Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan: An Independent Travel Guide

This travel guide to Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan is intended to show foreign travellers and residents what Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan are really like, unbiased by glossy brochures or homepages by Uzbek & Kyrgyz authorities or individuals. No offense meant to any of these homepages, but I think they are often of little practical value to foreign would-be visitors to Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan. Consequently, you should not expect any photos/sounds/smells from Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan in these pages: for fast downloads, this guide is limited to textual information, the rest can wait until you get there or can be found on these other sites. This travel page is thus not redundant with (most) other services on Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan, as it is only about travel, with special focus on independent travel!

Note that this travel guide is just a service I provide as a pastime, but not as my profession (I am an academic in computing science!). Please contact an on/offline travel agent, and/or the nearest Uzbek or Kyrgyz consulate, if you cannot find the desired information starting from this travel guide. But I will reply to "interesting" requests, especially that I have made some wonderful friends this way!

In 2012, I decided to stop maintaining this guide, but it still contains a lot of correct and useful information.

Contents

1. Online Information 2. Printed Information 3. Letters from/to Readers of this Guide Happy traveling in Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan,
Pierre Flener

Copyright © 1995-2012 Pierre Flener. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form without written permission. Last updated 7 June 2012 by Pierre Flener.


1. Online Information

Facts & FAQs | Safety & Health | Languages Spoken | Money & Exchange Rates | Independent Travel Information | Impressions from Foreign Visitors


Facts & FAQs

The
CIA World Factbook has lots of interesting facts about Uzbekistan and facts about Kyrgyzstan.

The Program on Central Asia and the Caucasus at Harvard University has a lot of useful information for scholars.

Turkic Republics and Communities has a lot of links to Central Asian resources.


Safety & Health

The
US State Department Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets give an up-to-date, though slightly paranoid (it's for US citizens!), estimate of the current political/economical/religious/... climate in Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan.

The Center for Disease Control & Prevention has excellent information about staying healthy in Central Asia.


Languages Spoken

The
Ethnologue Database has the lists of all languages spoken in Uzbekistan and all languages spoken in Kyrgyzstan.

The Central Asia Phrasebook of Lonely Planet Publications is invaluable for getting around Central Asia.

The Dictionary of the Turkic Languages published by Routledge in 1996 includes the Uzbek & Kyrgyz languages.

Michael C. Martin's Foreign Languages for Travelers has some basic lessons (with sounds!) for the traveller on Turkish (which is related to the Uzbek & Kyrgyz languages) and Russian, as well as pointers to many other language-related resources.


Money & Exchange Rates

The
Universal Currency Converter has the daily exchange rates of the Uzbek Sum or Kyrgyz Sum vs. most other currencies.


Independent Travel Information

Excellent independent travel pages about Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan are:
Yanki Pursun maintains the really excellent Turkish World Aviation site, with the Tashkent Airport Timetable, the Bishkek's Manas Airport Timetable, and many other pointers on how to fly into/from Central Asia.

The following agents operating from Uzbekistan can help you with Uzbek visa arrangements and local matters:

Please tell these people that Pierre Flener forwarded you to them. This is carefully screened: I have received other agencies' requests for being listed here, but, upon checking their rates, I have decided that they are just in the business for a quick buck, prying on innocent or big-spending tourists. If any of the agents above is reported to me as charging rates that are out of sync with the Uzbek economy, I'll drop them as well. Beware of any agent, whether UzbekTourism or not, who is trying to make you believe that independent travel is impossible (or very hard) in Uzbekistan, so that you *need* their help: they just want your money, and tons of it (i.e., enough for paying for a similar journey inside a Western country).

Some embassy pages for Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan are:

You can find application forms and visa rules at these sites.


Impressions from Foreign Visitors

Pierre Flener (that's me!) has written a
travelogue on his trip to Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan in summer 1994.

Esra Bayoglu (that's my wife!) has lovely photos of Uzbekistan and photos of Kyrgyzstan from our journey there in July/August 2000.

Our Feedback on the Central Asia (second edition, April 2000) Guidebook of Lonely Planet Publications should also be quite valuable.

Chinta Mani: A Journey into Central Asia

Doug Burnett visited Uzbekistan in September 2000.

Lou and Joan Rose travelled along the Silk Road in September 2000.

Ben Balanag wrote about his Uzbek Peace Corps Holiday from 1999. It is informative in a way, but not realising who the foreigner is.

Derek Szabo is a professional photographer who has some very nice photos of Uzbekistan, from his trip in 1998.

Doug Fine wrote Uzbek Low Tech after his April 1997 trip.

Nathan Rutman put together an interesting trip report on the Inner Asia Expedition he undertook by bike, in summer 1995, from Turkey to Mongolia, via Uzbekistan.

Garland Stephens has lovely photos, with optional audio comments.

Always check the excellent Rec.Travel Library for possibly more stories from Uzbekistan.

Lonely Planet Publications have:


2. Printed Information

Lonely Planet | Cadogan | Other publishers


Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet Publications have an excellent guidebook and a useful phrasebook devoted to Central Asia. Regarding the second edition (year 2000) of the guidebook, consult the editor's recommended updates, collected on a July/August 2000 journey to Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan, and emailed to Lonely Planet Publications.

Lonely Planet Publications also have:


Cadogan

Central Asia - The Practical Handbook (2nd edition).
Giles Whittell.
Cadogan Books Ltd, London (UK), 1996.

Another very informative and comprehensive book, with long sections on basics and contexts, thus providing for excellent armchair traveling or reading material while on the trip. Is out-of-print, and needs a 3rd edition.


Other publishers

Mark.Seltzer@acm.org recommends:

Uzbekistan.
Calum Macleod and Bradley Mayhew.
Odyssey/Passport Guides, The Guidebook Company Ltd, Hong Kong, 1997.
ISBN 962-217-509-0

As a prior traveller in Uzbekistan I recommend it highly. It does not replace the Lonely Planet or Cadogan Central Asia guides, as it does not concentrate on practical details such as hotels, restaurants, and transportion, although it does cover these subjects. What it does do is provide a more in-depth description of the sights of the country, and the historical, cultural, and architectural background, than either of the other guides. It is a useful summary of information that could otherwise only be gathered from many volumes of heavy, expensive, and hard to find books that are fine in your home but which you are unlikely to be lugging around Central Asia, as well as being a practical guide.

Christian Ohly (thomasb@big1.gi.rwth-aachen.de) recommends:

Zentralasien: Usbekistan, Kyrgysstan, Tadschikistan, Turkmenistan, Kasachstan.
Klaus Pander.
DuMont Kunst-Reiseführer, 1996.
ISBN 3-7701-3680-2.


