Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan? Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center and Mall

Should You Travel to Astana, Kazakhstan?

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Astana, Kazakhstan is one of the weirdest places I have ever visited.  If you even just Google “Astana”, you will find several other people using the word “weird” as a word to describe the city of just over a million people in the middle of the Kazakh steppe.  Despite it having a rather extensive history, most people know the modern Astana and not the Soviet city of Tselinograd.  In 1992, the government of Kazakhstan renamed Tselinograd Akmola and in December of 1997, Akmola became the new capital of Kazakhstan (Almaty previously held the honors).  In May of 1998, Akmola was renamed Astana, a word that literally means ‘the capital city’ in the Kazakh language.  Astana, a planned city just like Washington D.C., Canberra, or Brasilia, was more or less build from the ground up.  The city sits on the Ishim River / Esil River and you can find remnants of the old city on the right bank of the river… but the left bank is the bank that has gained international recognition.  The left bank is where the Baiterek tower is and where all the modern architecture calls home.  The city ignited my curiosity years ago when I was reading up on the country of Kazakhstan and decided to travel there one day (I eventually moved there, but that is another story).  Since I have traveled to Astana, I get heaps and heaps of questions from other travelers wondering if they should travel to Astana, Kazakstan.  I decided to candidly write my experiences and opinions on my time spent in the Kazakh capital and hope you take the time to do some thorough research before heading there or having any expectations.

This post will tell you about my experiences in Astana, how it made me appreciate Almaty (and later move there!), and what to do in the city if you so happen to find yourself there.

Astana, Kazakstan travels

Astana, Kazakstan travels

Astana, Kazakstan travels

Astana, Kazakstan travels

How I Ended Up in Astana

If you’re from Astana, Kazakhstan and don’t have tough skin, you may want to stop reading this post now.

My trip to Central Asia was supposed to be mainly to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan was always a very high place on my mental travel bucket list because I’m obsessed with the food and I have a friend from there.  Tashkent had cheap flights from Oslo, but Bishkek’s were cheaper, and Americans do not need a visa for Kyrgyzstan, which made it a better base at the time. So I planned to head to both in the month of travel I had allotted.  (Update 2017: Americans and many other nationalities don’t need visas to Kazakhstan anymore if staying under 30 days).

After realizing I’d be spending a little over a day in Moscow and needing to pay for an expensive transit visa (they are $160 for Americans) in order to get out of the airport, my plans to head to Uzbekistan kind of diminished. For Americans traveling to Uzbekistan, you are required to have a letter of invitation and another $160 visa. The LOI can wind up being expensive because if you book through a tour company, you often need to book hotels through them, as well. And with my financial situation, I am in no position to be staying at nice hotels… only hostels. When I realized all of that, I also discovered that two of my friends had just moved to Kazakhstan for their jobs. They moved to two completely different areas of the country. I figured that this trip would be an opportune time to visit them both and see a little bit of Kazakhstan in the process. Kazakhstan visas are also $160, but no LOI is required and I could stay wherever I wanted throughout the duration of the trip. In conclusion, the circumstances took me to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

One of my friends was in Kostanay and the other was in Almaty. Kostanay is a very remote city of around 200,000 up in the northern part of the country near the Siberian part of Russia. The cheapest way to get to Kostanay was to fly to Astana from Bishkek and then to take a 13+ hour train to the city. This was the first reason I had to pass through Astana. The second was on my way back from Kostanay before I headed to Karaganda (a city around 3 hours from Astana) to catch a flight down to Almaty.

For those of you who do not know, Kazakhstan is huge. It is the 9th largest country in the world and has very little in its vastness. The north of Kazakhstan (which is where Astana is) is known to be brutally cold in winter, with wind chills of -40C / -40F regularly as the wind blows across the Kazakh steppe. The south of Kazakhstan (which is where Almaty is), is a bit warmer and surrounded by tall mountains.


So, my itinerary in Kazakhstan ended up being Kostanay, Astana, Karaganda, and finally finishing off the Kazakhstan part of my trip with a full week in Almaty. I left other places out due to time and knowing that I’d like to travel back one day to see things during warmer months.

Kostanay and Karaganda were charming and places I really enjoyed my time at. That brings me to Astana and Almaty…

The two cities are on completely different planets. Almaty’s planet being one I’d like to live on and Astana’s planet being one I’d like to see sucked into a black hole forever.

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My Time in Astana (& Why it Made Me Love Almaty)

Astana is, hands down, the worst city I have ever visited in my life. I hated my time there.

The cold had nothing to do with it. Quite frankly, Almaty has been colder than Astana was when I was there. Astana was just fake, rude, and uninviting. I visited both the left bank (the newer, Dubai– like part of Astana) and the right bank (the old part of the city). Both were uninspiring and left a lot to be desired, in my opinion.

I’ll admit, my time spent there before heading to Kostanay was filled with entertainment in the train station as I had to wait around 12 hours to catch my night train out of the place. In this train station, I witnessed an old beggar lady being kicked hard on the ground by a female police officer for what looked like the lady eating a block of cheese (my Russian skills are obviously pretty poor). I also witnessed a woman pull out a training potty for her son in the middle of the train station, have him pee in it, and then she dumped the pee back in his diaper, missing the diaper with the majority of it. Needless to say, she never cleaned it up off the floor. I also was pushed and beaten trying to buy the train ticket in the first place by vodka-smelling, sweaty men. I left Astana appalled.

I got back to the city about four days later with a completely open mind and was ready to enjoy the place.

And I still didn’t like it. I asked people for restaurant recommendations and was treated to some overpriced, horrific food in the process. I still believe that people were playing a joke on me. There were a couple of local girls in my hostel who were nice, but the rudest people I’ve ever met when it came to the living situation.

I often asked people what there was to do in Astana besides go shopping, and was often told that there was an indoor ‘beach’ on the roof of Khan Shatyr, a large shopping mall. When I told them that wasn’t my thing, it was often addressed with, “But the sand has been imported from Dubai”.  I later found out that the sand is from the Maldives, just to update you.

The city also thought it would be charming to replicate famous buildings around the world like Moscow’s famous Seven Sisters buildings. Or the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation resembling a pyramid. Or the Presidential Palace resembling Washington D.C.’s White House. Or the Kay Munay Gaz building resembling Atlantis in the Bahamas. And now there is major construction happening in the left bank to build a high tower like some of the ones gracing Dubai’s skyline.

My last day in Astana was spent making an intentional venture around the city to find three things I liked about it. I honestly came up blank. The only thing that came remotely close was my discovery of a business lounge in the train station that was free, had good beer and decent samsas, and didn’t yell at me for trying to charge my computer or phone with the outlets inside.  It also acted as a refuge from the police officers harassing people in the main train station.

Astana had no soul. No heart. No charm. I don’t have any desire to return to the city. Unless I am sent on some type of work duty, which would be more or less out of my control.

I left Astana with such disgust that I just wasn’t sure if Kazakhstan as a whole could redeem itself. Thankfully, the job was left up to Almaty, the largest city by population and the former capital city.

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan?

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan?

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan?

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan?
Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan?

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan?

Arriving in Almaty

Almaty rocks.  In every way possible. I really, really love it here (I’m still here!) The people are kind and helpful, the buildings have stories to tell, and there are no indoor beaches with sand imported from Dubai or the Maldives, that I know of.  Every meal I have had in Almaty has been delicious. Seeing the late sunrise reflect on the majestic mountains that decorate the city’s skyline makes me eager to wake up every single morning. And this city definitely knows a good cafe.

Almaty is one of those cities that actually inspires me to write. Not many places I’ve visited in the past year have had that impact on me. Many of my trips in 2013 have actually not even been written about on here because they have left me completely uninspired and apathetic after visiting. Thankfully, Almaty has broken the streak and has inspired me to even write about those cities that I, at once, couldn’t conjure up any words about.

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Perhaps Almaty isn’t really all that great and I just arrived here at the right time, giving me the impression that it is grander than what it actually is. Or perhaps it is just a really incredible city. Whatever it is, Almaty has easily become one of my favorite cities in the world. It is developed enough to feel comfortable, but foreign enough to feel intriguing. It is large enough to feel like an important metropolis but small enough to walk around without getting dangerously lost.

Update: I ended up loving Almaty so much back when I traveled there that I opted to move there for three months at the end of 2016 when I didn’t have a visa for Schengen.  I can confirm that the city is still incredible and deserves every bit of recognition and love that it receives.

Is Astana Worth Your Time?

I have never once on this blog attempted to steer people away from a destination. I’m a firm believer that people can have different experiences in different places and that you should make your own judgments about a place. However, it is very difficult for me to suggest Astana as a city for travelers to the region and it is for a few reasons:

The first reason is that Central Asia has no shortage of historical places and things to see.  The region is historically one of the most important on the planet.  If you’re curious about the modern state of Kazakhstan, perhaps a visit to Astana is a good idea.  But if you’re seeking out Silk Road history, you should make your way to Shymkent and the south.

The second reason is its location.  If you don’t have the means to fly to Astana, you will have to really put in some effort to travel there.  The trains from Almaty can be an entire day long.  That is an entire day that you can spend elsewhere.  If Astana was a city located within an eight-hour journey of Almaty or other places in Central Asia, I would highly encourage the trip there as it offers contrasts and varying architecture.  But would I take a 20-hour train there if I only have two weeks in the city?  No way.

The third reason is the weather.  When I was there, it was a comfortable -20C or even warmer.  As I mentioned above, it can get to -40C and you’re on the steppe.  The wind blows and can physically bring pain to your entire body.  I was used to cold temperatures having lived in Oslo, so this factor didn’t really bother me, but if you’re not a winter traveler or love cold temperatures, maybe a trip to Astana during colder months isn’t for you.  With that said, I found Almaty’s weather to be far worse temperature-wise than Astana’s.  Perhaps it was the humidity…

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan? Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center and Mall

In 2013, I would have said to steer clear of Astana at all costs.  Having lived in Kazakhstan in 2016, however, I would encourage you to go if you have the time.  I almost even booked a ticket back there for this November (and still might!) as Wizz Air is offering cheap deals from Budapest currently.  I always said I wouldn’t go back, but the city has 2017 Expo and it seems to have done well with it and it appears to have infused a new life and optimism in the people of the city.  Plus, there is nothing more I love than proving myself wrong about a place.

What To Do in Astana

So you have found yourself in Astana… now, what are you going to do there?

The city has quite a few buildings that worth noting for the architectural savvy traveler.  The food has apparently come a lot way from when I was there.  The parks are in abundance and museums are teaching travelers and their visitors about the history of the city.  You can also check out the right bank, where the Soviet-side of the city still exists.  Basically, there are definitely some things to do in Astana if you happen to find yourself there.


The most obvious thing to do in Astana is to check out the modern and futuristic architecture the city boasts.  There is no shortage of cool buildings in the city, but the ones listed below are the ones I found to be most worthwhile.

Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center

This is a giant mall and entertainment center located in a building that looks like a tent.  Ugh yes, I am suggesting you check out the mall.  But this mall is different.  It supports quite a few businesses, but the inside of it is interesting and the design is absolutely remarkable.  There are rides inside, a nice food court, and even the indoor beach I mentioned above.  The shopping mecca was a project announced by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on December 9, 2006, and the doors finally opened on July 5, 2010.

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan? Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center and Mall

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan? Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center and Mall

Should you travel to Astana, Kazakhstan? Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center and Mall

Nur-Astana Mosque

The third largest mosque in Central Asia, the Nur-Astana is a sight to behold with one’s own eyes.  Something about the white color of it situated against the steppe and clear skies just make it standout.  The mosque was a gift as a result of an agreement between Nursultan Nazarbayev and Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa.  The capacity is 5,000 on the inside and another 2,000 on the outside… making it a must-see, even if just for size, when in Astana.

Nur-Astana Mosque in Astana, Kazakhstan

Nur-Astana Mosque in Astana, Kazakhstan

Ak Orda Presidential Palace

The Presidential Palace in Astana is a grandiose palace that is the official workplace of the President of Kazakhstan.  It was constructed quickly and opened in 2004.  The palace can be found on the 10,000 Tenge note.

