The Birth of Kazakhstan Tourism – Mongol Rally

August 23, 2011 9 Comments »


These 3 drove up to me and asked me if I was a tourist and then asked for me to take their picture!

“You tourist?”

This is the most asked question of us in Kazakhstan. The crazy thing is that it’s asked everywhere; on the street, in hotels, and even as we are driving down the street other cars will slow down, roll down their windows and ask the popular question.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a country that is so untouched by Western tourists…but Kazakhstan welcomes the few they get. I’ve been stared at a lot before in India and Nepal, but in Kazakhstan they look at you with wonderment in their eyes.

As cars pass us on the highway they drive by, look at us, and then do a double take. You can see the recognition come across their face…the look of “wait a minute…what are you doing here?” In fact we’ve even had people follow us down the sidewalks and while driving just to watch us longer.

People honk and smile and say hello, and some give us the peace sign. Everyone shyly tries to practice their English as if this is the one time a year they get the chance to speak to a real English speaking person!

I’m not exactly sure what the tourism numbers are for Kazakhstan but I’m pretty sure they are non-existent! Business travel is alive and well here, but considering they have no non-business hotels here I’m assuming tourism is an afterthought.


A group of teenage girls who were SO excited to meet Deb and I - pictured outside of the gigantic mall in Aktobe

In fact, some of Kazakhstan’s biggest cities aren’t even covered in Lonely Planet Guides. I was surprised and appalled that the bustling city of Aktobe didn’t even have a map in Lonely Planet devoted to it and it only had 2 hotels listed. Let me tell you – it’s near impossible to find a hotel WITH a map…it’s a miracle without a map.

But…they will come. It won’t take long for tourists to find Kazakhstan and come in hordes. So come now…while you are still considered an endangered specie here! People will welcome you with open arms…and honks.

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