Overall thoughts – Accommodation – Travelling around/orientation – Things to do – Lunch and dinner – Cafe
Brief: crazy traffic, lots of pipping, dirty, noisy, feels poor, not touristy at all, some nice large parks/green space, hectic train station, lots of buses, no obvious centre of city beyond Mega mall, cheaper than Almaty and Astana, difficult without Russian language ability, culture shock potential, not a particularly pretty city centre.
Not so brief: I walked around Shymkent on my own the first day we arrived and I felt a bit lost. I had a very mini meltdown causedRound the corner from Hotel Orda, Shymkent by The street where Hotel Orda is, Shymkentfrustration at not being able to read anything, not finding a cafe (yes, probably caffeine deprived), having no idea where to head in order to explore, finding the traffic noise and constant honking of horns a bit much and getting completely drenched from a sudden downpour and having my feet and lower legs covered in mud from the dirty roads and pavements getting so wet.
I then came across BBQ Korean Cafe, which I could just make out through the rain, and order was restored from that point on.
I found Shymkent to be full-on and hard work, but all things that are hard work are also rewarding.Bread for sale just outside Central Market, Shymkent
The aforementioned morning was a low point in my Kazakh trip; exploring the Central Market, admittedly with the help and company of a friendly local (colleague of my partner), was a high point of my Kazakh trip.
I would only recommend going to Shymkent if you have time and inclination to see as many different places as possible while in Kazakhstan. Some Kazakhs I spoke to about Shymkent said it was “like Texas”, in part because of the climate, ie temperatures don’t get as low as in the rest of Kazakhstan, and also because it’s a bit different to the rest of Kazakhstan, particularly culturally. It also seems to be a city that a lot of non-Shymkentians (?) really like.
Hot water pipes, ShymkentThe hot water pipes were much more noticeable in Shymkent than other cities. They are over ground and a way above ground to limit the likelihood of the pipes freezing when the ground is covered in snow.
Shymkent is the third most populous Kazakh city and is less than 100 miles away from Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Uzbekistan being where most of the dried fruit originate). It has been destroyed many times, including by Genghis Khan, and there is a former gulag nearby. Another interesting city.
PHOTO Breakfast area in the reception of Hotel Orda
Hotel Orda, Baytursynov Street 6/Turar Ryskulov Street
Nearby amenities: 3 (2)/10 (bus stop to centre right outside, c5 minute walk to row of “local” shops and restaurants, c1 hour 15 minute walk toShops and restaurants down from Hotel Orda, Baytursyvov Street, Shymkent Mega/centre, c15 minute walk to stadium)
Safety perception: 6 (8)/10 (hotel seemed fine, largely surrounded by flats, felt out of town (indeed, it is), room seemed secure but door not so sturdy)
Room: 3 (4)/10 (light bulbs partly lit up when off, king size bed with double duvet, stale room smell coupled with automatic air freshener dispenser, fixtures and bed not sturdy – suspect other rooms better)
Sleep: 3 (3)/10 (flickering “off” light bulbs, corridor noise largely due to wide gaps between door and door frame, not enough duvet)
Bathroom: 3 (2)/10 (shower c10 dribbles, shower cubicle old, in fact whole bathroom felt very old and worn)
Breakfast: 3 (4)/10 (menu in English, though not everything available, eggs don’t necessarily come served as ordered, plate of cheese and meat with bread and cake was basic)
Staff: 5 (6)/10 – 8/10 (some reception staff were very friendly and spoke good English, others maybe came across as less friendly as didn’t speak English so 5 may be unfair)
Likelihood of repeat stay: 1 (4)/10 (I didn’t like the location, room or breakfast and would far rather stay nearer the centre)
If you want to start exploring the centre, I suggest you start off at Mega mall (taxi drivers, buses; everyone knows it and “Mega” sounds pretty much the same in Russian as in English). There are good, free toilets, a large supermarket, Ramstore, a decent food hall and ATMs. It is on the corner of Konayev Street and Tauke Khan Avenue.
Opposite, in a very Soviet, concrete block, is TsUM department store, a whole different experience/environment to Mega, Soviet versus modern American.
The “big tulip”, ShymkentAn alternative and more central-feeling “centre” is probably the “big tulip”, on the edge of a grass area across from Abay Park. Near that tulip are some large, colourful wall murals. It takes five to ten minutes to walk along Tauke Khan Avenue to get from Mega to the big tulip.
I got buses from outside Hotel Orda to Mega. I also got buses and minibuses with my boyfriend’s local colleague. Buses were 50 tge in Shymkent.
Things to do
Abay Park and Afghanistan and World War II Memorial Park
A large park with plenty of seating areas, lots of grass and trees, a ferris wheel of questionable health and safety standards and a MIG aircraft (!). The Memorial Park has the names of casualties of World War II, a tall, silvery monument and a selection of tanks and artillery from the 1979-1989 Afghan War. It is a pleasant place to spend some time but not a must-see, though the MMig, part of war memorial, Abay Park, Shymkentemorial Park area is probably more interesting than the actual park.
Central Market, within the corner of Tashenova Street and Tole Bi Street, just below the bus and marshrutka (minibus) terminal
Post-purchase of yet more dried fruit, Central Market, ShymkentI was lucky enough to have a local take me around the market and help me buy dried fruit and nuts to take home. It is massive; far, far bigger than Green Bazaar in Almaty. No one I encountered spoke English; this is a VERY busy, VERY big market for locals and it is a veritable maze of paths, indoors/outdoors, hills and somehow organised chaos. It is full-on, frenetic and, to me, really exciting. It sells everything and everything is in sections, eg household, bread, fruit and veg, meat, fish, clothes. Going round this market was one of my favourite Kazakh experiences – we went on a Saturday so I expect it was particularly busy.
Market, Konayev Street, north of Turar Ryskulov Street, on the left just above the inverted “V” of the road (if you look at a map you’ll know
Out of town market, Shymkent, in the rain what I mean) that leads up to a large park that was recommended to me, and Shymkent Zoo.
A local pointed this market out to me. I would recommend it more as an interesting experience than a shopping destination, unless you wantOut of town market, Shymkent, in the rain to bulk buy cabbages, though you can buy small amounts of fruit and vegetables. It is higgledy piggledy and busy, though fairly small.
Lunch and Dinner
BBQ Korean Cafe, ShymkentBBQ Korean Cafe, Beybitshilik Street/Zheltoksan Street
A gem of a place. Lovely food, good value, owner speaks good English, beware the long-drop toilet.
1,500 tge for a generous-sized bento box (delicious), a hot citron/yuzu drink (wonderful) and a black coffee (ok).
Madlen, Respublika Avenue 6/Askarov Street, next to Shymkent Hotel
There are various Madlen outlets, known for cakes, but this branch is very big and fancy.
Food and alcohol very expensive and what seems cheap is reflected in the portion size. Food good though.
A small Madlen outlet in the food court, top floor of Mega mall, Shymkent400 tge for two cakes to take away. 3,000 tge for sit-down meal of a very small duck dish (tasty) and a non-local beer (local, cheaper beer “not available”).
Food hall at the top of the Mega mall, including a small Madlen outlet, Tauke Khan Avenue/Konayev Street
Can eat fairly cheaply, plenty of choice, food as you’d expect from a series of fast food outlets
Dana Coffeehouse, Respublika Avenue/near Bauyrzhan Momyshuly StreetMe drinking a decent coffee in Dana Cafe, ShymkentDana Cafe, Shymkent
Good coffee, nice environment, no English, cakes.