Ak Orda Presidential Palace in Astana, Kazakhstan

Northern Lights Astana

Some people will tell you to go to the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation or to the Triumph of Astana over this building, but I really liked this one because of the way it glistened under pristine and blue skies.  It was simple, yet visually complex and beautiful.  This office and residential building opened in early 2010.

Northern Lights building in Astana, Kazakhstan

Baiterek Tower

Perhaps the most famous landmark in Astana, this 97 meter high tower (and yes, you can visit its top!) is nicknamed “Chupa Chups” like the lollipop by local residents.  The queue can be long, so make sure you plan ahead.

Baiterek Tower in Astana, Kazakhstan

<Baiterek is on the left>

Where to Eat in Astana

Do not eat at the rotating restaurant no matter how many people tell you to go up there.  The building was located right beside the residential building I was staying at and it was a major mistake. The restaurant is Chinese and Kazakh and the rotating nature of it made me feel ill.  But not nearly as ill as the food made me ill after eating it.  I ordered the national dish of Kazakhstan, beshbarmak, and it was just awful.  Below are some recommended suggestions from other sources:

Astana, Kazakhstan restaurants

The Ultimate Guide Where to Eat in Astana (please ignore the Revolving Restaurant recommendation they give you)

I will also add Line Brew to this list.  Line Brew is a place I’ve been too many times to count in Almaty and they brew their own beer and cook tasty Kazakh and international food right in front of you.  It isn’t really the best place for vegan or vegetarians in Almaty or Astana, but it is worth a try- and their beer is good!  You can find the Astana location at Kenesary St 20.

Specialty Coffee in Astana

When I was in Astana, no specialty coffee existed!  So imagine my excitement when my friends report back that there is good coffee to be found in the capital city.  The Ministry of Coffee (or Министерство Кофе) has been serving up superb coffee since they opened their doors in Astana.  They have everything from V60 pourovers to Syphon to long blacks and flat whites.  You can find them at Kuneyeva Street 35.

Where to Stay in Astana

The place I previously stayed seems to no longer be in business (not really surprising- such is life in Kazakhstan).  Astana has the standard Marriotts and the luxurious Rixos Hotel, but plenty of affordable hostels and rooms are available these days (definitely different than when I was there!) and you can search for them on

Final Thoughts on Astana

So, I didn’t like the city.  Obviously not a secret if you’ve read this far.  And years ago, I would have concluded that I’d never, ever make it back to the place unless someone pulled my teeth out.  But I have since lived in Kazakhstan.  I’ve chatted with some of my Kazakh friends about the city and I even have some friends that reside in the city.  It may not have been my cup of tea that time around, but with the Expo and everything else that has transformed the place since, I would actually give it another shot in hopes of being able to slap myself in the face from having such hateful thoughts about it the first time around.  If you have any suggestions of what to see or do in the city or want to share an opinion about your time spent there, please do so in the comments!  And stick around- one day I’ll certainly be writing a sequel to this.


Astana, Kazakhstan is for its futuristic buildings but remote location and this post answers the question of whether or not you should travel to Astana.
Astana, Kazakhstan is for its futuristic buildings but remote location and this post answers the question of whether or not you should travel to Astana.
Astana, Kazakhstan is for its futuristic buildings but remote location and this post answers the question of whether or not you should travel to Astana.

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Astana, Kazakhstan is for its futuristic buildings but remote location and this post answers the question of whether or not you should travel to Astana.
  • Katie
    Posted at 14:19h, 07 January Reply

    Wow, glad I didn’t try to go to Astana when I was in Kazakhstan! But glad to hear you love Almaty. It was probably one of my favorite cities in Central Asia. If you’re craving American food at all, there was one restaurant not far from downtown that was excellent (after 2+ months in the region, I was dying for a good burger!).

    Sounds like visa stuff has really changed since I went – or maybe it’s just different since I was getting visas in neighboring countries. I didn’t need an LOI for Uzbekistan (the guy at the consulate initially asked for one, but when I told him Americans didn’t need one, he quickly relented) and my visa was $140 for a multiple entry (which was more than just single entry). And my visa for Kazakhstan was only $30, not $160!

    • Megan
      Posted at 14:29h, 07 January Reply

      only $30 for visas around central asia!? whaaaa??? all visas for CIS countries ive obtained since late 2012 have been $160 for me, and like 60 euros for andre (norwegian passport). ridiculous :) but now kazakhstan offers 5 year visas to americans. i do know that tajikistan offers VOA if you fly into dushanbe…which is definitely something ill take advantage of next time im here :) but maybe it is b/c you got them in neighboring countries?? next time ill just have to hang out in bishkek and get the work done there. those visa fees are brutal! but i have a feeling KZ will be soon getting rid of visas for americans. (fingers crossed before i make the next trip out this way to see the rest of the country).

      i definitely enjoyed almaty more! im leaving tomorrow night back for bishkek and am struggling coming to terms with it. i feel very at home here! i heard there is an american joint here from my friends…bet it’s the same one you mentioned because they said it was very good!

      hope all is well and i really hope you make it to kamchatka this year. one of my top dream places to go to!!!

      stay warm!!!!!

      • Bill
        Posted at 00:14h, 01 May Reply

        Thanks for the post.I’ve been reading allot about this country lately as a job may bring me here.The company has spots in Almaty and Astana.I now will not except Astana.If Almaty is not available I will look elsewhere.Dont let post about you being a American bother you.I’m one too and I’ve traveled and worked in several countries.Some places have been miserable as I didn’t know better.I think its great people like you take the time to inform others before they make the trip or in my case move there. You may have saved me from making another big mistake…………Thanks

        • Megan Starr
          Posted at 12:07h, 26 July Reply

          Thanks so much for your comment, Bill. And sorry for the delayed reply (been traveling for last few months!) I definitely think Almaty is a winner over Astana. And since I wrote this article years ago, I actually went back to KZ and lived in Almaty for a while… confirming it is the coolest place in KZ :) Best of luck with everything and hope you find a position somewhere awesome!

    • Aigul
      Posted at 00:08h, 01 February Reply

      Dear Katie!
      You can even see near Almaty slice of America is in Charyn canyon, near Almaty 220 km

  • Sara
    Posted at 14:50h, 07 January Reply

    I’m so glad you are ok, it sounded like a rough visit to Astana. You’re a trooper though, glad you found a gem you love. Enjoy!

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:51h, 10 January Reply

      thanks so much sara! ive now left almaty and cant wait to return back there!! :)

  • Laurie
    Posted at 07:13h, 08 January Reply

    Note to self: Don’t go to Astana! Wow. Honest and informative. Thanks for the tips! Great article :)

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:46h, 10 January Reply

      thanks laurie! if you ever find yourself out this way, let me know and i can give you some tips on great places to visit!

  • Neesh
    Posted at 16:07h, 08 January Reply

    Hi Megastar:)

    I had similar gut feeling about Astana but didn’t realise it was that bad. Good to know. Seems like the ‘beautiful’ architecture is not making the people feel proud and happy of their city, its having the opposite effect. Even that special sand from Dubai is not doing miracles.

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:42h, 10 January Reply

      i really hope that for astana’s sake, it gains a little creativity in design over the next few years. and the people become a little friendlier :)

  • Rookie
    Posted at 04:58h, 09 January Reply

    What a bullshit.

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:25h, 10 January Reply

      i thought it was bullshit that people were pushing and beating me in line for a train ticket.

  • Beknur
    Posted at 05:58h, 09 January Reply

    I am from Almaty, and when I visit our capital, have same feeling.
    Astana not a worst city, but really hard to live one.
    Anyway, thank u for good review

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:39h, 10 January Reply

      thanks beknur. youre lucky to live and be from beautiful almaty.

  • Baha
    Posted at 06:39h, 09 January Reply

    Interesting to read your perspective on these cities. I enjoy both of these cities, though agree with your points on Astana.

    offtopic, you might find useful to watch some photos from this link (it’s all about beauty of KZ nature):

    I am glad that you became more prolific writer at least in Almaty :) Wish you to enjoy these places more!

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:29h, 10 January Reply

      thanks for your comment baha! and that video was incredible! im already trying to plan a trip back to KZ in the warmer months to check out some of the amazing nature :)

  • Alex @ ifs ands & butts
    Posted at 12:03h, 09 January Reply

    So interesting to hear. You’ve definitely taken the road less traveled and it’s so cool to read about.

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:26h, 10 January Reply

      hope you make it to almaty one of these days, alex!

  • Micheal
    Posted at 14:54h, 09 January Reply

    100% agree with your opinions. It is not just the cold, as you said Astana has no soul, people are rude, there is nothing to do as a family, ridiculously expensive. In short, Astana is FAKE city which try to copy world structures in a low quality.

    I live in Astana for a business reason then finally convinced my management to move to Almaty.

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:11h, 10 January Reply

      i cant blame you at all for trying to get to almaty. while i think astana would be slightly better to live in than visit (and i mean, very slightly), i would never want to reside there if almaty was an option :) good luck!!!!

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 16:37h, 09 January Reply

    Nice to read and feel so much passion in your little journey story. I spent whole my childhood in small town and then moved to Almaty and have been to Astana several times. The point you made about the people behaviour is absolutely right and it is due to most of the countryside people moving to Astana to seek job, because in small towns there are no jobs and it is done purposely to shift people to Astana and make it megapolis and all that stuff. Most of the people are not so good educated and it is the government’s failure, they’ve all that funds to invest and build lovely unique buildings,etc. but they just wanna copy everything out and with very very bad quality. Even the notes are disgusting, they just changed it for the sake of change and it is just money laundering. We used to have lovely notes with great people portraits and beautiful places’ picture at the back, but now it is so ugly with this stupid Bayterek(just 97 metres) which they are proud of just because it is unique and idea of “leader of nation”….
    But Almaty is different, even people behave differently. It is very multinational city with well-eduacted people and lots of theatres, museums, historical places, etc. There are so many beautiful sight especially if you climb on a mountain, also lovely Medeum skating complex(highest in the world), skiing resourt Chimbulak. There are many lovely restaurant and cafes serving all kind of food from Chinese to Caucasian… and they just wanna destroy all that, history, beautiful places. They even got our mayor and instead of him put some stupid as**le, who just destroys the city(does not even clean the roads from snow and does not gather broken trees in the mountain and as result getting fire). But still, I just love this city and would recommend to anyone willing to visit Central Asia. Thanks;)

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:05h, 10 January Reply

      i thought almaty was one of the greatest cities ive ever visited! it is really sad to hear about some of the behind the scenes things going on in the country. i hope people fight for what is right. id hate to see almaty lose a bit of its charm due to those things.

      and the food in almaty was out of this world…i was very impressed! and im usually not that impressed with food in most places ;) thanks for your comment and happy new year!

  • Zhanna K.
    Posted at 17:06h, 09 January Reply

    Strange, when people make their conclusions out of a couple of days short-stay… I agree that Astana looks a bit strange and cheap with its ridiculous sky-high prices, no places to go for foreigners (unless you’re interested in Opera, Ballet and Сlassical music – you can visit many of those pathetic newly built Palaces and Pyramids), yes, Astana has that weird plastic and artificial appearance and cheap copies of the world’s famous buildings. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s rude. But NOT more and NOT less than any other city, when you are a stranger, with no language, no friends and no company to support. I live in Almaty. I adore it. But there’re lots of disadvantages in Almaty, too: pollution, traffic, ridiculously expensive cars among people living in poverty. Dirt, the same rudeness and the same openness of local people, the same cordial hospitality of locals and the same smell of drunk-beggars, like everywhere!
    When you’re a lonely tourist, thinngs often get complicated and it can happen everywhere… the day before yesterday I was diplomatically humilited in Berlin’s Reichstag by the security officer for bringing my Russian friends who didn’t speak German and didnt bring thier passports (that’s our fault, totally!) but officially and logically it was more or less reasonable, though didnt give the right to speak to people with such a tone and such a face… I took it for granted. We were just a crowd of annzing foreign toursists to them, whom they face thousands and thousands daily, fulfilling thier work. Should I make a conclusions that all Germans are like that??? NO! no and no. It’s just a circumstance.
    I wouldn’t say that I love Astana. For the same reasons – for its artificial cheapness and expensiveness I would say I feel a bit mockingly towards this little city of big buildings… for its provincial fleur, for poor manners of waitresses (former little-villagers who headed to the Big City for their fortune), for awkward 80s’ style of out-of-fashion women in Chinese furcoats, for stupid Lexus driving Big Dad’s sons who have not earned a penny at thier 25 years, but who show up thier assets to each other… for absence of good cosy coffee-houses, for presence of absurd luxurious restaurant at every corner where they can’t even serve the table decently, for many other little clumsy ooopsies…
    BUT there’s a spirit of Youth and Young Energy there, open to all steppe winds. An energy of future, an energy of hope…
    Remember, how many newly-born cities (it is only 15 years old!) in the world can claim to be the most popular (if appeared out of nothing! from an empty place!) how many 15-years-in-existance cities built so fast, can boast with thier Highly civilized publique and cultural life? not many.
    So, I wish you to see the better part and better people in Astana again (come, please! contact me, as I’ll be back to homeland next summer) and witness by your own eyes, that not only buildings and good coffee make a place cosy! ;-)
    I wish you good luck and success in all your destinations. And thanks for warm words about my beloved Almaty. BUT MOREOVER, THANKS A LOT for honesty in your post!
    That’s a good lesson for Astana’s folks. And for the rest of us^ as Astana consists of people coming from all parts of KZ, who live there, who work there, who will stay there forever…

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:00h, 10 January Reply

      i would have tore my brains out if i had stayed there longer than the five days i did, unfortunately. and actually, you reference how i was all alone in astana. i wasnt. i was surrounded by people and friends the entire time. all were actually FROM astana. and strangely enough, all hate the city. every single person told me to get to almaty. after giving the city an open mind twice, i cant say i at all disagree with their suggestion.

      if astana was in close proximity to almaty or any other major city, i would never deter people from going there because it wouldnt be out of their way. but the fact of the matter is, it is out of the way for EVERYONE who is in the area. so people have to make a special trip to go there. and no offense, travelers money is better spent not going.

      thank you for your comment and i hope youre enjoying almaty! i wont be coming back to astana, unfortunately, but thanks for your offer! i really appreciate it!

      • Zhanna K.
        Posted at 22:51h, 10 January Reply

        I live in Almaty. And will be bakc there in summer (now Im out of counrty). and wish you all the best in you adventures and trips! (I read about your Belarus journey, I love Belorussian people! Glad you were lucky and got lots of positive impressions there!) ;-) good luck, Zhanna K.

        • Megan
          Posted at 23:40h, 10 January Reply

          thanks so much zhanna! and happy new year to you!

  • Karina
    Posted at 05:53h, 10 January Reply

    The most ridiculous thing about your post that you called Kostanay and Karagandy “charming” places. Are you kidding me? I’ve been to these places many times, and I will admit: there’s absolutely nothing to do after couple hours…nothing special about these cities. It’s unbelievable that someone would even try to compare them to Astana.

    • Megan
      Posted at 06:54h, 10 January Reply

      Karina…perhaps you dont know the meaning of charming. Charming and having loads to do in a city is not the same thing. Sure, there is not much to do in Karaganda and Kostanay after a few hours…but that doesnt mean they are not charming.

      And if you reread the post, youll notice that i never once compared astana to karaganda or kostanay. i compared it to almaty. which in point, astana sucks compared to almaty. point blank.

      thanks for your comment, but in all do respect, its better to read the actual post before making comments that make you sound a little presumptuous.

  • X
    Posted at 13:09h, 10 January Reply


  • Nour
    Posted at 14:44h, 10 January Reply

    Same old battle between Astana and Almaty))) But Almaty always win – such a great city, isn’t it?))) Thanks Megan for really lovely and kind words about our city! Really appreciated!

    • Megan
      Posted at 20:30h, 10 January Reply

      almaty should always win that battle…def one of the best cities ive ever visited.

  • Guligu
    Posted at 15:46h, 10 January Reply

    How did you manage to buy a ticket amongst drunk men at the train station? Nobody speaks English there
    My opinion is that your friends from Astana see Astsnafobes themselves
    Or just did a bad job arranging your visit compare to your friends in Almaty
    No wonder you had to spend 12 hours at the train station. ;-)
    As for the police officer – do not judge people without knowing the reasons of their behavior. Maybe you were the first foreigner she ever saw at the train station
    So she just wanted to move the beggar away so you do not have an impression that we have poor beggars in KZ;-)
    I lived in Houston for 2 years and my company’s office’s front door had holes from gun shots. My boss happened yo rent out his house to a man with three tears tattoos (which means he killed three people). My other colleague had to sell her new house because a policeman shot a robber of neighboring house in her garden. The deadman was there for a whole day and night. She could not enter her garden any more after that.
    So things happen everywhere. And that does not mean that whole Houston is ugly – mugly.

    • Megan
      Posted at 20:35h, 10 January Reply

      the post had so little to do with crime…im thinking you missed the whole point.

      i have traveled quite a bit in CIS and always manage to buy train tickets with little issues. but very rarely am i nearly beaten in line to do it. thankfully, astana gave me that experience.

      i never mentioned that houston was a safe place in this article. anywhere can be dangerous. i never once stated astana as being dangerous in the article, so im unclear what gave that impression? and the beggar was not close to me…she was quite far. if she was kicked simply for being a beggar like you said (so that there was an impression that beggars didnt exist in astana), then, FUCK, im even more appalled and disgusted at a city who hides its poverty behind billion dollar fake buildings and has police officers beating the homeless. in all do respect, i think your comment made me lose even more respect for the city you were trying to let shine in my eyes.

      btw…i spent 12 hours at the train station because i was physically harassed by taxi drivers (yes, PHYSICALLY) at the airport and was scared to leave for so many hours, causing me to miss earlier trains. the reasons mentioned above are not the only reason i think your city blows. ;)

  • Guligu
    Posted at 22:30h, 10 January Reply

    That’s what I meant – your friends did a bad job arranging your visit.
    They should have met you at the airport and took for a morning cup of tea.
    Instead they let you do it all yourself in a country at train station where no one speaks English.
    Actually swearing in your blog does not add any respect at all to you
    I regret I spent time reading it

    • Megan
      Posted at 23:39h, 10 January Reply

      my friends arranged my time spent in astana. why in the fuck (whoops…there i go again with swearing on MY blog) would they arrange a supposed short transfer from the airport to the train station for me? perhaps if the residents of astana werent so fucking (shit…did it again) rude…i could have escaped the city sooner.

      sad you wasted time on MY blog and didnt like that i cursed on MY blog.

  • Koblandi
    Posted at 01:37h, 11 January Reply

    Americans, the world, especially this part of it, lives by its own rules. Fucking deal with it.

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:03h, 11 January Reply

      the problem with astana isnt the culture…it is that its void of it. my way of dealing with it? never going back and advising others not to either. your classy comment justifies how the people are ;)

  • Asd
    Posted at 02:43h, 11 January Reply

    I really love to read about Almaty. I am from little town Satpayev right in the middle of KZ. To some tourist it might seem awfull. But I love it here. Astana…is baby now…let it grow :)

    • Megan
      Posted at 09:39h, 11 January Reply

      i just hope astana grows in the right direction and not the wrong one ;) im off to now google ‘satpayev’… ;) small towns interest me… i doubt it would be awful :)

  • ivalun
    Posted at 15:07h, 11 January Reply

    Hello, my name is Ivan and I’m from Mexico. I visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on July 2013 and my experience in both Astana and Almaty were really similar. For a moment I thought Kazakhstan was all like Astana, grey and unfriendly, until I arrived to Almaty. Two very different places, and despite I did not have the bad experiences you suffered in Astana, definitely it is a city I’m not planning to go back again. I also planned to go to Kyrgystan but did not make it there because of Almaty, had a great time there. May life givesys the chance to go back to beautiful Almaty again.

    • Megan
      Posted at 23:29h, 12 January Reply

      sounds like our experiences were quite similar! and i actually struggled coming back to kyrgyzstan because my time in almaty was so great…hard to leave the place! but luckily, i did make it to kyrgyzstan and have had a blast since! thanks for your comment and hope you make it back to almaty again too :)

  • William S.
    Posted at 21:12h, 11 January Reply

    My personal experiences in KZ — from Astana to Almaty, to Turkestan, etc. — were *all* positive. In fact, I’m planning to go back. The winter weather in Astana can be severe, it’s true, but the folks that I met there were, to a person, warm-hearted and kind. And everyone knows that Almaty is a city with a deeper cultural history. I’m an American and I don’t agree with Megan ;)

    KZ is a success story in progress. It’s a relatively new nation, still defining itself post-CCCP. Astana-as-the-capital is less than two decades old! Twenty years ago there were only provincial dachas where there are now high-rise office, residential, shopping malls selling top Euro designers. I always think of Brasilia. It’s a capital being built from nothing — imagine St. Petersburg, Brasilia, or Washington!

    • Megan
      Posted at 23:51h, 12 January Reply

      it’s nice to see someone who had a positive experience there that is not from astana! (every comment or email ive had has said otherwise!) :) the winter wasnt so bad when i was there and had no impact on my opinion of the place. i live in oslo, norway, so winter travel isn’t a struggle for me ;) in fact, almaty was much colder than astana when i was traveling through the two places!

      while summer travel would have been perhaps a better choice, i am not still sure i would have enjoyed the place and found it worthwhile of my time and money. but to each their own :) im just glad to see at least ONE person on here who isnt from astana have a good opinion of the place. thanks so much for your comment :)

      • William S.
        Posted at 21:31h, 13 January Reply

        Hi Megan,

        Thanks for responding to my comment. As an American (OK, Canadians: I’m a “US-born” citizen; forgive the vernacular), I am very impressed with your travels and interest in the world. We Americans are not well known for this stuff, according to stereotype :) So already you’ve acquitted yourself well, and you’re ahead of the game. Heck, you went from VA to Norway, which is pretty cool, if not completely irrational. But…

        Please, more objectivity, Megan! :-)

        • Megan
          Posted at 23:12h, 13 January Reply

          hi william!

          unfortunately, this is a blog…so i write exactly how i feel. if you retrace all of my previous posts, you will notice that i have more or less enjoyed every place ive visited. and if i didnt enjoy it, i just wrote the reasons that others will enjoy it. i could not come up with any reasons that people would genuinely enjoy astana. i know many people who have lived there over the years and even they couldnt give me any. i know many kazakh’s and foreigners currently living there and they were not able to give me any reasons either…despite many being FROM astana. until the locals begin loving their their own city as a whole, i think it is going to be difficult for any one else traveling through to enjoy it. every comment of people that are not from astana personally that has been (aside from yours) has shared similar thoughts to mine. dont get me wrong, id love nothing more than this city to develop the right way and prove me wrong.

          thanks for your comments of course :) its funny that people always say that americans are so poorly traveled. i meet americans EVERYWHERE i go. im in a hostel now in bishkek and the only other person here is american. the only people ive meet in kyrgyzstan that were not locals or russians skiing have been americans. usually the criticism i get saying americans dont travel comes from canadians lol. and i rarely meet canadians around the world. most canadians i met were in backpacker heavy places like se asia…but never anywhere else. was recently in central america for a month and met only americans and germans…not a single canadian or brit or australian. i worked at a popular tourist cafe for a whlie in oslo and met american travelers everyday there, but never any canadians except the ones working at the canadian embassy next door. it’s so interesting how people build perceptions and then force themselves into believing them when they are on the road. i love meeting people from all over the world so when i come into hostels and nearly everyone staying there is american, i kind of groan b/c i like a little diversity LOL :) love my fellow countrymen though, dont get me wrong!

          hope you have a great day!!! its my last day in bishkek and its kind of ‘warm’ out. gonna make the most of this :)

  • Kara Zhorga
    Posted at 23:00h, 12 January Reply

    Dear Megan,

    Thanks for providing us with a chance to read your opinion about Astana… I’ve had a frog in my throat – your comments are so very much filled with arrogance inherent perhaps only to people indoctrinating America in its quintessence. The most frustrating about your essay is that you heartily proliferate things like this across the globe making so many people believe in fake things about the Kazakh capital, Kazakh people. In this regard you did not less work than Sasha Baron Kogan did! I have been to many places around Europe, and I can say that there were different towns and different people there – as a backpacker student on holiday I had to sleep in horrifically cold, unheated train stations and could not buy prohibitively expensive food in tran station cafes while on trips in Germany, France and UK – but I would never ever cover with dirt those towsn and their people. Are there no rude people in America? Lovely food, hypocritical smiles on metrdhotels’ faces – thst is too little to make an image of a country in your brain, I guess. And how you unstoppably refrain the words “rude, horrific” and their like across your writing is just disgusting. Kazakhstan is like a planet, with its own borderless nature, people who went through many trials along their lifepath. You know, your ugly comments were instantly propped up by people who live in Kazakhstan since fairly long but who hate the very idea about Kazakh independence, sovereignty, uniqueness, who want that Kazakhstan dissolves as a unique country and becomes another cosmopolitic face-less state. But your comments were countered by those who love their ancient country and will keep our traditions. The whole world knows how hypocritical people like you are. And accordingly they will evaluate your posts. O, I have nearly forgotten to write down – I guess, your mood was especially spoiled by the brilliant mosque in the heart of Astana.


