Day 122: No Bart, Shymkent is NOT a hip place!
Shymkent Travel Blog› entry 167 of 260 › view all entries
It was only three hours by train from Turkistan to Shymkent. The train had originated from Moscow and had Bishkek as final destination. This meant it was full of Russians on their way to a summer holiday at Issyk-Köl lake. I was impressed. Not so much by the fact that people were spending 60+ hours on a train to get to their summer holiday destination, but rather by the fact that this train was the oldest, dirtiest, filthiest train I had seen in a long time. I have noticed it before, trains in Russia are excellent, but for some reason the international routes are served by the oldest, most decrepit trains the Russian Railways have.
I would have loved to have spent a few more days on the previous train I had taken in Kazakhstan (the one from Almaty to Turkistan, which was on its way to Aqtöbe), but I couldn't see myself spending more than a couple of hours on this train. Poor people, having to endure this only to end up at a place like Cholpon-Ata...
My fellow passengers were a Kazakh couple, who didn't seem very impressed when I told them I was from Holland. In fact, not many people here seem overly enthusiastic about the Dutch (well, apart from Aselya, that is). In Uzbekistan or Tajikistan complete strangers would hug me the moment I mentioned Holland, congratulating me on nearly winning the world cup (I never managed to explain to people that I can't take full credit for the performance of the Dutch team), yet here in Kazakhstan, no one bats an eyelid when I mention “Golandia”.
I arrived in Shymkent at 15:00. I dodged the taxi sharks at the train station and found a metered cab a block down, which drove me to the centre for less than half of what the taxi drivers at the station had quoted me. Taxis are cheap in this country, as long as you don't catch them at the train station.
Accommodation is expensive in Kazakhstan and Shymkent is probably the worst city of all, as there is no budget accommodation available at all. The Lonely Planet recommends hotel Bayterek-Sapar, which is situated in a shopping mall, of all places. At $20 per night including breakfast this seemed acceptable. Yes, it is expensive, but at the same time, this was probably the nicest hotel room I've had in the whole former Soviet Union!
There isn't all that much to see or do in Shymkent itself.
Ah well, there might not be all that much to see or do in Shymkent, that doesn't mean it is not a nice place. In fact, I quite liked it!
“Why did you like Shymkent?” Bek asked me the next day when I was back in Almaty.
“I don't know, it's quite lively”
“Yeah, well, there quite a large student population. It seems the town is trying to become a hip place”
“No Bart, Shymkent is NOT a hip place”
Hmm, ok, maybe it's not hip then (though soon Shymkent will open a branch of the Guns 'n Roses pub - one of the hottest places in Almaty), but still, I enjoyed wandering around the streets, peeking into shops and having an extended/belated lunch with a couple of beers in a streetside restaurant.
Shymkent used to be famous for its lively bazaar, but for some reason (probably because the city wants to be hip) the bazaar has been flattened to make way for a large park. The bazaar now takes place way outside of town. Similarly, a large MIG monument has been removed, probably because of its associations with the former Soviet Union, to make way for a large Independence monument.
I had a quick look at the Regional museum, which has displays on Shymkent's history as a Silk Road town as well as some regional/rural displays. Oh, and half a floor dedicated to the country's president since independence: Nursultan Nazarbaev. But I will write more about him later...