A landlocked country in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is an up-and-coming tourist destination thanks to its relaxing of visa rules for visitors. Visiting Uzbekistan’s monuments – like the Registan in Samarkand or Khiva’s UNESCO-inscribed old city – do not require elaborate planning or budgets. And beyond architecture, backpacking Uzbekistan is a chance to connect with friendly people, and sample Central Asian food.
Like I’ve been doing for the past few years, this post is my budget breakdown for 14 days in Uzbekistan.
(TLDR version: A full budget breakdown in Excel can be found here. And an itinerary piece I did for Singapore travel outfit Ready to Travel here)
NOTE: Unfortunately, as of April 2019, Uzbekistan Airways has terminated its Tashkent-Singapore-Kuala Lumpur service. The fastest way to get to Tashkent now is to take a flight to KL & a separate Uzbekistan Airways flight.
- I flew to Tashkent on Uzbekistan Airways, via Kuala Lumpur, for S$867.50.
- All my train trips were booked online before departure
- Total Trip Costs: S$1,839.75
- Average cost per day in Uzbekistan: 324,070 Som (S$54.01)
- Average cost of food per person per day: 37,664 Som (S$6.20)
- Average cost of accommodation per person per day: 106,268 Som (S$17.64)
- Average cost of transport in-country per person per day: 90,258 Som (S$14.98)
Tashkent (Nov 30, Dec 11-12)
The largest city in Central Asia and entry point into Uzbekistan, Tashkent is huge. Befitting a administrative capital, the city is filled with large squares, Soviet brutalist-style architecture, and restored Madrasahs. Most travelers find Tashkent too modern and boring. But I loved the bustle of a living city that wasn’t a tourist village.
Two of the main attractions in Tashkent are cornerstones of everyday life. There’s Chorsu Bazaar, the massive open-air market in a conservative district just north of the city centre. Anything you can’t get in Samarkand or Bukhara, you can get at Chorsu. And then there’s the Tashkent Metro. Unchanged since the 1970s and the only underground metro in Central Asia, every station is a work of art, designed by the best Soviet artists of the time.
- 1 night in a three-person room at Mizo B&B: S$22
- 1-way trip of the Tashkent Metro: 1,200 Som
- 1 serving of Plov with tea at the Central Asian Plov Centre: 24,000 Som
- Single fare on Afrosiyob High-Speed Train (Tashkent-Bukhara): S$22.77
Bukhara (Dec 1-4)
Bukhara the Holy, Bukhara the noble. Known as the city of saints and shrines, Bukhara is quiet town focused around the Poi-Kaylan Square and the nearby Ark Fortress. Largely undeveloped, most of the old town consists of winding alleys. Key sites such as the Necropolis of Chor-Bakr and the Shrine Complex of Naqshbandi, are within a 10km radius of the town.
Of all the places I visited, Bukhara has probably the most laid-back vibe and the friendliest locals. Aggressive development around the Poi-Kaylan Square are may soon change that.
- 1 night in twin room at Hotel Old Bukhara: S$25
- Taxi from Bukhara Train Station to Lyubi-Hauz Complex: 40,000 Som
- Entrance fee to the Ark Fortress: 25,000 Som
- Entrance fee to Chor-Bakr: 5,000 Som
- Single fare on the Afrosiyob High-Speed Train (Bukhara-Samarkand): S$13.65
Samarkand (Dec 4-7)
Samarkand makes Bukhara look like a provincial village. The self-proclaimed royal city, Samarkand was the capital of Timur, who conquered much of Central Asia in the 1300s in his bid to become the successor to Genghis Khan’s empire. Many of the key sites in the city can be found in a 5-km stretch surrounding the iconic Registan, with madrasahs on three sides, decked out in the finest tilework seen outside of Iran.
There’s a different vibe in Samarkand. Mainly because of its status as a royal city, it’s a place prone to grandiosity. You’ll see it when you stare at the huge arch of the Bibi Khanum Mosque, the tigers on at the Registan’s façade and the decorated tombs at the Shah-I-Zinda shrine complex.
