Apologies for the blast from the past (unrelated to my current whereabouts!), but I realized I had written this up long ago and never posted it. South Kazakhstan Oblast (SKO) has something for every traveler — mountains and rivers, untouched nomadic valleys, beautiful mosques and mausoleums, bustling bazaars and many ubiquitous remnants of the Soviet Union. People keep asking me where they should go when traveling to southern Kazakhstan, so I figured I should make the info public. My Peace Corps site was Shymkent, the capital of SKO, and it has developed a lot in recent years. Here is my list of sites to see and things to do, along with a few pictures. Keep in mind that I left in 2011, so some things may be outdated (if you know of corrections, please post a comment!).
Abai Park: memorials, tanks, ferris wheel, statue of Abai. Attached to the park is the aquapark “Delfin” if you want some water park fun in the summer
[newly refurbished WWII memorials at Abai Park]
Park Ken-Baba – some miniatures of famous architecture, as well as a little pond and walking area with rides/swings. On main road Tauke Xana, and Kazybek-Bi
Dendropark – As its name suggests, a tree-filled park out in the further microdistricts by the Hippodrome.
[Scenes from Dendropark]
Mega – most popular youth hangout place in town, a mall with indoor skating rink, movie theater, Western-style chain grocery store and an upstairs food court. On Tauke-Xana
Spartak – awesome outdoor swimming pool, soccer field and basketball court. Across from Mega on Tauke-Xana
The big Tulip Fountain – on the corner of main street Tauke Xana and Mamashuli.
New Memorial – very impressive, at Ordabasy Square, the site of the founding of Shymkent. There is a massive monument recently built that you can get to by climbing up on a bridge past some nice fountains (equally if not more impressive at night). Also see the Philharmonia (though I have never seen a concert here even once), a nice park area, and the new yurt-like museum they built recently, all in that area. Inexpensive shared taxis to Sairam also leave from this square.
Hippodrome — if anything is going on (which is rare: usually public holidays like Nauryz), the Hippodrome is well worth a visit for horse games such as Kokpar. Hard to find out when things are happening, however.
[Holiday scenes from Nauryz celebrations (in Late March) at the Hippodrome in Shymkent]
New hockey/ice skating rink – on Zheltoksan I believe (?)
Old cinema next door to the skating rink
Markets – Aina Bazaar, good for buying food and random stuff (some clothes, Chinese electronics, burned CDs with Kazakh music, etc.). In a microregion a bit outside of town, but public transport regularly goes there. Koktem bazaar is good for fresh produce and fruit.
Miras University and Lenin Statue – the last remaining statue of Lenin in Shymkent
Rented apartments, bargain for your room. Don’t pay more than 2000 tenge for a normal room or 4000 tenge for “elite” (newly remodeled room) in a rented apartment. No meals included, so-so conditions for the most part, but it’s cheap. The apartments we always used were right on the main road (Tauke Xana/Respublika), past Hotel Shymkent close to the bus stop Ogonyok. The apartment rental is done out of a rainbow-colored cafe right on the street (can’t remember what this cafe was called!).
Overpriced hotel options include Hotel Shymkent, and Clara Sapar (better option for business/diplomat guests). Rooms are over $100 night though.
[The ever-present naan bread, giant “kazan”s of plov (pilau, or rice with carrots and meat), delicious Uyghur “lagman” (fried noodles), and fresh seasonal fruits]
Kok-serai – Uzbek restaurant on Ilyaeva and Momyshuli
Caravan – excellent Uyghur lagman (get the Busso lagman, fried with meat and peppers), inside of park Ken-Baba.
Madlen – western-style sandwiches, pastries, salads and shakes. on Ilyaeva, or the bigger Madlen next to Shymkent Hotel on Tauke-Xana. Very popular Shymkent hangout with locals
Mozzarella – expensive Italian food with free wifi, on Ilyaeva and Dulati
El Doro – excellent and reasonably-priced pizza, on Tauke Xana past/across the street from Park Ken-baba. Try the vegetarian with goat cheese
Dinara cafe/bar – pick up a good shashlik (grilled meat kebab) and mug of Shymkentskoe beer, a “typical Shymkent” meal. Right across the street from Mega Center mall on Tauke Xana
Best “doner” place in town – a turkish “doner kebab” is a lavash flat pita bread filled with meat, carrots, tomatos, cucumbers, mayo and a ketchupy sauce. The best doner kebab in Shymkent is a stand with a few outdoor tables/chairs located south of the center on Turkestanskaya and Konaeva.
“Cinema Bar” is a European-esque techno club with no cover charge, attached to the old cinema on Zheltoksan and Baitursynova. Has a cool ambience inside, old-movie decor. May be closed now, not sure.
Hotel Shymkent has a fancy club called Joy attached to it, with cover charge
Karaoke bars down past Hotel Shymkent on Respublika (extension of main street Tauke Xana), bus stop “Ogonyok”
Bowling and pool tables at Tauke Xana and Kunaeva, upstairs at the “Maharaja” entertainment complex right next to the Spartak sports complex in the middle of town
Hookah bar (forgot the name) that recently opened in the 17th microregion, expensive but nice ambience and stage with DJ/live music on certain nights/events
Movies playing (mostly Western movies dubbed in Russian) on the top floor of Mega Center.
“Babylon” arcade complex also on the top floor of Mega Center, complete with games and laser tag
Buy train tickets:
Imran – small commission but smack in the middle of town; bring passport
Train station – they will sometimes try to cheat you out of change, so try to bring smaller bills. Technically should be no commission but the ticket ladies selling upstairs often take bribes.
Turkestan: most famous Muslim site in Kazakhstan, with a beautiful mausoleum and brand new historical museum. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the south for a few days.
Sairam mausoleums (stop to see the “SHYMKENT” Hollywood sign on your way)
Sauran ancient city ruins – you can book a private taxi from Shymkent, or take a taxi from Turkestan if you’re already there.
Mountains/Countryside: A trip to the villages outside of Shymkent is always worthwhile, to see what rural life is like in most of the country. In addition, South Kazakhstan Oblast has some of the best options of seasonal hiking and mountain-climbing, since the weather is often warmer than in the southeastern mountains by Almaty. For good options, try Bergulyuk (Бургулюк), or Ak’ Mechet’ (Ақ Мечеть, or “the White Mosque”).
[Both amateur and professional climbers/hikers can find beautiful treks in Southern Kazakhstan]