3. Letters from/to Readers of this Guide

Visas & Accommodation: How to Avoid UzbekTourism? | Feedback & Details | More Impressions from Foreign Visitors

Editor's note:
I considerably pruned the following letters so as to keep them up-to-date, short, informative (and spell/grammar-checked). I also annotated them whenever I don't agree with other people, or have updates to what they wrote.


Visas & Accommodation: How to Avoid UzbekTourism?

Also see
Independent Travel Information above.


From: pnh@mindlink.net (Peter Neville-Hadley)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Visa for Central Asia?
Date: November 1996

> I am planning a trip to Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan,
> etc.), but it seems almost impossible to obtain visa for these countries:
> you either have to travel with a travel agency that organized the trip
> (which is not my intention to do), or you have to be invited by people
> living in these countries (but I do not know anybody).  I contacted the
> local (state-owned) tourist agencies, but it seems they are not willing
> to arrange something for individuals or they ask an outrageous amount of
> money for it.

That's the way it is in Central Asia.  The bigger cities in particular are
not cheap by usual backpacker third world travel standards.  They can be
done cheaply but it's harder work.  Officialdom, however, will have its
share.

> Is there anyone out there who knows the way, who has tips and/or ideas

Several private agencies sell visa support for $10 to $30.

---

From: pnh@axion.net (Peter Neville-Hadley)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Turkey to China over land
Date: February 1998

> I'm currently planning to get my Chinese visa in the U.S. and all
> others in Turkey.  Is this possible or advisable?  I know it is for
> Iran, but how about Kazakstan and Uzbekistan?  How difficult is it to
> get a Kazakstan and Uzbekistan visa?

Both Kazak and Uzbek visas require an invitation, also know as visa
support.  If you don't have that it doesn't matter where you apply.  You
get it either by buying a guided tour or sometimes making a hotel booking,
or for the independent traveller it's usually possible to buy support from
a travel company in Central Asia without buying further services.

In Uzbekistan the following company has been recommended to me, but I
haven't used them myself:

Sib Tourism
Mr Anatol A. Borisov
Furkatstreet 1
Tashkent 700027
Phone: 00 7 3712 452244, 457468
Fax:   00 7 3712 394407

You can also try Central Asia Tourism Corp, catfvk@sovam.com

However, it's always easier to get hold of a Kyrgyz visa, which doesn't
require visa support.  The Washington embassy is helpful and co-operative.
Tel (202) 338 5143, fax (202) 338 5139.  They will mail or fax you
application forms.


Feedback & Details


From: piercy@mprgate.mpr.ca (Don Piercy)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Central Asia (ex-USSR) Trip Report Part 1 - Uzbekistan
Date: March 1995

I only speak English and am learning a few Russian words as I go along.
English is rarely spoken in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, and
Uzbekistan are all I have visited and can speak to).  I have figured out
the Cyrillic alphabet and this makes writing questions and short statements
easier and assists with finding buildings.  About 1/2 the other travellers
have fair Russian, if they are not around a small Russian-English
dictionary, and handwaving can often get you by.  These countries are very
poor and have inexperienced government (much was previously supplied by
Moscow).  The people in the tourism departments try hard and have some good
ideas, but tourism is a low priority, independent travellers lower still.
The ones who are fluent in English are few and far between - please
encourage these underpaid people.

UZBEKISTAN

Money:  In all Central Asia you need unmarked, crisp, unworn 1990 or later
(anti-counterfeiting strip) US bills.  5, 10, and 20s are most useful.
I've had nearly new 1990 bills with just a few marks on them rejected.
Often persistence helps getting your money changed.  Also hotel banks are
usually the least picky.  Travelers' cheques are now fairly usable.  The
bank in the Intourist hotels in Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Urgench
(generally open 9-12 Mon-Sat) will change US$ TC (and some other
currencies) to Cym at the same rate as US$ cash.  At the hard to find
"National Bank, Foreign Economic Activities" branches in Tashkent and
Samarkand you can get US$ TC -> US$ cash for a 3% commission (in China, at
the Bank of China, the commission is about 1.4%).  In Samarkand, on Ul.
Engelsa between Ul.  Frunze and Ul.  Uzbekistanskaya, Mon-Fri 9-12 (real
banker's hours).  Lots of people want to change US$ in Central Asia, but
this black market usually has almost the same rate as the banks and hotels.

TASHKENT

Bus:  Station is at end of Blue subway line, Bishkek ~8h at night.  Almaty
14.5h at night.

Old bazaar:  typical of most Central Asia, more goods and sellers than
buyers.

SAMARKAND

Sights:  The Registan, Shah-y-Zinda ensemble and Gur Emir absolutely must
be seen (take lots of film -- fast speed for low light interiors, a lot of
high contrast sun and shade also).  Khodja Nisbator mosque and the Ulug Bek
observatory and Bibi-Khanym mosque were also good.  I didn't hire a guide,
but it might be worth it.  For both Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Khazret Khyzr,
the best views (pictures) are from outside (I would recommend just viewing
the Khazaret Khyzr ceiling from the sidewalk below).  Ulug Bek observatory
is at the end of marshrutnoe taxi #17, Afrasiab museum should be on the
map, just where the road to Chai-Khana Siab (restaurant) tees off.

BUKHARA

Sights:  To get your money's worth from Bukhara I would recommend hiring a
guide for a day.  When touring visit the Merchant's House, a rare restored
rich person's house from the 1910s; it's great, have tea and dress up in
era's costumes.  Your guide should take you to all the local sights (each
is just a short walk apart) and to the outlying Sitorai-Mokhi-Khusa (OK)
and Bakhautdin (I wish I had visited it, from others' descriptions).  I
cannot comment on Chor-Bakr.  Lunch at Lyab-i-Khauz is pleasant, but dinner
choice seemed to be shashlyk where you could find it!

URGENCH/KHIVA

Bus:  Make sure your visa says Khiva and don't stay in Urgench.  Mini-bus
to Khiva leaves when full from in front of Urgench bus station & Khiva east
gate.

Hotels:  You only want to see the old part (inside the walls) so stay
there!  You can stay at the Madrasa just inside the west gate.

Sights:  You can wander about all the sights in 1+ day, you can also get
food at the bazaar just outside the east gate.  Many sights charge, on your
way out!  Ask on your way in.  If you have time, this is a place to just
hang out & rest for an extra day or so.  Inside the walls are maintained
the old architecture and a mellow style.

