Throughout history Uzbekistan has been part of the ancient trading route from Asia to Europe, but travelling along the Silk Road these days isn't quite as romantic, wild and adventurous as it once was. Well, it's still wild but not in a good way!
Uzbekistan is a land locked country and most of its border areas are not safe. It should come as no surprise with the areas bordering Afghanistan, but you should also exercise caution in areas bordering Tajikistan, Tajik, Kyrgyz and Kyrgyzstan. These areas may be land-mined and there have been cross border gunfire plus they are subject to closure without notice. Problematically, many border areas are not well marked so you should only cross at authorized border crossing points.
There have also been incidents of inter-ethnic violence in the Provinces of Osh and Jalal-Abad in Kyrgystann and also the Fergana Valley, so it's best to avoid these areas.
You should also ensure that your visa's and travel permits are in place, often you will have to cross borders out of Uzbekistan to get to another part of the country. Also if you are trying to get to Termez and other areas of the Surkhandarya region you will need a permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tashkent which takes about five days to process.
From January 2017 the citizens of 15 countries - including some EU countries, the UK, and Australia - will be able to obtain a via-on-arrival.
Cash is King in Uzbekistan. If you ever want to feel like you are literally swimming in money Uzbekistan is the place to go.
Being predominantly a cash economy and the Uzbek Som having a very low value ($1USD = more than 7000 AZS) you will be walking around with cash lining your bag.
Most transactions are conducted in cash and local currency, only larger hotels and selected merchants accept US Dollars.
You should try to exchange any unspent local currency prior to your departure as there is no exchange office at the International Airport as the Uzbek Sum is not freely convertible.
Also, lets be realistic about the Black Market, reform policies have brought the black market and bank rates to similar levels, so there is no longer any desperate need to change on the black market, although this may be the quickest (or only) way of getting sum for US dollars, especially in the provinces. You can usually find black-market money swappers working the bazaars. If you have to go this route, be wary of corrupt police, who may demand ‘fines'.
Unlike many of its neighbours, Uzbekistan is generally safe for visitors - perhaps the by-product of a police state. In fact compared to a few of its more notorious neighbours Uzbekistan is a paradise!
However, it's not entirely without risk. There have been reports of an increase in street and violent crime, particularly in Tashkent.
Another by-product of being a police state is the lack of credible information in the media. Information on crime is largely available only through word of mouth - both among locals and through the expat community - as the state-controlled press rarely, if ever, reports street crime.
Like travel anywhere, you should use common sense when in an unfamiliar country. Scams are not unheard of. A common one (and one that is not limited to Uzbekistan) involves a stranger coming up to the victim and saying they have found cash lying on the street. They will then try to enlist you in a complicated scheme that will result in you "splitting" the cash - of course only after you have put up some of your own. The entire scenario is ludicrous, but apparently enough greedy foreigners fall for it that it continues. You wouldn't fall for this kind of thing at home – why would you abroad?
In the same vein, beware of locals you don't know who offer to show you the "night life." This should be completely avoided for really obvious reasons!
Be aware that Uzbekistan is a police state, it is not a free and open society and you should keep your head down and obey all local laws.
It's a good idea to carry a colour photocopy of your passport and visa for Uzbekistan with you at all times. Keep the original in your hotel safe, if the Militsiya really hassle you to see the original make it clear that they will have to come to your hotel to see it. Unless they have something out of the norm in mind (such as a bribe) they will almost always give you a big smile and tell you to go along. Always be polite with the Militsiya, but also be firm. While almost all of them take bribes, they take them from locals. For the most part, they understand that going too far with a foreigner will only cause them problems, especially if the foreigner is neither being abusive nor quaking with fear.
You will need to register every place you stay at while you travel the country. Hotels and guest houses will save you the headache of doing the paperwork and issue you with a registration slip for the duration of your stay. Ensure you keep these tickets safe, some travelers have reported being asked for them at border crossings as evidence of their route through the country.
Homosexuality is illegal under Uzbek law and is still very much frowned upon socially. You should take care over public displays of affection.
Again, Uzbekistan is a police state. You should be aware that any form of photography can upset the authorities. You should check before using a camera, especially near airports, border checkpoints, military barracks, bridges and police stations. Photography is forbidden at metro stations.
Uzbekistan restricts religious activities only to registered religious groups and has strict registration requirements. Violators of the law's prohibitions on activities such as proselytizing, importing and disseminating religious literature, and offering private religious instruction are subject to criminal penalties including deportation.
One thing about Uzbekistan these days that is similar to the Silk Road days is the hospitality of the locals. It is common for younger Uzbeks (usually male) who speak English to try and "meet" foreigners at local hotels and offer to serve as interpreters and guides. This is done in daylight and in the open, often in or near some of the smaller but better hotels. This can be rewarding for both the local and the visitor. The local is usually trying to improve their English or French and to make a few dollars/euros. If you are approached by a clean-cut person offering such services, and you are interested, question them about their background, what they are proposing to do for you and how much they want to charge you (anywhere between $10-$25). If everything seems to fit, their language skills are good and they seem eager and polite, but not pushy, you may want to consider this. They should offer to show you museums, historical sites, cafes, bazaars, cultural advice, generally how to get around, etc. They should ask you what you want to see and/or do. Often this works out well. However, for your and their protection, do not attempt to engage in political discussions of any type.
Like many countries in this region, its roads and public transport are just not up to Western Standards. The Silk Road sounds very smooth but the reality is somewhat less than that. Be wary of buses and taxis that run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), in May 2010 a bus exploded causing six fatalities. The accident was reportedly due to a fault with its CNG fuel tank. Unfortunately many buses and taxis in Uzbekistan run on CNG and safety regulations are often not followed. Where possible you should opt for modern vehicles when travelling by bus or taxi.
Although main roads in central Tashkent are relatively well maintained, many secondary roads inside and outside Tashkent, and particularly those in the Tien Shan and Fan Mountains are in poor condition and may be passable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Driving at night is dangerous because the roads are unlit and vehicles share the roads with livestock and animal drawn carts. The gasoline supply can be sporadic, particularly outside Tashkent.
Uzbekistan has a large road police force, which frequently stops drivers for minor infractions or simple document checks. There have been reports of harassment of foreign drivers by the road police, with reported minor police corruption in the form of solicitation of bribes. Finally, and strangely given how poor the roads are and how low the driving skills of most locals are,
Uzbekistan has a "zero tolerance" policy for driving under the influence of alcohol
Generally, there are not many health issues to worry about in Uzbekistan. However, there have been recent outbreaks of Hepatitis A, Meningitis, Malaria and Diphtheria. An outbreak of polio was reported in neighbouring Tajikistan in July 2010 as well as several cases near the Tajikistan border.
You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water, and avoid ice in drinks. Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases are prevalent, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time.
While vaccinations are not mandatory for travel, you should consider the following:
Like travel in most countries, you should carry a doctor's prescription if you intend to travel with prescription medicine and always declare these items on your Customs Declaration Form. Possession of such items, even with a doctor's prescription could, if not declared, or if the quantity held exceeds legal limits, lead to administrative or even criminal proceedings. You should check legal quantities with your nearest Uzbek Embassy or with Customs officials on arrival if you intend to bring prescription drugs into Uzbekistan.
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