Central Asia has a more colloquial name: the Stans. This vast region, stretching from the Caspian Sea to China, consists of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with Afghanistan and Iran below and mighty Russia looming to the north. The suffix ’stan is Persian and Urdu for ‘land of’. So, if you’re in Kyrgyzstan, you’re in the land of the Kyrgz. Simple. What isn’t simple is generalising about what you’ll find on a trip to two or more Stans. Turkmenistan is dominated by desert, but Tajikistan is all about mountains. Uzbekistan brims with Silk Road cities, but Kyrgyzstan is the place for hiking and horse riding.
Traveling to a handful of Stans brings dazzling variety, but while the sights vary, the welcome never falters.
Tourism is in its infancy, so there’s a real sense of discovery to traveling here, and the few visitors that pass through are treated with instinctive hospitality by local people who, beyond the odd glitzy Soviet capital, live simply, in ways little changed in centuries.
The Stans are/aren't

The Stans are…

five very different countries, with diverse landscapes and long history.

The Stans aren’t…

all about the Silk Road.




The hotels in the Stans – where available – are …

Active exploration

Trekking around gorgeous Iskander-Kul lake in Tajikistan, horse riding …


Despite painting Kazakhstan in a poor light, the film …

Soviet history

The Stans’ recent history, under Russia and the USSR, gets …

Local hospitality

The people of the Stans are famous for their warmth. …

Silk Road cities

Uzbekistan’s famous Silk Road cities never fail to impress: …

Song Kul lake, Kyrgyzstan

Almost 18km across and 29km wide, fronted by lush summer …

The Pamir Highway

One of the world’s loftiest routes, running through the ‘roof …

Entry requirements

It’s much easier than it used to be to get …


Food in the Stans is at best a glorious mélange …

Human rights

The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is …

Independent travel

Rubbish roads, long distances, police checks and a lack of …


Plov is eaten all over Central Asia, and a national obsession in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. At its simplest it’s rice with onion, carrots and some form or meat, cooked slowly in layers.

Soup is ubiquitous in the Stans, ranging from tasty noodle soup called laghman to less appetising fatty, meaty broths.

Vodka, a hangover from the Soviet era in every sense, is still popular across the region, and there are plenty of cheap but tasty local varieties to sample as you travel from Stan to Stan.
Rahmat in Uzbek = Thank you
Languages belonging to the Turkic group are spoken across the Stans – Turkmen in Turkmenistan, Uzbek in Uzbekistan – with sometimes several spoken in a single country. Russian, though, is the de facto language, spoken throughout the region and especially in cities, a linguistic legacy of the time the Stans were the Soviet Central Asian Republics. Very few people speak English.

Learn how to say ‘thank you’ around the region:

Rahmat in Uzbek

Sag bolu? in Turkmen

Raqmet sizge in Kazakh
Kazakhs like to joke that they are second in the world in terms of meat consumption after, no, not Argentina, but wolves.

Our top trip

The Silk Road small group tour

The Silk Road small group tour

Discover the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China

From US $4200 to US $5100 14 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2024: 9 Apr, 23 Apr, 30 Apr, 14 May, 21 May, 28 May, 11 Jun, 19 Jun, 26 Jun, 17 Jul, 7 Aug, 21 Aug, 28 Aug, 4 Sep, 18 Sep, 25 Sep, 2 Oct, 9 Oct, 16 Oct
2025: 9 Apr, 23 Apr, 14 May, 21 May, 4 Jun, 11 Jun, 18 Jun, 25 Jun, 16 Jul, 6 Aug, 13 Aug, 20 Aug, 27 Aug, 3 Sep, 10 Sep, 17 Sep, 24 Sep, 8 Oct, 15 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about The Stans or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Gorgeous rugs and carpets are a speciality of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, with the Tolkuchka bazaar in Turkmenistan and Bukhara’s four covered bazaars great places to shop. In Kyrgyzstan, look out for shirdaks, traditional felt rugs used by nomads to cover their yurt floors.

Ceramics are ubiquitous, from inexpensive tea bowls in Kyrgyzstan to large plates with bold patterns throughout Uzbekistan.

Most Stans have their own unique style of hat. Turkmenistan has the furry telpek, while Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have embroidered skullcaps. The kalpak has a high crown and is made of white felt or sheepskin, symbolising the peaks of the Kyrgyz Mountains.
According to myth, Timur bought 100,000 craftsmen to work on Samarkand’s Bibi Khanum mosque. When he toured the site, he rewarded workers by throwing coins and meat at them.
Samarkand to Tashkent by train, Uzbekistan: about £4.50

Plov and tea for two in standard restaurant, Uzbekistan: £1.50-2.50

Kalpak hat, Kyrgyzstan: £13

Loaf of white bread, Kazakhstan: 20p

0.5l beer, Tajikistan: 35p
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Dudarev Mikhail] [Are/Aren't: lwtt93] [Accommodation: Thomas Depenbusch (Depi)] [Active exploration: Kalpak Travel] [Kazakhstan: Polina Raevskaya] [Soviet history: Kalpak Travel] [Local hospitality: Kalpak Travel] [Silk Road cities: Kalpak Travel] [Song Kul lake, Kyrgyzstan: Thomas Depenbusch (Depi)] [The Pamir Highway: Kalpak Travel] [Entry requirements: Kalpak Travel] [Food: Kalpak Travel] [Human rights: Veni] [Independent travel: Harald Deischinger] [Eating & Drinking: Kalpak Travel] [People & Language: Kalpak Travel] [Quote: Angell Williams] [Gifts & Shopping: Dave Proffer] [How much does it cost?: Kalpak Travel]