Earlier this week I briefly visited Kazakhstan with my son Owen. His 30-day tourist visa was going to expire today and so he needed to leave Uzbekistan and come back in to get a fresh 30 days. It was a strange and interesting experience. We decided to drive to the nearest border from Tashkent, which is the highway 30 kilometers north of Tashkent that leads to the third-largest city in Kazakhstan, Shymkent. Thanks to Stalin and the Soviet map makers, the borders in Central Asia are a bit arbitrary and the capital city of Uzbekistan is very close to the borders of both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The entire experience took around 3 hours, but a determined person could do it in 2 hours.
We drove 20 minutes to the border and parked in a lot designated for Uzbek drivers who prefer to walk across the border. Crossing in a car takes much longer than walking across due to extra security and document checks. I was told I could add three hours to the crossing if I did it by car. Hence we parked the car and walked 50 meters to the Uzbek exit gates. We had to show our passports at 3 different points, pass through a metal detector and get the exit stamp. After a short walk across “no man’s land” we did a similar process to enter Kazakhstan.
After leaving the last checkpoint, there were many currency exchanges and taxi vendors. I exchanged Uzbek So’um to Kazakh Tenge in hope of finding a nearby cafe or mall to buy a souvenir. Shymkent is a two-hour drive away from the border and we decided we preferred to get back home earlier. We went in search of a restaurant, but there was not much there. The only cafe had no one inside, including a waiter or barista. We saw a Toilet sign and paid $5 to use a rudimentary bathroom. A rectangular layout of bricks around a hole with a 1-meter drop to a cement floor below was what we got for the bathroom.
The walk back through the border crossing was easier than the first earlier crossing. Nobody asked us why we were returning so quickly after entering. They were more curious about Australia (Owen’s passport) and America (my passport) than the timing of our return. Both sides of the border crossing checked for our vaccine status and I am glad we had recent vaccine boosters. Overall the process was quite easy and a good option for people wanting to extend their stay in Uzbekistan.
Kazakhstan is country #68 for me. It is the first new country since I visited Turkmenistan in November of 2019. COVID really limited international travel and I am happy to be coming back to easy travel.