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Northern Asia Topics specific to Russia, Central Asia (also known as "the 'stans"), Mongolia, Japan and Korea
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Old 22 Apr 2010
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I'm on the early stages of planning a trip to Central Asia.
Don't know yet how to deal with the Turkmenistan part of it.
As far as I understand there are two possibilities:
1 Get a 3 to 7 days transit visa and you are on your own as far as guides / " tourist escort" is concern, but you can only travel on main routes (with the exact entry and exit points).
2 Get a tourist visa, up to 3 weeks, and you have to have a guide with you all the time, but you can choose your own route (doing some off-road desert tracks, for instance), if you specified in your application.

In option 1, one could enter in Kone Urgench, go all the way to Asgabat and then to Turkenbashi, all on major roads.
But if I aim for offbeat Turkmenistan, an off road route like Kone Urgench > Sarykamish lake > Gaplankyr reservee > Ghagyl before heading out of the country, via Garabogaz (Bekdash) what are my options?
Do I have to get a tourist visa and to travel with an official guide to do it? Or can I do it by myself as long as the visa doesn't expires?
Is the Turk / Kaz border Garabogaz (Bekdash) open to tourists?
What about the Dekhistan region, how can I explore this part of the country? In the Lonely Planet all but the major cities are mentioned to be sensitive areas, one can assume forbidden ones?
Does anybody had experiences with guides in off road conditions? And, how much that would cost?

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Old 22 Apr 2010
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I have only crossed Turkmenistan on transit visas, due to the cost and restrictions on freedom of having a tourist visa. I crossed Konye Urgench - Darvaza - Asghabat - Howdan in 2007 and Imamnazar - Atamurat - Turkmenabat - Mary - Serhetabat in 2009. Amazing country.

What you say about the visas is absolutely correct... except it's very unusual, probably impossble to get a 7 day transit visa. 5 is normally the max.

It may be possible to arrange your off-road trip, but you would have to be accompanied by a guide all the time. They would have to apply for all sorts of paperwork, it would be very time consuming, and no doubt very expensive. Would it be much fun to be followed by a 4x4 all the time?

The TM / KZ border is open.

You could try doing it with a transit visa, but it's risky. If you're caught off your route at the very least you'll be escorted back onto the main road, at worst fined, jailed etc. Plus it's pretty bleak, uninhabited country. Avoiding checkpoints would need some very good intel, a lot of luck, and some serious, probably impossible off-road riding. The area is boggy desert as far as I know.

Check on the TT for Turkmen travel agents and ask them about your itinerary. Stantours is a very professional outfit. But I think you're route will be very difficult and prohibitively expensive in the end.

Transiting Turkmenistan by road is not perhaps very adventurous, but it's really fascinating. The wierdest place I've been to, for sure.

Best of luck

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Old 23 Apr 2010
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We had the same dilemma making the arrangements for our 2010 tour. Go around Turkmenistan, transit visa or a guide. In the end we decided to go with Stantours. There are 3 of us, spreading the cost. Going around would have cost us more or less the same and we did want to run the risk of getting stuck in Baku for a week. The remainder of our trip was too important to us and we are already short in time as is. So, we paid the price. For the 3 of us it came down to about $500 a piece for 5 days, incl hotels. Not cheap!! There may be a 4th individual just joining us for the transit, lowering the cost a bit more. I am glad to see some of Turkmenistan and we will deal with the guide issue. For 5 days we can do that. Stantours send us our LOI and the guide will wait for us at the boat landing to help us deal with the paperwork. We run a cost risk if the boat lands (days??) late with the guide waiting for us.

This is very much an individual choice and will depend on the rest of your travel plans / time available / group size / money. This is what worked for our situation, YMMV

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Old 30 Apr 2010
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I might repeat what has been said. You only get a five days transit visa.
The country is pretty empty, and going off road by yourself might be risky (in terms of health).
If you encounter inhabitants, one of them will surely be wearing a uniform. Then, it becomes risky, for other reasons.
I went from Sarak border (from Iran) to ashkabat, turkmenbashi, bekdash, and into Kazakhstan. The distance is about 1100 km - if my memory is correct. Entering the country, you have to pay a tax, that compensates the price of fuel in the country compare to "occidental coutries". This tax is proportionnal to the distance you drive in turkmenistan.
Between bekdash and the kazakhstan border, you get 100km of bad road, 50km of "track in the steppe"'. Once you've crossed the border, you get a 50km extra of this track...
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