From Uzbekistan With Plov: A Central Asia Trip Report

This travel report details a trip to Uzbekistan as well as a short visit to Moldova and Kazakhstan on my way to the Central Asian country.

A trip to Central Asia

In the autumn of 2018 I had a week off from work and some itchy feet wanting to travel again.

The logical destination seemed to be one of the Central Asian countries, as I had always wanted to explore this highly interesting region but never had the chance so far.

There is just something intriguing about Central Asia, whether it’s the region’s remote location being so far away from the world’s oceans, or its diverse natural scenery ranging from mountains to deserts.

Then there is the history the Silk Road and all the ancient emperors from Alexander the Great to Tamerlane who once ruled over these vast swathes of land.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the more modern history of the region such as the Great Game, the Soviet Occupation and the post-independence struggles of the Central Asian countries.

It’s a relatively unknown but highly fascinating part of the world and I was impatient to finally start discovering these countries.

samarkand registan tilla-kari madrasa uzbekistan trip report
The wonderful gold-and-blue colours of the Tilla-Kari Madrasa at the Samarkand Registan. ©Paliparan

Uzbekistan travel

When it came to choosing my exact travel destination, it quickly became clear that Uzbekistan would be the best option of all Central Asian countries.

Although I would have loved to explore Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, I didn’t think that late autumn was the best time of the year to travel in these mountainous countries.

As I knew that it would be challenging to get a visa, I decided on Uzbekistan as the main destination of my trip as the country had always attracted me more than neighbouring Kazakhstan.

Besides, Uzbekistan is arguably the best destination in Central Asia when it comes to Silk Road history and seeing the region’s cultural sights.

chorsu bazaar tashkent uzbekistan
Inside the massive Chorsu Bazaar of Tashkent. ©Paliparan

Booking my flights

Although it seemed easy on paper, it was somewhat of a challenge to find cheap enough flight tickets to Uzbekistan.

Complicating the matter was that I was in the middle of a so-called status match with Turkish Airlines and needed at least one more flight on the airline to earn Star Alliance gold status for the next two years.

Even though Turkish Airlines is one of the few carriers that actually has great flight connections to multiple cities in Uzbekistan such as Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara, their ticket prices to the country were sky high at the time.

With one-way economy class tickets from my home town of Bucharest starting at $800, I decided to get a bit more creative with my flight bookings.

When looking for cheap fares from surrounding airports, I found a cheap-enough one-way ticket ($300) from the nearby city of Chisinau in Moldova (IATA Code: KIV) to Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent (TAS).

Positioning myself to Chisinau would be simple as it’s just an overnight train ride away and the savings certainly made up for the slight inconvenience of a longer travel time.

Having my outbound journey booked and my Turkish Airlines flight requirement fulfilled, I had much more flexibility to look around for the flight back home.

Unfortunately, all flights from Uzbekistan back to Europe again seemed to be ridiculously expensive.

However, I managed to find a cheap connecting flight on Aeroflot for $228 from the city of Shymkent (IATA Code: CIF) in neighbouring Kazakhstan to Bucharest (OTP) via Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO).

As this would also allow me a quick visit to Kazakhstan, I certainly didn’t mind the small side trip from Uzbekistan.

On a map, the flights look like this:

uzbekistan trip report
The flights I would take on my trip to Moldova, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. ©Great Circle Mapper

Uzbekistan itinerary

With my flights to Uzbekistan booked, I could now focus on planning my full itinerary and deciding which places I wanted to visit in the country.

I would arrive on a Saturday morning in Tashkent after a brutal red-eye flight.

Giving the capital of Uzbekistan a full day, I would then head to Samarkand by train and stay two full days there to visit the sights in what is the best-known city on the old Silk Road.

From Samarkand, I would continue to travel deeper into Uzbekistan by train towards Bukhara, another old Silk Road city where I would stay two nights as well.

After Bukhara, I would head via Urgench to Khiva where I would stay one night before taking the overnight train back to Tashkent.

