Our (Mis)Adventures In Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

After our horrendous entrance into Turkmenistan, we decided to go to the capital city of Ashgabat, which is where we would be leaving from to go to Iran. We pulled up at the hotel we wanted to stay at and asked for a room. “Full” is all the Russian-Turkmen woman said. So we asked her to call the others in the guidebook for us. Each of them either said “no English” and hung up on us, or if she chose to speak with them on our behalf, they were full.

We’ve literally never, ever called every guesthouse/hotel listed in our guidebook and been told that they were full. What was going on?! Since it’s Turkmenistan, there are only a select few hotels that tourists are able to stay at. Our only option was to call the Top End hotels in our guidebook – which we’ve never had to resort to.

ak atlyn hotel ashgabat
Everything’s full! Guess we’ll have to stay in this 5-star

The hotel we ended up staying at is a 5 star place where group tours can stay and lots of business men stay there as well. The room, however, was very average. The decor and furnishings were really dated, the heat was blasting out and couldn’t be turned off and as with most hotels, it had no character. The only thing good about it was the buffet breakfast. We would compare it to a Best Western or something in Canada, definitely not 5 star quality!

Ak Atlyn hotel room
Our room at the Ak Atlyn Hotel

We spent 2 nights in Ashgabat and to be honest, didn’t really enjoy our time there. The city is so strange. Massive, white marble palaces, government buildings, universities and apartment complexes cover the horizon. The late president wanted it to be known as the “white city”. With everything being made of marble, we figure it must be the heaviest city in the world.

marble buildings in ashgabat
One of the many white, marble buildings in Ashgabat, guarded by a policeman

The streets in many parts of the city were eerily quiet, where were all the people? We tried to take photos of this strange place but were always whistled at and told “no” by the many, many police officers that guard the streets and buildings. We also weren’t allowed to walk down certain streets and felt very annoyed the entire time.

ashgabat park
Where are all the people?

So, we made use of our overpriced hotel. I had a bath, we brought beers back to the room, played cards, watched t.v. and hung out. After two nights, we were more than ready to leave this strange and unwelcoming land.

We got in a taxi and were on our way. As we got closer to the road that leads to the border, we noticed a policeman not letting any traffic through. Great, another road we can’t go down, for whatever reason. We tried another road, all roads leading to the border were apparently closed. After about an hour of this, we found one that was open. We waited in a massive line up to do a passport check (not stamping out, just a check).

rules in turkmenistan
No horns, can’t go down certain streets, no photos…what exactly can you do here?!

We kept flashing our Canadian passports and saying “tourists, tourists” and after about an hour, they let us bump up in the line. We then took an overpriced minibus the 25kms of no-man’s land between Turkmenistan and Iran. We filled out another form that we’re not entirely sure of what it said and waited in yet another line to stamp out of the country.

travel in ashgabat
Your move!

It was already noon by this point and we had left our hotel at 8:00 – we were getting nowhere fast. Finally, it was our turn at the passport counter…and they closed the window. Lunch time. We had to wait an hour until it opened. By this point we were furious and so sick of the bureaucratic nightmare Turkmenistan had been. I pressed my passport up against the glass and said “Come on! One more. Tourists, let us through”. He didn’t care and went off to eat.

When the window re-opened an hour later, everyone ran up and tried to budge in line. Each person that went through took about 15 minutes at the counter, which is totally unheard of and unnecessary. Maybe the man behind the glass remembered the pissed off look in my eyes, or maybe he was just feeling full and generous, but the guy flagged us up to the front from the back of the line and stamped us in!

photo of turkmenistan president
Goodbye Turkmenistan!

Hallelujah, we were out of Turkmenistan, well…after showing our passports 2 more times we were. We were so happy to be out of that country and heading into one that we’ve been looking forward to for years, Iran!

Tell us about your worst border-crossing experience below! 

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Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 10 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel. Her advice about long-term travel, remote work, and location independence has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider and Forbes. Learn more about Dariece Swift on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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