    • Megan
      Posted at 23:46h, 12 January Reply

      im going to try to respond to your comment in the best way i can, but i had to reread it a few times because it was hard to make sense of what you were trying to say.

      i have traveled quite extensively and have found no other place quite like astana. makes me an arrogant american? perhaps in your eyes, but i beg to differ.

      what you failed to see is that im not a backpacker. you compared me to a poor backpacker having to sleep at train stations in UK, france, and germany. how that was a relevant, or even pertinent, comparison is beyond me. i have money and am 30. i dont travel to places to be stuck in cold train stations. i stayed in a train station for a day because i arrived with a flight at 5am to astana and couldnt get a train until 5pm to kostanay. kind of found it unnecessary to get a hotel for a few hours during the day. while i try to be semi-frugal with my money, i spend all i want when i travel. astana was one of the first places i went on this trip, so i was a little more frugal there than i am now here in bishkek (which is at the end of my trip).

      of course there are rude people and non-rude people in every city in the world. i interacted with probably around a thousand people during my time in astana (restaurants, malls, my friends, people at hostel, people at train station, etc), and to your surprise, around 90% of them were absolutely, downright rude. and you know how i know these people werent just all having a bad day on the same day? the rest of the comments above where the majority of people said the same. so, you may want to call me hypocritical, but perhaps you can take a little bit of criticism and realize your city may have some efforts and strides to make in the friendliness department. it’s not a horrible thing. i have been to many other cities in the world that suffer from not being that friendly. in fact, i LIVE in one in oslo, norway. but the difference between oslo and astana is light years in other departments.

      1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
      2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

      i left you the definition of hypocrite above. based on your usage of the word above, im not sure you know the definition. to put things into easier terms for ya:

      1) id be a hypocrite if i called people in astana ‘rude’ and was rude myself. spoiler: im not rude, and am far from it. you just think im rude because im a person with an opinion and the opinion happens to be negative of a city that is rightfully deserving of the negative opinion (which, if you read above, im not the only person with this opinion).

      2) id be a hypocrite if i called astana ‘fake’ and was from a city that imitates architecture from all over the world and spends billions of dollars on it while trying to extinguish the homeless by kicking them instead of giving them food and politely asking them to leave the train station.

      but i digress…

      your concern shouldnt be about an american’s opinion of your city. it should be about the kazakh people, both from astana and afar, who all share the same opinions of the capital city. when those people start to find need and purpose in having a capital built up the way astana is, the heart and soul will slowly start to fill the place. until then, it will stay void of it and i will advise other travelers to stay away if they are looking to take a trip to astana.

    • Chingiz
      Posted at 04:04h, 17 January Reply

      Hey, don’t try and make it look like Mrgan bashed Kazakhstan. She never did; she’d been to FOUR of our cities and was only dissapointed by ONE. Astana. And it is, in fact, THE one to be dissapointed with. You’re just twisting her post by making it look like “Americans rock, Kazakhs suck” while it actually was “Almaty rocks, Astana sucks”. Very different premise. And a very true ine, might I add as a Kazakhstani)

      Also, your attempt to impress – I don’t know, anyone? – by oversaturating your comment with long and complicated words is JUST. SO. CHEAP.

  • Astana born
    Posted at 23:54h, 12 January Reply

    1. History
    I was born and raised in Astana and if you look back into town’s history, it was first created as a fortress and wasn’t meant to be a city, then due to its nodal location it was slowly turning into a trade point and during WW2 a place to shift several of russian factories. So during the next 100 years it didn’t see prominent changes that were aimed at making the town livable…it just wasn’t necessary and no one thought of it. And then shortly after WW2 the town experienced huge inflow of people, many of whom were uneducated outsiders from different parts of USSR who were moved here to fulfill Khruschev’s Virgin Lands exploration program which was supposed to turn the pastures around the town into vast agricultural fields to propel wheat production (again no intent to make it a city), and now the same after the city was proclaimed a new capital (1997) you see hundreds of thousands of uneducated country men filling up the streets many of whom are desperate for jobs (literally out of 800 000 ppl living here you wouldn’t find a quarter of natives who are much loyal and friendly believe me). And again the capital doesn’t mean a livable city, Astana simply wasn’t meant to be the second Almaty, it was meant to be a pure administrative city like Putrajaya in Malaysia or Brasilia in Brasil. And if you’ve been to those cities you’ll know what I am talking about.

    2. Lagging urban planning
    Now imagine a city which in the beginning was never meant to be a city or let alone capital is enjoying one of the world’s largest inflow of foreign direct investment…and soviet minded urban planners who never had an idea of how to make a city more livable, vibrant and comfortable…and a government’ rushing goal to create a new symbol of the country…and on top of that a “small” thing like one of the harshest winters on earth (-40F can really sustain for several weeks here). Of course city’s construction pace, invigorated by the desire to show off new capital, was far ahead of adjustment of urban planning.

    3. Charm and soul
    Now speaking of the soul and charm of the city. Back in USSR pretty much all the northern industrial cities of Russia east of Ural river were built in the same way, that hit Kazakhstan as well. You wouldn’t expect much from cities like Tomsk, Omsk, Tyumen, Kurgan and even Yekaterinburg, so why would Tselinograd (former name of Astana) would be different? Moreover, as a tourism expert I can state that only people make city livable and thus attractive unless there is a nature setting around the city (like mountains of Almaty), so in this blistering cold you’d hardly see people in the street, no events happening, no crowds on major promenades…meaning that Astana can be enjoyable ONLY during warmer seasons (late spring up to early fall): there are nice promenades (riverfront and Nurzhol boulevard connecting Khan Shatyr and Ak Orda), there is an old city center with old houses of 19 century (around Congress Hall); there is a Bazaar; numerous parks and green areas; restaurant rows. I have to admit that cultural program is indeed a drawback (theaters and art galleries) however it’s picking up: there are at least 6 museums (including Alzhir – Stalin’s camp for wives of political exiles for those interested in dark tourism) and 3 theaters including Opera and Ballet house. Whatever you saw in Almaty can be found here except for mountains and variety of food outlets, but mind that Almaty has a longer and richer history of urban development, hosting expats and by far it’s the largest and richest city in Kazakhstan (huge demand for entertainment).

    4. Astana 2017
    Astana will see big changes with more construction and urban restructuring due to upcoming EXPO 2017. Projects like botanical garden, aqua park, zoo, passage and more indoor attractions are underway including improvements to public transportation. It is still unfinished city so please don’t judge the house by it’s foundation =)

    5. Washington and New York city
    I inevitably have to speak of these two cities of the US just let you know that cities around the world have gone through same phases of development or growth pains. I chose these two because I used to live there from half year (DC) to 1,5 years (NY). Look at NYC now and 15 years ago, I am not even mentioning NYC of 60s-70s much of what you could see in Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro: drugs, hookers, rood taxi drivers and most of it right on Times Square, dodgy neighborhoods like Harlem, smelling subway …in short city for rats, not people…and it still would be if not for Rudi Gulliani and Michael Bloomberg who were brave, smart and rich enough to change the city… Look at DC with one of the highest crime rates in the US, unwelcoming people, tomb white architecture and very few attractions besides museums (whatever attraction you’d find is outside of DC administrative area).

    5. Conclusion
    My own opinion is that wherever you have rapid growth and influx of people the city would be lacking well thought out urban planning and mix of people…be it New York, Moscow, Rio, Bangkok or Astana…So please give Astana time if not credit.

    • Megan
      Posted at 00:13h, 13 January Reply

      very validated information and i completely thank you for it. i really, sincerely hope that astana is a changed place in 5 years. i really do. on the other hand, im a firm believer that once the people living in astana appreciate and love the city, tourists coming through will love it too. sadly, every person i met from astana didnt even like their own city, whether it be in the dead of winter, or in the height of summer. the only person i met that had anything positive to say about astana (and it was a bit halfheartedly) was a guy living there from kostanay.

      all cities evolve over time…i just hope that astana evolves in the right direction and not the wrong one. its not fair to the people living there if it does the latter.

      anyways, thanks so much for your insight and i hope to read a lot of positive updates about astana over the next five years. stay warm this winter (although when i was recently in astana, it wasnt cold at all!)

      • Astana born
        Posted at 00:48h, 13 January Reply

        thanks, Megan! You stay warm in Oslo too =)

  • Bakenti
    Posted at 00:50h, 13 January Reply

    Hi, Megan! Really interesting review. I got dual imperssion as I lived in both cities and quite often feel the same as you. But I have to tell this.

    Back in 2003 I came to Almaty to study. I left my hometown Semey, a reeeally charming city in the east of Kazakhstan, and I fell in love with Almaty at once.. In 2008 when I was finishing my degree, there was still a lot in Almaty and its surroundings that I still wished to try and discover. I left abroad after getting Bolashak state scholarship for my Masters at Imperial. After coming back I spent halfyear in Almaty.. and eventually left for Astana, as I got serious job here.

    I didn’t like Astana then, and I can’t say I love it now. I dream of building wooden house somewhere in Butakovka – halfway from Almaty to Shimbulak. But I know I will have time to do it.

    In 1996, 5 yrs after getting independence, our capital was moved to small provincial town of Tselinograd – former a base for Communist Party’s global plans of turning steppes into wheat plantations. It’s became obvious to me now – the central position in the coutry was not the only reason.

    We dont have much nature diversity here like in Almaty, this time of year we mostly spend weekends and evenings in cafes, or closed skating rings, or on the top-floor beach in the “unique mall designed by Sir Norman Foster” (though I’ve never been to the latter). But there is really this unique working atmosphere. Maybe this is what causes people to behave rude sometimes – like when crossing London Bridge at 8am – you’d hardly see a single smiling face.

    Hating weather, many people like to spend weekends in Borovoe or Almaty, and come back on Monday mornings to work hard again. Sometimes I think of it like a fieldcamp. Not the best way to live life. But city is developing. This summer when I was landing in Astana, I realized how much greener steppes around became just in 3 years – they called it “Green belt” around the city. The challenge is also to become more eco-friendly – for the EXPO-2017 “Future Energy”, it will be held here.

    Astana skyline may remind Dubai, Giza or Beijing. But, perhaps, the problem is that kazakhs didn’t built skycrappers before 2000s, and were not using concrete before XX century.. Or maybe we did, but I don’t know. I was taught kazakh history in Russian, and ever wondered why mongol man had a kazak name Shyngys Khan.

    OK, I think I went to far, but what I’m trying to say is that if you think of sigthseeing you surely shouldn’t plan return trip to Astana. But if you found cheaper itinerary thought Astana or somehow passed the customs in our airport, (and you are on a budget) don’t waste money on the restaurants dedicated to entertain drivers of big dad’s Lexus or expats from multinational corporations working here for 3 times bigger salary, like in Uganda… Just start from thinking what the city is all about. Possibly you’ll find something interesting in seeing the way how recent nomadic-communist nation is adapting to world capitalist system.)

