Ranking the ‘Stans of Central Asia

In the 1970s, Central Asia was as popular with backpackers as South East Asia or Central America is today. Then civil wars kinda got in the way and backpackers avoided these countries like the plague. However, on reflection, Central Asia sure has a lot of natural beauty, if little else (in some cases). The 7 countries I am talking about are affectionately known as the ‘Stans’ because of their similar-sounding English pronunciation of country names, and I am going to rank them as far as tourism for the international visitor is concerned.

Afghanistan
Afghanistan

7. Afghanistan is surely a country with amazing beauty in some places, and it was once the Mecca for all backpackers (ask our parents’ generation about it), but nowadays it is simply too unsafe (still!) to ever consider visiting the stronghold of the Taliban. Yet maybe one day we can all get back to the country that gave us the beautiful provinces of Bamyan and Baghlan.

Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan

6. Only ranking ahead of Afghanistan in this list because it is a safer place to be, Turkmenistan is nevertheless off-limits to most sane tourists. There is a lot of red tape involved when you want to obtain a visa to Turkmenistan (it don’t even have a Government tourism website) and if/when you get there, pretty much all you will find a barren wasteland full of statues of its previous supreme leader.

Pakistan
Pakistan

5. Pakistan nowadays has a fearsome reputation in the west as a stronghold of terrorism. While this is certainly true, other reasons you should not visit Pakistan (especially as a solo traveller) is that the risks outweigh the rewards, and much of this is because of a poorly designed tourist infrastructure (even their official tourism website looks rubbish!). That said, Lahore is supposed to be good for the culture vultures, and Karachi is said to have nice beaches.

http://www.tourism.gov.pk/

Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan

4. There isn’t really anything too bad to say about Kazakhstan, but I never hear people talk about it when travel destinations are mentioned. Unlike the 3 ‘Stans’ ranked worse, it does have some nice places to visit (without security concerns), such as Turkistan and Almaty, but ultimately the country is too large with too poor a transport infrastructure to ever get the chance to see much anyway.

http://visitkazakhstan.kz/en/

Tajikistan
Tajikistan

3. Now we are coming to the big hitters. Tajikistan, while not a popular destination by stretch of the imagination, does have some real unspoilt scenery to be discovered, and it is a perfect place for the intrepid adventurer, especially at Iskandarkul and Panjakent, and in Pamir National Park. More and more airlines are also now flying to its capital city, Dushanbe, which makes it easier to reach.

http://visittajikistan.tj/

Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan

2. Kyrgyzstan is a truly beautiful country. I can never remember how to spell it, but I always remember how impressive the country was from the moment I arrived in Bishkek, and how it was much better than I had expected. While much of the country is poor and rural, this does not detract from the sense of adventure you will have at scenic locations such as Karakol and Issyk-Kul.

http://www.kyrgyz.net.my/

Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan

1. Uzbekistan is the country in Central Asia that offers the most to travellers. From its burgeoning capital city of Tashkent to its ancient Islamic relics at Samarkand (linked easily by high speed train these days), there is something for everyone to enjoy here, and the people are certainly the friendliest I have thus far encountered in this region, too. Bukhara and Khiva are also great places to visit in Uzbekistan.

http://welcomeuzbekistan.uz/en/

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6 thoughts on “Ranking the ‘Stans of Central Asia

  1. Which of these have you actually visited? Kazakhstan is now on my list because of its proximity to western Mongolia (which I loved) and Uzbekistan is, too. I’ve seen some trips that combine 5 of the “Stans and am always tempted.

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    1. Been to all apart from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. Those countries don’t appeal to me. Doing all of the 5 ‘Stans (4 ‘Stans, in my opinion) in one mega trip would be an adventure and a half! I have seen your posts on Mongolia, you seemed to have a great time there.

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  2. I think this is a great post, although personally I don’t count Afghanistan nore Pakistan to the “Stan” countries only those who have been part of the former Sovjet Union, but hey it’s true what you write about Tajikistan , Panjikant and Iskanderkul are pretty cool been there aswell, check my post about it on my blog polmeetsworld. About Uzbekistan my only regret is that I havven’t got the time to see much more about Tashkent, didn’t even saw that big mosque, but then again Uzbekistan was a little to much of the same stuff, after visiting Khiva-Bukhara-Samarakand I had enough and was happy to continue into Tajikistan to the city of Khujand. This ranking post you made is pretty good , it sums it all up, cheers

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    1. Thanks for the comments. Maybe one day you can return to Uzbekistan and see the parts you missed beforehand? I would also like to return to Uzbekistan in the future and explore more of the golden Silk Road.

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      1. I want to do all the former Sovjet republics and so far I still have 4 to go Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia. After that who knows maybe a second trip to Uzbekistan is possible

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