Those who are into ancient Mongol history will know where Turkmenistan is, for the rest of us it’s just another one of the many ‘stans’ in the Central Asia Causasus. Home of the ‘world’s biggest fountains’, it is also the site of the ruins of some of the oldest civilizations and biggest empires in the ancient world including Old Nissa, the capital of the Parthian Empire. It is also where Merv, the second most important Islamic center in the 12th century, can be found. The country is also of political interest, as it was once ruled by a recently deceased dictator who built himself a golden statue, and even named days of the week after himself. Despite its rich oil and gas reserves, the people of Turkmenistan remain poor and repressed by their own government.

Turkmenistan has some good hotels including an extravagant five-star hotel made for wealthy oil barons who visit the country. Lodges and family-owned bed-and-breakfasts are also available. Restaurants are diverse, but they mostly serve Continental, European, Russian, and Asian fare. The locals are accommodating, but do not, in any circumstance, criticize their president, their country, or their people because they are very sensitive about this.

When to Go

It has a strongly continental climate with fluctuations in temperature.
July is the hottest month, while January is the coldest.

Getting There & Away

A direct flight to Ashgabat is available from Birmingham and London via Turkmenistan Airlines, and in Frankfurt via Lufthansa. A train connects the country to Russia. You can internal flights to get around the country. Plane fare is extremely cheap due to the low fuel costs in the country. Taxis are also abundant, and it is the best way to get around the city.

Health & Safety

To be safe, stick with bottled water. You may want to specify ‘negazirovanie’ (which means without gas or still) if you do not want to order fizzy water. Do not photograph anyone in uniform or any government buildings, unless you fancy an unlimited time in custody.

Itineraries

Three days in Ashgabat
Two days in Merv

Additional time
Two days in the Karakum desert

Highlights

Old Nissa: its ruins is about 10 miles west of Ashgabat. Old Nissa was the capital of one of the Parthian Empire. Kow Ata: an underground sulphur lake, Kow Ata is located in the mountains an hour or so off Ashgabat. It is known for its medicinal and mineral-rich waters.

Arch of Neutrality: this is the rotating, 12-meter high golden statue of President Niyazov that stands on a tripod 75 meters high. Elevators can bring you to the top to get a grand view of Ashgabat including the ‘world’s biggest fountain’ and the golden domes.

Merv: was once the second most important center of the Islamic world after Baghdad in the 12th century. One of the most beautiful structures you can find here is a 12th-century mausoleum.

Activities

Sightseeing: Turkmenistan is a great place for sightseeing if you love history. It has many important archaeological sites and ruins of the old Central Asian civilizations.

Shopping: for Turkoman rugs which are famous for their geometric patterns and predominantly red color. They are often copied in India and Pakistan.

Eating: try the country’s curious mix of Russian and Asian cuisine.

Drinking: choose from an a range of “Turkmenbashi” labeled vodka and wash it down with Russian “Baltika” brand beer. The tea is also excellent in Turkmenistan.