Ashgabat is a showpiece capital. It has been designed, at the cost of billions of dollars, to show the world about the glories and accomplishments of the Turkmen. The city looks like none other on Earth – a throughly artificial collection of white marble buildings across a long, dry valley. At sunrise or sunset, there's a beauty to this uniform, outsized ambition, as if the set of a science-fiction film suddenly became an actual human settlement. During the scorching days, when walking from monument to monument across the shadeless streets, or trying to locate anything resembling normal human life in the center, Terry Gilliam's Brazil seems like the most accurate comparison.
Image control is taken very seriously. You will encounter many, many security guards and policemen with a strong opinion about how to behave and not behave in the capita. Don't take pictures of the presidential compound or military complexes (a large barracks is right next to the palace). Avoid areas with roadblocks or where it seems like senior officials may be present. Most other buildings are generally OK – although this could change at any time. Outside of the monuments, best to snap a quick picture and move on.
While large chunks of land in the city are taken up by the dreams of independent Turkmenistan's two presidents, pockets of an older, simpler life survive. Areas of the city with small apartment buildings and quiet neighborhood restaurants can be found, sometimes just off to the side of these large buildings. Head to the outskirts and country Turkmen life appears with surprising rapidity.
Ashgabat is currently building the brand-new Oguz Han International Airport. Scheduled to be completed in early 2016, the airport will increase the capacity and services of people entering the country. For now, flights arrive at the clean, temporary terminal on the site of the old Turkmen SSR airpot. Taxi drivers will want 20 manat for the short trip into town; 10 manat is a more reasonable price.
Domestic destinations include Dashogus (6 flights per day), Mary (3 flights per day), Turkmenabat (5 flights per day) and Turkmenbashi (3 flights per day). Domestic flights are very cheap due to subsidies.
Other airlines include FlyDubai to Dubai (5 times a week), Lufthansa to Frankfurt/Germany, 4 times a week (via Baku/Azerbaijan), Turkish Airlines toIstanbul/Turkey (twice a day) and S7 Airlines to Moscow (5 times per week).
Trains leave Turkmenbashi every second day at 7.30 pm and arrive in Ashgabat at 5.20 am next morning or daily at 4.05 pm, arriving in Ashgabat at 5.50 am next morning.
Trains leave Turkmenabad at 6 pm and Mary at 0.25 am daily and arrive in Ashgabat at 8.20 am next morning, Another train leaves Turkmenabad at 9.55 pm and and Mary at 2.50 am every second day, arriving in Ashgabat at 9.35 am next morning. There is a day train leaving Turkmenabad at 4.20 am and Mary at 10.23 am, arriving in Ashgabat at 6.35 pm.
Nissa, 15 km West of Ashgabat, settlement dating back to the 2nd cent BC
Geok Depe, 50 km West of Ashgabat, site of the final battle between troups of Turmen and tsarist troops in 1881/84, Saparmurat Hags Mosque, erected by President Turkmenbashi
Bakharden, 100 km West of Ashgabat, near the Kopet Dag mountains, cave with the Köw Ata Lake with hot thermal water, however, smelling of sulphur, a favorite place for excursion for people of Ashgabat at weekends.
Nokhur, 150 km from Ashgabar in South Western Turkmenistan in the valleys of the Kopet Dag mountains. The people of Nokhur claim to be direct descendants of Macedonian warriors of Alexander the Great's times,
Altyn Depe is a settlement of the Eneolithic and Bronze Ages. It has been extensively excavated during the Soviet period. The settlement has specialised potter's quarters, evidence of a differentiation of the living quarters according to the wealth of their inhabitants and a monumental cult complex. During excavations a small golden head of a wolf and a bull were found. According to the Russian archaeologist V.M.Masson, the cult complex was dedicated to the Moon Good as in Mesopotamia. The site was abandonned in the middle of the second millenium BC.
White marble. The biggest attraction in Ashagbat is the many, many white marble buildings. Many of these are government ministries and can't be entered, so a tour around the city is a great way to take it in. Bus Number 20 is a good bet. It passes a number of buildings before turning around in the desert outside the city.20 tenne. edit
Turkmenbashi Cableway, Kopet Dag (south of the National Museum). 9am to 10pm. Cable car, opened in 2006, climbing up to 1290 meters, offering spectacular views over the city with the desert in the background. Closed for renovations in the summer of 2015 – re-opening date unclear.$10. edit
Tolkuchka Bazaar, (8 km north of Ashgabad, past the airport). Satt, Sun 8am to 2pm. one of Central Asia's most colourful bazaars, edit
National Museum, Archabil sayoli 30 (in front of the Kopet Dag), ☎ 454954. 9am to 5pm. An interesting, if very expensive museum. For foreign visitors, Hall 1's presentation of post-independent Turkmenistan is probably the most interest. The delusions of absolute power are full effect in the strange gifts and terrible photoshopped images. Elsewhere more serious work is presented on Turkmenistan's past: Hall 2 focuses on Bronze Age artifacts while Hall 3 shows items taken from the Nissa site just outside of Ashgabat. Hall 4 shows a medieval model of Merv, along with exhibits on Konye Urgench and Anau. Hall 5 and 6 show ancient weapons and jewelry, while a huge carpet dominates Hall 7.$10 per section or $30 for the whole museum. edit
Museum of Fine Arts, (west of the Palace of Justice), ☎ 351566. Wed to Mon 9am to 6pm. The Central Hall has a large picture of President Niyazov Abundance of the Harvest. In the Independence Hall the heroic figures of the nation (Oguz Han, Togrul Beg, Alp Arslan and the poet Seydi) are shown. The museum also contains a reconstruction of the dragen freeze of the mosque of Arnau and exhibitions of Turkmen paitings before and after 1950. The first floor is devoted to Russian paintings from the 19th century and to European paintings, including minor works by Tiepolo and Poussin.US$ 10. edit
Turkmen Carpet Museum, 5 Georogly köcesi, ☎ 398879. Mon to Fri 10am to 1pm., 2 to 6 pm,. The museum houses antique carpets of the 18th and 19th centuries and modern carpets from all parts of the country. There is a nearly 200 square meters carpet which was intended as curtain of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, but proved too heavy. The pride of the museum is the largest hand-woven carpet in the world, as certified by the Guinness Book of Records. It covers 300 square meters and was woven by 40 carpet makers on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence.$20/72TMT. edit
Turkmenistan Independence Park, (take bus 16 or 34 from the city center). The Park covers an area 2 km long and 1 km wide. It contains monuments of famous people of Turkmen history: the founder of the Seljuk dynastySeljuk Beg, the founder of the Turkmen people Oguz Han, the Turkmen poet Magtymguly, the Seljuk leader Sultan Sanjar, the Turkmen warrior Georoglythe Seljuk rulers Alp Arslan and Malik Shah, the 18th century leader of the Ahal Tekkes Keymir Kor, the poets Zelilli and Sydi, the leader of the White Sheep confederation Uzyn Hasan, the father of the founder of the Ottoman Empire Ertogul Gazy, the Turkmen commander and poet Bairam Han, the poets Molianepes and Mataji, the Turkmen leader Gara Yusup, the Seljuk ruler Togrul Beg, the spiritual leader Gorkut Ata and the poet Kemine.edit
Ashgabat Flagpole, (near the National Museum). Erected in 2008, this large flag is now the fourth-largest in the world. If slightly smaller than the ones present in Baku, Pyongyang and Dushanbe, the 133 meter structure is still impressive. Free.. edit
Museum of Turkmen National Values, ☎ 451954. 9am to 12,30 pm, 2 to 5,30 pm, daily. In the first floor, the Museum houses displays of silver jewelry for women and horses, and replicas of the golden bull- and wolf-head sculptures from Altyn Depe.$10. edit
The Yimpas Shopping Center, Turkmenbashi sayoli 75, 9am to 11pm. A combination Western-style supermarket and shopping mall. Great for stocking up on imported food, electronics and bathroom products. Many of these items aren't available elsewhere in the country so buy them while you are here. Upstairs is an expansive food court, including "Sub-Time" a Subway knock-off that serves Indian dishes, pizza place,a burek shop and several Turkmen eateries at reasonable prices. Billards, table tennis and bowling are also avaialble.
Tolkuchka Bazaar: 8 km north of Ashgabad, past the airport, Sat, Sun 8am to 2pm, also Thu morning on a smaller scale. Buy a telpek (sheepskin) for US$ 10 to 15, a khalat (red and yellow striped robe for men) for US$ 15 or a typical red carpet for US$ 150 to 250. Be aware that you also need an export certificate, which you can get at the 'expert commission' behind the Carpet Museum, Görogly köcesi 5.
Carpet Shop, Görogly köcesi 5, east of the Carpet Museum, run by the government.
Gulistan market (Russian bazaar), ul. M. Kosaev (opposite Grand Turkmen Hotel). 9 a.m. to dusk. A traditional Central Asian bazaar stocked with fruit, vegetables, handicrafts and cheap imported clothing. Despite photos seen online of foreign dignitaries visiting, photos are strongly discouraged.8PM. edit
Berkarar Mall, Atatürk köçesi, ☎ +993 12 46-88-88, . edit
Ashgabat has next-to-no acceptable budget options, very few mid-range options and tons of space on the top end. In response the government is building even more luxury accommodation. If coming on an organized trip or a business trip, consider asking your operator to upgrade your hotel. Excess demand may mean a far better hotel for not much more money as extra space is sold off for cheap.
Hotel Nissa, Atabaeva Street, 18B, Tel: (+993-12) 22-10-25, Fax:(+993-12) 22-10-23, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Apparently owned by family of Saparmurat Niyazov, this is a four-star hotel with air conditioning, swimming pool, pool bar, sauna, Turkish sauna, gym, jacuzzi. This is about the "best" quality hotel you'll find in Ashgabat (think somewhat run-down and a bit overpriced for its features), about a 10 minute walk from the war memorial and book shop. The restaurant has decent Italian food. Expect to come across lots of foreign workers, and women of dubious persuasion at the hotel bar. Some English is, however, spoken.
Yyldyz Hotel, Str. 2002/5 17 Bagtyyarlyk, ☎ 993 12 39 09 00, . A new hotel in a hill overlooking Ashgabat. With a sail design that brings to mind the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the oversized hotel has three restaurants, including ones specializing in Chinese and Italian food, three bars, including one of the roof, spa facilities and a massive pool. The location is far from the city, the staff unhelpful and many services are closed with prior warning. Technically the nicest location in Ashgabat, but the Oguzkent is a nicer experienceedit
Oguzkent Hotel, Bitarap Turkmenistan Avenue, ☎ +993 12 44-95-00, . No longer a Sofitel but still the best hotel in Ashgabat. Location is right next to the Presidential Palace, so close to everything. Continental restaurant on the top floor has nice views (it's possible to snap photos of many buildings not allowed on the ground) while the Turkish restaurant has quality food at reasonable prices. Sauna, pool, gym, guides and tour services available. Popular with foreign guests and delegations, with good reason.$150-300. edit
Budget and Mid-Range
Hotel President, Новоарчабильское шоссе 54, Tel: +993 (12) 400000, Fax 993 (12) 40 00 41 und 993 (12) 40 02 22, E-Mail: email@example.com
Hotel Grand Turkmen (Гостиница "Грант Туркмен Отель"), ul. Georogly 7 (ул. Героглы, 7), 744000 Ашхабад, Tel: +993 12 51-05-55; Fax +993 12 511251, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel Ak Altyn, Magtumguly ave 141/1, Tel: +993 12 36 37 00 und +993 12 363701, Fax +993 12 363543 und +993 12 36 34 94, E-Mail: email@example.com. $75 per night, Visa accepted (MasterCard is not). An older option that looks a bit scary from the outside but from the inside is a big better. Once the crown-jewel of independent Turkmenistan but ambitions have gotten bigger. Nice pool bar and shashlik area in the back. German and British embassies are inside so there's plenty of security. Wi-Fi is improving but still not great. About $90 for a double.
Hotel Nebitchi, Tel: +993 12 489360, Fax +993 12 489312
Dovranov Homestay, Garaja Burunov (old: Krupskaya), or 1997 st. No: 36 (Close to '1st Children Hopital'), ☎ 92-71-78. Homestay where you'll stay with the big family. $10,- for B&B + Dinner. Daughter Jennet speaks English.edit
Syyahat Hotel, A little out of the way, West on Gorogly (West on Gorogly Kochesi). This is a big, uncharasmatic hotel with rooms that are a bit shabby, but a good budget option all the same. A basic breakfast is included in the price. Bus no. 10 goes to the centre. dorm $10, single $30, double $50. edit
The Internet situation in Turkmenistan is bad – by far the worst in Central Asia – but not as bad as it was in the recent past. There are some Internet cafés around town that have access from around 6 TMT an hour. High speed mobile Internet is available, but short-term visitors will find it hard to complete the necessary paperwork.
Wi-Fi is available in most hotel lobbies (regardless if you are staying there) and the Yimpas Shopping Center. The American government runs a Public Information Center (in a different building than the embassy) with free, unblocked Internet. The Wi-Fi unfortunately is quite slow but desktop terminals are available.
SMST (State Migration Service of Turkmenistan ), Azady köçesi 63, phone 38-00-11, 9 to 12 am, 2 to 5 pm. All persons entering Turkmenistan on a tourist or business visa have to register within three working days. You need three passport photos and your entry card. In most cases the tour operator that invited you will organise this for you. Persons holding transit visas are not required to register.
Turkmendemiryollari (Turkmenistan Zeleznice) (phone 255545, fax 473858) runs trains from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi and Turkmenabat via Mary.
Train 24 to Turkmenbashi leaves Ashabat every second day at 8.40 pm and arrives at Turkmenbashi at 6.55 am next morning. Train 606 leaves Ashabat daily at 8.10 pm, arriving in Turkmenbashi at 9.15 am next morning.
Trains to Turkmenabat and Mary leave Ashabat at 7.40 daily, arriving at Mary at 5 pm and at Turkmenabat at 11 pm. Train 195 leaves Ashabat daily at 5.20 pm and arrives at Turkmenabat at 7.35 am next morning. Train 21 leaves Ashabat every second day at 10.10 pm, ans arrives at Mary at 5.25 and at Turkmenabat at 9.40 next morning.
Iran- Take a taxi to the border, which is about 7km south of the city, so $10 should be enough to offer. After going through the first checkpoint its a 25 minute drive across nice landscape in a shared minibus, for which they charge a very steep 40 Manat/ $14 approx per person. This is the price for foreigners.
After entering into Iran, take the frequent bus to Bajgiran village 2km down the road (10,000 rial), from where you can find a taxi to take you to Quchan 70km away (250,000 - 300,000 rial / $8-10) (Sept 2013). If continuing to Mashhad just say "Mashhad autobus" and they should take you to the correct location. The taxis leaving from the border are more expensive than the village, so its worth the short journey.