Many travellers enjoy going off the beaten path, searching for unexpected experiences. German travel blogger, Patrick, approached us with just this idea, wanting to take an often-overlooked detour on his Trans-Siberian route.
Most tourists on the Trans-Siberian Railway travel across Russia before continuing to Mongolia and further into China. However, the possibility to take a detour to Kazakhstan is often overlooked. Let me tell you why it’s worth including Kazakhstan in your Trans-Siberian Railway experience!
I didn’t know anything about Kazakhstan when I started planning my Trans-Siberian Railway experience, but when looking on the map I realized how close I would actually come to the country on my journey. That’s when I contacted the helpful staff of Real Russia, asking if there was an opportunity for a detour into Kazakhstan. Real Russia's staff adapted my schedule to lead me from Yekaterinburg into Kazakhstan, with a stop in the futuristic capital, Astana, and the eastern city Semey, before continuing up north into Russia towards Novosibirsk. I was super excited to discover another new country and learn more about Kazakhstan!
Fast forward a few weeks, I found myself in the middle of my Trans-Siberian Railway experience on the train leaving Yekaterinburg and heading towards Astana. I was a little bit nervous about the border crossing, which happened in the middle of the night. We first had to pass Russian immigration to get an exit stamp and a few kilometers later the Kazakh immigration to receive an entry stamp. Luckily, immigration procedures happen on the train with border police making their way through the compartments, checking and stamping passports. Despite the complete language barrier the process was smooth, Germans luckily don’t need a visa for Kazakhstan.
Futuristic architecture in Astana
I made it to Kazakhstan! The train took me through the Kazakh countryside until I finally reached Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. It was one of the biggest surprises of my journey. I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in such a modern and futuristic city! Astana has developed at an incredible speed in the last few years with the most futuristic architecture I’ve ever seen. I spent 3 days in Astana, walking through the city and marveling at the buildings. From the top of Bayterek tower, I could see the whole city, and the no man’s land between Russia and Mongolia. I saw the beautiful presidential palace and visited the National Museum, where I finally learnt more about the countries’ history. Astana is a surreal place and therefore certainly one of my big travel highlights – I recommend anyone to visit!
From Astana, the train took me further into Kazakhstan’s east and I had another stop planned in Semey. Semey is a big contrast to futuristic Astana. The area around the city was used for nuclear experiments in the Soviet regime, leading to big health issues in the population. The city is a lot poorer, less developed and less modern than Astana. It was interesting to see a different, probably more realistic, part of the country. Although there’s not much to do, I enjoyed my time in Semey. I visited the most shocking and unusual museum I’ve ever been to – the Anatomical Museum in the Medical University. A variety of disfigured fetuses are exhibited, showing the horrible results of nuclear exposure. Visiting this museum is certainly not enjoyable, but it’s part of the history and therefore a very interesting place to explore.
The Stronger Than Death monument in Semey
From Semey, I took another train up north, crossed again into Russia and continued my Trans-Siberian Railway experience to Novosibirsk – the capital of Siberia!
I certainly recommend anyone to include Kazakhstan in their Trans-Siberian railway itinerary. It is still one of those unexplored, non-tourist heavy countries which offers so much to see and do. People were extremely friendly and helpful, and it offered a unique experience. Put Backpacking Kazakhstan
on your bucket list, you won't regret it - I will certainly be back!
I’m Patrick, a travel blogger from Germany with the goal to visit every country in the world. Make sure to check out my travel blog
to read more about my adventures!