The strangest of the former Soviet Central Asian Republics is also the hardest to get into. Visas are a downright nightmare, and if you want to travel the country extensively you need to go on an expensive guided tour. However, it is possible to get a transit visa for the country, which gives you five days to travel through it, or if you are very lucky a full week.
So why bother? For one, to see how far a personality cult can go. The golden statues of the former President for Life, Turkmenbashi (aka Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov), are an eye-opener. Ever wanted to see one that revolves with the sun? Turkmenistan is your place. A statue of a book? Again, this is the country to see it. But there is more to Turkmenistan than just golden statues, Tolkuchka (aka Altyn Asyr) bazaar in Ashgabat is a worthwhile destination in its own right. Carpets? This is the country to buy one, forget about Persian rugs, this is the birthplace of the world famous Bukhara rugs. For a little history, go to the ruins of the old Silk Road Oasis of Merv, or visit Konye-Urgench in the north. And if you want to see The Door to Hell, visit the burning gas crater near Derweze in the Karakum Desert.
Turkmens are a proud and slightly wary people, though not unfriendly. The country is basically a dictatorship, though the current president it slightly better than the former (it would have been hard to be worse).
The official language is Turkmen, which is a Turkic language. Russian is also widely understood and spoken. English is nearly non-existent.
Highlights from Turkmenistan
Hints and Tips for Turkmenistan
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