Final Thoughts on Turkmenistan

View to my hotel during my run

Ashgabat was such an interesting and distinct place. The topography and climate reminded me of Nevada and Utah. It felt much drier than Tashkent and the hills and ravines at sunset and sunrise were quite beautiful. It was just so odd to look over at the futuristic buildings on this landscape. The city is close to the Iranian border, which could be seen in the distant mountains

Lobby of the Yyldyz Hotel

The city was built to impress visitors. As you can see from the hotel lobby above, no expense is spared in these huge public monuments and facilities. For example, below the hotel on the road leading down the hill towards the city, was an 18-hole, Jack Nicholson-designed golf course. We never saw anyone play during our three days at the hotel. However, the grounds were immaculately maintained.

The international airport is shaped like a bird. Many of the buildings shape match their function. The national library looks like two books.
A sample of Turkmen TV

One of the negative aspects of Ashgabat that really struck me was the lack of outside influences. Most of the most popular internet sites are blocked. There is absolutely no advertising found in the city. I read where only about 10% of the population accesses the internet. The government actively controls internet access and even my Express VPN did not work there.

Panoramic View from the hotel restaurant balcony

I didn’t spend enough time exploring this fascinating city and country. I’ll never forget country #67 on my life list.

Visit to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

View from our hotel towards the city (wedding hall in background)

Earlier this month, I had a rare opportunity to visit one of the most difficult countries to see, Turkmenistan. Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has been ruled by two successive eccentric presidents that limit the outside influences. Approximately 6,000 visitors visit Turkmenistan per year as it is difficult to get a visa and there are limited airlines flying into the capital, Ashgabat. The US Embassy in Ashgabat sponsored an Emergency Preparedness & Communications workshop and invited international school directors from Central Asia to the conference.

Dozens of white marble buildings are lit up on the lightly travelled city streets

Ashgabat is a special city in Turkmenistan. It has been described as Pyongyang (capital of North Korea) meets Las Vegas. The entire city consists of hundreds of huge monuments and buildings made of white marble. The government’s natural gas and oil revenues have been used to build a perfect city that looks like something out of a science fiction novel. There is no advertising, no litter, lots of neon lights and very few people. Every structure, from telephone booths to bus stops, has the white marble and gold-trim futuristic theme.

White marble and gold telephone booths

I stayed at the Yyldyz Hotel, a magnificent natural gas flame/rocket ship-shaped building on a hill overlooking the city. I took several evening walks along lighted sidewalks through the desert hills down to the city. It was so odd to be walking in unique landscape that naturally looks like Utah or Nevada, but a futuristic Utopian architecture. There were some bits of normalcy I encountered, like kids practicing soccer outside the national stadium and a supermarket, which was comparable to supermarkets here in Tashkent.

The city landscape from the 1976 science fiction movie, Logan’s Run – Ashgabat looks like this place (courtesy, Moria, Sci Fi film review website)

The embassy arranged two outings to local restaurants which were quite pleasant. It felt like Central Asia, with good food, plenty of alcohol and loud music. I would have never found the restaurants as there are no signs, but once inside the decor was quite normal, like most restaurants. Due to the currency exchange controls, a big meal, with drinks cost each of at the table $5 USD.

Hundreds of monuments can be found around the city.