Altyn or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 3

The fortress of Nisa and the Door to Hell at Darvaza

Today is a long day trip out of the city. Our first stop, on the outskirts of Ashgabat, is the ancient Persian-era fortress of Nisa. A former capital of the Persian Parthian Empire which controlled much of the region from Iraq to Pakistan 2000 years ago, the ruins of Nisa were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.We later head north in jeep convoy into the Karakum Desert some 260kms (4 hours drive) away to one of the world’s more unusual sites, a massive burning gas crater in the middle of nowhere in the Darvaza region. In the 1970s Soviet engineers looking for natural gas deposits came across this area. Attempting to assess the amount of gas present they set up a drill. The drill collapsed, exposing a big crater and seeping methane gas into the air. The engineers decided to set the gas alight in the belief that it would burn off within a few weeks. Over 45 years later the crater is still burning. The sight of a big burning crater in the middle of the desert after the sun goes down is quite an experience and likely to be unlike anything else you’ve come across.We have dinner near the crater before returning to Ashgabat after dark, arriving back at the hotel after midnight. If you do not want to travel this distance to see the incredible burning crater at Darvaza it is possible to stay behind in Ashgabat.Hotel Ak Altyn or similar

Meals included: breakfast,dinner

Day 4

Anau Mosque, Abiverd and Mary

Leaving the Turkmen capital behind we start our journey east along one of the Silk Road routes of old. Our destination today is Mary, about 5hrs away (plus stops). A short distance outside Ashgabat we make our first stop at the 15th century Anau Mosque which is located on the edge of a Bronze-age site. From here we continue to the remains of the Silk Road-era town of Abiverd. The settlement, which was completely abandoned for about three centuries, was once a vibrant and important centre. The 12th century city is about 130kms, two hours, from Ashgabat and makes for an interesting stop and an ideal opportunity to stretch our legs. As we continue on the way to Mary look out for camels and small dusty desert towns. Eventually reaching Mary we have a late afternoon/early evening city tour taking in the Central Bazaar, Juma Mosque and Russian Orthodox Church. Hotel Mary or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 5

Explore Merv before crossing into Uzbekistan and on to Bukhara.

Possibly the largest city in the world in its heyday, Merv was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan and his Mongolian hordes in 1221. It is believed 700,000 people lost their lives when the city was destroyed - It never recovered.Today, this UNESCO site is Turkmenistan’s most important historical site and we take the time to visit it before continuing to the border about 5.5hrs (245kms) away where we say goodbye to our Turkmen leader. We hope to arrive at the border around 4pm and then crossing the border from Turkmenistan into Uzbekistan can take about 1.5hrs. We meet our Uzbek leader on the other side and drive for approximately another 2 hours (100kms) to one of the great Silk Road cities, Bukhara. Hotel Kavsar or Similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 6

Full day exploring Bukhara

2000 year old Bukhara has an old centre which evokes the many centuries of traders and travellers who’ve passed through here on their way between the Mediterranean and China. We spend the day exploring this fascinating Silk Road city including at its heart the historic Lyabi Khauz architectural complex with the oldest reflective pool in Central Asia. It is surrounded by medieval buildings including the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah and Khanaka with a façade of intricate mosaics. We also visit the Poi Kalyan Complex which includes the 48m high Kalyan Minaret which has come to symbolise the city, the Kalyan Mosque with 288 domes covering galleries below, Samanids Mausoleum, the Ark Citadel and Chor-Minor.Hotel Kavsar or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 7

Discover more of Bukhara before continuing to Samarkand.

This morning we uncover more of Bukhara’s fascinating history and culture as we explore the Sitorai-Mohl-Hosa Palace, Bukhara’s Emirs’ Summer Palace. After lunch we have a 4-5hrs (300kms) drive to the other great Silk Road city, Samarkand. We break up the journey with a short stop at Rabat-i-Malik, a caravanserai ruin and lunch in Navoi.Kavsar Dilshoda / Malika Prime or similiar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 8

Full day sightseeing in Samarkand

Possibly the most famous of the Silk Road cities, Samarkand's blue tiled buildings dazzle in the bright sun. Most impressive is one of the World’s great squares – Registan Square, surrounded on three sides by the madrassahs of Ulugh Beg, Sher-Dor and Tilya-Kori. It is said that the square and its madrassah influenced other sites from the great square in Iran's Isfahan to the Taj Mahal in India. The city was the capital of the great Tamerlane and we spend the day visiting a number of Tamerlane era sites including the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Ulugh Beg’s observatory, the huge cathedral mosque Bibi Khanum, as well as the impressive Necropolis.Hotel Dilshoda / Malika Prime or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 9

Visit Shakhrisabz and Termez.

We start early for the long day ahead, combining driving (approx. 8 hours) with sightseeing.The day starts with a 3hr transfer to the town of Shakhrisabz. Timurin (from the reign of Tamerlane) city boasts a number of important historic monuments including the ruins of the Ak Saray Palace, the Doruttilyavat Ensemble, the Kok Gumbaz Mosque and others mostly dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Sadly, the city’s historic centre is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage in Danger.After exploring Shakhrisabz’s sites we continue south heading towards the Silk Road city of Termez, about 5hrs away. We arrive at Termez in the evening.Hotel Meredian Termez or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 10

Termez city tour.

