KAZAKHSTAN: CROSSING THE BORDER WITH (BAREFOOT) KIDS…

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Entering Kazakhstan with kids completed a dream circuit of three Stans for us. We had spent time travelling overland in Uzbekistan making it all the way to the Aral Sea, and stayed with nomadic herders at Song Kol Lake, Kyrgyzstan. Next, we wanted to visit Kazakhstan.

We had read it was possible to enter Kazakhstan overland via a small border crossing in the corner of Kyrgyzstan. In theory, that plan would work well for us, as we intended to find a driver and make a loop around the north of Kyrgyzstan; now, the challenge would be to find a driver that could take us over the border into Kazakhstan…

And we did! Making the border crossing into the far corner of Kazakhstan with the kids makes for a story on its own… Oscar walked across the border amongst it all with bare feet; in true kiwi-kid-style!

Checking out camels on the roadside en route to Almaty, Kazakhstan, with kids.
A few hours inland from the Kegen Border crossing.

OUT AND ABOUT IN ALMATY

Exploring Almaty was lots of fun.

Eating an ice cream while exploring Almaty, Kazakhstan with the kids.

It somehow mixes a modern vibe in with a Soviet era feel. On some streets you have old markets and bazaars, and along other streets you could be in a modern city anywhere in the world. (Well, perhaps in the post-Soviet world!).

Ascension Cathedral, Almaty - Kazakhstan with the kids.
 Zenkov Cathedral (The Ascension Cathedral) is a wooden Russian Orthodox cathedral located in Panfilov Park in Almaty.
Exploring Almaty, Kazakhstan with the kids.
The Green Bazaar;  two-level market in Almaty with all the flavours of Central Asia.
Exploring Almaty, Kazakhstan with the kids.
The Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen in east-central Almaty.

But first, we had spent a few days making our way to Almaty, with some stops on our way…

Trying a minced meat samsa from a roadside restaurant in Saty.

KOLSAI LAKE AND CHARYN CANYON

We crossed the border with the goal of seeing Kolsai Lake as a first stop on entering Kazakhstan with the kids. The Saty region was beautiful! A different kind of Central Asian mountain vibes and small villages.

Checking out Kolsai Lake, Kazakhstan with kids.

Nothing quite prepared us for the stunning sight of Kolsai Lake itself. It kind of appears out in the middle of nowhere!

One downside to such a beautiful lake however, was that it was of course a huge tourist attraction.

We were blown away by the beautiful scenery, but honestly underwhelmed by the sight itself, simply due to the numbers of tourists making their way down to the lakeside in hoards. We hadn’t expected or even considered that the location (within a days drive of Almaty) would make it such an attraction for domestic tourism.

It was beautiful. But after being spoilt with lone yurts and herders at remote lakes in Kyrgyzstan on our way, we didn’t stay long. Instead, we checked it out and then headed back into the hills to find a good picnic spot elsewhere.

We were intrigued to see Charyn Canyon, and weren’t disappointed by its grandeur.

The scale of the canyon is hard to describe, but it can be seen quite clearly on Google Maps!


ONE CHALLENGE FROM KAZAKHSTAN?

Figuring out shops and restaurants! The architecture right across the villages and cities that we saw, is still notably Soviet in style. A lot of the shops and restaurants still maintain the boundary military style fencing and boards and bars on windows.

There isn’t a lot of signage, and what signage there is is written in Kazakh and Russian without many pictures for clues!

Shopfront in Almaty, Kazakhstan with kids.
A small supermarket in the centre of Almaty.
Sitting outside a local shop in Almaty, Kazakhstan with the kids.
Outside the nearest convenience store by our hostel in Almaty.

WHERE WE STAYED

  • Saty: Guesthouse found in village on outskirts of Saty
  • Shelek: Guesthouse en route between Charyn and Almaty
  • Almaty: World Travelers Hostel

We only had a week in total in Kazakhstan, but enjoyed the varied towns and villages we passed through and stayed in. We didn’t have accommodation planned for the first two nights, but found guesthouses in Saty and Shelek (actually stopping on our way back towards Almaty).

The villages near the border crossing in Kegen were fairly remote and options for accommodation definitely limited.

In Saty, the guesthouse we were planning on staying at was full when we turned up. We had to drive for another half hour to find the next village (after a couple of stops at random looking guesthouses… including one yurt-style that only had one very open/old long drop for a bathroom!).

However, we ended up finding a small family run homestay right next to a beautiful mosque, surrounded by Kazakh mountains.

Dinner in Saty after crossing the border into Kazakhstan with the kids.
A glass of kumiss (a mildly alcoholic drink made from fermented mare’s milk).

AND they served us up a delicious dinner including homemade dumplings, AND kumiss…

Dinner in Saty after crossing the border into Kazakhstan with the kids.
Homemade manti (steamed dumplings).

In Almaty we enjoyed our stay at World Travellers Hostel. It was hard to find, but the post-Soviet style of shop fronts makes it hard to recognise a lot of services in Almaty!

The hostel itself had a big size family room, with bunk beds and a double bed, and a clean shared bathroom. It was only a 15 minute walk into the centre of Almaty which made it an ideal to see a city side of Kazakhstan with the kids.

Our guesthouse in Saty after crossing the border into Kazakhstan with the kids.
Our guesthouse near Saty.

GETTING AROUND

Almaty was reasonably easy to explore on foot, and we mostly walked around for the time we were there. We didn’t have a SIM card so couldn’t use online taxi services like Uber. Our hostel hosts ordered a taxi online for us to get to the airport on leaving, and also one day we headed out to try and find a post office!

In honesty, we couldn’t find a taxi/figure out which cars were taxi’s to get one back, so ended up walking a few km’s back to our hostel each time. (The latest update sounds like Uber no longer works in Almaty, but their partner Yandex Taxi is an option).

If you are entering Kazakhstan overland your best plan is to find a driver! We had a fantastic driver called Vitali, who we found via a Kyrgyzstan Travel Company “Kyrgyz Tourism” in Bishkek.

Setting off to cross the border from Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan with the kids.
A picnic spot on our way to the border crossing at Kegen.

IF WE WENT AGAIN WE WOULD…

We would love to explore more of Kazakhstan! There is such a focus on the mountainous regions of Kazakhstan (which is HUGE by the way!). We would definitely want to explore Astana and other areas next time…


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