CONCLUSION

I spent 9 days in Uzbekistan but 2 weeks would allow a less brutal pace &
time in Shakhrisabz and the Fergana valley, but make sure they are on your
visa.  I found the cost of accommodation and transportation (crowded,
packed aisles & odd arrival times) the biggest problems.  If you have time,
day buses (not much to see, deserts) Tashkent-Samarkand-Bukhara-Khiva &
fly back (if you can afford it) would be much preferable to my T-B-K-S-T
routine (max. night buses).

---

From: mseltzer@interlog.com (Mark Seltzer)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Uzbekistan
Date: March 1995

MONEY:  You MUST have cash.  The Cadogan guide recommends lots of small
bills, but I found that wherever I had to pay in US$, I was able to get
change in US$.  You certainly do not need to bring a huge stack of 1 and 5
dollar bills, as I did.  Don't change too much money into som, for anything
that you can pay with som is inexpensive, and it is hard to go through a
lot of som!

PRACTICAL:  Electricity:  the plug size (the diameter of the 2 round pins)
is larger in Uzbekistan than in Pakistan & China.  I found it useful to
have an adapter that ended in two bare wires which I could stick into any
outlet.  Police:  never offer a policeman a bribe yourself, always get
someone else to do it.

OTHER BOOKS:  For historical background on Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and
Khiva, I recommend the appropriate chapters of Kathleen Hopkirk's A
Traveller's Companion to Central Asia (John Murray, London, 1993).  This
book concentrates on recent (18th century and later) history; and if you
get hooked, her husband Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game (John Murray,
London, 1990) is over 500 pages of similar excitement and adventure.
Hopkirk's Setting the East Ablaze (John Murray, London, 1984) is an
entertaining (and often shocking) account of the Bolshevik battle for
Central Asia from WW I to WW II.  For information on the current social and
political situation in Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian CIS
countries, 'The Resurgence of Central Asia:  Islam or Nationalism?'  by
Ahmed Rashid (Oxford University Press / Zed Books 1994 is excellent.

---

From: robins@vsopve.cern.ch (Simon Robins)
To: the editor
Subject: Uzbekistan
Date: August 1995

Accommodation:  Like many people the cost of accommodation was my other
major headache.  What I did most of the time was simply approach young
people in cafes and ask them if they knew anywhere I could stay.  I had to
do this mostly in English - my Russian is barely existent - and usually
succeeded in finding somewhere.  Many people were very interested in having
me to stay and the few dollars I gave them seemed to be much appreciated.
I was usually treated as an honoured guest and given great food - which was
a nice break from all the shahslik!  I would say this is a much more
interesting option than staying in the terrible Intourist hotels - as well
as being far cheaper.  I also made quite a few friends this way.

---

From: pnh@axion.net (Peter Neville-Hadley)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Turkey to China over land
Date: February 1998

> Is is more feasible to purchase plane tickets for Central Asia in the
> U.S. or when I arrive in Turkey?

It'll certainly be easier to get a confirmed seat if you book in advance in
the US, and you will reduce your administrative difficulties.  However,
which would be cheaper is hard to say.  Turkish Airlines (obviously),
Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyz Airlines all have offices in Istanbul.  In New York:
Turkish (212) 339 9650, Uzbekistan (212) 489 3954.  Turkish has a web site:
http://www.turkishairlines.com/

> I have many more questions but can't remember them right now.

You might like to consider posting them to The Oriental-List, a free
Internet mailing list I run for the discussion of travel in China and its
near neighbours, including Central Asia.  Many of its nearly 300 members
have travelled, lived, and worked in Central Asia and China, and some have
taken the routes that interest you.

To subscribe, write to me at pnh@axion.net, written in the usual email
address format.


More Impressions from Foreign Visitors


From: ufe@indigo6.dl.ac.uk (Mark Enderby)
Newsgroups: rec.travel
Subject: Re: Uzbekistan: travel-info/advice sought
Date: December 1993

Just spent a week there at the end of November.  Went on an organized trip.
Visited Samarkand and Bukhara.

Main problem was the virtual collapse of the economy.  While independent,
the bosses are Soviet old guard -- saying how everything is wonderful as
the economy collapses all around.  Before independence it was part of the
planned Russian economy which made the area concentrate on cotton -- there
being no problem getting other supplies from the other states.  Now, of
course, they have difficulty trading cotton for oil, etc.

Without a command of the language it is very difficult to bargain things
down to sensible prices and most prices were pitched at UK/US equivalents,
e.g., $2 for a can of beer, 0.5$ for a coffee.  At the market it was "how
much you could bargain for a $".

Hopefully things will change for the better, but pressures from Islam and
nationalism were threatening to cause problems in, what is, a
multi-cultural state.  Already, the Uzbek language is being made a
requirement of working for the government and many skilled people are being
thrown out of work.

Anyway, enough of the problems...  The country and its people are
wonderful...  and the buildings!!!  A fascinating mix of Russian/Far and
Middle East.

--- New thread ---

From: finnboy@netcom.com (Peter Hartikka)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Need info on Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Date: April 1995

> I've been reading about Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and I'm interested in
> going there next summer.  Can anyone help me?

Why Tashkent?  If you're interested in Uzbek/Islamic history, you won't
find much of great value there.  The whole city was destroyed by an
earthquake in 1966 and rebuilt in classic Soviet style.  When I visited
there ten years ago, by far my favorite architectural monument was the
metro.  For a real (though somewhat touristy) glimpse into Central Asian
history, you'd be better off going to Samarkand, Bukhara, and/or Khiva.
Especially Khiva.

> can one get by with English and maybe a second European
> language (German or French)?

I'd say you'd be much better off with Turkish and/or Russian.

[Editor's note: ...and Farsi, because of the large Tadjik minority!]

> can one get there by train from Vienna?

Via Moscow, certainly.  But be prepared for massive ticket-buying  hassles.
Then again, you could always fly Aeroflop...

---

From: bresler@bart.chem-eng.nwu.edu (Leo Bresler)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Need info on Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Date: April 1995

I went there 7 years ago.  Tashkent really does not have much of historic
sites.  For this you should go to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva.  I would not
expect people to understand English, German, or French.  Russian used to be
the second common language, but w/ rise of nationalism at least officially,
it is used less frequently.  Even Tashkent subway -Metro- now has
announcements in Uzbek language *only*.

All of the cities I mentioned are accessible by train and air, although I
would not recommend train ride, especially now.  I took a train from
Tashkent to Moscow.  It takes 60+ hours.  From other cities it's about the
same.  So, from Vienna you'd go to Moscow (about 30hrs), likely spend a day
in Moscow, transfer to a different train station for Tashkent.  The total
will be close to 5 days...  You'll get to see most of the European part of
Russia from the train, cross Volga, etc.  I'd recommend flying there.

