Did you know?
- Turkmenistan possesses the 4th largest natural gas reserves in the world
- The national emblem of Turkmenistan is the Akhal-Teke horse, which originated here
- Approximately 80% of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert, or Black Sand Desert
- This is the only country in the world that is officially recognized by the UN as a neutral country, which is why there is an olive branch on their flag
- The Darvaza Gas Craters, or Gates of Hell, is a 60m wide crater over a deposit of natural oil and gas that has been burning since 1971 when Soviet engineers set it alight to burn off excess gas
- Bread is sacred here, and should never be laid upside down or cut with a knife
- There are around 400 different varieties of melon grown in Turkmenistan, and the second Sunday in August is National Melon Day
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Turkmenistan need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
The Australian Embassy in Russia is responsible for Turkmenistan:
10A/ 2 Podkolokolny Pereulok
Ph. + 7 495 956 6070
Fax. +7 495 956 6170
The official currency of Turkmenistan is the Turkmenistani Manat. Notes come in denominations of m500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1.
The recommended currency to take to Turkmenistan is the US Dollar, as their local currencies are not available outside of the region. Ensure you request smaller clean notes as many places will not exchange large denominations or notes that are torn and dirty. Once there, you can exchange your US Dollar for the Manat. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have US Dollars with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Ashgabat is approximately USD5
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately USD24
- The price of dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately USD28
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately USD4
A blend of its nomadic past and ethnic Turkmen majority, Turkmenistani cuisine is piled high with meat, rice, sour milk products, cereals, vegetables, cheeses and butter made from camel’s milk. There is still a Russian influence on the food here, including borcht (cabbage soup), cutlet (grilled meatballs), strogan (beef stroganoff) and pirmeni (boiled dumplings filled with meat or potato/vegetables, sometimes called pierogi).
Traditional dishes include dograma, boiled mutton shredded with flatbread pieces, onion and covered with hot broth, and normally prepared for special religious holidays; plov, rice with mutton and turnips; shashlyk, mutton skewers grilled over charcoal that are similar to kebabs; lipioshka, rounds of unleavened bread; manti, large open noodle dumplings filled with meat and topped with yoghurt; shorpa/shurpa, a meat and vegetable soup; dogroma chorba, boiled mutton or lamb including the kidneys, heart and lungs, tomatoes, salt and pepper; gutap, stuffed flatbreads full of meat, potatoes, spinach or pumpkin and cooked on the stove; and ka’urma or kovurma, mutton deep-fried in its own fat.
Flat bread, or chorek/çörek, is cooked in the tamdyr clay oven, the centre of the Turkmen’s home. According to tradition, chorek must be broken apart with both hands and never cut with a knife, stepped on, turned face down or thrown away. Etli chorek (literally meat bread) is bread baked with meat inside, and yagly chorek, or oily bread, is a layered flaky flat bread made with lots of butter.
Sweets here are similar to those of other Central Asian nations, and include: bekmes, a natural syrup or concentrated fruit juice often called fruit honey; nabat, sucrose crystals grown on threads, apparently, nabat has healing properties; halva, a traditional oriental desert made with sugar, nuts, oil and wheat flour, the most common halva is made with ground sesame seeds; pakhlava, or baklava; and diamond-shaped cookies called pishme.
Drinks include chai, green tea; churban churpa, mutton fat dissolved in green tea; chal, fermented camel milk; and gatyk or kefir, a thick drinking yoghurt often served at breakfast.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
As the country is mostly desert, this is the hottest country in Central Asia, and there is very little rain – averaging just 80mm per year! Summer runs from May to September and the daytime temperatures reach 40-45°C. Spring and Autumn (March-April and October-November) are very pleasant from 15-21°C on average. This is usually the most popular time to travel as the weather is comfortable. Winters are mild, averaging 8-9°C daily.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
In Ashgabat, as taxis are mostly ‘unofficial’ and don’t have meters, negotiate a price before you get in. Ask the hotel to arrange a taxi for you, or check with them to find out what is a reasonable price for your trip, so you don’t get ripped off! Also, most drivers do not speak English, so some Turkmen or Russian will be handy. While travelling by train is a nice way to see the countryside, they are quite slow and outdated, so you’re best to utilise the more modern buses between the major cities, which will actually take less time than the train.
When catching taxis, have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. Also, ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Turkmenistan…
The incredible skills of the people of Turkmenistan, provide an abundance of quality crafts and gift ideas for any visitor. Home of silk homespun fabric called ‘Keteni’, Turkmenistan is the perfect location to pick up a number of beautiful handmade silks including scarfs, dresses or shirts. You will also find incredible hand-woven carpets for sale, typically depicting geometrical and floral designs as well as stylized images of animals. Large, heavy jewellery is often worn by Turkmen woman and would make a lovely gift idea for your family and friends back at home. Bilezik, or bracelets are a common piece and are believed to protect its owner and also offer a source of empowerment and strength for the Turkmen woman. The markets are a great place to find the traditional Telpek hats worn by Turkmen men. These big, fur hats are in fact not just for the winter months, but also worn in summer given they are light and help protect the wearer from the sun. A great way to support the local community is to try to buy your souvenirs in smaller shops rather than larger ones.
Important: At the control checkpoint when leaving Turkmenistan, a customs officer may ask you to show any hand-made crafts and souvenirs that you have purchased to make sure you do not deal with illegal export of goods that are of cultural value or antiquaries. Export of precious stones, musical instruments, art and archeological exhibits, antiquaries, etc. is possible only with documents proving legality of the purchase. In order to export carpets from Turkmenistan, it is necessary to have a certificate from the Museum of Carpets in Ashgabat, that the carpet does not hold any historical value. Besides, it requires a tax payment depending on the size of the carpet.
- Do not discuss politics with locals, it is a very sensitive issue and speaking against the government is considered a crime
- There is an 11pm curfew in place for residents and visitors alike, going out after this time is likely to get you arrested
- Smoking in public places (i.e. ‘outside’) is forbidden, however smoking is possible in some restaurants, cafés and nightclubs – if no one else is smoking, you shouldn’t either. Tobacco sales have also been banned throughout the country.
- It is normal to remove shoes, but not socks, when entering someone’s home
- Shorts are rarely worn here, and a woman wearing shorts in public is likely to provoke unwelcome attention from local men
- Turkmenistan is a very conservative country, especially with regard to LGBTQ issues, and male homosexuality is illegal and punishable with imprisonment for up to 2 years
- Always travel with others, especially after dark. Travelling in groups of three of four is strongly advised. Keep to well-lit, public places such as shopping malls and restaurants. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, as street crimes are commonplace.
- Keep identification on you at all times – a colour photocopy of your passport page and visa should be sufficient.
- Don't take photos indiscriminately. Many people object to having their pictures taken, so ask permission first. Military installations, people in uniform, government buildings, airports and bridges should never be photographed.
- Don’t carry around nonessentials and valuables. Use your hotel safe and don't flash expensive jewellery, watches and cameras.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
The Spring Festival, known as Nowruz/Navruz meaning ‘the new day’, is one of the biggest and most vibrant celebration in Turkmenistan and many of its neighbouring countries. This 2 day festival commemorates the ancient New Year of the region, and is full of colourful costumes, games, outdoor concerts of singing and dancing in celebration of their culture and traditions. It is even part of UNESCO’s Heritage list given its contribution to cultural diversity, for bringing communities and generations together.
Although no longer a national holiday, Melon Day is still observed throughout Turkmenistan to celebrate this delicious ingredient. Praised as being the taste of paradise, all varieties of melons are celebrated as a symbol of the high quality soil and honouring the farmers that work the land. Festivities include large melon exhibits and carved melon creations, with prizes for the best.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- New Year’s Day
- Memorial Day (January 12th)
- Defender of the Fatherland Day (January 27th)
- International Women’s Day (March 8th)
- Nowruz, National Spring Day (March 21st-22nd)
- ‘A drop of water is a grain of gold’ National Holiday (1st Sunday in April)
- Akhal Teke Horse Day (Last Sunday in April)
- Constitution/Flag Day (May 18th)
- Turkmen Carpet Day (Last Sunday in May)
- Oraza Bayram (end of Ramadan)
- Kurban Bayramy
- Independence Day (September 27th)
- Remembrance of the Victims of the 1948 Earthquake Day (October 6th)
- Neutrality Day (12th December)
The capital of Turkmenistan, the name Ashgabat (or Ashkhabad) means ‘city of love’, and it is covered in some five million square metres of dazzling white marble, splashed with gold. It has multiple entries in the Guinness Book of Records, including the most buildings finished with white marble (and therefore the world’s largest importer of Italian marble), the largest fountain complex, and the largest indoor Ferris Wheel! Ashgabat is the largest city in the country and is located at the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountain Ridge in the south of the country.