Turkmenistan Border Crossings to Iran and Uzbekistan – My Border Crossing and Overland Adventure in Central Asia
One of the most mysterious countries in Central Asia is Turkmenistan and it share the borders with Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Kazakhstan. I’m glad to experience crossing the border of Farap – Alat border in Uzbekistan and Gaudan – Bajgiran border in Iran. So, here’s my article on how you can cross the borders of Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan and Turkmenistan to Iran.
Overland travel and Crossing borders are on my most favorite things to do when traveling. I just love to meet locals during this usually long trip, share experiences with them and even some local delicacies! Also love how the atmosphere, the rules, the environment, and the landscape changes the moment you cross the border.
I’ve crossed borders in 5 different continents including from The Dominican Republic to Haiti and Djibouti to Somaliland. We even sailed across islands and countries so there’s no way I’d miss this opportunity to travel around Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran by crossing the borders and traveling by land no matter how much people perceive it to be dangerous. (and it’s not dangerous at all!)
Central Asia, especially the “–stans” isn’t very appealing to tourists as a lot of people perceive it to be “very dangerous”. I, myself, even heard naysayers saying I shouldn’t go on with this trip as a solo female traveler but guess what? No one can stop me from visiting every single country in the world!!
CROSSING THE BORDER FROM UZBEKISTAN TO TÜRKMENABAT, TURKMENISTAN (Farap – Alat border)
It was scorching hot when I visited and this, perhaps, is the most challenging land border crossing that I have ever encountered. Not only was my sweat dripping under the 43 degrees celsius heat, but I also made a big mistake of booking with different Tour Agencies in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. That being said, I had to walk from the border to the control gate with all my bags in tow.
Just to give you an idea: To go from the Uzbekistan immigration office to reach the border to Türkmenabat, I had to take 2 different car rides on this old Russian van called marshrutka. You need to make sure you still have some Uzbek money to pay for this!
It was not that far but with the heat it wasn’t the best feeling and unfortunately, when I arrived, the officers were taking a lunch break. This is how I ended up waiting for almost 2 hours there with 60 Turkmen people with me. The good news is that I was the only tourist so everyone was talking to me and giving me snacks. Ha!
DEALING WITH THE IMMIGRATION OFFICERS FROM TURKMENISTAN
After chatting with the locals for more or less 2 hours, the officers came back to their usual post. After checking my passport and my invitation letter before issuing me with the visa, I was asked basic questions like why was I traveling alone, what my itinerary is and where I’ll be staying.
HOW PHILIPPINES PASSPORT HOLDER CAN GET A TOURIST VISA FOR TURKMENISTAN
If you’re arriving at the airport in Turkmenistan, Filipinos can get a Visa on Arrival but only if you have an invitation letter from a tour agency.
However, if you’re crossing the border like what I did, then you’ll need a visa in advance or can also get it at the major border crossings. Make sure that you have enough US dollars, I paid $86 and the printed copy of your visa and tour itinerary.
I paid a tour agency to arrange my trip so they can give me the invitation letter that I printed.Note that it’s VERY DIFFICULT and VERY EXPENSIVE to get a visa here so it is better to get it from a Travel Agency.
After I got my visa, I had to pass the customs who inspected all my luggages and then had to take another marshrutka to the Turkmenistan immigration main gate where my tour guide is waiting for me so we can go to the train station to catch our overnight train to Ashgabat.
OTHER TIPS ON CROSSING THE BORDER IN TURKMENISTAN AND TRAVELING AROUND TURKMENISTAN
- Turkmenistan is a Muslim country but they’re very modern. By this, I mean that you can wear whatever you want just as if you’re traveling around Istanbul.
- If you book a package tour (which I highly suggest you do), I highly recommend Indy Guide. This is where you can book a Tour Guide, Driver and Tour Packages in underrated destinations to give you an authentic and hassle-free experience.
- Note that Turkmenistan is crazy expensive and you’ll most likely spend more if you travel solo. For example, a meal would already cost you 20-30 USD!
- Avoid taking photos at the border gates.