There are certainly lots of things to see out there.  Samarkand has a
historic and modern (sort of) parts more or less separated.  In Bukhara
they are quite intermixed.  Khiva is mainly historic (more contemporary
city of Urgench w/ train station and airport is nearby).

---

From: selina@cdc.hp.com (Selina Fong)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Need info on Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Date: April 1995

> It seems like one of the few places left on Earth that is relatively 
> cheap.  I know it is a police state, but it seems relatively at
> peace, and my experience of totalitarian states is that they do
> have a great deal of civil order.

Well, to start, the US dollar does go far once inside, but it looks like
the country runs on the US dollar.  The county is very expensive to fly
into.  The easiest way to fly in or out is from Istanbul or Moscow.

> are foreigners, especially from the U.S., welcome there?

I get the impression from my readings that anyone with US dollars is
welcome.

> can one get by with English and maybe a second European
> language (German or French)?

I heard Russia and a form of Turkic are the most common languages.

--- New thread ---

From: irce@urc.tue.nl (Guy)
To: the editor
Subject: Uzbekistan
Date: January 1996

I just came back from 4 months travelling in Central Asia, of which I spent
two weeks in "Uzbekiston" and two times one day in Tashkent as part of
transit between Dushanbe (Tajikistan) and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan).  I was
lucky to have quite a reasonable knowledge of Russian, enough to help
myself.

Thru the local mafia we "bought" our places on the train to Bukhara.  The
only problems in the train were a police check and an extra money wanting
conductor ("the guys at the railway station told me that, besides the 800
sum (1$ = 40 sum on the bazar), you should pay 100 sum to me").  These
problems were solved by knowing as less Russian as possible (the poor
conductor give up finally).

Together with a Swiss whom we had "saved" at the Bukhara busstation from a
crowd of pen-wanting children we went by bus to Urgench.  After 1 1/2 hours
delay at departure, bus full of tins of paint stocked up 1m high in the
pathway on which another 12 passengers sit, 45 min.  delay at the first
flat tyre in the Karakum desert, 3 hours delay after again a flat tyre
(trying to glue the already used spare wheel), 1/2 hour delay unloading the
tins near Urgench, and again 1 hour delay due to a flat tyre (finally not
repaired, we drove further with all the passengers sitting on the right
side in the bus) we arrived early in the morning in Urgench, 7 hours behind
schedule.  From there we went by marshroutnoe taxi to Khiva.

Next day me and my brother went from Urgench to Samarkand by train.
Problems, according to the conductors, my visas were only valid for
Tashkent.  Persistance helped, so they got tired.  But then they wanted to
"keep" the passports during the trip.  Also bullshit and after a long
insisting (ours!)  we got them immediately back.  Finally in the train, the
conductor "ordered" that we rented sheets (which is not obligatory) and
wanted 100 sum for it (usually 15 sum).  Also he give finally up after my
persistance.

People in Uzbekistan are afraid of the KGB which is still/again very
active.  Trains are a mess (inside much is broken), there are many sellers
of food and clothes roaming the trains, overbooked by people let in by a
conductor for a little bribe, increasing crime, conductors/ police wanting
money from foreigners.

And of course it's very beautiful.

--- New thread ---

From: irce@urc.tue.nl (Guy)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Uzbekistan info, please
Date: January 1996

> Quality of health care: any English-speaking doctors, any higher-
> quality medical care for paying patient [...]?

The quality of health care seems getting worse and worse in the CIS.  Don't
expect to meet English speaking doctors.  (Maybe there's a special medical
health centre for foreigners as in Moscow?)

> I assume that anything fancy (such as 3M's Post-It pads or muesli
> bars) is not normally available.

Many fancy things are available.  Doing "biznes" is in their blood so if
there's need then can get it from anywhere.

> Would there be a branch or representation of a Western bank, and/or
> what is the means of holding a foreign-currency account and changing
> money?

IMPORTANT:  dollar bills older then 1993 are almost never accepted in whole
Central Asia.  In Uzbekistan changing money on the streets/bazars is
strictly illegal but necessary if you want to get a good rate.

> What is the law-and-order situation like: petty thieving, break-ins, 
> holdups within towns and on highways, need to bribe police, etc.?

"When there was the Soviet Union nothing happened, now you can't walk on
the streets anymore in the evenings."  This you will hear many times in the
CIS.  True, 5 years ago really nothing happened (at least no reports about
it in the news).  But I think much is exaggerated.

Need to bribe the police??  My God!  Please don't make it more difficult
for other foreigners than necessary.  My experience is that, as long as
you're really right, persistance is enough to make the police tired within
a few minutes.  Locals usually pay a 2-3 dollars bribe to avoid a fine e.g.
for overloading a bus with all kinds of stuff (what often happens!!).  The
same holds for train conductors who are even worse.  On the one hand it's
easy to get - let's say 70% - "reduction", by paying money to the conductor
instead of buying a ticket.  On the other hand, they often make problems
with foreigners if they don't pay some extra money.

> Quality of public transport in Tashkent and beyond, quality of roads,
> traffic hazards (unlit cyclists or horse-drawn carriages at night, 
> unaccompanied camels, etc.).

The metro works well.  Even the busses are less full as e.g.  in Bishkek.
Trains are usually crowded (conductor lets more people in then places),
dirty, many things are broken.  Children throw stones so many windows are
secured (and make the train a prison).  Long-distance buses can be
overloaded with people and/or goods (because a biznesman paid the driver
some money for his extra "baggage", "there are no laws" according to
locals.)

> Telecommunications: What is the phone system like (direct dialling
> overseas, low-enough noise to use a fax machine), is there any internet
> access in Taskent?

Yes there is internet.  Direct dialling is possible and fax can be used.
In postoffices phoning means queueing and waiting for your turn.

> Language: I speak some Russian and expect to be able to pick up some
> basic Uzbek for everyday life.  Is Uzbek close enough to Turkish to be
> worth starting with Turkish before departure?

Russian is very useful but Uzbek is getting more and more necessary.
Especially on the countryside there are many Uzbeks who don't speak Russian
at all.  In the history museum in Tashkent everything is only in Uzbek.

> Are there any expatriates?  Do the local intellectuals speak English?
 
Knowledge of English is very poor.

> What is the cultural life like (museums, exhibitions, foreign movies 
> beyond Hollywood rubbish, classical/folk/jazz concerts)?