The region around Termez is unusual for the Stans in that it is home to Buddhist ancestry and relics as well as some more traditional Silk Road sites and interesting museums. We spend the day exploring this city often overlooked by visitors (due to its remote location) including the 1st century Fayaz-tepe Buddhism Complex and the 9th and 10th century Samanid Sultan Saodat Mausoleum. Out of town (about 40kms) is the oldest site in Uzbekistan, dating back to the 4th century BC: Kampyr-Tepe. We visit the ruins of this ancient settlement before returning to Termez in order to visit the historical museum.Hotel Meredian Termez or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 11

Cross into Tajikistan; on to Dushanbe.

Another early start to head to country number three, Tajikistan. On the way we hope to visit the village of Jarkurgan, famed for its mediaeval minaret. Upon arrival at the Saryosiyo border we bid farewell to our Uzbek leader and upon crossing are greeted by our Tajik leader. The drive from Termez to Dushanbe is 205km on a good road and takes about 5 or 6 hours (depending on border crossing time) and we will stop for lunch en route.Dushanbe's origins probably stretch back 3,000 years though the city grew under Soviet rule as the capital for the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, a part of the Uzbek USSR. Upon arrival in the Tajik capital we have a city tour taking in Independence Square, the Samany Monument (dedicated to the founder of the Tajik Government), Rudaki Ave. and a historical museum.Hilton Dushanbe or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 12

Into the Fann Mountains and Iskanderkul Lake.

The Fann Mountains are one of two of Tajikistan's great ranges (along with the Pamirs) and have peaks towering up to 5,489m. Our destination is Iskanderkul Lake (named after Alexander the Great and is thought to be the final resting place of the conqueror’s beloved horse, Bucephalus) situated at 2,200m. The scenery is stunning as we travel through a beautiful vallley; the drive takes about 4-5hrs/125km - please note that for the last 25km os so the road conditions deteriorate. This afternoon we explore the area around the lake including visiting Tajikistan’s biggest waterfall, affectionately called ‘Tajikistan Niagara’ and is 40m high. The glacial lake itself is often claimed to be the jewel of the Fann Mountains and one of the most beautiful in the former Soviet Union.Tonight we spend the night in a cottages with fantastic views overlooking Isanderkul Lake. There are shared bathrooms and toilets (some indoor and some outdoor).Cottage

Meals included: breakfast,dinner

Day 13

Istravashan and Khujand

Leaving the Fann Mountains behind we make our way into Tajikistan's industrial and agricultural heartland around the city of Khujand (about 4hrs drive). En route we visit the town of Istravashan founded by the Persian king Kier in the 6th century, where we visit the old city with its bazaar and the Kok-Gumbaz mosque and madrassah.Whilst Khujand, today, is not the most attractive of cities it has a complex history. Believed to be one of the oldest in Central Asia it was, over the centuries, attacked by successive armies of Alexander the Great, Arab invaders and the marauding hordes of Genghis Khan as well as being an important stop along the Silk Road. There are still traces of the city’s glory days and we take in a tour of the sites including the Sheikh Maslikhiddin Mausoleum, the Payshhambe bazaar and Urumkhodjaev family country estate, a copy of the Russian tsarist palace of Petergof.Khudjand Delux Hotel or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 14

To the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan.

We return to Uzbekistan via the border crossing at Andurkhan where we say goodbye to our Tajik crew and re-join the Uzbeks.The total driving time to Ferghana town is about 5hrs from Khujand but we make a number of stops along the way. The first of these is at Kokand which was the capital of the 19th century Kokand Khanate. We visit the Khudoyar-Khan Palace (1871) home to a museum, the Norbuta-Biy Madrassah and the Modarikhon Mausoleum.From here we continue on to the small village of Rishtan which is famous for potter dynasties and ceramics masters. We visit a local ceramics studio and witness a demonstration of the craft before having the opportunity to buy some of the iconic earthenware.Our final stop is at Marghilan where we visit a local silk factory and learn about the material which has given its name to the greatest trade route in history.Eventually we arrive in Ferghana town where we spend the night.Hotel Club 777 or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 15

To Osh and Arslan Bob in Kyrgyzstan.

A short drive gets us to our next border crossing and country number 4. After meeting our Kyrgyz leader we head into nearby Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city and begin our exploration. The order in which we visit places is flexible but we'll visit Osh Bazaar (Central Asia’s largest market), as well as the sacred Sulayman Mountain, a holy Muslim site (and burial place of the prophet Sulayman (Solomon)) and the central point on the Silk Road. The walk to the top of Sulayman Mountain is paved with some steps and can be tiring in the heat but the views over the city and valley below, small museum and 15th century church are worth the effort.Later, this afternoon, we leave the city behind and head for Arslanbob Nature Reserve (about 3.5-4hrs away including stops), arriving in the evening. The village of Arslanbob is located in the mountains at around 1,600m (though the top and bottom of the village vary considerably in altitude) and is surrounded by an ancient walnut forest believed to be the largest in the world. We spend the next two nights in a basic homestay with outside drop-toilets and outside showers (normally with hot water).Homestay

Meals included: breakfast,dinner

Day 16

Full day in Arslan Bob

After quite a few days of moving on every day and covering a lot of ground, today is for relaxing in the picturesque village of Arslan Bob surorunded by walnut forests. We take it easy and at around mid-morning we will go for a walk and picnic lunch in the surrounding countryside. The walk takes around 4 hours (including lunch and stops) and requires walking shoes/boots. The pace is leisurely but if anyone prefers not to walk, you are free to opt out.Homestay

Meals included: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 17

Chychkn Gorge.

Our journey today takes us through the central Tien Shan Mountains as we drive through picturesque canyons and gorges and around Toktogul Reservoir. The drive takes approximately 8-9 hours to cover the 350km (including lunch and rest/photo stops). Eventually we reach Chychkan Gorge with its fir and juniper trees. Here we spend the night in a simple guest house with en suite rooms on the banks of a rushing river. Oson Guest House

Meals included: breakfast,dinner

Day 18

Kyzyl Oi Village

This morning there's a chance to go for another short walk to a nearby gorge before continuing our crossing of Central Kyrgyzstan. In the late morning, we set off on the drive to the village of Kyzyl Oi (4.5/5 hours including lunch and rest/photo stops), which translates as ‘Red Bowl’ and is so named because of the red cliffs surrounding the village like a bowl and who’s clay is used to construct its buildings. The mountains here are hues of red and brown and particularly attractive in the late afternoon and early morning sun. The village itself dates from before the Great October Soviet Socialist Revolution and has kept its distinctive Central Asia character. Whilst the valley opens out, the village itself is located in a narrow gorge on the banks of the powerful Kekermeren River.Upon arrival there is some free time to explore the village and surrounding area or interact with the families in whose homestays we will spend the night. We will usually be spread across a few houses but we will all have dinner together in one of the houses.Homestay

Meals included: breakfast,dinner

Day 19-20

Son Kul Lake.

Leaving the gorges behind we head towards the high pastures surrounding Son Kul Lake (approx. 4 hours drive, including some rough roads), arriving in time for lunch. Considered by many to be the Jewel in the Kyrygz crown for natural beauty, this is a land of nomadic shepherds tending their flocks. Whilst today yurt camps have multiplied around the lake, the people who look after these camps still often tend their flocks and cattle dot the jailoo (high mountain pastures) cared for by men on horseback. The lake’s name means ‘the last lake’ and sat at 3,016m it’s easy to see how it got its name.We have the whole of the next day to take in the beauty of the landscape. There is the option to go on a 2-2.5 hour walk to the nearby hills - the hills are quite steep and this may not be for everyone but those who make it to the top will find a few petroglyphs. After lunch, we visit one of the Kyrgyz shepherd families close to camp to learn about their lifestyle and perhaps taste some kumis (a natural drink made from fermented mare’s milk) or similar. There is also the option to go horseriding (optional extra) We experience a bit of the nomad life as we stay in a yurt camp. There are now western style toilets and a 'shower yurt' with proper showers and wash basins. There is hot water when the generator is runing (usually morning and evening) but it is not wholly reliable. Yurt Camp

Meals included: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 21

Bishkek

Leaving the high mountains which characterise Kyrgyzstan behind we make our way to the Republic’s capital city, Bishkek (about 7hrs drive), stopping for lunch en route. The former Soviet city is undergoing a transformation with cafes and trendy bars opening. Upon arrival, we have a short tour for a couple of hours of some of the city’s main sites around the main square, Alatoo Square. We visit the Museum of History and have some time for souvenir shopping or relaxing. (please note that if the Museum of History is closed for renovation or any other reason, we may substitute it for the Fine Arts Museum).B Hotel or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 22

Almaty, Kazakhstan

A mere 4-5hrs from the Kyrgyz capital city (depending on border crossing times) is Almaty, the former Kazakh capital city and the biggest city in the fifth country on our trip. We spend the morning driving to what is considered Central Asia’s most European city and set off on a city tour after lunch. We take in the Panfilovs Park with the Piously-Voznesenskiy Orthodox Cathedral (1907) built without any nails; a memorial to victims of WWII, the Republic Square and the high mountain dam of Modeo on the outskirts of town.Hotel Kazzhol Almaty or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 23

End Almaty

Those on the group flights will be taken to the airport in time for their flight. If you’re continuing on to the Astana extension you will be taken to the airport in time for the internal flight to the Kazakh capital. For land only passengers, the tour ends after breakfast.  

Meals included: breakfast

Trip for You

This trip covers a lot of distance in three weeks and there are a number of places where we only spend one night (especially during the section through Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan).  Most drives tend to be 4-5 hrs with the odd drive taking 6hrs and there is a particularly long day from Samarkand to Termez which involves around 8hrs driving, though this is broken up with a stop at Shakhrisabz.The countries visited don’t necessarily have a great infrastructure and you shouldn’t expect the same comforts you would get at home. Most nights are in standard hotels, though we do also stay in homestays, yurt camps and a guest house which will be more basic. Hot water is normally available but may not always be reliable; toilets might be squat toilets and toilets and/or showers may be outside the main building on some of the more basic nights. Some nights you may end up having to share a room with more than one other person and whilst every effort is made to ensure that on such nights men and women who are not travelling together don’t have to share a room this cannot be guaranteed. On these nights single supplements do not apply. We stay in these places, however, as there are very limited options in some of the areas we visit.Whilst this is not an active trip, the pace and distance covered can be tiring. There are also some occasions where we go on hikes, in particular in Kyrgyzstan. These hikes are not challenging and can vary depending on the preferences and abilities of the group, however.Over a relatively short period, three weeks, this trip takes in a vast array of sites both cultural and natural and covers five fascinating countries which once shared a common history but which now are each developing in their own way.Please note that smoking in public is illegal in Turkmenistan (though smoking in private is fine resulting with the situation where more people smoke indoors than outdoors) and you should not smoke outside the airport on arrival or in the street in Ashgabat. Also, you can only bring 2 packs of cigarettes into Turkmenistan.When visiting mosques and other religious buildings women should wear long skirts and have their shoulders covered, it is also advisable to bring a scarf and cover your head on such occasions. Knee-length skirts/dresses and shorts, as well as sleeveless tops, are fine in other circumstances.  Given the bureaucracy in the region, particularly in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, we may be forced to change the route or activities due to government decisions which are beyond our control. There will be a Western leader throughout, plus a different local leader in each country. Border crossings can be chaotic and will require patience. In some cases, you will need to walk through a neutral zone between the two countries’ immigration posts with your luggage. The Turkmenistan - Uzbekistan (Farab border) is the most complex and involves walking 2-2.5km; sometimes cars are available to drive us but this cannot be guaranteed. Temperatures can vary from extremely hot to close to freezing on any given departure as we visit both deserts and high mountains.

Group Description

The group will generally be between 5 and 16 people. There will be a Western leader for the duration of the tour who will be supported by a different local leader in each of the countries visited. Due to the legal restrictions, each local leader will say farewell to you at the border post and you will meet the next local leader on the other side. 

Eating & Drinking

All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 8 dinners includedCommon dishes in the region include shish-kebabs and plov (rice usually with mutton, onions, carrots, spices, raisins, peas) which you’ll probably see plenty of. The kebabs can be from different meats including lamb and beef whilst plov is a rice-based dish (variants elsewhere are known as pilaf or pilau rice). Another main staple is bread, especially in Uzbekistan where it is freshly baked and sold everywhere, and in Turkmenistan flat round bread baked in clay ovens is known as churek. Other traditional dishes include chorba, a meat and vegetable soup; manty, steamed dumplings filled with lamb; qu'urma, a lamb dish; ichlekli, a meat and onion pie, and gutap, a pie filled with meat, potatoes, spinach and pumpkin. There are normally a couple of opportunities to try home-cooked meals. Tea is also plentiful, both black and green and is drunk with most meals as well as throughout the day. Please note that vegetarian food choices may be rather limited. If you are strictly vegetarian or have any special dietary requirements please notify us well in advance. In this region, the availability of certain specialised products for restricted diets, e.g. gluten-free or dairy-free, is minimal or non-existent and we strongly recommend you bring such specialised dietary items from home.Drinking water is included and will be provided in large containers for you to refill your bottle from - please bring a reusable bottle with you.

Transportation

The transport used varies depending on group size and we change vehicle every country. We normally use local ‘tourist class’ minibuses/coaches. Larger groups may be split across two vehicles or in a larger bus in some countries.Some of the drives are long but they are mostly on sealed roads with just a few sections on dirt roads, including heading into the desert to see the burning pit at the door to hell, Darvaza as well as heading to Sonkul Lake in Kyrgyzstan. We use SUV/4x4 vehicles for the journey to Darvaza as the last 10km to the crater is off-road.If you decide to do the Astana extension you will travel by internal flight.

Joining Instructions

Travelling flight inclusive from London: 23 DaysThe group flight from London is a day flight departing on Day 1 of the itinerary.Flights from LondonWe normally use the scheduled services of Turkish Airlines (depending on availability). As flight timings and schedules change regularly we recommend you call one of our specialist sales staff or your agent to confirm up‐to‐date timings. Please note timings may change at a later date and cannot be confirmed until approximately two weeks before departure.Travelling land only: 23 days starting in Ashgabat and ending in AlmatyYour trip normally starts at our accommodation in Ashgabat in the evening of Day 1 of the itinerary. Details of how to reach the start point are provided in the Final Joining Instructions ‐ sent approximately two weeks before departure.

Transfer Details

Airport transfers are included for those on the group flights. Please Note: It is obligatory by Turkmen law for the inviting party (as per your LOI or Turkmen visa) to organise an arrival transfer from Ashgabat airport for tourists. If you are not joining the group transfer you will therefore still need to pre-book an arrival transfer through Exodus.Free TransfersExodus offers FREE airport arrival transfers for any flight for this trip (free departure transfers are not available for any flight), for both Land Only and Flight Inclusive clients, so no matter which flight you choose to arrive on you will be met and transferred to your hotel. All those taking advantage of the free airport transfers must provide full flight details for both arrival and departure in advance; unless specified otherwise, the transfer will be to the Exodus start (or pre-tour) hotel; transfers to other hotels in the same city may attract an extra charge; transfers may be shared with other Exodus customers on the same flight, or on a flight with similar arrival times. If you require an airport departure transfer and are not on the group flights, you will need to pre-book a private transfer.

Weather Info

Covering a large area varying from the deserts of Turkmenistan to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan the climate can change a lot. The summers (July and August) can be very hot in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan but fairly pleasant in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, whilst the Spring and Autumn (May/June and September/October) can be cooler in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan but more pleasant in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As we visit regions ranging from deserts to high mountains you can expect temperatures in the 30s as well as close to freezing on the same trip and need to be prepared for both eventualities. Winters are very cold and harsh and some areas are impassable (especially to Sonkul in Kyrgyzstan) for most of the year which is why the season for this trip is relatively short lasting only from June to September.

Essential Equipment

Please bring a photocopy or two of your passport with you as our local representative will collect your passport in order to complete the Turkmenistan registration processs. Please also bring a printed copy of your Turkmenistan LOI with you, which you will need to hand over to the authorities to collect your visa on arrival in Turkmenistan.Due to the amount of travelling and the number of border crossings, for your own convenience, we strongly recommend that you pack as light as possible and use luggage with wheels as you will have to take your own luggage through the border crossings, some of which involve walking through a neutral zone. Light casual cotton clothing is recommended. Please remember that you will be expected to cover your legs and arms (to the elbow) during visits to mosques. Women should also cover their hair with a scarf when visiting holy sites. Whilst this is not a requirement it is expected.Local men tend not to wear shorts but it is acceptable to wear shorts except when visiting a mosque or madrasas. Sandals are useful as they are cooler and are easier to take off when visiting mosques.A set of thermal underwear (as a lightweight solution) and a fleece, hat and gloves are highly recommended for cold nights.You will also need a travel towel and trainers or walking shoes/boots.Please bring a reusable water bottle with you.Please note that some medicines are banned in both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan unless you are carrying a doctor's prescription. These include medicines which contain tramadol, morphin, opiates, codeine or similar components often found in painkillers.At the time of writing the standard weight limit for hold baggage on the recommended international carrier for this trip is 23kg. We recommend packing only one piece of checked baggage.As advice about luggage allowances for both hand and hold luggage is subject to change, we suggest you check the airline's website for the latest information prior to your departure.

Spending Money

The amount of spending money required can vary depending on how much you spend on drinks and souvenirs, but as an indication, we recommend you bring at least US$300 for meals not included and a further US$150 for souvenirs, drinks and other incidentals.Photo fees are payable at nearly all the sites in Uzbekistan ‐ they vary from 5000 to 10000 Som. There are also photo fees in some sites in Turkmenistan, this can be up to US$14 per photo, your tour leader can advise on when this may be the case.As a rough guideline, you should allow approximately US$8-10 per meal with a drink, or US$15-20 per person per day.Optional ActivitiesThere are a number of optional activities, which if you wish, your leader can help arrange for you. They are subject to schedules, weather and availability; your leader will let you know what is available and the local costs. Payment should be made locally in US Dollars. Below is an indication of the optional activities and their approximate costs and duration but these may vary throughout the season or depending on the number of participants and are given in good faith as a guideline only.Yurt setting up show at Son Kul Lake – USD70 per group (1-2 hours). Watch, or take part in, a demonstration of setting up a yurt with Kyrgyz nomads and learn about these dwellings.National Horseback riding games on the shore of Son Kul Lake – USD150 per group. Chance to watch various kinds of traditional Kyrgyz horseback riding games.Horse riding at Son Kul Lake - USD12 per horse for approx. 2 hours.Folklore musical show during dinner in Bishkek city – USD100 per group for (20 mins); USD150 per group (30 mins). Professional musicians will demonstrate the traditional musical instruments and play Kyrgyz melodies.

Tipping

Given the nature of this trip, visiting five different countries, working with a tipping kitty may not really be practical, however, your leader will advise on whether it is possible to tip as a group. Tipping has become customary in these countries, especially with respect to tourist activities, though this is, of course, completely at your own discretion. As a guideline, we’d suggest planning on roughly US$5 a day for tipping. Of this, a reasonable amount would be US$2 to US$2.50 a day for each local leader and the rest split between other staff. Most of the tips would go to the local leaders and drivers but you may wish to leave a tip for hotel staff as well - a tip equivalent to US$1 for a hotel porter would be a nice gesture but it is entirely up to you. Tipping of your Western leader would be appreciated but again is at your discretion - we suggest tipping as a group at the end of the holiday.

(Please note, visa information cannot be guaranteed and should be checked with the relevant country's embassy prior to departure.)

Hotel, Yurt, Cottage and Homestay

Most nights are in standard hotels, though we do also stay in local homestays, cottages, yurt camps, and a guest house which will be more basic. Hot water is normally available but may not always be reliable; toilets may be squat toilets at times and toilets and/or showers may be outside on some of the more basic nights.At the homestays in Arslan Bob and Kyzyl Oi (days 15, 16 and 18) you may have to share with 3-4 people to a room. Similarly, for the two nights in the yurt camp at Son Kul (days 19 and 20), you may sometimes have to share with 3 people to a yurt. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that on such nights men and women who are not travelling together don’t have to share a room, this cannot be guaranteed. We stay in these places, however, as there are very limited options in some of the areas we visit.Additional AccommodationIn Turkmenistan, hotels charge a daily tourist tax of around USD2 per person per day - this is included in the holiday price for the main tour so you needn't worry about it. However, if you book extra nights accommodation in Ashgabat before the tour, you will need to pay this directly to the hotel yourself. If you book pre-tour accommodation in Turkmenistan (and will be staying in the country for more than three days plus your arrival day), you will be required by law to register your passport with the State Service of Turkmenistan - our local partner will assist with this. Single SupplementIf you prefer to have your own room, a limited number of single supplements are available on a first-come-first-serve basis on some nights of the tour only - please request this at the time of booking. Please note that a single supplement is not available at the homestays (3 nights) or the yurt camp (2 nights) and in these locations you may have to share with 3-4 people per room. Single supplements are also not available at the cottages by Iskanderkul Lake (1 night) which are on a twin-share basis.


Amazing, Extensive, Exhausting Trip

If you want to see classic Silk Road architecture then go to Uzbekistan. If you want to see amazing mountain scenery then go to Kyrgyzstan. If you want to see both of the above plus three other countries in Central Asia, whilst experiencing a wide range of 'best of' activites plus a few off the beaten track sights, all crammed into three hectic weeks, then the Five Stans trip is the one for you. My expectations were high, but this trip surpassed them.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
I can't pick one, here are a selection of things that blew me away: Surreal Ashgabat. Beautiful Bukhara. Samarkand. Obviously. The night sky (and entire yurt experience) at Son Kul lake
  What did you think of your group leader?
Suzie Grant is a one woman whirlwind. She held our great group together, looked after us all, kept our spirits up and used her natural curiousity to help make it the best trip possible for us. It was a privilege to travel with her.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Bear in mind that the itinerary is very 'full on' and, although I consider myself to be relatively fit, I was quite tired by the end of the trip. That said, I am grateful for the opportunity to do so much in such a short period of time.
  Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just go.

A long and varied road

This amazing trip was like several holidays rolled into one. From the surreal weirdness of Ashghabat and Darvaza, through ancient archaeological sites to the stunning monuments in Bukhara and Samarkand, through the desert to the Afghan border then up into beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers and nomad camps, before descending back down to the modern post-Soviet cities… every day there was something new and wonderful to see.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
So many! Ashghabat set us up with three weeks' worth of jokes; we all fell instantly in love with Bukhara; the necropolis in Samarkand was an unexpected delight; the drive into the Fann Mountains was a welcome return to awesome scenery, and the whole of Kyrgyzstan was jaw-droppingly beautiful, especially the ever-changing colours of Son Kul lake and the brilliant stars on a clear night.
  What did you think of your group leader?
Our fantastic tour leader Ale(jandro) was a major reason for the success of the trip - always on hand to organise things or deal with any issues, endlessly cheerful and calm, and full of entertaining stories about his previous trips. The local guides sometimes varied in quality, but the best ones were truly stellar - Bek in Uzbekistan and Valentina in Kyrgyzstan in particular were excellent.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
The Tajik visa is valid for about 45 days, so allow a few days' leeway at the start rather than trying to calculate your exact entry date (a few people got this wrong and had to get new visas over dodgy Turkmen internet). The Turkmen LOI can arrive very late, not the "month in advance" suggested in the trip notes, but nobody got rejected. Take plenty of rehydration salts even if you have bowels of steel - nearly everyone had some troubles, and the salts are also good if you're sweating buckets (which will definitely happen at 46 degrees!). Learn some Russian if you can, it's spoken almost everywhere, and will help you understand the bill at restaurants. The transfer window at Istanbul Airport on the way home is very tight - do whatever it takes to speed things up, whether going through the VIP security check or hitching a ride with a motorised wheelchair (have some $$ ready to tip the driver), as you may have over a mile to run to make it before boarding closes - we all made it, but only just.
  Is there anything else you would like to add?
Make sure you have plenty of room on your camera memory card!

Leave the West Behind

If you want to leave the west behind until the last city on this incredible journey, then welcome to the former Soviet States that make up the silk road. This trip has everything, religion, wildlife, nomad living and amazing countryside and mountains. Forget McDonalds and Burger King, at times you won't even get social media!
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
staying in a Yurt high in the mountains, seeing the nomad people living their lives as they have done for 1000's of years
  What did you think of your group leader?
our group leader was good, and the local guides and drivers were exceptional
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Do not expect western standards, the food is basic at times as are the toilet and shower facilities. There are no home comforts which is what makes this trip what it is. Do not go expecting to get Wifi and social media, it isn't going to happen at times

The Five Stans - A journey through history and the Central Asian Republice

A great holiday with plenty of superb sites and stunning scenery. One reason for calling this the Silk Road was that silk was used to pay people. It started with the Chinese needing horses to fight the nomads from the north. By 53BC, Rome was spending half its silver production on silk and other products from the Silk Roads. Rome also had to introduce modesty legislation because of the number of people wearing only silk. Whilst Julius Caesar was invading Britain in 53BC, his friend Marcus Crassus was leading another Roman army to defeat by Persia, in an empire that stretched from modern day Iran to Afghanistan and north to Merv. 10,000 Roman captives were sold at the Merv slave market to the Chinese, to fight on their northern border against marauding nomadic tribes. The ruins of three cities can be seen at Merv, in southern modern day Turkmenistan. The first was built by Cyrus the Great when he created the first Persian Empire. Next to it is the remains of the city built by Alexander the Great and next to that the remains of the city built after the Arab invasion, which was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan 1221 AD, with up to a million people being massacred. Alexander is a hero in Turkmen, after he freed them from Persian rule. In Uzbekistan, Timor is the hero, as he rose from hired sword to ruler of a vast empire, stretching from the Chinese border to Egypt, destroying many armies on the way. He made Samarqand his capital and made it one of the greatest cities. In Tajikistan, it is Cyrus the Great who is remembered, partly because he was murdered there. In Osh, Kyrgyzstan, it is Babur, great great grandson of Timor and founder of the Indian Mughal dynasty who is remembered. Although it is Manus who is the local hero.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Too many. Merv, Bukhara, Samarqand to name three cities. The snow capped mountains, throwing snowballs and sweltering in the heat all on the same day, magnificent lakes, watching flocks of goats and sheep being moved to the high pastures and seeing the yurts of the shepherds. One surprise was the large number of roses and other plants we saw in the first three countries visited.
  What did you think of your group leader?
Very good. Unusually we had both a western leader for the whole trip, as well as local guides for each of the countries visited.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
You may only spend one day in Kazakhstan, but a day time flight home, clouds permitting, gives you the opportunity to see the steppes and the salt pans of this vast country from the air, either through the window (book seat early) or as an alternative to a movie, using the plane's downward looking camera (which is an option in the My Flight screen). On arrival at Ashgabat airport, you have to take your invitation letter to the Visa desk before going to through passport control. The visa fee is also variable, partly depending on the exchange rate. We also found the fee charged to individuals varied from a low of $99 each to a high of about $130 each. Beware of each fresh fruit and salad, it is usually washed in local tap water, which can cause problems. Our costs per person were around: Turkmenistan - 200 Turkmen Manat for food and photo fees (June 2019 rate 4.42TMT = £1) Uzbekistan - 800,000 Uzbek Som for food and photo fees (10,700UZS = £1). Spending in the markets, pottery, silk and carpet shops is extra. Tajikistan - 380 Tajiki Somoni for food (11.93TJS = £1) Kyrgyzstan - 2,000 Kyrgyzi Som for food plus 500KGS for optional Arslanbob jeep tour (88.24KGS = £1) Kazakhstan - 15,000 Kazakh Tenge for food and market visit (481.79KZT =£1) Istanbul/other airport stop overs - don't forget this. Visa fees and tips are extra. Istanbul

Varied and Interesting Trip

A busy and varied trip covering five countries, encompassing a wealth of culture and history, and some amazing scenery.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Riding a horse above Lake Song Kul. Beautiful blue and gold ceiling in the Registan in Samarkand. Many encounters with friendly and welcoming local people, especially when we had homestays in the villages.
  What did you think of your group leader?
Suzie Grant is one of the best leaders I have come across. The trip would not have been half as good without her. Very well organized, very attentive to the wishes of all her clients, and a lovely personality.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Be prepared for a busy schedule: you are moving on almost every day, and there are long hours of driving. Bring clothes for all climates: temperatures ranged from 40 Centigrade in Ashgabat to near freezing at night in the highlands. Learn some Russian if you can: it is the lingua franca in all the countries, restaurant menus are usually in Russian, and all our drivers were Russian. Be aware that there is often no internet.

The must see's of the Five Stans

This is my 17th trip with Exodus and this has been one of the best so far, if not the best. There is so much to see, though there is quite a lot of travelling to enable this to happen. However the scenery, mostly deserts and mountains, are delightful. The accommodation ranged from the sublime (A Sheraton!) to the plain and simple, homestays, which gave us an even better chance to interact with local people. If you have the time to do this trip, do it, the scenery is stunning and the history of this region is the history of the civilised world. Brilliant!
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Seeing the Gur E Amir (Timur's tomb) during the day and then again by Moonlight.
  What did you think of your group leader?
Suzie Grant's organisational skills are simply outstanding. Her experience and endless patience ensured that we all had a fantastic, trouble free trip, without feeling rushed or manipulated in any way. Don't ever let her go, your company will be much the worse for it
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Go on this trip and maybe read John Frankopan's 'The Silk Road' first?

An Incredible Trip

An incredible journey across a region that has not always been easy to visit.The trip encompasses grand landscapes, huge distances and wonderful opportunities to learn much from the local guides. Bek in Uzbekistan and Aibek in Kyrgyzstan/ Kazakhstan particularly endeared themselves to the group, bringing knowledge, consideration and enthusiasm to the task. The trip endeavours to give wide and varied experiences and "gets off the worn track" with inclusions such as Termes, Uzbekistan near the Afghanistan border.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Expect to be amazed ! ... From bizarre Ashgabet, historically dense Bukhara and Samarkand, roadside interactions with local herders in their Yurt camps to stunning high altitude lakes.
  What did you think of your group leader?
For a trip such as this, which encompasses moving almost every day, 5 currencies , many meal arrangements and visa challenges at borders, an extraordinary guide is paramount for success. Our guide Alejandro (Alex) was without doubt the reason for the smooth progression of the trip. His positive manner, perceptive nature, great humour and organisation skills endeared him to us all.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Beware: The trip is exhausting (particularly with temperatures averaging around 40 degrees celsius in August for much of the trip) even though much of the time is spent sitting in the vehicles. Pack light but include extra layers for high altitude. Be very sure your visa arrangements are correct.
  Is there anything else you would like to add?
You will meet interesting people. Our group was well travelled, very interested to learn more of the region and well informed. It was great to share the experience and fun with them.

