We spent a lot of time this year in places that aren’t exactly typical tourist destinations – Ukraine, Crimea, Moldova, Transnistria, and driving across Kazakhstan. But when people ask me about the most interesting part of the trip, I always tell them about Uzbekistan.
Here are 7 reasons why I found Uzbekistan a ridiculous place to travel.
All the cars in Uzbekistan are white
There is no shortage of “I can’t quite put my finger on it” moments in Uzbekistan – when you’re sure something isn’t as it should be, but it takes you a while to figure out exactly what.
Driving in Uzbekistan gets interesting the moment you realise that almost every single car on the road is white and that there are only about 4 different car models on the road. And all of them are either a Daewoo or a Chevrolet.
It turns out that a Chevrolet (formerly Daewoo) factory, jointly owned by the Uzbek government is the only car manufacturer in the region, producing just a few models. High import taxes make foreign cars expensive, making any cars that aren’t a Chevrolet or a Daewoo (or a Soviet-era Lada) a rare sight in Uzbekistan.
Why all the cars are white, I’m still not sure.
The houses in Uzbekistan all look the same
Driving along any Uzbek highway behind either a white Chevrolet or a white Daewoo, you will probably notice that all of the houses are the same too. Exactly the same.
I couldn’t find a whole lot of information, but a few Uzbek news articles in Russian referred to estates built using the “standard design”, which likely hasn’t changed much since the Soviet Union.
This is what you get when you change $100 into Uzbek currency (Som)
The most common banknote in Uzbekistan – 1,000 som – is worth about $0.15 USD. That means when you change $100 into Uzbek som, you get over 600 notes back.
And that’s not even the most bizarre thing about money in Uzbekistan. The official exchange rate set by the government is only about half of the rate that you can find through “black market” money changers found outside of markets and train stations. It turns out that the best way to change your money in Uzbekistan is with the babushka hanging out the front of the train station, who will gladly hand over wads of cash from her handbag, in exchange for your dollars or euros.
Wallets are useless in Uzbekistan, you have to carry your money around in a bag or backpack, and paying for almost anything involves either a money counting machine or five minutes spent counting individual bills.
But on the bright side, you’ll almost always have correct change.
Police are everywhere in Uzbekistan
Guards patrol the entrance to all underpasses and metro station entrances in Uzbekistan’s capital city, Tashkent. Security is tight, and all bags are inspected as you enter, including that bag you’re carrying with your stacks of cash.
Driving through Uzbekistan, you will hit a police checkpoint every 80km or so. On a 450 km drive from Tashkent to Jalalabad in Kyrgyzstan, we were stopped at 5 different checkpoints and had to park the car and register with the local police. This involves the police writing down your vehicle registration and your passport details, before asking 20 questions about who you are, where you are going, and why you aren’t married with kids yet.
Tinted windows are illegal
After being stopped by police for the first time at one of Uzbekistan’s many police checkpoints, we were told that the tinted back windows of our car were illegal in the country. We had been warned just before the border and learned that the actual legislation states that windows can be tinted, but must still allow 70% of light pass through.
We insisted that our tinting was within the legal limit and the police officer told us to put the windows down whenever we passed through a police checkpoint – a strategy that worked well for the many checkpoints we passed on the remainder of the trip.
Petrol is difficult to find
Quality petrol is hard to find in Uzbekistan. Most cars in the country run on gas.
We drove around Tashkent for over an hour trying to find decent quality petrol for our fussy Japanese car. Many petrol stations had no petrol at all, and most of those that were open had only low quality 80 octane petrol.
We finally found an UzGazOil with 92 and 95 octane – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the only one in the city.
We were also warned that outside of Tashkent good quality petrol would be even harder to find – we decided to take the train to Samarkand, instead of driving.
Even entering the country is difficult
We’d read reports of Uzbek border police thoroughly inspecting bags and vehicles on entry and exit from the country. The reports were accurate.
When entering Uzbekistan, we had to empty everything out of the car, and the back seat was removed while border guards looked through the entire car and our luggage.
Upon exiting, the guards wanted to look through all of the photos we had taken while we were in the country and had a good look through our toiletries and first aid kit.