Enjoy the great muslim architecture, also in Samarkand, Bukhoro and Khiva!

> Local customs: I know about taking shoes off before going into homes,
> presenting the sheep's eyes to the prized visitor, the general rules of
> behaving in a moderate Muslim country and heard about the hospitality
> of Central Asians.  Are there any booboos that Westernerns commonly
> commit against local sensitivity?

If people help you they often want money for it (although real hospitality
can be found).

Additional:  Uzbekistan is a police state in which the KGB works as in the
former USSR.  Corruption is a big problem.  OVIR (immigration offices) can
be a nightmare as well as obtaining/extending visas.

--- New thread ---

From: Peter (wup@tip.nl)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Uzbekistan
Date: April 1997

September 1996 we traveled in Uzbekistan.  We had a great time, saw lots of
Islamic architecture, met friendly people and had no trouble travelling
individually.  Our route was:  Tashkent (1 day) - Samarkand (3 days) -
Bukhara (3 days) - Chimgan (1.5 days).

The people:  We found that most people were very friendly.  Almost everyone
asks you where you come from and is eager to talk to you (as far as
possible).  The Uzbek have their own language, but everyone speaks Russian.
We speak neither, but that gave no problems.  In this case it helps when
you have both hands and feet, so you can make clear what you want.  We
encountered a big difference between people in `honesty in business'.  Some
are very honest, they ask you the same price as they do the locals and they
give you enough change.  On the other end of the scale there are people
(mostly younger people) who want to take advantage of your innocence as a
foreigner.  The only solution is:  try to find out the prices and watch
your money.

Authorities:  Before we went to Uzbekistan we heard that the authorities
are very unfriendly towards tourists, especially when you're not travelling
in a group.  We travelled as a couple and never encountered any problems.
The police even helped us when we were looking for a toilet.  We were never
asked for our passport and they never `fined' us.  (Once they gave us a
`bad look' when we walked on the grass, but that was it).  Maybe we were
lucky?  However, I can only tell you our experiences.  It's true that you
SEE a LOT of policemen and that gives you a weird feeling sometimes.

Travelling around:  Travelling around is no problem.  There are enough
long-distance buses which bring you everywhere you want to go.  Buying
tickets is no problem.  Both times we travelled by long-distance-bus (from
Tashkent to Samarkand and from Samarkand to Bukhara) they changed the time
on our tickets, so that delayed us for about an hour.  We took the plane
from Bukhara to Tashkent and it's also no problem to buy a ticket.

Tips for vegetarians:  Because we don't eat meat, it was a little harder to
feed ourselves.  But we managed.  At the market you can buy enough bread,
vegetables (tomatoes, peppers), fruit and (Dutch) cheese to have a great
picnic in the park (nobody looked strange at us).  Remember it was
september.  For the rest there isn't much choice but to eat plov and say
`stop' at the right time:  the moment they want to add meat to it.
Sometimes you can eat fried potatoes with eggs and salad.

--- New thread ---

From: J.F.Chevallier@Frcl.Bull.Fr
To: the editor
Subject: Uzbek trip : report
Date: October 1997

Coming back from three weeks in Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan.  Some news.

Who speaks?  We were four people, travelling together not really cheap, but
not to expensive because the younger (28) has little money.  The others are
about 50.

Reading the information, I think nothing is reliable.  Anything changes too
fast, money goes down quickly, rules change too.  And Police did not make
any trouble!  My respectable white hair?

Anyway, here is the best I can say for October 1997, but the next one will
probably think I am a fool.  Just one thing seems clear:  there is no big
risk, so go.  Here are some of the most beautiful monuments of Islamic art.

Customs:  it is just a gang.  No matter which paper you have, or what you
export.  They will find something wrong by you if it is your turn, it is
only statistical.  They need personal dollars.  It was my turn, they tried,
I did not pay, nothing happened.  The same for police in airport and
Tashkent big bus stations.  The smaller are quiet.  Of course, young people
have more problems.

It is quite easy to travel in these countries, the only real problem
staying is "getting a visa" and the result is unpredictable.  We were four
people asking a visa with the same "Invitation letter" at the same embassy.
Two got a 20 days visa, 1 entry for 60$.  The others got a one year visa,
multiple entries for 30$ but they even could bargain or not pay.  It was a
visa support to pay when arrived to somebody unknowing we were there.  They
paid, but I am sure that the state did not see any money.  The other boring
thing is that anything seems to be closed from 20 to 8, but vodka sellers.
Do not forget dinner time!  It is not India or Pakistan.

Getting a visa:  the simplest way is the invitation letter from some travel
agency or organisation.  I have no other addresses than the one you give.
But avoid to buy them other services, or bargain hard if you can (you do
not know how goes the money now). They have 110% fee on the official
services.  How?  Very simple:  they propose you prices in dollars with
change at official rate, they pay the service in Sums that official
services cannot refuse ...  and take a fee.  Sample:  tickets for internal
plane traffic, standards hotels, but all the private services are to pay in
dollars (taxi over 10 km, B&B).  

Taxis in town:  2$ is the maximum in Tashkent.  They often try 10 or 20.
Metro in Tashkent:  very good and cheap.

Hotels or B&B?  B&B are good but expensive:  15 to 25$ / day (including 3
meals) per person.  Decent hotels in centre are from 30 to 50$ for a double
with bathroom.  Paid in Sums, it is 15 to 25$ for two, and eating in small
restaurants is about 1 or 2 dollars.  You can find other hotels far from
centre at about 2$.  But realy bad ones.

Security:  we had no problem.  Just keep away from cops

Train:  we did not try.

Buses:  tyres are awful and bang easily (1 per 1000 km in my personal
case).  No other serious trouble (delay is not serious, take time) on the
way Khiva - Bukhara, Bukara - Samarkand, Samarkand - Tashkent and some
other small cities like Angren.

And what about pleasure?  There is!  People are nice and helpful, even if
you speak very little Russian.  Not only merchants speak English.  People
speaking more or less English, German or French will try to help.  They
will let you in closed monuments, especially if they are working in
restoration.  They are proud of their work.  They even made a (partial)
special performance of their show just for us in a theatre.  All this, for
free.  Other people like mausoleum night wards will let you in and make big
lights, for a fee, of course.  In this way, Khiva is the worse town,
because nobody lives there.  It is a museum.  But Bukhara, Samarkand and
Tashkent are good.  In the mountains and small towns, people stare at you,
but kindly.  Yangiabad, near Angren (100 km west of Tashkent) is a nice
place to walk, and there seems to be an hotel there.  Try, the one in
Angren is cheap (1.5$ the room), but destroyed and dirty.

