As arguably the long-time capital of central Asian culture (certainly as far as aggressors are concerned: there's barely a regional dictator who didn't try his hand at grabbing this part of Asia), Uzbekistan is home to more overt beauties and hidden depths than you’ll ever have time to see. There's spectacular architecture, charming cities, a history spiked with war and trade-heavy glory days, and markets where you can snap up souvenirs that simply couldn’t come from anywhere else.
The colorful, patterned buildings of Samarkand – a name forever tied in with the Silk Road – make up a skyline littered with minarets and domes, and, when seen from close up, represent some of the most surreal and spectacular architectural experiences in Asia. Travel the rest of the Soviet-influenced streets by the ever-present Daewoo taxis, and sample the ayran yoghurt drink and pulao seasoned rice that feature heavily in Uzbek cuisine.
Bukhara hasn’t changed a great deal in centuries, which means it’s the best place to experience what Uzbekistan was like before the cold-war-era Russians came along. There’s so much fantastic architecture littering the city, you can simply walk around the old town district and soak up building after building resplendent in the traditional Turkestan styles, some of which you could even find yourself bedding down for the night in.
In Khiva you’ll find a striking castle that oddly resembles something you made on the beach as a kid (though on a far larger scale), while if you prefer to head out into the wilds, the fertile Ferghana Valley gives neck-cricking views of the impressive Pamir Mountains. Head to the far north and you’ll stumble upon the South Aral Sea, a hefty and bumpy journey from capital Tashkent, where your flight will touch down. The administrative center doesn’t have the substantial charms associated with Samarkand and Bukhara, but is still worth a day or two for its own markets and tree-lined boulevards.
Head out with a shout of ‘Yol Bolsin’ (may your travels be problem free), dive into the land of cotton fields and covered markets to grab yourself a hand made carpet, and ride off into the sunset.