    With all respect,

    • Megan
      Posted at 01:35h, 13 January Reply

      thanks so much for your comment an insight bakhytzhan! it really is nice to see different perspectives from the residents of kazakhstan who are from somewhere else in KZ to see a different side to things.

      i agree that astana needs time. i just really, REALLY hope that it grows in the right direction. i love seeing the environmental side to the city (i love when cities are built green). i assumed it was being built that way because in this day and age, to spend billions on extravagant architecture and offer nothing environmentally is a sin ;) i did visit a few cafes in the city when i was there, but didnt stay for too long as i wanted to see as much of the right bank as i could (oddly enough, i didnt really take many photos of it). the cafes themselves were quaint and enjoyable, but the food and coffee was not very good. i just chalked that up to taste differences (on the other hand, the actual restaurants should have been better as they were a bit pricy).

      i really appreciate your comment and hope that you get the chance to build that wooden house in butakovka someday :) and by the way, i never made it to semey, but i had a friend who had traveled there a few years back and said it was a very charming place. i was sad i couldnt make it up that way! there is always next time…

      • Bakenti
        Posted at 04:03h, 13 January Reply

        First-comers are always the sly ones, building “ugly” and “soulless” buildings and overpriced restaurants with bad food, etc.. But these don’t stand the time. Catching the world’s latest trends, Astana may look chaotic, but it’s being shaped with time, like anything else.
        And there are many nice places to go to for the tasty food. And usually, these are not the expensive places on the highstreets or in big shopping malls. If you come once again to Astana I’m sure you’ll enjoy more ;)

        • Megan
          Posted at 06:40h, 13 January Reply

          i hope your right :):) thanks again for the suggestions…if i, for some reason, do find myself back there, ill take advantage of these places!

  • Kara Zhorga
    Posted at 04:25h, 13 January Reply

    Dear Ms. Megan

    Why was it hard for you to make sense of what I wrote? Or didn’t you just want to understand? You describe with enthusiasm a train station “”filled with entertainment” (???) and scornfully – the people inside (“vodka-smelling, sweaty, diapers etc.”). What is so special about “poor backpackers”? What harm did they do to you? Yes, I slept two-three times at train stations – accidentally stuck in little village train stations at the heart of civilized Europe – due to train failures – when I was a student. So what? I wasn’t poor in terms of money, but I say, the food in restaurants was prohibitively expensive in Europe. If comparison to a “poor backpacker” irritates you, OK – be a wealthy backpacker! It is brilliant, that you have money and you are 30! – it must be very important to you – to be 30 and have money.
    Learn to accept criticism, otherwise you will not go far… Perhaps, 400-500 years ago the pristine landscapes of the Nothern America were somewhat quaint, and their aborigines (Indeans) were downright rude to persons like you. But people are different across the globe, and you are learning it, and this is a shock for you! You say – “my Russian skills are obviously pretty poor” , but why not learn a couple of phrases in Kazakh – the state language of the Kazakh Republic? – Perhaps, then you would be invited into a warm home of a Kazakh and served a legendary “besbarmak” – completely free of charge! Or didn’t you know that this unique land is a sovereign country with its own language? Of course, you looked in the eyes of the local people like an “awkward tourist” from God knows where! But I guarantee, if you said a couple of words in Kazakh you would be served like Marco Polo or Rubruk in times of Genghiskhan.
    I perfectly know the terms and definitions, Ms. Megan. I have just tried to respond to your very aggressive attitude towards Astana and its people. In fact common people have bery little impact on architectural decisions in Astana, if they had they OF COURSE would suggest to form Astana in the style of GREAT American buildings – GAG!)) People in Astana and around it (especially in Kazakh auls) are lovely, but at the same time they are rough, due to climatic conditions, to policy etc. Descendants of Genghiskah cannot look like a tribe falling down on their knees in front of a foreigner.

    Please don’t’ accept the laurels of a second Borat!


    • Megan
      Posted at 06:38h, 13 January Reply

      the reason i struggled reading the first comment you left is because it was all over the place and had little relevance to what i wrote. you referenced your time as a backpacker through europe which had zero relevance or meaning to what i wrote above. that is why i responded with talking about that i am not currently a backpacker. doesnt mean i think im better than anyone…i am just at a different point in my life. sorry you didnt seem to read my comment thoroughly enough and assumed i felt like i was better than a backpacker (im 30 and did the backpacking stuff earlier on in my travels).

      ‘What is so special about “poor backpackers”? What harm did they do to you?’ I cant help but laugh at this…the post had nothing to do with backpackers and it just seems as though youre on the defense with everything you write. finding it hard to actually take it seriously. perhaps telling me to take criticism on MY blog is unfounded…especially coming from someone who cant write in a tactful manner. i have no issues taking criticism and if you read through most of the other comments, you will easily recognize that.

      i loved kazakhstan. i visited kostanay, astana, karaganda, and almaty. the only place i didnt love was astana. so before jumping to conclusions about my time in kazakhstan, you should reread the post and conclude that i enjoyed my time with the exception of one place. i will tell everyone i know to travel to KZ. that tourism money will end up in astana regardless of whether or not people visit that city. so dont you worry about that ;)

      in addition, how dare you make remarks like ‘maybe you should learn kazakh as it is the national language’. in no way, shape, or form did i mention learning russian over kazakh when traveling there. the female police officer who was beating the homeless person was screaming in RUSSIAN, not kazakh, and yes, i can distinguish the difference between the two, so that is why it is noted that my russian skills were not up to par to understand what the cause was. i learned ample kazakh when traveling, but SHOCK…as you know, most people are more comfortable with russian than they are kazakh. i stayed with a kazakh family in karaganda and met numerous kazakhs in EACH city i visited who taught me language, food, and culture. so, before you make yourself sound more ridiculous, why dont you just take a breather and realize this is a blog from a gal who is from a county who allows freedom of speech. i feel as someone who writes about travel that it is my duty to write accurate depictions of each and every place i visit if worthy of it. and astana was well worthy of my POV. but in reality, you should be less concerned with my opinion of astana and spread your concern over the kazakhs who are from there and loathe the place. in the grand scheme of things, they are really the opinions who matter, not mine.

      if you would like to continue conversing, by all means, leave more comments. but if they go off on tangents completely irrelevant to the initial post or initial discussion, i will not waste my time replying to anything you (or someone from your IP address) writes. thanks for the discussion though ;) really persuading me to think that my initial impression of the people of astana was not that far off ;)

  • Sait
    Posted at 04:30h, 13 January Reply

    Hello Megan,
    I’m Turkish and lived in Kazakhstan between 1998-2008.
    I enjoyed every single day in Almaty and hated every single minute in Astana.
    It’s been 5 years I’m back in Turkey and time to time I wish I could go back there. Still many friends working and living in Almaty and none of them is intending to leave as far as I know.
    By the way, if you plan any trip to Turkey, I’d like to offer my assistance if needed.

    • Megan
      Posted at 06:41h, 13 January Reply

      thanks so much for your offered hospitality, sait!

      very interesting you spent time in both places and left with the same impression i had after being there for just a few weeks. i assumed to live in astana was better than to visit, but maybe i was wrong ;) glad you enjoyed almaty though! i really loved the city a lot!

  • Amankos
    Posted at 08:18h, 13 January Reply

    Hi Megan,

    Really interesting post about old and long battle called Astana vs Almaty! I was born in Almaty and I’m from Almaty 100%.
    Yes, I would say you are right about Astana’s soulless buildings and some grey feelings which is lead you to feel your self lonely and kind of depression since your first minutes there. I think the biggest part of that feelings it’s a cold weather there during winter time and of course this is not a best time to be there! But let’s look little bit positive about Astana, I think Astana needs time to get that level and not all the people are bad there, as there a lot of people from Almaty, or Karagandy & Kostanay… who’s moved there 16-17 years ago when capital moved from Almaty… It’s like when I used to work with two guys from US and they both was from Texas, one from Austin and the other one from Houston. When you asking them about US they talking about Texas only, but when you asking them which is the best place in Texas San Antonio, Dallas, Austin or Houston? they putting their cities upfront in the list, like San Antonio and Dallas doesn’t exist in Texas and of course the guy who is from Houston says that Houston it’s better than Austin in spite of that Austin it’s a capital of Texas, and the other one says that nothing to do in Houston where you can’t even walk on the streets… to me was very funny to see that discussions and sit between of them… These days I’m away from Kazakhstan I’m living and working in Romania, and to be a honest with you, before coming here I heard a lot bad things about Romania like a lot of gypsies there, or Romania is very unsafe even to be there just for couple of hours! not even days. But this is absolutely not true! I’m here in about 1.5 year now, and only positive feelings in my heart! People here is very kind and peaceful willing to help you when you asking something and even if some of them doesn’t speak English they will help you anyway as much as they can. I’m not saying that Romania is perfect! here is also a lot things that needs to improve! cause nothing and nobody perfect in this life! but in general, yes I would say: Romania good country! BTW I’m leaving with my wife in Bucharest and here some parts of the city that reminds me Almaty! And we giving to that areas the names of Almaty’s parts, (like Aksai, Mamyr, Samal and etc..) so for us it’s easy to recognize and remember that blocks and areas, It doesn’t matter where you are, there’s no bad nation, it’s just a some bad individuals who can led you to see the wrong picture. I hope that you enjoyed your days in Almaty and tried Shashlyk, Lagman and Manty or some local delicious food, if not I suggest you to try if you’ll decide to comeback someday to Almaty.

    Kind Regards,

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:24h, 13 January Reply

      thanks for your comment amankos! and super cool youre living in romania now! havent been there but ive heard great things about the country! need to get there soon!

      almaty was great and youre lucky to be from a city with such a pulse! my time in astana was actually pretty well spent and i had friends there and was never lonely or down in the literal sense. it was just the city being a turn off. i waited to write about my experience until i had been out of the city for a week to see if i could conjure up any love for the place and instead, i still despised it. typically i miss places once i leave even if i didnt enjoy it when there. this was not the case with astana ;) and KZ is NOT a bad nation…in fact it’s a really great one and i highly recommend people to go to (most) places in KZ!

      had all of the foods you mentioned above and more ;) delicious! especially a fan of lagman!

      thanks for your comment!!!

      • Amankos
        Posted at 08:32h, 13 January Reply

        Oh really? You are a lucky! We miss Lagman and these things here in Bucharest… :-)

        • Megan
          Posted at 08:33h, 13 January Reply

          ill bet you do! ive had it at least 4 times on this trip LOL :) pretty sure its my fav central asian food

  • Kara Zhorga
    Posted at 01:31h, 14 January Reply

    Ms. Megan, please calm down! There is no need to get so angry, if someone criticizes your own opinion. Criticism is normal all over the world – and the fatc that you are from America makes you no special at all, in my eyes at least. Why do you get so furious over my comments?
    Why do you sticke to the word “backpacker” all the time& I was not a backpacker either, I travelled on Saturdays-Sundays across Europe like a normal student. It does have relevance to what you wrote above, because you are travelling, you’re staying at hostels, and you are lamenting over “expensive food” in Astana, and eventually summing up you call Astana a fake, appalling city – these are your words. How can a city be fake, if it stays in a cultural area much older than the US and Europe taken together, how can it be appalling when it is populated with hundreds of thousands of people of whom you seen maybe a couple of dozens?

    How can anyone call a city fake or appaling just because its restaurants are “expensive”? I don’t worry about the number of tourists to Astana.

    What has a police officer to do with common people on the street? American police officers are second to none in terms of violence, especially towards ethnic minorities in the US. Why didn’t you try to address someone in the street in KAZAKH – then thye woul probably invite you to their home and show the real KAZAKH life, but not that cosmopoitic bulshit (pizza, cannelloni, burgers, lasagnia etc in cafes and restaurants). It has nothing to do FREEDOM of speech, it has to do with basic respect towards the people of the country you travel to. When I fly to the US, I speak in English to Americans, not in Kazakh, or Ukrainian. Freedom of speech in the US is a FAKE and everyone in the world knows it, so your revelations are pretty out of date, sorry.

    And you words about the “Kazakhs loathing the place” are especially despicable, you know.
    best regards

    • Megan
      Posted at 01:50h, 14 January Reply

      ‘ I have been to many places around Europe, and I can say that there were different towns and different people there – as a backpacker student on holiday I had to sleep in horrifically cold, unheated train stations and could not buy prohibitively expensive food in tran station cafes while on trips in Germany, France and UK – but I would never ever cover with dirt those towsn and their people.’

      nowhere in my initial post did I use the word ‘backpacker’. that was you dear.

      your demeanor has done nothing to portray the people of astana in a different manner, in all do respect.

      further comments from you that are stories about nothing will file into the spam folder. thanks for taking the time to justify my thoughts and others thoughts on the city, however ;)

      • Jina
        Posted at 06:04h, 06 April Reply

        Forget it guys. Ms. Megan would file away your opinions in her spam folder rather than bear to watch someone legitimately criticize her for her radical opinions. Her knowledge of a city she spent a few days in far outweighs your experience of living in it.

        Remember, she’s American, and by default she has to be right. Even if her spelling and grammar are atrocious. Even if police brutality is normal in the US. Even if there is no true freedom of speech in the US, unless you are the Kim Kardashian spewing nonsense on TV because the American public is far more interested in that than cultural things.

        Ms. Megan, we bow down to your superiority! All hail the USA, the great leader of the world and liberator of our opinions!

      • Jon
        Posted at 06:05h, 06 April Reply

        Forget it guys. Ms. Megan would file away your opinions in her spam folder rather than bear to watch someone legitimately criticize her for her radical opinions. Her knowledge of a city she spent a few days in far outweighs your experience of living in it.

        Remember, she’s American, and by default she has to be right. Even if her spelling and grammar are atrocious. Even if police brutality is normal in the US. Even if there is no true freedom of speech in the US, unless you are the Kim Kardashian spewing nonsense on TV because the American public is far more interested in that than cultural things.

        Ms. Megan, we bow down to your superiority! All hail the USA, the great leader of the world and liberator of our opinions!

        • Megan
          Posted at 12:22h, 06 April Reply

          LOL quit replying under different names from the same IP address trying to look like different people. I know you’re bored and all. Maybe you should actually travel to Kazakhstan? It’s a pretty cool place. Serbia is a cool place too. :)

          • I Love Puppies
            Posted at 12:46h, 02 December

            Hey Megan, on the one hand you are quite beautiful a specimen…. try to model a bit your beautiful phot. Next, I totally agree with Jina/Jon/whatever. You have but proven your total intelligence about the fine art of getting to know a new place. Astana sucks! And please, you are awesome! Cheers!

            *Don’t ever leave vile comments to someone who has the ability to edit them ;)

          • Megan Starr
            Posted at 12:57h, 02 December

            I am humbled by your lovely comment :) Many thanks!

  • Hamster
    Posted at 07:05h, 14 January Reply

    Hi Megan,

    Thanks for the review. Don’t pay attention to the natives demonstrating comparatively good language skills though along with unacceptable egocentric manner. I liked the bullshit about people inviting somebody to their home just because you talked a couple of words in Kazakh to them))))) bla-bla-bla. I have literally made myself to read the comments and yes that is the way foreigners react to Kazakh people, not all but the major part of it. the guy’s ass is almost torn apart since he doesn’t really realize that although Astana might be not like that, this is the way you saw it, and you felt it like…
    So do not bother yourself with answering this shit, just do your thing, since I believe that what you saw and felt is true. And lots of people just wouldn’t see how the thing is in reality, looking at it from a position of a person being born in posh))))
    take care

    • Megan
      Posted at 07:15h, 14 January Reply

      thanks for your comment ‘hamster’ (cool name by the way haha) ;)

      i knew writing this would draw criticism…but i felt it necessary to write because otherwise, im going to get hundreds of emails over the next year from people going to KZ looking for travel advice. and im fine with hateful comments if they come my way. but that one person has been quite the entertainment over the last few days. i have finally spammed their future comments because they were sending them through numerous times and it was weird shit like ‘hi meg!’ kind of creepy they have spent their entire day on my website, but it’s all good :)

      i appreciate your kind words though, seriously! an opinion is just that…an opinion. it seems like im not in the minority with mine though. many people hate washington dc, a city close to where im from, and if i read a blog post from someone saying it sucks and they hate it, instead of leaving irrelevant, rude comments (which justified my opinions on the people from astana anyways), id leave them a list of 10 things to do next time if they are there. i previously didnt care for riga, latvia and people got in touch with me via email and my blog and told me why i should revisit. and i did. and i now LOVE the city. but i dont think ill ever make it back to astana ;) sucks i wont get to speak kazakh to people on the streets to receive those home invitations hahahha :)

      anyways, i dont know where youre from, but thanks for your comment. and hope you have a great day!

  • Amankos
    Posted at 07:56h, 14 January Reply

    Hi Megan,

    I think this link about Astana
    might be very interesting for you, and you can translate the Russian in the google translate…

    • Megan
      Posted at 10:08h, 16 January Reply

      thanks for the link amankos! will definitely check it out right now :)

  • Arslan
    Posted at 02:31h, 15 January Reply

    Dear Megan,

    I’ve been to both Almaty and Astana (I live in Astana by now btw) and I agree with vost of the opinions you made abot the cities.
    However, I think that you were too strict to Astana. Do you know that the city started developing only in 1997? Can you imagine how much effort was put into it regardless to the economical crysis and other problems? I think it is a great achievement for a country with such small population.
    You have a right to have your own opinion, offcourse, but I think your visit was too short and you should have some local people here to show you the city and tell the story ;-))
    Astana is very young and it is impossible for it to develop it’s own culture in such short period. So, give it some time and Astana will become a very unique, beautiful and modern city! I believe in that
    Best wishes,

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:46h, 15 January Reply

      hi arslan!

      yep i knew it was a newer capital and i know that newer capitals go through awkward growing stages. still dont think it exempts the residents living there from having some type of manners. but, hey, it’s all good :)

      i really hope that a few years from now i know someone that goes there and comes back telling me how wrong i was about the place. so far, everyone i know that has been has not enjoyed the place and had the same opinions as me. i love being proved wrong and i hope astana can do just that in the future!

      thanks so much for your comment :):)

  • Chingiz
    Posted at 04:24h, 17 January Reply

    Hey, you came to Almaty in winter and look how much you loved it! You should definitely come back in spring, when the entire city turns into a huge park. Okay, not all of it, but the central part of the city really does, and you probably will stick to the Center anyways)
    That’s the thing that I like about my city most – the trees. So many trees, poplars, oaks, firs, local karagach, and more. For a “millionaire” city, Almaty is surprisingly green.

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:06h, 01 February Reply

      i agree…there were parks all over the place when i was there! i was amazed actually! i do hope to return in a different season next time. not sure i could love it any more than i already did in winter though! haha

  • Dastan
    Posted at 10:12h, 17 January Reply

    I recently moved to Astana and should say it is a city of contrasts. Higher contrasts than say Almaty. It attracts highly-educated and well-brought up people who are striving to build up careers the same way as people from lower cultural groups who are looking for “fortune”. So I think that you had been just unlucky to meet only the representatives of the latter, while I admit that the average cultural level sucks. And the other factor is the climate – people in cold places tend to be unfriendly and unsmiling. It basically takes time to get used to it. But after you make some good friends, find out where decent and inexpensive cafes are (and believe me there are), visit Borovoye and Zerendy, you may discover that life is not that bad in Astana ))

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:07h, 01 February Reply

      i did go to a few inexpensive cafes. the cafes in astana were just ‘meh’ at best. nothing really to write home about. im sure there are great people living there once you get to know them…just as anywhere, but the pushing and spitting and screaming was just a turn off from those who i didnt get to know. hope you’re staying warm this winter!

  • Al-Kavi
    Posted at 11:31h, 18 January Reply

    Hi Megan
    I’m from Karaganda (Kazakhstan) and I was in Almaty and Astana, I partly agree with you about Astana, Astana it is fake city, but it is fake city at the moment, near years Astana will be modern city. Are you know about Astana will be present Kazakhstan on EXPO-2017? KZ it is first country in past-USSR where will be EXPO, Astana very fast growing, so I think that Astana will be more beautiful city near years. my English level not good, I beilive that you understood me :)
    Welcome to Kazakhstan! )

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:08h, 01 February Reply

      your english was just fine :) i understood it all!

      i understand about astana ‘growing’. i know things take time. im not sure the growth would happen in my lifetime, but hopefully generations down the road the city will find itself and have a little more soul ;) it is exciting about the expo coming! i read about that when i was in town!

  • Silvia
    Posted at 13:10h, 18 January Reply

    Wow, so interesting to hear your thoughts on Astana! We didn’t have time to make it up there when we were in Kazakhstan, which I had always regretted. Now, not so much so. So thanks! I also was really put off by Uzbekistan – it was nothing like the other Stans and while the sites were gorgeous, it was too touristy – so I wouldn’t worry about having to give that a miss for the time being. Love reading about your Stan travels!

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:10h, 01 February Reply

      uzbekistan makes me curious! ive never heard anyone rave about it, so im not even sure why (has to be the dang good food from there lol).

      i dont think you missed anything by skipping astana. if it had been closer to the south, it would be a different story…but its an out of the way city for everyone that visits. i flew up there because i just couldnt be bothered with a 30 hour + train ride from kyrgyzstan haha!

  • Andy
    Posted at 01:01h, 20 January Reply

    Sounds intense! It is good to read this as I am hoping to head to central Asia next year. I would like to hit many of the ‘stans’ but as you mention here it can be quite difficult and expensive to get through the visa and LOI process. I will still try though.

    • Megan
      Posted at 11:19h, 21 January Reply

      Definitely try, Andy! The countries are ridiculously fascinating and worth the attempt. Obviously, I’ve only been to 2 ;) But I anticipate the other few to be equally, if not more, enjoyable than the ones I’ve visited! If you need any specific help with Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, though, let me know! Would love to help!

  • Alibi_Shymkent
    Posted at 14:10h, 23 January Reply

    Astana is too young city… Sometimes it reminds me NYC in the end of 19 century. New york city also like Astana was ugly and tastless city. Englishmens also used to call NYC Yankeez’s awful, ugly town … But now NYC is one of the best cities and has become inheritance of the world.. It needs time to make astana one of the best cities of the Asia

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:05h, 01 February Reply

      i hope it does have its own transition and grows here soon :)

  • Zhanar
    Posted at 18:01h, 31 January Reply

    Hi, Megan. It was interesting to read your post about two major cities of Kazakhstan. It made me think of my own expirience. I lived in Almaty for about 25 years. And last 4 years I live and work in Astana. Do I like it here? Not sure. I understand what you mean, when you say it has no soul. I remember, when I lived in Almaty, I would often be thankful. Thankful for all the trees, and grass, and flowers. Thankful for the birds singing in the morning. Thankful for those beautiful mountains of course. For nice old houses. Almaty has 4 seasons. Astana has only 2 – long winter and short summer. Here I feel thankful only when I get home. It’s like a fortress. And for Internet, damn it, it keeps me awake at 5 in the morning while I am writing this, ha-ha. Yes, there isn’t much to do here. My parents are retired and hardly ever leave the house whole winter, except for buying food. I always hope to discover one nice cosy cafe that I would love to frequent, but even with that I didn’t succeed. I also feel like people are different here. Astana sucks.

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:13h, 01 February Reply

      i 100% sympathize with you. completely.

      i couldnt connect with cafes, the people, or the city in general. almaty, on the other hand, was the complete opposite.

      i know that people keep saying ‘give it time, give it time’, but in reality, if a city is somewhere and im curious to visit, im going to go. i dont have 60 more years to wait for it to become good. and while i couldnt stand the architecture of astana, the main reason the city lacks charm and soul is the people, unfortunately. if they start believing in the city just as the people of almaty believe in their city, the charm and soul will slowly find its way in. until then, i must agree with you when you say astana sucks ;) stay warm this winter!!!!