Warning!  There is in Bukhara some sheets in Uzbek style.  I find them
original and beautiful.  They are often dirty.  Do not mean "I'll wash it".
Some colours are very bad.  Ask the merchant just to put it in plain water.
If he refuses, do not buy.

There is also a synagogue.  If somebody wants to take you in, be aware that
it is for money, there is nothing to see.

--- New thread ---

From: Melinda Niekum (c/o D.G. Porter (dgporter@pacbell.net))
To: the editor
Subject: Travel in Uzbekistan June, 1997
Date: January 1998

This past June I spent three wonderful weeks in Uzbekistan (my third visit
to this country).  I was traveling alone.  I spent most of my time in
Samarkand and Bukhara.  To reach these cities from Tashkent, I traveled by
public bus.  I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND this mode of travel for budget-minded
independent travellers who are adventurous, easy-going, and have a genuine
desire to experience life as it is lived by the average Uzbek citizen.  The
buses are old, somewhat hot, and appear rickety; however, this is more than
made up for by the friendliness and helpfulness of the passengers.  (I
found the drivers to be especially kind and helpful, especially since I
don't pronounce the Uzbek language well and am hard to understand.)  The
bus usually makes a meal stop at a rural "chai-khana;" the food is
delicious and cheap, and it is a great way to socialize.  (I would advise,
however, that this is the ONLY restroom-stop that is made in the course of
a 10-hour trip, and it is not really a restroom as we know it!)  It is my
impression that the cross-country buses in Uzbekistan attract a somewhat
better "clientele" than do some of those in the U.S., i.e., no rowdy or
intoxicated people.

For lodging, I stayed in "bed and breakfast" accommodations in private
homes.  This was an outstanding experience, and I much preferred it to
staying in the tourist hotels on my previous visits.

I would especially recommend the home of Farkhad Bakhramov in the "Old
City" section of Bukhara.  Mr.  Bakhramov speaks very good English, is
amazingly helpful and can arrange travel assistance and guide services for
you as well.  The Bakhramov home is absolutely immaculate, very quiet, and
the food (Russian, Uzbek, or vegetarian) is incredible!  Their prices are
very reasonable and negotiable [address updated October 1999 by the editor]:

	Mir-Farkhad Bakhramov
	16, Sufiyon St.
	(ex-Proletarskaya St.)
	Bukhara
	Uzbekistan 705000
	Tel/Fax: (365) 224-5909 (hotel)
	Tel/Fax: (365) 223-0326 (office)
	Mobile:  (998-65) 227-3787
	e-mail: mfarkhad@bcc.com.uz
	Internet: http://www.farkhadmaya.com.uz/
		  http://www.farkhadmaya.addr.com/

Interestingly, I did not encounter the huge amounts of tourists in
Samarkand and Bukhara, as I have in past visits.

--- New thread ---

From: Stephane.Muller@espace.aerospatiale.fr
To: the editor
Subject: Uzbekistan
Date: February 1998

I travelled in Uzbekistan with a friend during 2 weeks in end of May 1997.

Plane:  We used Turkish Airlines via Istanbul; by far cheaper than Air
France or Lufthansa.  Uzbek Airways proposes flight from London and
Amsterdam, but I don't know their prices.

Money:  Buying money at the black-market is easy.  The problem is that you
must fill a currency declaration when entering into Uzbekistan and
officials may ask for it when leaving.  Personally, we left the country by
road in Kirghizstan and saw no officials.  Locals said to us that there was
no problem if you don't change "a lot of money" at black-market.

Ovir:  The only time we were registered at Ovir was at our arrival in
Bukhara's airport.  We weren't registered (or perhaps via the hotel) in
Samarknd, Kokand or Ferghana.

Police:  On the opposite of what Lonely Planet says, we had no problem with
the police.  The only discussion I had with a policeman was in the plane
Tashkent-Bukhara and the man advised me to change money at the black
market!!!  He wore civilian suit and only later in the discussion I
discovered he was a policeman.

Bukhara:  Bukhara is really a magnificent city, the old town being
preserved from the Soviet architecture.  There's almost no car in the
centre and it's a real pleasure to get yourself lost in the small streets.
People are very kind, they helped us to find our way and generally were
very curious about our country, job,...  Questions are generally:  1 - How
old are you?  2 - Are you married?  and, as we both are not married 3- Why
are you not married?  Mosques, medressahs are easy to visit and people
sometimes propose to you to visit the officially closed sections.  I really
recommend this town, even more than Samarkand.

I think that the best thing to do for accommodation is to contact the brand
new tourism office.  It's located at the Museum of Art (which doesn't exist
anymore), not far from Lab-i-Hauz.  It's managed by 4/5 young people who
are very active and they can make reservations in Bukhara, Samarkand,
Urgench for B&B.  You pay only the price of the telephone communication.
Unfortunately, we discovered them to late.  Their e-mail is
root@infctr.bukhara.silk.org

Samarkand:  It is a little less typical than Bukhara; the city is a mix
between old Uzbek and soviet architecture.  Nevertheless, the monuments are
much bigger and impressive than in Bukhara and the Registan is really worth
seeing.

For our accommodation, we stayed one night in Emma Popova's B&B
(Akhunbabaeva street).  It's a top-end B&B used by journalists, members of
embassies.  20$/night/person included huge breakfast and dinner.  Next day
we found cheaper (10$) via the Alliance Francaise (address:  26 Baraka
street).  We had a long discussion with teachers and students and they
proposed to us an accommodation in an Uzbek house of a very friendly
family.  It was great!!  I think that for French-speaking people, Alliance
Francaise is THE place to go.  They are very happy to speak French, and
they can find you accommodation, organise tours in the city...

After Samarkand and Bukhara we travelled towards Kirghizstan via Kokand and
Ferghana.

Kokand:  It's a nice little sleepy town.  The only thing to see is the
small Khan Palace.  Hotel Kokand (the only one in town) proposes double
room for 9$.

Ferghana:  It is built in old Russian style.  That looks a little
strange after Kokand, Samarkand, ...  We stayed only one night in the
expensive Hotel Ziyorat (ex Intourist, 40$ a double room).  People of
Uzbektourism are very active and came to see us and propose some tour.  We
visited a very interesting silk-workshop in Marghilan.  Of course it was
overpriced (about 30$) but we had no time to organise it by ourselves.

We left Uzbekistan for Kirghizstan without seeing an official.

