Here’s why you should visit Almaty, Kazakhstan

A 26-hour bus ride from Urumqi, China, saw us arrive in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the home of Borat and the first of the ex-soviet ‘Stans’ of the trip. The bus ride was not as bad as we expected, although we did spend 6 hours sitting stopped on the China side of the border, then another 3 hours exiting China, in no-mans land, and entering Kazakhstan.

A bumpy ride!

The bus driver must have been having withdrawals from the vodka shots on the China side because it seemed as soon as we got into Kazakhstan he was on a mad mission to get to Almaty (and a $3 bottle of vodka) making for a few bumpy moments in the back seat.

Here's why you should visit Almaty, Kazakhstan

We arrived in Almaty in darkness at around 8 pm, with no idea where we were. This was a pretty exciting situation – it’s dark, you’re not sure whether to use Russian or Kazakh (not that we’ve got much of a grasp on either), you’re using a new currency for the first time, and you’re trying to negotiate with a bunch of ‘black’ taxis to take you and your skis to a hotel.

We’ve got several good negotiators on the team, and it’s great watching them work! In the end, we made it, and it seems that as soon as anyone sees our skis, they realize we aren’t a threat and are always really friendly.

Surprisingly western!

Almaty is the recently relegated capital of Kazakhstan but is still quietly the bubbly, happening city of the country. It is incredible how western it feels compared to China, we are eating with a knife and fork again, and the food is remarkably similar to what we might get at home.

It is compulsory for the Kazakh students to learn English during school, so we are fortunate in that there are a lot more English speaking people than there were in Western China. We have managed to hook up three central city apartments, so we are enjoying having a bit of space to hang out and even cook our meals.

The boys are relishing in the sight of some perfect looking Russian girls. Many nights are spent learning the pick-up lines out of the Lonely Planet phrasebook, and some have saved them to their phones for the special moment.

Resort skiing

Almaty is probably the place to be in terms of resort skiing in Central Asia. On the outskirts of the city is the most developed ski resort in all of Central Asia, Shymbulak, which held the 2011 Asian Winter games and recently bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

We have also had some pretty epic skiing at Ak Bulak ski resort. We had fresh lines between the trees, even though the snow is 2-3 weeks old. It seems that although the Kazakhs are a lot more extreme in their skiing than what we saw in China, not many ventures much off-piste, which makes for more pow turns for us.

Nick and Pete went on a two-day excursion to Satay and lived with a family in a homestay environment; they were beaming on return. Charlie suffered massive boot failure, so he has spent the last few days exploring the ski shops of Almaty and has a brand new pair of boots to wear in.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew gave up on the resorts and went for the skin off the back of Ak Bulak, through apple orchards, forests and earned a few turns in some nice powder in between relaxing and exploring Almaty.

A great end to our stay, and a big highlight was playing ice hockey with a bunch of kids at the local ice rink and drinking vodka with their parents on our last night – this is what traveling should be all about! Read our recent article on La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia.