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After two wonderful years in the Far East (read here and here) we left the highly developed and urbanized countries of South Korea and Japan and have returned to countries that are predominantly rural: North and Central Asia.
While we have by no means a tight itinerary, our next phase will include Russia, Mongolia, and ‘the Stans’, as we summarize them: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan (will I ever learn to spell them properly without depending on the spellchecker? – even more confusing is the fact that they are spelled slightly differently in Dutch).
Even though we prefer a totally open agenda, our journey to this part of the world is defined by two issues:
- Visas, all with way too many time restrictions.
- Climate (severe winters).
This is what we got figured out about the bureaucratic hassles. I guess it is relevant for all Europeans, but be sure to check out Caravanistan with excellent and updated info on all paperwork requirements (and lots of travel info) on Central Asia.
- Russia. The standard is a one-month tourist visa, which obviously is way too short for us. So we applied for a business visa, which is valid for a year but within that year you can stay only 2×90 days (30 days of travel per 180 calendar days). It’s all ridiculously expensive. A full description of the procedure will follow in a Travel Information on Russia page. But for the Dutch, I’d already like to point out the excellent service we got at Rusreis.nl, run by Lena and Peter who arranged, among other things, our business invitations.
- Mongolia. We can apply for a one-month tourist visa in Ulan Ude, just before the border, which takes a few days ($50). An extension can be arranged in Ulaanbaatar (the capital), for about $45.
- Kazakhstan. 30-day visa free and you can re-enter as often as you want.
- Kyrgyzstan. 60-day visa free and you can re-enter as often as you want.
- Uzbekistan. Hope for the future (announcement of being visa free in 2021) but for now it’s the typical visa application process (e.g. in Kyrgyzstan), costing $90 for 1 month.
- Tadjikistan. Bless them: e-visa. $50 for 45 days.
- Turkmenistan. The toughest cookie. They only give 3 or 5-day transit visas for $55, which need to be applied for in advance and apparently hassle.
All this is much, much easier than it was, oh some ten years ago. Having that figured out, the next step was more fun – although with its own frustrations: roadmaps and books.
Road Maps for Russia
Getting roadmaps was the easy part. We’re grateful as ever to Reise Know-how for having sent us maps for the next phase. There are a couple for Russia alone, and partly overlap:
- Russia East 1: 2000 000 Travel Map
- Russia West 1:200 0000 Travel Map
- Lake Baikal (Siberia, Russia) 1:550,000 Travel Map
- Silk Road 1:2,000,000 Travel Map
Guidebooks for Central Asia, Russia, and Mongolia
Insight Guides are full of photos they have a very attractive set-up. They are not too detailed but great to get a general impression of a country/place, which invites you to research more.
The ones I will be using:
- Insight Guides Russia
- Russian Phrasebook & Dictionary (with the option to download on your Smartphone)
- Silk Road – ebook
Bradt Guides – Our Bradt Guyana guidebook is one of our favorites ever, and I was thrilled to see there have guidebooks on most of the countries in our next stage. The Guyana guidebook was super detailed and fascinating to read with not-commonly covered topics. I’ll let you know in the upcoming Country Reports (in time you will find them here) how we like the new ones.
My Bradt guidebooks for Central Asia are:
Guidebooks in Dutch
I always try to get a guidebook in English as well as in Dutch for each country. Dutch guidebook writers, in my experience, tend to look for different things and especially countries that have some Dutch heritage may be covered in the Dutch guidebooks but not the English ones. The Dutch guidebook series I like best is the Dominicus Reisgidsen.
All the more disappointed I was to find out that for the coming stage there are no, I repeat NO, guidebooks in Dutch (only from before 2000 or so). Have I missed one, or more? Please let me know in the comment section below. I’d be so-o grateful!
Since I do like to have 2 guidebooks on each country, I added a couple of Lonely Planet guidebooks to the selection. Too detailed on long lists with places to eat and to stay, Lonely Planets are not my favorite, and frankly, I am not sure if they really have to add something to the ones I have. I will let you know in the Country Reports.
Still on my wishlist list to buy:
- Roaming Kyrgyzstan: Beyond the Tourist Track, by Jessica Jacobson
- Uzbekistan: The Golden Road to Samarkand, by Calum MacLeod (Odyssey Illustrated Guides)
- Tajikistan and the High Pamirs: A Companion and Guide, by Robert Middleton (Odyssey Illustrated Guides)
- Kazakhstan: Nomadic Routes from Caspian to Altai, by Dagmar Schreider (Odyssey Illustrated Guides)
Apart from the regular guidebooks, I always look out for local guidebooks, brochures, maps, and other information.
Of course, apart from guidebooks I’m searching for other books, fiction or non-fiction, preferably by local writers but the latter is not so evident when totally unfamiliar with the writers from countries you already know so little about.
For Russia I have made a beginning, find the list here. Next will be my search for fiction/non-fiction books on Mongolia and Central Asia.
Do you have any suggestions on books I should put on my list? I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below. Thanks!