- 1 night in a twin room at B&B Bahodir: S$19
- Taxi from Samarkand Train Station to the Registan: 40,000 Som
- Entrance fee to the Shah-I-Zinda shrine complex: 12,000 Som
- Entrance fee to the Registan during the day: 32,000 Som
- Single fare on the overnight sleeper train (Samarkand-Urgench): S$42.17
Khiva (Dec 8-11)
Far out in the desert, away from the fertile centre of the country, lies the oasis town of Khiva. Unlike Bukhara or Samarkand, it was never conquered by the Russians and thus lies in pristine condition since the early 20th century. The town is a mud-bricked living museum, with the occasional dome and minaret providing a sprinkling of colour amidst the brown.
Khiva’s situation lends itself to being called a tourist village. But longtime residents do live in the old town. Besides its quirky architecture – over 30 madrasahs and a stubby uncompleted minaret called Kalta Minor – Khiva is also a great place to look for local handicrafts and foods, fundamentally different from those you’ll find in Bukhara or Samarkand.
- 1 night in a twin room at Islambek Hotel: S$23
- Taxi from Urgench train station to Khiva: 60,000 Som
- 1 three-day pass to mostly all sites in Khiva’s Ichan-Qala: 100,000 Som
- Entrance ticket to climb the Islam Khoja Minaret: 10,000 Som
- One-way Uzbekistan Airways ticket from Urgench to Tashkent: S$72.55
Travel Tips for Uzbekistan
The size of the country means that backpacking Uzbekistan efficiently is best done either using the country’s excellent train network or by air. Since Uzbekistan Airways has a monopoly on domestic flights, travel by train is really the only economic option between cities.
If you have a visa credit/debit card and have a rough idea of itinerary, book your tickets on the Uzbekistan Railways site. It saves having to scramble at the train station. With the exception of tickets on overnight trains, your e-tickets should be issued as PDFs. Always print out tickets to avoid delay.
Cities like Bukhara and Khiva are walkable. Sites outside the city limits can be visited on a tour booked through your accommodation.
For larger cities like Samarkand and Tashkent, taxis are the norm. Pay no more than 5,000 Som per person for a ride from any two points within the city.
Tashkent has the benefit of having an extremely cheap metro system. While this goes almost everywhere, the airport is unfortunately not served by the metro. There are buses that go from both the domestic and international airport terminals to Chorsu (#11), and will cost the same as a ticket on the metro (1,200 Som). A full directory of bus services in Tashkent can be found here.
The Uzbek Som is unfortunately not available for exchange in Singapore. Change your dollars into USD and look out for official money changers. All charge the official rate of 8,200 Som per USD.
The infamous black market money changers do exist. Think men standing around in bazaars with plastic bags of US dollars and Som. But there’s no benefit to changing with them as the official rate is already very competitive.
Keep all your receipts from official changers if you want to change your money back into USD before you depart. Doing so requires signing multiple forms and waiting almost half-an-hour at the bank.
Uzbekistan is still opening up to tourists, so options for budget-conscious backpackers are still scarce. Hostels with dormitories are rare, even in Tashkent.
What makes up for this are guesthouses. In Bukhara and Samarkand, local guesthouses provide great hospitality, good service and a nice bed for a affordable price. In Khiva, because of regulations inside the Itchan Qala, hotel prices are almost similar. The only other alternative to guesthouses would be conventional hotels that seem to host large tour groups.
Food & Drink
Uzbek food in general is high carbohydrate and heavy on red meats. Staples like plov (Uzbek-style biriyani), manti (meat dumplings), shurupa (meat and vegetable soup), laghman (thick wheat noodles with beef) and shashlik (kebab-like skewers) can be found in any city, at affordable prices. A great snack to eat on the go are the local samsa (like samosas).
The exception to this is Khiva. Being in the remote Khorezm Region, the town has specialties found nowhere else in the country, including Shivit Oshi (Dill noodles with meat and sour cream) and Tuhum-Barak (dumplings with egg-white filling).
I hope you enjoyed this detailed itinerary and cost breakdown. Ask me anything in the comments if you have any questions!