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Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan and is the largest city in the country. It is located close to the border with Iran and has about 750,000 inhabitants, mainly of Turkmen origin. It is a relatively young city but with a turbulent history, including two earthquakes in the past century, both of which killed tens of thousands of people. Nowadays, most travellers who arrive by plane will stay a few nights in this remarkable city.
Ashgabat is home to several museums and mosques and the famous golden statue of former President Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashi, leader of all Turkmens). The statue rotates in order to always face the sun and is said to be made of pure gold.
Ashgabat is a well planned city with wide boulevards, green parks and good hotels for people to stay. Most of the buildings in the centre are made of imported Italian marble and the central area is a veritable marble mile of gleaming white buildings complete with gold trimmings for extra bling. It is an extremely clean and safe city and many of the people that you will see on the streets in the central marble square mile are either street cleaners or police. Make sure you ask the police before you take any photos of public buildings, as it's forbidden to photograph the President's Palace. From Ashgabat, the cultural features of the country as well as the deserts are worth a visit.
The central marble mile is clean, green and is where most tourists would spend the bulk of their time. Venture past the marble buildings and you will quickly see a different side to Ashgabat where the people who aren't winners under the current regime live.
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The Monument to Neutrality is the famous statue that features former President Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashi, leader of all Turkmens) in solid gold that rotates to face the sun. The statue was removed from the city centre as the government tries to distance itself from its isolationist early history.
A homage to the national product and a fascinating insight into how Turkmen rugs are made and what the different patterns signify. The largest hand-woven rug in the world is an impressive sight in pride of place in the entrance hall. Foreigners pay a significantly higher entrance fee than locals and at around $30 you do wonder where the money is actually going.
Ashgabat has a continental climate with dry conditions year round. Summers are hot, winters are cold. Summer temperatures average around 35 °C during the day, around 20 °C at night. But temperatures around 45 °C are not unheard of. Winters are on average 0 °C, but occasionally temperatures can drop below -20 °C at night. The best time for to visit is in spring or autumn, when warm, sunny and dry conditions are the norm.
Ashgabat Airport (IATA: ASB, ICAO: UTAA), also known as Saparmurat Turkmenbashy International Airport (after the former president) is the main airport in the country. It has both international and domestic flights. The airport features a 3,800 metres (12,467 ft) runway that can handle several kinds of aircraft.
The national airline of Turkmenistan is Turkmenistan Airlines, with flights from Ashgabat to and from Beijing, Bangkok, Delhi, Tehran, Abu Dhabi and European destinations like Moscow, London and Frankfurt. Both Turkmenistan Airlines as Turkish Airlines have flights to and from Istanbul. From Europe, this is one of the best and cheapest connections.
Turkmenistan Airlines has regular scheduled flights between Ashgabat, Chardzhou, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenbashi and Turkmenabat, and to Kerki and Balkanabat a few times a week as well. Domestic flights are dirt cheap, just a few dollars one-way.
The Trans-Caspian Railway runs from Turkmenbashi at the Caspian Sea, through Ashgabat and Mary to Chardzhou in the east before continuing north to Uzbekistan. It takes about 16 hours to complete the journey between Turkmenistan and Ashgabat, which is many hours more than by bus or car.
There are modern and comfortable long distance buses to Dashgouz, Mary, Turkmenbashi and Turkmenabat from Ashgabat. All other towns are serviced by less comfortable older buses and minibuses or taxis.
If you want to go somewhere then do what the locals do and stick your thumb out, before too long someone will stop for you and for a few dollars take you where you want to go. The cheap petrol prices in the country make this a pretty economical way of getting around.
Modern buses ply the boulevards in Ashgabat along three different routes.
The Russian Market, located in the central shopping area, is the best place to stock up on supplies or put together a picnic lunch. Bursting to the seams with fresh fruit, vegetables, cold meats, cheeses, salads and caviar there's sure to be something here for your needs. There are also some inexpensive street food type stalls around the edge serving up hot food, if your Russian or Turkmen is up to the task.
Across the road from the US embassy lies the Ashgabat Hotel, a drab concrete structure which hasn't seen much maintenance since it was built in the Soviet period. It's probably the best budget place in Ashgabat but definitely doesn't offer great value for money.
The President Hotel near the National Museum lies outside the main central area but has great views back across the marble mile and offers you all the amenities you'd expect from a top hotel.
There are a couple of internet shops in town which are open office hours only, you need to have your passport with you to leave with the attendant.
See also International Telephone Calls
There is no mobile phone coverage across large parts of the country outside of the main centres.
Turkmen Post is a reliable carrier for any purchases such as rugs that you wish to send home. There are no international courier firms in Turkmenistan.
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