Tourists, although welcome, will be expected to hire a guide and be accompanied on an official tour. This is a pain, and an unavoidable one. No only will you pay a day rate for the guide (upwards of $50) you'll also be expected to pay for their meals and lodging while they're with you – at hotels and restaurants though they will pay the local rate, which is no more than $2-$5 for room and board. Tipping is not expected.
You do not need a guide in the capital Ashgabat, nor in the immediate surrounding areas. You can visit the following unescorted - Tolkuchka Bazaar, Kipchak Mosque (with Turkmenbashi's tomb next door), and Nissa – your hotel should be able to assist you with booking a car to visit these places – by far the easiest way to do it, and not expensive.
As is often the case in Central Asia most ‘taxis' are not licensed are most likely to be a man using his family car to make some extra money – these are sometimes known as ‘gypsy cabs.' Most locals flag a car down and then anything that stops is a ‘taxi', there's no official fares, so give what you think is fair. This of course leaves you wide open to being ripped off, but there's no alternative. If you get in and feel uncomfortable, simply ask them to stop politely, get out and wave them to carry on. This is what locals do and it's perfectly acceptable.
For a safer ride, use the hard-to-find Yellow Cabs, which are usually located at the airport and near large hotels. Yellow Cabs are the only registered taxis and are discernable by their yellow colour and green Turkmen license plates. If the meter isn't working, agree a price before getting in. There's a flat fee of 8 Denominated Turkmen Manat (about AUS $ 2.80 at the March, 2011 exchange rate) within the Ashgabat city limits.
Road conditions outside of major cities are highly variable and usually poor and most public transport, including taxis, will not normally have seat belts provided. Common issues on the roads include dilapidated streets, unlit roads, and surprise camel crossings. Cars also frequently make left-turns from the right lane and vice-versa making driving dicey.
Road blocks occur regularly (whenever you enter a new welayat(province). Your guide will help you with the inevitable document checks that will follow.
Do not be fooled by the reference to ‘ferries' that are often discussed in online forums and that are referred to in popular guidebooks. These ferries – that travel the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan, to the port of Turkmenbashy in western Turkmenistan - are in fact cargo ships that take passengers if space allows.
The main issue with embarking on this adventure is that there's no food or water, the conditions are basic and toilet/washing facilities worse. It's a risky trip as when ships arrive in Turkmenbashy, they often wait up to a week for a vacant dock – some travellers have had the unfortunate experience of having their Turkmen visa expire while they wait, when food and water has run out too.
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