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Back Door Route to Kazakhstan, Olgii to Almaty flight

Monday, May 21st, 2007

My first plan to get to Kazakhstan was the overland border route from China, but then I heard about this weekly Wednesday flight from Olgii, in far western Mongolia. This is a cool way to enter the country, and will give you the time to spend some time in the amazing Altai mountains where you can experience the Kazakh culture of old and see some eagle hunters (without getting stuck in the middle of nowhere).

Here’s some logistics that I hope help: The Kazakh consulate in Ulaan Baatar is friendly, helpful, and never crowded. I had a visa already for Kyrgyzstan and the two countries have an agreement currently where you can stay 72 hours in Kazakhstan without a visa if you already have an onward visa. I decided that this would still be a gamble on the Mongolian side of things and didn’t want to get stuck in Olgii because the airline wouldn’t let me on the plane. (I don’t think this would have been the case since they barely glanced at my passport.) But I got the $20 transit visa to be safe and it got me an extra day in Kaz. (For some nationalites it’s $5).

Once you get your visa you can book your ticket. Everyone (including Lonely Planet) will tell you that you can’t book the Olgii to Almaty flight from anywhere but Olgii. Wrong. Here’s the number to the Trans-Olgii office that handles the flight:  99422488  It’s a long distance call and you’ll have to get a Mongolian to book the reservation. Just make sure you turn up in Olgii 24 hours before the flight and pay the $259 plus 8400 T airport tax. The Trans-Olgii office is in the building directly west of the square. Go to the third door. That’s about all there is to it. The flight leaves at 3:00 Wednesday and stops for customs in Ust-Kamenogorsk. Then on to Almaty.

As for getting to Olgii, either fly or take a couple of weeks getting there by van or jeep.  To take the three day journey in one gulp is a form of self torture most would do well to avoid.  Flights are weekly and between $170-200.

Hope this helps.

Almaty: The Greenest city

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Most would be disappointed by the weather that met me in Almaty, but the drizzling rain in this verdant city makes me nostalgic for my hometown of Portland, and this makes my visit good. If Almaty ever develops an accomodation alternative for budget travelers the masses will swarm to its beautiful tree-lined streets, seemingly a stone’s throw from the Alatau Mountains to the south. Pity I can’t see these peaks today, but the pictures I’ve seen are nice and I understand why the residents walk confidently with pride in their surroundings.

Kazakhstan is in the middle of an economic bubble sparked by the large oil fields in the Caspian Sea. What this means for the budget backpacker is that it’s simply not a great destination. Unfortunately since land prices are rising as fast as oil exports, there doesn’t appear to be any short-term hope for budget hostels sprouting up. Sorry Borat, you’ll have to park your cow in a flat in Kyrgyzstan.

My arrival here marks the beginning of a new stage in my journey; the Central Asian leg with all its mysterious ‘stans. It doesn’t take long walking these streets for an unexpected culture shock to hit me: For the first time in a long while I blend in. Almaty is a mix of Euro-Asian faces and make caucasian mug can pass for a Russki. Three people come up to me today asking for directions, an occurence unheard of in my east Asian travels in the past three years. The verdict is still out as to whether it’s better to stand out or blend in. Stay tuned.

Crossing the Altai

Sunday, May 20th, 2007


It's amazing what discoveries crossing a mountain range can uncover. I leave the barren peaks of the Mongolian Altai and fly over into Kazakhstan, touching down in Ust-Kamenogorsk near the Russia border. Stepping off the ... [Continue reading this entry]