--- New thread ---

From: Nathalie and Jean-Pierre Leidinger (leidinge@limeil.cea.fr)
To: the editor
Subject: Uzbekistan
Date: October 1999

We are two French people (30 years old) who spent 2 weeks in Uzbekistan in
October 1999.  We don't speak any local language nor Russian and didn't
have any kind of "special interest" to visit Uzbekistan (many people we met
with indeed had one).

We obtained visa support and accommodation booking from Salom Travel agency
in Bukhara, dealing with them by e-mails before our departure.  All
services were paid at their office in Bukhara.  Ten days were necessary for
the Uzbek consulate in Paris to get our visas.  Visa support was $15 per
person and so was the booking.

We first flew from Moscow to Bukhara (1 Uzbekistan Airways flight per week
on Monday afternoon).  Salom had also arranged the transfer from the
airport to the city ($10) and a very good and pleasant dinner for our
arrival.

We spent the next 2 days visiting Bukhara.  We slept at Sacha & Son's Bed
and Breakfast ($25 per person), the best accommodation we had during the
whole trip:  very clean, comfortable, equipped with satellite TV, minibar,
air-conditioning, ..., in a lovely renovated house in the old town close to
the Lyab-i-Hauz.  Uzbekistan is still a "cash-only" country (dollars and
sums are used but for all the "non-tourists" services prices are in sums).
Dollars can be changed for sums at the banks or the Hotel Bukhara desk for
example.  At the National Bank (and apparently only this one, open from 9
am to noon)), you can get cash dollars with a Visa card (no other cards)
but they charge a 5% commission.

You can phone abroad from the Hotel Bukhara (expensive) or from the main
telephone office at Muminov Kuchasi.

Bukhara is a fascinating town with a special relaxed atmosphere and a
lively old town with lots of impressive monuments.  Thus it was the
highlight of our trip.  We then left Bukhara to go to Khiva with a private
car and driver arranged by Salom Travel ($50).  It lasted 5 hours and a
half to arrive in Khiva (the distance is 500 km) at Hotel Arkanchi.

We visited Khiva in 1.5 days.  It was enough time to see the main sights:
compared to Bukhara, the old town is quite empty and much smaller, looks
like an open museum.  The entrance for each monument is [payable
separately].  The Hotel Arkanchi is well situated at the old town entrance
but the room was dirty and the food acceptable but without variety.  It
charged $50 full board.

Our way back to Bukhara included the visit of Baday-Toghay nature reserve
along the Amu-Darya between Urgench and Nukus, and the Toprak Kala and Ayaz
Kala fortresses.  This trip was arranged at Hotel Arkanchi with their
driver for $100 the whole day.  We started with Baday-Toghay but there a
little problem appeared:  when we arrived at the entrance gate the man in
charge didn't open because the reserve director was outside, supposedly
back in the morning but we couldn't wait for him.  So we decided to leave
and go to Toprak Kala.  Then the trip was enjoyable, especially Ayaz Kala:
it is hardly mentioned in the travel guides because of the distance from
other sights but it is really worth the trip.  There are 2 different
fortresses in good shape built one above the other on 2 hills in the middle
of the desert, the highest allowing an impressive viewing of the Kyzyl Kum
desert.

As we decided to leave Khiva two days before what we first planned, we
spent the night back in Bukhara at Mubinjon's Bukhara House.  It's an old
Tajik house in renovation.  The rooms are decorated in local style and you
sleep on mattresses on the floor but the washing facilities are basic and
outside the rooms.  Anyway it's a pleasant place and Mubinjon is a very
friendly character.  The price was $16 for 2 people with a further $4 for
an excellent breakfast (including special dishes such as a very good
Bukharan cheese).

We stayed 2 days more in Bukhara at Sacha & Son and visited the Jairan
nature reserve in the desert near Bukhara with a Salom Travel guide.  The
main interest is to see the different kinds of vegetation in this arid part
of the country and the endangered local gazelle species whose breeding and
reintroduction are the main reserve goals.  We were accompanied by the
Russian woman who is in charge of the reserve management.  She knows very
well the area and it was very interesting to discuss with her.  The
half-day trip costs $60 with a driver, the reserve manager and a
guide-interpreter.

The last stage was of course Samarkand.  The drive from Bukhara was $30 and
the accommodation at Furkat's B&B $25 per person.  You can also have dinner
there for $5 per person.  The room was comfortable but without charm
compared to Sacha or Mubinjon houses.  The city itself has much more car
traffic than Bukhara and except in the old town (not so remarkable and
large as the Bukhara one) it's no fun to stroll around.  We also discovered
it not to be so safe, especially in the parks close to the Registan Square.
The monuments are of course impressive, but again not more than in Bukhara
for a pure tourist and not specialist viewing.  For example, the Registan
entrance is payable so it lacks people you can see at the Kalian ensemble
in Bukhara.  As in Khiva, it looks more like a museum.

We went to Shakhrisabz for a half-day trip with a stop in the mountains
half way and a little walk there in a beautiful landscape.  We had a driver
at Furkat who proposed $25 in a tiny Tico car or $35 in a Nexia car.  The
next day, as we had valued the trip, we decided to go to Zaamin National
Park for $60, 200 km far from Samarkand and close to the border with
Tajikistan.  We arrived to the chekpoint just after Zaamin town towards the
park entrance but were stopped there and brought back to Zaamin
administration.  The driver discussed with a policeman who kept our
passports during half an hour (apparently he had never seen such modern
visas without any town name written on it).  The only word we could
understand was "problem" (quite obvious ...).  Finally they gave back the
passports but we had to go back to Samarkand.  We tried to ask the driver
to know what kind of problem we would have found in the park and he just
answered "Ratatatatata" with a characteristic sign.  We are not sure there
really was a serious problem in Zaamin but the park was obviously closed to
foreign visitors.  We left Uzbekistan with a flight from Samarkand to
Moscow (1 flight per week on Saturday evening).

Concluding according to our experience, we can highly recommend:
- Salom Travel agency: efficient team that can help you to organize your
  trip with as much flexibility as you wish
- Sasha & Son B&B
  [Editor's note: sash-len@bukhara.silk.org]
- Mubinjon's House (for at least one night ...)
- Bukhara for the sights and the Bukharan way of life
- A stay in Uzbekistan: people and things are wonderful and unlike Lonely
  Planet says, even the officials at airports and towns are helpful and in
  any case never unpleasant with tourists (they really want to give a good
  image of Uzbekistan abroad).

Many thanks to Raisa's staff (particularly Dinar) and to Rushana for all
the pleasant dinners we had.