- Always have a copy of your Passport, Visas, and Accommodation.
- From there, you can take an overnight sleeper train to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.
- Social media channels including WhatsApp and some websites are blocked, sometimes even your VPN won’t work (just like what happened to me).
- You’re not allowed to smoke in public places.
- The people in the capital are very reserved. They’re not friendly so don’t expect to get treated like a celebrity just because you’re a tourist.
- Do not take photos of people and public buildings.
- Ashgabat is such a beautiful city and I highly suggest you drive around at night.
- The exchange rate is very tricky. When I visited, the official exchange rate is 1$ = 3.5 Manat but when I asked around the black market it values is 16 Manat! Be careful though, it’s illegal to make an exchange at the black market!!
CROSSING THE TURKMENISTAN-IRAN BORDER (Gaudan – Bajgiran border)
After my few days in Ashgabat, wish I stayed less than 6 days as the capital city can easily be done in 2 or 3 days with a sidetrip to Darvaza Gas Crater (“the door to hell”)
I then continued to my journey to Iran. The Gaudan-Bajgiran Border is just an hour away drive from Ashgabat so this is rather an easy route. There’s a main gate which is only 15 to 20 minutes drive from the capital and if you’re not going on a tour then the taxi would drop you at this gate for the initial security checkpoint where you have to catch a bus but since I was on a private tour, they let my driver drive for another 40 minutes to the border control.
What makes it easier is that the Immigration Office of these countries are just a short walk from each other and the officers are very nice! It was also hot at that time but I wasn’t sweating like crazy like I did when I crossed the border to Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan.
DEALING WITH THE IMMIGRATION OFFICERS IN TURKMENISTAN-IRAN BORDER
“Are you alone?” was the first question that was asked of me by an Iranian Immigration Officer who gave me a nice smile. Unlike the Immigration Officers in Turkmenistan, I felt very much welcome here seeing from locals’ gleaming faces. These were followed by other usual questions like where I was staying, my itinerary, and then a stamp on my printed visa paper. They no longer stamp your passport if you got an e-visa. It is very easy!
HOW PHILIPPINES PASSPORT HOLDER CAN GET A TOURIST VISA FOR IRAN
Philippines Passport Holders can get a Visa on Arrival for Iran in any of these airports:
- IKA: Imam Khomeini Airport
- TEH: Tehran Mehrabad Airport
- SYZ: Shiraz International Airport
- MHD: Mashhad International Airport
- TBZ: Tabriz International Airport
- ISF: Isfahan International Airport
- KIH: Kish International Airport
However, when you’re crossing the border, you will need to pre-arrange your visa with a travel agency. In my case, Visit Our Iran arranged my visa for me and I only had to get it from the Iran Embassy in Zagreb (physical appearance is required).
TIPS ON CROSSING THE BORDER TO AND TRAVELING AROUND IRAN
- Cover yourself from your hair to your ankles with a headscarf or hijab– a manteau to cover your upper body, and a pair of jeans will do (and no, your clothes doesn’t have to be black). This will be from the moment you disembark from the plane or right before you cross the border.
- Unlike Turkmenistan, Iran is a very conservative Muslim country. This means that you should avoid any intimate contact with the opposite sex (shake hands included unless he/she is your host and he/she initiated it). Also, you shouldn’t sit next to the opposite sex in public transportation unless he/she is your relative.
- Drinking in public places is illegal.
- Never speak against the Government.
- Don’t take photos of locals unless you ask for their permission.
- VPN is also necessary to be downloaded prior to your arrival. Social Media Networks are blocked here as well.
- I also recommend booking with a Tour Agency. Visit Our Iran is highly recommended and you can get a 10% discount when you book with them using our code TWOMONKEYSTRAVEL2019VOI.
Related Article: Iran Travel Guide for Filipinos
That’s it for this post! Overall, both border crossings are very much doable even for a solo female traveler like me. As usual, I’ve met so many nice people during my border crossing and I’ll always do this given the chance! Wishing you stress-free planning and trip!
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