Once in Tashkent, I would immediately travel out of Uzbekistan and somehow cross the border into Kazakhstan and head towards Shymkent, where I would spend a full day before flying back home.

I will detail all the flights, train rides and other travel segments in the individual chapters of this Uzbekistan trip report.

On a map, my Uzbekistan trip would look like this:

On my itinerary through Uzbekistan I added a visit to the cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. ©MapHub/Paliparan

Uzbekistan visa

In the past, one of the downsides of travelling to Central Asia was all the bureaucracy you had to face just to get a visa for one of the countries.

Getting a visa for one of the Central Asian Stans (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan) often meant arranging a Letter Of Invitation (LOI) first before you could apply at an embassy.

With the exception of Turkmenistan, travelling to Central Asia has fortunately become a lot easier in the last couple of years.

Just before the start of my trip in 2018, Uzbekistan had started an e-visa pilot.

As the e-visa website was in its infancy I faced quite a few issues with my application.

Uploading my passport picture was extremely difficult due to some weird maximum DPI requirements as well as the software checking the picture pose and background colours, which resulted in many uploads being rejected by the system.

When I did finally manage to upload a passport picture, there were payment issues as the system had problems processing western bank cards, forcing you to start over from start.

After half a day trying to get the passport picture upload and payment working I finally succeeded in sending my e-visa application and two days later I did receive my e-visa by mail in PDF form.

Nowadays, Uzbekistan is fortunately completely visa-free for many Western nationalities, so all of this shouldn’t be a big issue.

uzbekistan man
Man in traditional clothes sitting in front of one of the mausoleums of the Shah-i-Zinda complex in Samarkand. ©Paliparan


Highlights to look forward to in this Uzbekistan trip report include:

– A short stopover in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau before my flight to Uzbekistan.
– Uzbekistan’s modern capital of Tashkent with its colourful and bustling Chorsu Bazaar.
– A visit to the awe-inspiring city of Samarkand with its fabulous Registan and stunning mausoleums.
– Exploring the intriguing history and ancient madrassas of Bukhara.
– A visit to the fully walled desert city of Khiva in a remote pocket of Uzbekistan.
– Some journeys by train across Uzbekistan, including high-speed and sleeper trains.
– A side trip from Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent to Shymkent in Kazakhstan.
– Eating some excellent Uzbek food, ranging from mouth-watering shashliks to copious amounts of plov.

registan samarkand uzbekistan trip report
The magnificent Registan complex in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. ©Paliparan
talgo high-speed train uzbekistan
A Talgo high-speed train in Uzbekistan. ©Paliparan
plov manti
A traditional Uzbek meal of plov (rice and lamb dish) and manti (boiled or steamed dumplings). ©Paliparan
bukhara ark fortress
The Ark, Bukhara’s massive fortress. ©Paliparan
The rooftops of Khiva, Uzbekistan. ©Paliparan
koen kazakhstan
Yours truly at the end of his trip in Shymkent, Kazakhstan. ©Paliparan

Trip report index

This ‘From Uzbekistan With Plov’ trip report consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Prietenia Night Train Bucharest to Chisinau
2. Chisinau Guide: A Visit to Moldova’s Capital
3. Istanbul Ataturk Airport and the Turkish Airlines Lounge
4. Review: Turkish Airlines Business Class Airbus A330
5. Tashkent Travels: A Day in the Capital of Uzbekistan
6. Tashkent to Samarkand by Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ Train
7. Samarkand Visit Guide: Travelling Through Silk Road Splendour

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

koen paliparan rhodes rodos


Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

One thought on “From Uzbekistan With Plov: A Central Asia Trip Report

  • December 14, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    Thank you Koen, thoroughly looking forward to this. Just finished your story of the train to Chisinau which I did in 2019 and it was fun as expected! I’m off to Almaty and Tashkent next summer so I’ll be reading your next articles with interest! I want to squeeze in Bishkek as well but we shall see…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.