--- New thread ---

From: Tom Bryson (motoji@aracnet.com)
To: the editor
Subject: Updates for Lonely Planet etc.
Date: June 2001

Bukhara

Mila's bed and breakfast is complete and is very beautiful.  Very nice
rooms, tasteful courtyard etc.

Raisa has started building a B&B next door to Salom Travel.

Samarkand

The newly constructed Ulug Beg Hotel in Samarkand is extremely well done.
All modern appliances.  Nice rooms.  A distinct improvement over the
Afrosiab.  Has something like 14 rooms.  All work done by local craftsman
in the Samarkand style.  Great courtyard.  Large, well-furnished kitchen
and dining room.  Very tastefully done throughout.

I recommend the Alfiya Gallery in the old Samarkand Hotel lobby.  Valentina
has some great "modern harem clothing" and jackets made from old suzaini.
Also nice hand painted silk scarves etc.

Uzbekistan in general

Totally agree that Lonely Planet is way too negative about travel in
Uzland.  The black market rate for the som in March 2001 was 920 to the
dollar.  I was there for a month and never registered with anyone.

--- New thread ---

From: Jamie Barras (jbarras@ch.kcl.ac.uk)
To: the editor
Subject: Brief points regarding my trip to Samarkand/Bukhara
Date: June 2001

Transport:

I flew in Moscow-Tashkent with Aeroflot, leaving Moscow-Sheremetevo-I at
02.20, arriving Tashkent 07.15 (local).  Price:  $170 (one way).  I flew
out Bukhara-Moscow with Uzbekistan Airways (two flights a week, one on a
Sunday; I forget which day the other one is one)), leaving Bukhara 20.05,
arriving Moscow-Domodedovo at 22.30 (local).  Price:  $156 (one way).

Transfer Tashkent-Samarkand and Samarkand-Bukhara was by car arranged by
Salom Travel, $70 for each leg of the journey (and so $140 total).  Transit
time was around 3.5 hours for each leg of the journey.  There are many,
many police checkpoints on the roads.  They appear to stop every bus and
many of the cars, but we didn't get stopped once -- and the radar (or was
it laser?)  detector mounted on the dashboard helped us to safely negotiate
all the speed-traps.

[Editor's note: A regular bus is significantly cheaper than this, but
                takes about twice the time of course.]

Money:

$1 = 900-920 sum on the black market (June 2001).  I changed my money at my
[B&B] hotel in Samarkand; no muss, no fuss, no trouble (and 900 to the
dollar).

Accommodation:

All my accommodation was arranged in advance through Salom Travel.

I stayed at Furkat's B&B in Samarkand (my room was $35 a night, but there
are cheaper rooms); bland surroundings, but great bathrooms, A/C (but ask
to see the room first:  I was told that Furkat also lets out some very
basic rooms in the basement that have no A/C or fan), and free tea whenever
you like.  And the location -- just east of the Registan -- is hard to
beat.  The breakfasts are also very good.

In Bukhara, I stayed at Sasha&Son B&B.  It lived up to its reputation:  a
winner, if pricey (for the town) at $35 a night.  There are now something
like seven B&Bs clustered around Lyab-i-Hauz.

Internet:

In Samarkand I found an internet cafe at the corner of Shahrukh Kuchasi and
Pochta Kuchasi (the street with the main post office on it) about 1.5 km
west of the Registan.  They're open (they say) 09.00 -- 21.00, and an
absolute bargain at 700 sum for an hour.  Six or seven computers;
connection speed:  fair.

In Bukhara I used BICC (Bukhara Information and Culture Centre) opposite
Lyab-i-Hauz; expensive at 3600 sum an hour.  Two or three computers (one
downstairs, a couple upstairs) connection speed:  good.  BICC is open 09.00
-- 18.00; closed for lunch 13.00 -- 13.45.  Salom Travel -- on the same
street as BICC and right opposite the synagogue -- now have their own
internet connection, but when I was in Bukhara (7 - 10 June 2001) they
hadn't decided what rates they were going to charge (or indeed if they were
even going to let `the public' use it).  I was told that there's no
internet west of Bukhara.

Food:

Samarkand's main bazaar (on Tashkent Kuchasi, by Bibi Khanum Mosque) is a
wonder, a real highlight of any trip to Uzbekistan, and a great place to
buy fruit (but remember to wash any fruit you buy before eating -- the
traders periodically douse their produce in water from a standpipe to keep
it looking juicy) and bread.  It's also a great place to stock up on
cooking spices, and a photographer's dream (but arrive _before_ the tour
groups -- the locals quite naturally can get sick of the sight of cameras).

The best place for fruit that I found in Bukhara was the farmers' market
behind the Chasma Ayub (Spring of Job) reached through the park that
contains the Ismael Samani mausoleum, around 1 km west of the Ark fortress.
There's also a chaikana on-site (naturally).

One note of caution:  I met several tourists who had fallen ill after
eating at the restaurant (not the cafe/bars) at Lyab-i-Hauz [in Bukhara].
I also talked to a guide in Bukhara who told me that the restaurant had a
reputation for that kind of thing.  And yet, busload after busload of
tourists is deposited there every evening.  Strange.

Sights:

Samarkand: the first thing to say is watch out for the prices; prices to
enter the major sights for "foreign visitors" range from 500 - 1000 sum,
with extra charges (250 -- 400 sum) for photo permits (not that there's a
piece of paper or anything).  Turn up at the Registan before 7.30 a.m.  and
you might be able to sneak in for free.  There is a nightwatchman, but he
doesn't seem to mind, and he will offer to allow you to ascend one of the
minarets/towers for a panoramic view of the city for around 1500 sum.  I
can recommend the Registan and Gur Emir -- and the bazaar.  You can gain
access to the crypt under Gur Emir containing the tombs of Tamerlane, Uleg
Beg etc. by gesturing at the floor; cost: another 400 sum.

Bukhara: well, the highlight in the old city is the Kalon minaret and
mosque, of course.  Entry to the mosque costs 250 sum, plus 250 sum for
photo permit.  You can climb the minaret (again by making appropriate
gestures).  Alas, I didn't do this, so I don't know the cost.  The Ark
is a rip-off at 1005 sum, but the bold might want to pay the price for
the chance to sneak off onto the un-reconstructed part of the wall to
take a picture of old city -- this viewpoint has the advantage of
including the Kalon minaret.

[Editor's note: Beware of the lingering policeman, who might try to shake
                you down for a bribe for not arresting you for having
                entered this `forbidden zone'.  Just ignore him and
                firmly walk out in that case.]