  • Mira
    Posted at 12:15h, 14 February Reply

    I do partly agree, Astana is not that bad. We have fresh air, clean and white snow, mostly sunny weather and blue sky even in winter. Despite it is cold you can enjoy the clean air. There are a lot of parks where you can ski: walking distance from almost all points of the city. I agree that service and food desire a better quality. Some people are not nice. But there is an excuse: it is a new city and poor-educated people move in here from villages. Yeah, give it time.

  • Richard
    Posted at 04:59h, 15 March Reply

    Have to agree about Astana. The city is a culturally boring (save for the opera house) s&^t$(*&e.

    • Megan
      Posted at 06:11h, 04 April Reply

      cant say i disagree at all….

  • Bella
    Posted at 18:02h, 31 March Reply

    Hi Megan,

    I am interviewing for a job in Almaty and have found that by reading all the perspectives on your blog have provided some valuable insights. After reading these posts, I am even more excited about living there. I was offered a job once in Astana, but my research left me feeling like it would be an unhappy opportunity….concrete jungle perhaps…not for me.

    I am sure I will find my travels experientially valuable though, no matter where I visit. Perhaps I will start my own travel blog!

    • Megan
      Posted at 05:45h, 04 April Reply

      Hi Bella!

      Lucky you! Almaty is a great city! Of course it has its downsides like any other city in the world, but I think you’ll be MUCH happier there as opposed to Astana ;) And if you ever do start a blog- please come back and let me know the address! I’d love to follow along!! If you have any other questions- shoot me an email! <3

  • satru
    Posted at 07:32h, 13 May Reply

    Girls in Astana are only interested in money. They continuously look out for rich expatriates as potential marriage partners. They don’t believe in friend ship.

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:19h, 15 May Reply

      That is super unfortunate.

  • omar
    Posted at 02:41h, 15 May Reply

    Kara, how are U̶̲̥̅̊? Missed U̶̲̥̅̊ so much. U̶̲̥̅̊ promised U̶̲̥̅̊ were gonna contact me before U̶̲̥̅̊ leave for dubai. i waited but did not hear from.

  • Paul
    Posted at 17:07h, 24 November Reply

    You obviously expected western type of “something-to-do” in Astana. Their lives revolve around family, religion, keeping above poverty line, good education and then state jobs. Beggars everywhere, also being abused by police or other people…well it only shows you the real side of life. What you could have done, you could have given beggar £/$/5 and that would probably buy him food for some time. Astana will not miss you either!

    • Megan
      Posted at 17:27h, 24 November Reply

      because clearly westerners traveling to astana are looking to engage in western culture :)

  • Mukul
    Posted at 07:16h, 10 January Reply

    I am to fly to Russia, and thought why not take a detour and visit one more country in the process. Out of the options available, I thought Almaty, Kazakhstan will be a good idea. And as I was going to apply for the transit visa, I saw I have one more flight option, in which the first stopover is at Almaty, and the second at Astana. And I thought for an expensive visa, it’ll be worth it if I get to visit two cities.
    I searched for things to do in Astana, and I came across this article.
    Couldn’t thank you enough, you saved well, almost a life :D

  • Jwana
    Posted at 11:05h, 23 January Reply

    I couldn’t agree more! I’ve been in Astana working since last September & I loathe it. I must try to get to Almaty before I leave because at this point Kazakhstan & Kazkh people have slipped very low in my estimation. And I agree with the previous post about it being difficult to make female friends as a foreigner – unless you are a single, male ex-pat which I’m not! Thanks for the post.

  • Agness
    Posted at 08:30h, 21 March Reply

    Wow, I didn’t know many things about Kazakhstan. Me and Cez were planning a trip there in the near future. How did you like the local cuisine?

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:30h, 23 March Reply

      hey lady! where in KZ yall planning to go!? that is awesome! :) ive been up north to a few cities and then almaty in the south. LOVED almaty.

      as for food, they eat a lot of horse, noodles, rice, beef, breads. it is rather heavy, although extremely delicious. in almaty, i found a juice bar and many healthy foods in grocery stores, along with many imports. im sure the same can be found in astana but i wasnt craving juices and health foods when there because it was at the beginning of my trip!!!

      message me- id love to chat if yall are going there soon! <3

  • Jina
    Posted at 05:55h, 06 April Reply

    Reading this article, I get the impression of a spoilt American girl who expects to be waited on and treated like a princess wherever she goes.

    Listen up, treatment in Almaty is like everywhere else in Europe. If you weren’t American, you be treated like “crap” everywhere. So get used to it. I’ve never been to Kazakhstan, but your description sounds pretty much like everywhere else: rude, pushy people and poor people being shooed off the streets. I’ve seen the same thing happen to hobos in the US, but you are cleverly not mentioning that, are you?

    Oh and please stop swearing. Sounding like you just came from a ranch doesn’t make us respect you more.

    • Megan
      Posted at 12:09h, 06 April Reply

      Jon here, Jina there… using different names and identities from the same IP addresses. Damnit- now my foul-mouth ass can’t take you very seriously. And by all means, please leave Kim Kardashian alone on my blog. What in the hell did she ever do to offend you? This spoilt American will just not have it. Happy Monday down there in Belgrade to you!

    • Megan
      Posted at 12:10h, 06 April Reply

      And i guess since this is my blog… i really don’t give a rat’s ass if you respect me or not.

  • Andrew Piekarski
    Posted at 15:52h, 13 April Reply

    For you to talk about Karagandy as a charming place send shivers down my spine. Would you talk about Auschwitz as a charming place, knowing what happened there. I realize you probably, don’t know, but perhaps its time you did. Karaganda was the location of some of the most horrific gulags from the communist era. Between 1923 and 1950, some 18 million people passed through them. Among them were my aunt (then a girl of 14) and her mother who were made to work in the coal mines because they were Polish and ‘potential’ class enemies of the Soviet state. It’s sad how quickly these things get forgotten. Bas for tourism?

    • Megan
      Posted at 16:33h, 13 April Reply

      so, let me get this straight…

      germany is not charming either as many events took place in the country (i live in germany. and it is amazing)

      there is nothing charming about gori, georgia as it was the birthplace of a very evil dictator (i’ve been to gori and despite that fact, was a charming little place)

      i can’t state that i think the metro in minsk is beautiful because a bombing took place there in 2011 (spoiler: i think it is a beautiful metro)

      sarajevo isn’t charming and lovely because of what happened there in the 90s (one of the most charming places i have ever stepped foot in)

      i understand you have reason to hate karaganda. but you know what? i don’t have a personal connection to the place, and i highly doubt that its residents are proud of what previously happened there. the people there were lovely. the city had a cute little charm to it despite it being a bit lost in the middle of nowhere. and how dare you come to my website and tell me i can or can’t call a place charming when i highly doubt you have ever stepped foot there. how on earth can a place ever move forward if people don’t allow it?? i think the events that happened there were disturbing (and how the hell dare you come here and say i don’t know the history of the place- because i absolutely do and i learned a bit about it when i traveled there) and i would never condone it. but im not about to punish a city and not travel there and see what it is modern day because of events that took place there in the past. travel is education. travel makes one open-minded.

      rather than coming to my site and criticizing my lack of knowledge on a place, why don’t you take a look around and see if maybe i actually wrote anything on the city of karaganda. you commented on a damn post about almaty and astana. not about karaganda. i mentioned one quick sentence about karaganda. i have a whole post about my quick trip through the place. i dont give two shits if you read it or not, but stay the hell off of my site if you’re going to be a troll and talk about me ‘not knowing about a place and its history’ from a post that is completely irrelevant. it is spammy. here is the other post for you.

      • Megan
        Posted at 17:37h, 13 April Reply

        just an FYI- karlag (the gulag in the karaganda oblast) is not in karaganda the city. its main HQs were in dolinka which is around 45km away from karaganda. karaganda oblast encompasses 428,000km squared and there were gulags and labor camps spread in various parts of it. again, not necessarily in karaganda the city. auschwitz is in the city of oświęcim in poland. it is one thing for me to go to auschwitz and say it is a charming place (i’ve been and it sucks but is an important piece of history that i think everyone needs to know extensive amounts about). it would be the same as me going to a gulag in the karaganda oblast and saying it was charming. i didnt visit a gulag as i was in karaganda for less than a day. the city has nearly 500,000 people. just a little information for you since you actually seem pretty ill-informed of the region and its modern day culture and people.

        karaganda oblast is actually larger in size than is newfoundland and labrador (just trying to put things into canadian terms for ya).

  • Evonne
    Posted at 15:43h, 19 April Reply

    Have loved reading all these comments as was trying to decide whether to go to Astana or Almaty as a side trip from Kyrgyzstan. Think I’ve made up my mind now ;-)

    Interesting that the people who are defending Astana and making personal attacks on you only make me more confident that your review of the city is very accurate (oh, and by ‘people’, I think we both know I mean ‘person’, regardless of the impressive number of pseudonyms).

    • Megan
      Posted at 18:42h, 19 April Reply

      ohhh lucky you getting to hang out in this region!!! i would definitely swing by almaty over astana :) im sure one of these days astana will have something to offer, but for now, it looks better on paper than in real life if you get my jist! i really hope you enjoy almaty! and if you ever write or post pics about it- please let me know!!! safe travels evonne!

      and yes, many of these trolling comments come from the same IP address lol. except the random guy from canada who posted about something irrelevant a few days ago. i guess it keeps me semi-entertained over here as i await summer in germany :) hope you had a lovely weekend!

  • Finding a Flaw in My Stomach of Steel in Faridabad |
    Posted at 05:31h, 28 April Reply

    […] of leaving Faridabad.  I have never in my life been so excited to leave a place.  Not even Astana, […]

  • Absinthia Stacy Anastasia Rousaki
    Posted at 23:30h, 13 May Reply

    I’m an ethnic Macedonian from Aegean Macedonia which is illegally occupied by Greece and I left Greece for Kazakhstan because of ethnic repression and I love Kazakhstan.

  • Ed
    Posted at 06:01h, 04 June Reply

    I have just got back from my second visit to Astana – my previous visit being exactly one year ago. I couldn’t agree more with your comment about “Astana’s planet being one I’d like to see sucked into a black hole forever”. It is without doubt the worst place I have ever had the misfortune to visit.

    I applaud your bravery for visiting in the depths of winter. Both of my visits to Astana in May and June respectively were accompanied by bright sunshine and temperatures upwards of 28 degrees C (82 degrees F) yet this did nothing to dispel the sense of coldness. Astana is the most dull, uninspiring, fake, pretentious, arrogant and unfriendly city imaginable. The city is, in effect, a sprawling monument to Kazakh male narcissism and one male in particular: its president Nursultan Nazarbayev. It is somewhat odd that Nazarbayev, who is originally from the Almaty, chose to relocate the capital to a swamp in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps it was deliberate in order to save the charming Almaty from contamination by greedy politicians, power brokers and oligarchs once the tentacles of capitalism took hold!

    It is ironic that, having unburdened themselves of the socialist yoke, the Kazakh people have truly embraced the free market. Witnessing how shamelessly they revel in the sordid excesses of capitalism and corruption it’s hard to believe they were ever a part of the Soviet Union!

    Let the swamplife continue to fester in their swamp, but I urge anybody considering a trip there to stay well away.

  • Abdulhamid
    Posted at 21:37h, 16 June Reply

    Hi Megan! I really felt impressed by your review about two major cities in the neighbour country. I am from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and I also wish that I can visit Almaty. Also, I have some close friends I met while I was studying abroad, and they also recommended me rather to go to Alamty than Astana. Thanks for your helpful review.
    P.S. I would like to invite you back to Uzbekistan and have some reviews about the cities there :).

  • Mark
    Posted at 04:26h, 05 July Reply

    Megan, I have been working in Almaty for 2 years with lots of travel around the country.

    I agree with your analysis of Astana; I think the real point is is Astana does not have a beach & beach climate. If it did then it could claim to have just about replicated a Dubai type environment. The trouble is that Dubai without a beach is pointless.

