Next Stop, Uzbekistan & Tajikistan!

To longtime reader Imperator, this one is for you. ­čśë

As some of you may remember, last year I took a trip with Matthew from Live and Let’s Fly that involved travel in business class on China Eastern, Qatar, Royal Air Maroc, Saudia, Pakistan, and JetBlue. I’ve been friends with Matthew for over a decade, though we don’t get to travel together as much as I’d like. It was an awesome trip, and it’s certainly more fun to do these insane airline review trips with a fellow avgeek.

For a while we’ve been plotting our next trip, which is somewhat destination focused. Matthew has been to a lot more countries than I have, though he has a few “stans” left on his list.

Uzbekistan Airways recently took delivery of 787s, and started flying them between New York and Tashkent earlier this year. While they’re not part of any major alliance, we were both still keen to fly the airline, and also to visit Uzbekistan, since neither of us have been before. Uzbekistan required getting an actual visa, and I’ll write more about that process soon.

From there we’ll be headed to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, which doesn’t require a visa. It’s just 200 miles away, so it’s just a short 30 minute flight.

Interestingly both Tashkent and Dushanbe have Hyatts, which is pretty awesome.

We were hoping to also hit up Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, though that didn’t work out quite as we had hoped. Apparently getting a visa for Turkmenistan is really difficult as a tourist, so maybe we’ll have to settle for just flying with them through Ashgabat sometime in the near future.

While Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan was otherwise approachable enough, the issue was the flight schedule. Service into and out of Dushanbe is extremely limited, so we just couldn’t get the flights to work out without making the trip too long.

We’re still working on the return portion of the trip. Matthew and I might part ways in Tajikistan due to the lack of award availability. Based on products I haven’t yet reviewed, I’m personally leaning towards booking Kuwait Airways first class to New York. I tried their business class on the route a couple of months ago, and they have some reasonable first class fares. I’m down to just five international first class products I haven’t tried, so I’d love to get them off my list so I can say I’ve flown every international first class product in the world.

Has anyone been to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan? What should we expect? Any guesses as to what Uzbekistan’s 787 business class will be like?

(Featured image courtesy Anna Zvereva)

Comments

  1. You have to watch out with Kuwait Airways, i was supposed to fly their first class suite on the 777-300ER from Cairo to Bangkok via Kuwait but both planes got changed last minute(777-200 & A330).

  2. Very cool trip! I assume that Uzbekistan operates the flights non-stop in both directions now without the Riga layover?

    Looking forward to your review @Lucky!

  3. You should drop down to Singapore on Uzbekistan and then try Scoot’s new long haul to Athens in their biz class. Would be an interesting routing on the return.

  4. If you’re leaving Dushanbe on a Friday then I would suggest Somon Air back to Frankfurt.

    In Dushanbe you can visit the worlds largest flag pole along with the others parks and monuments which are in walking distance of the Hyatt.

    I would also recommend visiting Hissar fortress which is just outside of Dushanbe.

    At the back of the Hyatt is a lake that’s quit nice to take a walk around. On the left hand side of the lake there is a market/funfair that looks doggy at first but the locals are more than welcoming.

    A note about the lake. There is a beach on the lake and when I was there the men wore next to nothing and they all seemed ‘excited’!

  5. Hey Lucky, just got back from a 3 day layover in Tashkent in order to fly Uzbekistan Airways 767 and Ilyushin Il-114. You have got to visit Samerkand which is an easy day trip from Tashkent via Train. I used Olga from Advantour who was amazing at organising everything. Get a Visa on Arrival at Tashkent as it takes less than a minute to get. But make sure you visit Samerkand or Bukhara as Tashkent is disappointing. And btw the Hyatt driver was impossible to find at the airport I’d suggest using Advantour for Transfers.

