I breathed a sigh of relief and release on this one, as I finally escaped the realm of Uzbekistan and into the fresh evening air of democratic Kazakhstan. Having crossed in and out of Uzbek borders 4 times, and Kazak borders 3 times, this one was surprisingly easy and as a result, I recommend this particular border as both and entry and exit from Uzbekistan. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, if only I knew that before. The Uzbekistan visa and letter of invitation can be difficult to obtain (see my guides to ensure you nail them!). Uzbekistan border controls are the strictest I have seen so far on my travels, you need a lot of time, a lot of patience and they will hold you for hours of questioning. Which was why this border exit came as a total surprise.
Leaving Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Tashkent is in a prime position for leaving or entering Uzbekistan, as the capital city is pretty close to the border of the south part of Kazakhstan. I was into my last few hours in the country however so I needed to leave Uzbekistan before midnight in order to leave within the time on my visa. Luckily this border is open 24 hours a day and is probably the busiest exit and entry point to Uzbekistan in the world. This, my friends is golden and works to your advantage! Busy means – they are too busy to check everybody. For once in life, I reach a point of calm with the Uzbeks and their overbearing militant strictness.
I had enjoyed touring the sights of Tashkent and my cosy little guesthouse, Gulnara was an excellent base in the capital. With time running out and two main options to the border – shared taxi or marshrutka, I opted for the shared taxi. I had some Uzbek Som still to get rid off – a really crazy currency in fact – you end up with wods of cash in Uzbekistan due to the ridiculous black market situation.
So I got a deal with a taxi driver to the border for 20,000 Som and really, I was happy with that. I’m sure by bargaining I could have got it lower, a shared Marshrutka is probably only 5 – 6,000 Som but hey ho! I was happy and around 6pm I left the capital behind in a shared taxi (I arranged it through the hostel to save more time). After leaving Tashkent at 6pm, I got to the border at 6.45 pm, at a place called Chernayaevka. There was some traffic, sometimes it can be quicker than that.
Leaving Uzbekistan at Chernayevka
So normally I’d recommend allowing 4 hours to leave Uzbekistan at Chernayevka. Uzbekistan police are ridiculously strict and they invade your privacy like no other nation on earth. If you have a laptop, hard drive, mobile phone or camera – they will check EVERY SINGLE FILE. I got to the border sometime before 7pm, which allowed me 5 hours to exit before my visa ended. I knew that would be enough, even in busy queues.
Well, the Uzbek police checked almost everything for me on my other three Uzbekistan border crossings, so I expected the worst with this one and had everything prepared. I deleted all my photos of soldiers, girls in bikini and anything pornographic or military related. I deleted them and hid them on a USB which I decided I would hold in my hand as they checked my bags, I’d then cleverly place it back in my bag as they moved the things over they had checked and yes – they check everything!
But here at Chernayevka, after filling out my customs forms, noting every US Dollar, Euro and British Pound that I had on me, I could leave the border easily. The border is by a river. For once, I wasn’t singled out as I weaved my way through hoardes of Kazaks and Uzbeks.
Leaving Uzbekistan on this cold winter night was just a stamp and mostly oddly, the Uzbek guy on departure said “safe trip” to me. It felt so weird after the hostility, horrific camera and passport checks of the previous two weeks. Initially every Uzbek guy had me down as a terrorist and now I was leaving as a happy tourist. It was baffling but it was on with the show. I got my Uzbekistan exit stamp and I felt so free as I made the 30 metre walk into Kazakhstan! Goodnight Uzbekistan!! Darkness was falling as I joined the queue to Kazakhstan.
Arrival into Kazakhstan at Zhibek Zholy
You will arrive into the Kazak village of Zhibek Zholy and first of all you must fill in an immigration sheet which you must hold onto in your time in the country. Having previously backpacked in Almaty and Ile Alatau National Park, this was my second visit to Kazakhstan in two months. The procedure was the same. The sheet is easy to fill in and they stamp it.
Just put down tourist and the name of your hotel. In my case, the Orbita Boutique Hotel in Shymkent. Of course, something to note is that most nationalities need a visa in advance to visit Kazakhstan, so you might wonder how I managed it, and I explain below.
The Clever Passport Switch
Importantly here, I need to mention the “passport switch” trick that I used. You see, it was cheaper and easier to get my Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan visas on my Irish passport. Especially in the case of Afghanistan, as I was overlanding through Uzbekistan, I needed to use my Irish passport. However, Irish nationals need to purchase a visa in advance for visiting Kazakhstan. But thanks to a good relationship between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom, British nationals don’t need a visa to visit Kazakhstan as a tourist for 15 days. I was aware of this so I needed to switch passports at the border, if you have followed my adventures you’ll have read that I maximise my use of dual nationality, despite the fact that I class myself as neither Irish or British – only Northern Irish!
I left Uzbekistan on my Irish passport, filling in all details on my Irish. I arrived in Kazakhstan on my British passport, filling in the form as a Brit. I filled in all the details and the guy didn’t even check my Uzbekistan exit stamp, he just asked what part of the UK I was from. “Bournemouth” I said and he stamped me in for 15 days, happy and on I went out into the now cold and dark night. Now I was in Zhibek Zholy and just needed to head onwards to the charming city of Shymkent. Easily one of my favourite cities in the world to read aloud, love the way shimmy rolls off the tongue!
Zhibek Zholy to Shymkent, Kazakhstan
I was the only backpacker in sight at the border and I don’t speak Uzbek, Kazak or Russian so I had to try and negotiate a shared Marshrutka to Shymkent.
At this time of night, probably 8 pm by now, there were no Marshrutkas becoming full so I had to bargain my way into a shared taxi, which was actually a mini-van, I gave them $4 US and they took me not just all the way to Shymkent, but dropped me off at my hotel, the Orbita Boutique Hotel. In between times, I also had time to transfer all my remaining Uzbek Som into Kazak Tenge for the journey ahead. None of my fellow passengers or the driver could speak English of course, so I slept for the 2 hour trip to my hotel.
I was now back in Shymkent to explore both this city and the cool town of Turkistan!
Here are some videos from my border crossing from Tashkent to Shymkent: