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We recently returned from a two month silk road tour starting in Xian, China and ending in Yerevan, Armenia. Twenty eight days of this trip (the five stans: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) were handled by Advantour based in Tashkent. We dealt with Vyacheslav, their senior travel consultant and I would like to say we could not be happier about our tour. The process for obtaining our visas was easier than we thought with Vyacheslav's guidance and he always returned emails promptly. Everything went exactly according to plan. All of our drivers and guides were very good and some even accompanied us to restaurants in the evening. As long as they were available, all hotels were 4* as promised. We also thought the cost was quite reasonable considering it was a private tour.

Through research we knew what to expect in the historical sights but we were very surprised by how modern the cities were, especially Tashkent, Dushanbe and Ashgabat. We were also impressed by the scenery of Kyrgyzstan and the mountains of Tajikistan. The people we met could not have been nicer. If you have been thinking about visiting this part of the world, I would say go for it, you won't be disappointed.

Just some information:

--In Kazakhstan you can not change anything smaller than a $10 USD bill.

--Be sure to fill out 2 copies of the customs forms when entering and exiting Uzbekistan.

--Uzbek border guards at land crossings like to look at all of your photos on your phone or ipad no matter how many people are waiting in line. They don't bother with cameras though.

--Uzbekistan is the only country of the five that has a currency black market. It was 2500 soms to a dollar when we were there and the rate was the same everywhere throughout the country.

--The largest bill in Uzbekistan is 1000 soms so be prepared for a pile of cash if you change even $100.

--Crossing land borders can be time consuming. The ladies go in one line and the men in another. The ladies would quickly move my wife to the front of the line while on the men's side I would find myself further and further back until a guard would notice.

--Entering Turkmenistan our guide was able to enter the immigration area and help us with all the details.

--Many restaurants have English menus but most of the time they only have 2 or 3 items available so it's best to just ask what they have. In Uzbekistan especially, restaurants usually had an employee who spoke some English.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: arrival - Almaty

Arrival to Almaty from Urumqi, transfer to the hotel.

Day 2: Almaty

Sightseeing in Almaty. Visit Panfilov Park, Zenkov Cathedral, St.Nicholas Cathedral, National Musical Instruments Museum, Almaty's Green Bazaar, panoramic view at observatory (Medeo).

Day 3: Almaty – Charyn Canyon – Almaty

Charyn Canyon excursion passing through old Almaty city suburbs, local Kazakh villages, agricultural areas, Uighur local bazaar. Lunch in a local café, then mountain pass and park entrance followed by a walking tour along the Charyn Canyon and the Valley of castles - transfer back to the city.

Day 4: Almaty – Bishkek

After breakfast depart Almaty and drive to Bishkek, see the natural landscapes on the way. Border formalities. Arrive to Bishkek and check in to the hotel. Lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon sightseeing Bishkek, visit Philarmonic hall, Statue of Manas, Oak Park , Ala -Too Square, Victory Square.

Day 5: Bishkek – Cholpon Ata

In the morning depart Bishkek and drive to Lake Issyk Kul (one of the biggest mountain lakes in the world). Visit Burana Tower on the way. Arrive at the lake, check into lakeside hotel and then visit nearby petroglyphs at Cholpon Ata.

Day 6: Cholpon Ata - Karakol

Breakfast at the hotel. Transfer to Karakol. On the way visit Grigorievska Gorge, full of lush green alpine meadow and fir trees, easy hike in the gorge. In Karakol visit wooden Russian-orthodox church, the Dungan mosque and Prejevalskiy museum. Check in to guesthouse.

DAY 7: Karakol – Bishkek - Tashkent

In the morning transfer back to Bishkek (420 km, 6-7 hours). On the way visit Jeti-Oguz and the Fairytale Canyon. Arrival to the airport. Flight to Tashkent at 19-50. Arrive Tashkent at 20-20, transfer to the hotel.

Day 8: Tashkent

Sightseeing Tashkent. Visit center of Tashkent, Amir Temur Square, Independence Square, Old City part of Tashkent with Khast-Imom Complex and Chor-Su bazaar, Applied Arts Museum. Free time in the afternoon.

Day 9: Tashkent - Khujand (90+60 km)

Early morning transfer to Uzbekistan-Tajikistan border check point Oybek. Border formalities and meet the Tajik local guide and driver and drive to Khujand. Sightseeing Khujand: Republican historical-ethnographic museum, Timurmalik fortress 11-12 cc, Archeological museum, mosque and madrasah of Sheikh Muslehiddin, bazaar Panjshanbe. Check in to hotel.

Day 10: Khujand - Dushanbe

In the morning depart Khujand and drive to Dushanbe. On the way stop in Ura-Tube and visit Mug, one of the ancient settlements in Tajikistan. Late afternoon arrive in Dushanbe and check in to hotel.

Day 11: Dushanbe

Sightseeing in Dushanbe including visit to Museum of National Antiquities, which opened in 2001. Featuring artifacts from Tajikistan's Islamic and pre-Islamic history (Greek/Bactrian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Hindu), the museum shows that Tajikistan was an important crossroads in Central Asia. The centrepiece is the 14m reclining Buddha in Nirvana, a 1,400 year-old statue created by the same Kushan civilisation that made the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.

Day 12: Dushanbe – Saryosiyo – Shakhrisyabz (360 km)

In the morning transfer to the border check point Saryosiyo visiting ancient Hissor Fortress on the way. Border formalities. Transfer to Shakhrisyabz and check in to hotel.

Day 13: Shakhrisyabz - Samarkand.

In the morning sightseeing Shakhrisyabz. Visit ruins of Ak-Saray palace, mausoleum of Jakhongir and Omar-Shaykh, mausoleum Dorut-Tilovat where conqueror Tamerlane’s father and his spiritual tutor are buried, Kok-Gumbaz mosque. After excursion transfer to Samarkand. Arrival to Samarkand, check in to the hotel.

Day 14: Samarkand

Guided sightseeing tour in Samarkand, sightseeing tour will include visit to the famous Registan Square, Shakhi-Zinda Complex, remains of Bibi-Khanum Mosque, Shakhi-Zinda necropolis, Gur-Emir mausoleum, Ulugbek observatory.

Day 15: Samarkand - Bukhara (280 km, 4 hrs)

In the morning depart Samarkand and drive to Bukhara. Arrival to

Bukhara, check in to the hotel. Free time.

Day 16: Bukhara

Sightseeing tour in Bukhara. Visit Ismail Samani mausoleum, Ark Fortress, Chashma-Ayub, Kalon Mosque and Minaret, medrese Miri-Arab, Magoki-Attori mosque, medrese Ulugbek and Abdulazizkhan, trade domes, Lyabi Hauz complex, Chor-Minor.

Day 17: Bukhara

Continue sightseeing Bukhara. Trip to summer palace of Bukhara emirs Sitorai-Mokhikhosa, Chor-Bakr and Bakhoutdin Naqshbandi mausoleum. In the afternoon free time in Bukhara.

Day 18: Bukhara - Khiva (480 km, 7 hrs)

In the morning transfer to Khiva. During the drive stop to see the Amudarya River. Arrival to Khiva, check in to the hotel.

Day 19: Khiva

Guided sightseeing of Khiva, spend a day in UNESCO World Heritage site Ichan-Qala fortress. In Ichan-Qala fortress visit Mukhammad Amin Khan medresah, Mukhammad Rahimkhan Medresah, Kalta Minor, Kunya-Ark, Juma mosque, Toshkhovli palace, Pakhlavan Makhmud mausoleum, minaret Islom-khodja.

Day 20: Khiva – Nukus (200 km)

In the morning depart Khiva and drive to Nukus. On the way stop to see ruins of ancient fortresses: Ayaz-Kala, Tuprak-Kala, Kyzyl-Kala. In the afternoon arrival to Nukus. Check in to hotel. Visit to the State Art Museum named after I.V. Savitsky. It hosts the world's second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art.

Day 21: Nukus-Kungrad-Usturt Plateau-Lake Sudochie-Aral Sea (450 km – 8 hrs)

Departure from Nukus to discover the Usturt Plateau and the Aral Sea life. Pass via Kungrad district, which used to be one of the trading centers on the Silk Road. Continue to the Usturt Plateau. Stop at the Lake Sudochie, have lunch at fishermen’s house. Continue the way to the Aral Sea. On the way visit the former lighthouse and stop to take pictures of beautiful canyons and the collapsed land. Arrive at the Aral Sea. Dinner and overnight in tents.

Day 22: Aral Sea-Muynak-Mizdak-khan-Gaur Kala-Nukus

Early wake up to take pictures of sun rise. Transfer to Muynak village which is known as "cemetery of ships” nowadays. Drive on the dried bottom of the sea, pass the gas towers, arrive in Uchsai. On the way to Nukus stop at Mizdak-khan architectural complex of the 14th century and Gaur kala that was destroyed by Genghis-khan. Arrive in Nukus and check back in to hotel.

Day 23: Nukus – Kunya Urgench – Darvaza

Transfer to the Uzbekistan\Turkmenistan border check point Hojeily/Keneurgench. Border formalities. Meeting with Turkmen guide and driver. Continue drive to Kunya Urgench (about 100 km). Visit Mausoleums of Turebek-Khanym, Sultan Tekesh, Sultan Il Arslan, Najmad-din-Kubra, Sultan Ali. Discover the Kutlug Timur minaret & Kyrk Molla. Continue driving to Darvaza gas crater. Dinner. Overnight in tents.

Day 24: Darvaza - Ashgabat (260km)

Drive to Ashgabat. Upon arrival in Ashgabat check in to the hotel. Afternoon city tour of Ashgabat.

Day 25: Ashgabat – Mary - Ashgabat

Early morning transfer to the airport for flight to Mary. Arrival in Mary. Drive to Merv archaeological site. Visit Sultan Kala, see Sultan Sanjar’s mausoleum, later proceed to Erk Kala and Gaiyur Kala. Visit Mary history Museum. Transfer to the airport for the return flight to Ashgabat.

Day 26: Ashgabat

Excursion to Old Nissa and then visit national museum in Ashgabat. Rest of day at leisure.

Day 27: Ashgabat - departure

Transfer to the airport and flight to Baku. End of the program.

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