  6. I traveled to Dushanbe back in 2013 for business. Loved it there, it was a land stuck in time. We stayed at the Hyatt and it was fantastic. I had platinum status with them so I upgraded to a corner suite over looking the snow capped mountains in July with floor to ceiling windows! Not a lot to see or do in the city back then. Best restaurant was a place called Marco Polo but I see there have been a lot of changes and new restaurants since I’ve been, but give it a try. Across from the Hyatt is the zoo. It was so run down and depressing the animals looked like they were starving to death. Want a quirky place to have a drink? A place called the Royal Pub in the basement of a strip of stores a couple blocks from the Hyatt if you make a left out of their driveway. Russian staff, live Russian band playing Beatles music and Tajik girls go go dancing on the bar! It was a blast! Best thing is it looks like they have a new airport. Hope it’s a better experience than what we had. No signs or announcements in English and boarding was complete chaos! Oh and back then you had to pay a fee at the hotel and given a receipt in order to leave the country. This was handed to immigration upon departure. Check the receipt carefully that it has all the correct info on it matching your passport. Mine had the wrong passport # (hotel takes your passport and processes a bunch together) and I was threatened I would have to go back to the hotel to get a new one. After the chaotic check in process I never would have made it. Eventually I was let through without bribing and allowed to proceed. Yes, I still loved it there and would go back in a heartbeat!

  7. If you have time in Dushanbe, try to get the flight to Khorog, it flies between mountains as it cannot go above them (propeller plane). Apparently one of the most beautifule flights in the world and as you land in Khorog the country on the other side of the river from the airport is Afghanistan.
    I hear it compares with Gilgit- Islamabad that I flew 19 years ago, a flight that goes around mount Nanga Parbat (one of the 14 mountains above 8000 meters) as it cannot fly above it.

  8. Agree with James above, please do visit Samarkhand, and travel through the hi-speed (or atleast their version) trains of Uzbek. they are comfortable and showcase beautiful landscapes. Good luck! ­čÖé

  9. @G KWI-JFK is always 77W and is never swapped. Bangkok is going to be a mix 77W and A330 while Cairo and other regional destinations are notorious for last minute swaps. Also the 777-200 are now retired along with the A340. So Ben go ahead with KU First Class KWI-JFK.

  10. @Lucky- The introduction should be called:
    Introduction: Trip to the -stans!!!

    P.S. I was wondering could you do a trip report to Pakistan and a review of the Avari Hotel (Lahore). I hear it’s the best hotel in Lahore.

  11. I traveled through both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan last year. I’ve linked to the article on Dushanbe on my blog (hope that’s ok). Happy to answer any questions. If you have the time, an unforgettable #avgeek thing to do in Dushanbe is to take Tajik Air’s An-28 to Khorog and back. Must be one of the most scenic flights that exist.

  12. You cannot enter Uzbekistan without a visa… which can be a PITA. Also, for both US & Germany you need a visa in your passport before you arrive, VOA is only for people with citizenships of countries where there is no Uzbek embassy AND are flying from there (Canada or Australia, for example).

    I was just in TAS… the Hyatt is amazing.

    @Flo – the An-28 is no longer flying.

  13. Hi Lucky
    First time posting a response!
    I’ve actually resided in Tajikistan for some time as my parents worked for development organizations. The Hyatt is great and right across the street is the Ismaili Centre which is beautiful and worth a visit – it’s architectural style is inspired by Samarkand and Bukhara.
    Definitely recommend the flight to/from Khorog however do keep in mind you need separate authorization (GBAO permits) to visit the region, and id keep some buffer due to weather. There’s a great Serena Inn in Khorog should you need an overnight- it’s actually part of the Serena hotel chain (luxury hotels in Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan).
    Flying out of DYU can be challenging with the limited schedules although Moscow is daily on Somon Air’s 737. There’s also FlyDubai twice a week as well as Turkish although they are limited by aircraft type and the business class is actually your standard blocked middle seat- definitely not enjoyable for the 5+ hour flight to Istanbul. There is also a China Southern to Urumqi that may be interesting for you.

    In any case hope the above is helpful- glad I could finally provide something in return for all the great reviews I’ve enjoyed in the past.

    Feel free to reach out if you need anything further while there as many of the above mentioned sites, including arrangements in Khorog, can prove somewhat complicated however happy to point you in the right direction in terms of organizations.

    Best
    – Avid reader

  14. Uzbekistan is one of those countries where your experience will vary radically depending on whether you’re “just a tourist” or have someone friendly who can open doors for you. I strongly advise either having a friend come, or making friends with some locals: this will literally the difference between “meh, it’s just another Central Asian country with a bunch of old stuff” and “I had an OMG trip the memories of which will be stories to my children’s children”. Many, many more doors will open for you, Afrosiyab (high speed train) tickets will suddenly become “available” on completely sold-out trains, beer and snacks will magically appear in your train compartment despite all trains being dry by law, you’ll visit family restaurants that are dry but where the waitress will politely disappear and reappear with a full bar, and you’ll go to restaurants that you never knew existed, that aren’t on TripAdvisor, and that are so well beyond the ones you’ll find on TA that you’ll simply get blown away at how good the food is. Incidentally, the #1 rated restaurant on TripAdvisor in Tashkent (Afsona) is both needlessly expensive and actually not very good in context of the above. Don’t go there. Go to Plov Centre instead at the very least. All countries have some degree of things available to locals, but it was surprising how much of this literally awesome cronyness there was in Uzbekistan.

  15. Forgot to add – flew the 787. Typical C seat. Interesting lettering (different than online seat map), AB-CD-EF. Also be careful of row 4 – strange row behind galley and in front of Y. Expect a bunch of crew… Service decent. No glasses (plastic cups), everything is branded, loved the serviettes. CIP arrivals/departures awesome experience. Unique in the world I believe.

  16. Uzbekistan is fascinating, though Tashkent is not. The major sights are along the silk road, through Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva — a fascinating and amazing drive, and some of the world’s great monuments.

    Be sure to enjoy delicious local cuisine, so hard to find in the U.S. (specially outside NY).

  17. It’s always interesting how you want to go to very exotic destinations and then decide to stay in a Hyatt.

  18. Just got back from trip to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
    Exhausting but quite fun.
    Flew a combo of China Southern and S7 Airlines.

  19. @Francesco Interesting that the footage of TAAG’s first class comes from Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s president-for-life Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

  20. I was in Uzbekistan in 2015 as a guest of the government so my experience may not be typical. Ways were made smoother. Despite a minder I still had a really hard time getting out of the country. I was flying Turkish thru IST and barely made the flight. This was going through the VIP terminal and driven to the plane. So be careful! You really should stay at Hotel Uzbekistan for the full experience in Tashkent. The architecture in the capitol is interesting. Check out the public marketplace. People are very kind in the countryside. Enjoy!

  21. According to the Uzbekistan Airways flight timetable I looked at (which claimed to be current), the 787 service is still routed through Riga. And I missing something regarding the commencement of nonstop service JFK-TAS?

  22. If you have the time a visit to Samarkand is definitely worth it. While in Tashkent, be sure to visit the bazaar (largest I have ever seen). It is a fantastic place for photos!

  23. I am weeping tears of joy; I am so happy that Ben is going to deservedly experience the magnificence that is Uzbekistan Airways business class.

    I have heard from the most trustworthy of authorities that the London Philharmonic provides the boarding music; as in, actual musicians from the Philharmonic perform while business class boards. Economy passengers are rightfully forced to wear earplugs to prevent them from listening.

    Chef David Boulud not only wrote the menu, he actually personally prepares each & every business class meal. That hack Gordon Ramsey cooks the economy class slop.

    The list of extravaganzas provided by Uzbekistan Airways goes on and on! Hopefully, Ben and Matthew will not be so blinded by the magnificence as to neglect exploring this awesome country. Bukhara is far more interesting than Samarkand. I loved Nukus; it’s sort of a living museum of what life was like in the desolate industrial towns of the Soviet Union. Nukus is also home to a fantastic collection of Soviet propoganda art.

    @rabid travelator was spot on with his comment: a guide or host with connections is invaluable and, occasionally, a necessity when traveling throughout Uzbekistan.

  24. Tashkent airport is ranked within top five worst airports in the world, you will experience this with international arrival and truly hellish departure but perhaps you may be buffered given your flying national carrier.

    Fly as far a nukus in the independent state of karakalpakstan and visit the art museum there, its mindblowing.
    Khiva is truly a must see as is bukhara and samarkand. As for tashkent a trip to the famous alien looking food market and a ride on the underground metro is the highlight of tashkent.

  25. Being from Uzbekistan myself it is nice to see so many good comments here, thank you all. I would advise to definitely take the train to Samarkand, then fly to Bukhara, then take the next flight to Khiva, and finally Nukus. You HAVE to visit the Savitskiy Museum. If you have time, while in Nukus, go see the Aral Sea in Muinak. People are very simple and nice. Fruits are amazing, try our watermelon and peaches. From Nukus take the IL114 back to Tashkent and while there go to Alay Market, take the metro. Enjoy plov in Tashkent and beshbarmak in Nukus :). If you need any tips or any help, do ask.

  26. I agree with all those positive replies regarding Bukhara, Samarkand Khiva and Nhucus. Loved it and made a return trip a year later. .Take a road trip and really enjoy the sights and tastes of Central Asia . Hiked in overland from Kashi in China through Kyrgyzstan,following old caravan route staying yurts with shepherds and headed west toward Aral Sea . Tashkent is worth a few days visiting museums but the gem is Samarkand.

  27. I would suggest flying back Uzbek air to Tel Aviv and then El Al back to LAX, but somehow I doubt that will happen.

  28. Uzbekistan is a key country on the Old Silk Road. You can take the “bullet” train from Tashkent to Samarkand. You must also visit Bukhara, Nukus, Urgench and Kanya Urgench. Its tough to see Uzbekistan in less than say 8 days. However be prepared to be blown away as it is easily one of the most historical place one can see. Try their local cuisine with their “plov” and various breads being quite interesting.

    Briefly, the Old Silk Road was ten thousand kilometers (ending in what we now call Turkey) with Samarkand the mid way point. Multiple cities existed along the way solely as transit points to Turkey along the Silk Road. Unfortunately for the Silk Road the “internet” was invented….which at that time was the sea route to India being discovered which essentially destroyed the economics of the Old Silk Road.

    Turkmenistan is worth visiting as the capital city is all white marble and is quite surreal. You can google i am sure some images on the internet. Well worth the trip.

    Tajikistan has an open border with Afghanistan. You might get some strange looks when you land back home from CBP.

    To be blunt you can skip Kyrgyzstan. In Kazakhstan there is some sights in Almaty but Uzbekistan is way better. Astana the capital is more exotic but I believe you have already been there.

  29. Optimal visit to Uzbek would include Samarkand and Bukhara (easy visit by high speed train to the first. Worth walking out to the peacock-filled and tourist-free Mohi Xosa on the outskirts, and seeing the intricate brick work on the Ismail Samani in the park outside downtown Bukhara (if you visit India, you will see obvious parallels at many Mughal sites which were built later!). In Samarkand, Shahi Zinda is actually better than the Registan, which is over-restored though of course worth visiting. Khiva is beautiful though a bit “Disneyfied” compared to the two earlier. Nukus is a must for the Soviet art museum, and of course any self-respecting plane geek will fly the Il-114 from there back to Tashkent! Tashkent is underrated: the “Hotel Uzbekistan” is a mid-century marvel, the subway is absolutely amazing at every stop, and there is a lovely big park in the center-west of the city where you can see normal life.

    In Tajikistan, I didn’t get much out of Dushanbe, though the Hyatt is nice. The flight to Khorog is of course the must-do, and the Serena chain, funded by the Aga Khan, is small though nice.

  30. Buhara and samarcand are just two of tje most beautiful places on erth! From tas you can take some of the IL 114. Its a most in uzbekistan

  31. WOW – good luck on your flights and hope everything will be okay with the visas. I have heard good things about these central Asian nations. Happy travels

  32. The flight will probably be fine. Maybe your plane will disembark directly into the airport instead of having to take a bus to the airport. You will be taken to a special waiting room where your luggage will arrive separately from the rest of the passengers. Immigration and Customs will also be done separately. You will miss the scrum-like experience. You will need to complete two copies of the customs form. You will be given one back. Do not lose it! You will need it to get out of the country.

    Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva are all definite places you should look into. Nukus is worth it for the Savitsky Art Museum (not propaganda art as someone else mentioned). Watch “Desert of the Forbidden Art” to get the background story (watch it even if you don’t get there).

  33. Well, if you want to fly back to the US in comfort, from Tashkent you can make a one-stop trip via ICN. Both Korean Air and Asiana fly there. I took Asiana a couple of years back using 115,000 aeroplan miles in bus (TAS-ICN) / first (ICN-JFK) class and the incremental mileage cost over ICN-JFK was very low (e.g. 20,000 for TAS-ICN which is a 7+ hour flight). I believe LifeMiles was an even better deal.

    I’d also recommend hiring a local guide to take you around Samarkand and Bukhara, which will make it a lot easier to get around and enjoy what you are seeing. Also remember to NOT change money at the official money exchange desk or ATM, as the official exchange rate set by the government is artificially low. We exchanged $$ with our tour company at at least twice the official rate. They even offered to change the leftover back to USD at the end of our trip – we underestimated how cheap everything was.

  34. How did you book the Uzbekistan Airways flight? Uzbekistan Airways does not show up through OTA’s, and their website keeps glitching.

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