    Rudeness: to be frank I think the rudeness is owing to two things:

    – the background of the rude individual (they were on the farm 24 hours earlier and simply have no experience with what constitutes good manners); and,
    – the general Kazakh frustration and anger with the corruption and arrogance of the system; I think this is also the reason owners of expensive cars feel the need to scare pedestrians. I’ve been next door to Bishkek which has a similar geography, culture and Soviet past but very little of the rudeness so I put the rudeness down to recent Kazakh socio economic development.

    Anyhow you produced a very enjoyable blog!

  • Carolynn
    Posted at 07:37h, 19 July Reply

    I absolutely love your description of Almaty as “developed enough to feel comfortable, but foreign enough to feel intriguing…large enough to feel like an important metropolis, but small enough to walk around without getting dangerously lost.” I spent the last 8 years as a flight attendant traveling to Bishkek quite often. Most of the people I traveled/worked with hated it there, but it was always one of my favorite places to visit. I was never very good at expressing why I loved it so much and that description is pretty spot on for Bishkek in my mind. Have only been to Almaty for half a day, overnight, so I didn’t get to see much, but I will certainly be putting it on my list of places to go!

  • Aigul
    Posted at 05:30h, 13 January Reply

    Hi Megan,

    Thanks for description of your true feelings regarding Astana.
    I stumbled upon your blog when I was searching regarding relocation to Astana.
    I myself born and bred in Almaty. But now I was offered a job in Astana in the middle of harsh winter. And I really really have mixed but mostly scared feelings regarding moving to Astana.
    Of course, mainly because of the weather and climate conditions. But also because it’s ridiculously expensive.
    So, your blog did nothing to me to console me and give me assurance that I am doing the right thing to move there.
    On the one hand, I wanna move there but at the same time I am really afraid.
    Truth to be told I have difficulties at my current job in Almaty too.
    So, I hoped that Astana would give me new hopeful perspectives in this regard.
    But the living conditions are terrible there so I am really completely torn. And I don’t know what to decide….

    • Megan
      Posted at 04:29h, 16 January Reply

      thanks for your comment aigul! you know, im never one to steer someone from moving somewhere or visiting somewhere, but with astana being so remote and people actually having to make an effort to get up there, it is something i felt i had to share my opinion on.

      im sure astana has a bright future, but i definitely feel it is too soon for that. almaty has some special charm ive felt in very few cities. if i lived there, id never give that up for astana. have you visited? maybe it is worth a visit to the city to see if you get a good vibe with the city and then maybe consider the move (or not to move). if the opportunity is better for you work-wise, i would definitely and go see for yourself to see if the living conditions are manageable. nevertheless, good luck! and if you do decide to move there, please stop back by and let us know how you like it (or don’t like it!) :)

  • Aigul
    Posted at 11:08h, 17 January Reply

    Thanks Megan for your reply! Yes, I’ve been to Astana a couple of times. I was in June and it was so hot and I also was in November when it was terribly cold. I actually don’t like it so much. And also I’m reading the news that at the moment the global economy is in turmoil and that we are heading into crisis and bear market. So, of course all of these concerns make me think twice before acting. Even though maybe the job in Astana would be better.
    I am sure I will stop by and share with my ultimate decision and consequences :)

  • Git
    Posted at 21:29h, 26 February Reply

    Stupid to spend 12 hours alone in a railway station at night.

    • Megan
      Posted at 02:28h, 27 February Reply

      stupid to comment on a blog if you don’t have anything of value to add.

  • 10 Things I Miss About Norway - Megan Starr - Travels and Drinks from Around the Globe
    Posted at 20:01h, 08 March Reply

    […] not one to compare two countries and two cities (unless you’re talking about Astana and Almaty) as I think no two places on the planet are the same, nor do I want them to be identical.  But in […]

  • William @ Passport Out
    Posted at 11:09h, 03 August Reply

    Your photos makes me want to visit Kazakhstan! The country have always intrigued me- the architecture, people, food, everything! and it looks like a really nice place to visit during Spring or Summer, maybe? Hope you had a wonderful time in Kazakhstan!

    • Megan
      Posted at 10:38h, 11 August Reply

      YES! Kazakhstan is a wonderful place and you should definitely visit. I went in winter and loved it so I can only imagine how insanely cool the place is during the warmer months!! It was very cold in winter :)

  • Amal
    Posted at 08:34h, 10 August Reply

    YAY im from almaty oh and did you know sadly in 1997 (not a long time ago ) Almaty was the capital. even my mum thinks that astana is not ready to be a capital she says its like making a village a capital when i came there last year my grandparents even made us a coming and a leaving party btw when you are there try beshbarmak im sure you will fall in love with the dish like i did :) hope you enjoy almaty btw dont forget to check out medeo ( i dont think i spelled it right) but still its a HUGE ice skating ring in the mountains thats where i first started ice kating when i was 5 XD
    thanks for your time
    Amal (Амаль)

  • Amal
    Posted at 08:35h, 10 August Reply

    but what i mean i came there last year i mean to alamty

    • Megan
      Posted at 10:25h, 11 August Reply

      Thanks so much for your comment! I agree a lot with what you said about Astana! It really is hard to just turn a random city into a capital city without compromising a lot! I hope to get back to Almaty very soon! :) Have a great Thursday!

  • Traveller
    Posted at 18:48h, 23 August Reply

    Hi, Is Almaty safe for tourists ? And I would like to see snow so what time of the year would be the best to go there?


    • Megan
      Posted at 21:56h, 30 August Reply

      Yep! Almaty is relatively safe although bad things can happen like anywhere else! I never felt endangered there, however. The best time of the year depends on your habits and hobbies :) It is nestled between mountains and ski resorts so if that is your thing, winter is grand (and cold). If you’re a summer person, summer is nice too. I tend to be a winter traveler, personally. But that is to avoid crowds (which you actually won’t find in Almaty from a tourist perspective).

      • Avatar
        Posted at 22:13h, 30 August Reply

        Thanks, I am a solo traveler and prefer to travel in winters for the same reasons as you have ;) I’m just hoping for a lot of snow and temperature near -10 so it would be amazing.

        • Megan
          Posted at 22:16h, 30 August Reply

          wow ive never met anyone except myself who loves traveling during cold temps :) very cool! you will definitely get that in almaty and no tourists :) i hope you make it out there!

          • Avatar
            Posted at 23:12h, 30 August

            Haha. And you are the only one I know who likes to travel in winter. For me it’s because I used to live in India and I’ve been tired of heat so cold weather for me is like a paradise.

          • Megan
            Posted at 07:59h, 31 August

            completely understood :P

  • Why I Left Norway, Why I am Leaving Germany, and What's Next?
    Posted at 10:49h, 09 September Reply

    […] new readers, I have been to Kazakhstan before and loved it.  Especially Astana (just kidding… least favorite city in the world right there).  And while Bishkek was the […]

  • artificial sinew
    Posted at 02:56h, 04 January Reply

    What a wonderful and informative post. So stunning pics you shared about travel trip. It is good to travel in winter. I really love to travel in winter. Amazing weather contrasts between kazakhstans two major cities. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    • Megan
      Posted at 10:38h, 13 January Reply

      i think winter travel is highly underrated ;)

  • same day agra tour by car
    Posted at 14:32h, 23 January Reply

    Hello, I loved your blog, it’s beautiful and we felt like we were in the wonderful places too. I love traveling, and if it were possible I would live like that too. But we can travel with your posts. Your blog is charming!

  • Simon
    Posted at 12:44h, 19 February Reply

    Thank you for the article, it’s a good read. You mentioned cheap flights from Oslo to Tashkent, can I ask what airlines was it with? and approx. how cheap? :)

    • Megan Starr
      Posted at 18:24h, 27 April Reply

      This was years ago so I don’t recall :P Perhaps Aeroflot? That is how I ended up in Bishkek, but I can’t recall which airline would have taken me to Tashkent… hmmm

  • Maria's Adventure
    Posted at 22:04h, 05 March Reply

    This is so interesting! I really want to go! Beautiful pictures :-)

    • Megan Starr
      Posted at 18:16h, 27 April Reply

      Thanks! Hope you can make it someday :)

  • Christina Loke
    Posted at 08:08h, 16 May Reply

    Kara Zhorga aka Jina = DILL! :)
    You keep up the good work Ms Starr! Hope our paths cross soon.

    • Megan Starr
      Posted at 11:13h, 28 May Reply

      MWHHAHHAH! Always good to know these important words and phrases and dill is something that no person should ever have to experience lol

  • Chris L.
    Posted at 13:10h, 21 May Reply

    Thanks for writing this post! I’m planning a trip to Kazakhstan this August and trying to figure out how I should balance my time between Almaty and Astana. This helps so much!

    • Megan Starr
      Posted at 11:09h, 28 May Reply

      I am glad this helps! i am sure Astana has come a way since I visited, but Almaty is where the soul is. You’ll definitely enjoy the place!

  • Jahangir
    Posted at 09:53h, 27 May Reply

    Thanks for Sharing This i like your post

  • Jade D'sa
    Posted at 07:16h, 22 July Reply

    It’s funny how one place can give you such contrasting experiences. I think its the same for India too! You love some parts, hate the others.

    • Megan Starr
      Posted at 11:22h, 26 July Reply

      It is so crazy how one country can provide such varying climates and atmospheres! India is def a good example of this too :P

  • Johnny Donuts
    Posted at 16:56h, 07 September Reply

    I agree with you on so much of this, Megan. I am currently living in Astana for work and consider myself extremely lucky to travel frequently throughout Central Asia (although that brings along a fair share of “fun”). Out of the places I regularly spend time in, Astana is, by far, my least favorite.

    Almaty is a great town. I absolutely love Bishkek. Tashkent didn’t seem too bad. But Astana is a different beast. It says a lot, when temperatures regularly reach -30C in the winter here, that I feel the horrible weather isn’t even close to being my least favorite thing about this place. Like you, I’ve met countless locals who can’t stand the place and are only here because of a job or another similar reason.

    There is an ingrained rudeness here than can wear you down. I’ve lived in Moscow, which is notorious for being cold and uninviting(it’s not, really) and I honestly miss the politeness and civility there compared to Astana. I can’t say I haven’t ran into in Almaty but it’s not nearly as rampant as it is in the capital. People casually cut line and I’ve seen people hold a place in line for large groups who show up to an event or for overloaded shopping carts at the grocery store. Kazakhstan sells itself on hospitality but I have not witnessed any of that in my time in Astana. There is no gregarious culture like in Georgia or even a warm heart within a cold shell like in Russia. It’s a blank stare. This is supposedly a Russian speaking country, and while my Russian isn’t great, it seemed to serve me well in Russia. Apparently many people in Astana don’t really speak Russian. I’ve run into situations where I’ve almost pulled my hair out trying to give directions to my house for an taxi pick up. And I’ve had to give directions to fairly major destinations to drivers a few times.

    Speaking of drivers, locals drive with a sort of “oblivious aggression” and I’ve experience a few incidents of road rage. On top of that, the roads are atrociously laid out with poor, and/or confusing signaling. Making a left turn literally requires you to run a red light. And that’s where there actually are roads. MASSIVE apartment complexes with multiple buildings are being built in areas where nothing but dirt roads, and inadequate dirt roads at that, exist. It makes absolutely no sense.

    The Expo has brought a little more global attention to Astana at a cost of billions of dollars that many locals think could have been much better spent. If you can look past the irony of a major petro-state hosting a green energy-themed international event then I suppose it may lead to some development and opportunities for Kazakhstan down the road. But most of these shining new apartment buildings(both with connecting infrastructure and without) still seem to be empty.

    Central Asia is truly a fascinating and underappreciated place and I am lucky to be able to travel throughout the region. Unfortunately, Astana has practically none of the charms of the old Silk Road cities and the Soviet capitals(say what you will about the Soviets, they knew how to design pleasant, walkable cities). It’s a new city that wants desperately to be like the big metropolises(metropoli?) of the world but can’t decide which one so it appears to have made countless spastic attempts to be like all of them at the expensive of being a really unique city with a high standard of livability.

    Thanks for allowing me to vent.

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