Fantastic trips

This is a really fascinating, busy, exhausting and quite unique trip across 5 countries in just over 3 weeks. Go with an open mind and you will enjoy the most amazing experiences, see incredible sights, meet really lovely people and learn so much.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
My favourite time was in the yurt camp at Son Kul lake. After a really hectic couple of weeks this was a brilliant place to relax and chill, walk and ride local horses. There are very few places in the world with no phone or internet access and no sound of roads, planes or trains - but this is one of them. I would have stayed another week here just to unwind and enjoy the spectacular surroundings if I could have.
  What did you think of your group leader?
Our group leader, Alejandro, was quite exceptional - his patience, calmness, kindness and good humour kept us all together as a group for this long and quite intense trip.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
This trip requires a really small wardrobe in order to manage a lot of one-night stopovers, with very cool lightweight, easily washable clothing for the incredibly hot places (Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and a down jacket, hat, gloves and thermals for the much cooler places (Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan). If you take the Astana extension - just make sure your free day is NOT a Monday, when everything (yes, literally everything!) is closed.
  Is there anything else you would like to add?
Please ensure you take bucket loads of patience and good humour, along with hours and hours of reading/podcasts/music for the long bus journeys.

The 5 Stans

A great trip covering a wide range of experiences - from Turkmenistan [Ashgabat with its somewhat bizarre architecture (the Wedding Palace being a particularly good, if that's the right word, example) and the welcoming wedding parties at the Arch of Neutrality; the ancient ruins at Nisa and Merv; and the burning pit at Darvaza among particularly memorable sights - all in the presence of a great local guide Jabar]; through Uzbekistan [with spectacular sights and sites at Bukhara, Samarkand and Shahrisabz together with the ruins of one of Alexander the Great's fortresses by the River Oxus all with the guide, Bek, who is probably the best guide on any tour I've been on]; Tajikistan [wonderful journey through the mountains to the gorgeous Iskanderkul Lake]; back into Uzbekistan [to learn about ceramics and the mechanics, and smell (boiling silkworm cocoons), of the silk industry; Kyrgyzstan [marvellous mountain scenery, great homestays, and lovely yurt camp (though be prepared for all weathers in one day - from bright sun to hail and lightning in a matter of minutes)]; and a brief stay in Kazakhstan [could have stayed longer and got to see more of Almaty, etc]. Suzie, the British guide who accompanied the trip throughout was wonderful and made everything easy for us - without her it would have been a lot more difficult. Food was ok to very good (the meal at the family house in Samarkand and the meals at the homestays being favourites), but was very limited for the vegetarians generally. Hotels were good to excellent and the transport was fine, though the air-conditioning on the minibuses in Kyrgyzstan didn't cope with the high temperatures.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Visiting Samarkand - seeing Registan Square and visiting Timur's mausoleum. This made the history, culture, etc of the region memorable, and together with the whole trip, ranging from visiting 4th century BC ruins to seeing present-day life (from modern cities to semi-nomadic herders living in yurts) vividly brought to life how much this area has contributed to world history yet how little we hear about it.
  What did you think of your group leader?
Suzie was wonderful - she made everything easy for us, organising things so we had no worries, speedily and efficiently dealing with any issues that arose, and fascinating us with her stories of her earlier travels through the region and telling us about how things had changed in the intervening years.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
While this is advertised as an easy/moderate trip it is a very full trip with little time for relaxing - this is not at all a complaint as the trip covered so many different aspects of life, culture and history in the countries we visited, but is more tiring/physically demanding than it might appear from the trip notes. Also, it is worth noting that the toilets are often of the squatter variety and not always in pristine condition - indeed, far from it - so just be prepared and always have some spare toilet tissue, just in case. Also, for any vegetarians be prepared for a distinct lack of options/variety in what is available.
  Is there anything else you would like to add?
A brilliant trip - thoroughly recommended.

A remarkable trip

This was a trip full of variety and dramatic scenery, from the surreal Ashgabat, the amazing Darvaza crater, the beautiful mosques and madrasahs of Samarkand and Bukhara to the truly majestic and ever changing scenery of the Kyrgyzstan mountains. Each of the 5 countries had its own unique character. There are some long journeys but they are full of continuing interest with lots of worthwhile stops on route. 99% of the accommodation was very comfortable, spacious and spotlessly clean.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
I found the experience of the continuing journey to new and unexpected sites and places the biggest wonder. There was no tourist commercialism at all. One guide in the walnut grove was highly surprised when I said I would buy 3 packets of walnuts!!
  What did you think of your group leader?
The experienced and knowledgable Suzie Grant guided us effortlessly throughout and 3 of the local guides were outstanding.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Be prepared for ‘4 seasons in 1day’ at Son-Kul lake. Take some warm layers. The stoves in the yurts are not lit until 8.30pm and it is c o l d! That said, it is very comfortable glamping.
  Is there anything else you would like to add?
A truly remarkable trip. Thank you Exodus.
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