My Final (Recognized) Country In The World – Turkmenistan Part 1

I’ve taken a bit of a break from publishing lately, but not from travel. At the ripe old age of 32 — and despite there being many border closures during the recent scamdemic and many Greta wannabes shaming me for my carbon footprint — I have now travelled to every fully recognized country in the world!

My final country, which I recently visited, was no easy feat to visit. It is a very closed country, cut off from much of the rest of the world both by borders and by internet restrictions. At last, I visited the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan.

Because Turkmenistan is such a mysterious place, and since it was number 193 out of 193 for me, I am providing a detailed report about what I witnessed there, which should make a nice treat for you — my loyal readers who’ve been keeping track of my progress from 1-193. 😉

By the way, I’m not stopping at 193, but we’ll save that topic for another post. Let’s learn now about little-understood Turkmenistan.

A History of My Failed Attempts to Enter Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan was the last country on the UN 193 list I had left to visit, and I had been trying to travel there for a long time. My second-to-last long-awaited country was Eritrea, which I visited in November 2022. I had been waiting patiently for about four months until I heard that Turkmenistan had finally reopened post-Covid. I acted quickly so that I could be one of the first people to go on a vacation in Turkmenistan after its reopening. I wanted to get my visa processed fast and act as a trailblazer by entering the country as soon as possible after three long years of border closure due to the Corona Killrus. ☠️

I tried to visit Turkmenistan back in 2018 during my Central Asia trip. I was in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at the time and had planned to visit Turkmenistan while I was there, but they didn’t let me in. The big question that I am still left with today is whether I had ever actually applied for a visa to Turkmenistan or not. I think that the tour agency I used back then, which was the same one that I used to go to North Korea, Central Asia, and the South Pacific, was pretty disorganized. I have a feeling that they never actually applied for the visa, and rather just kind of forgot about me. There were a lot of clues that led me to adopt this theory. The tour company had told me the day before I was supposed to travel from the border of Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan that I couldn’t go, and I’m pretty sure that was because they had forgotten to process my visa. 😤

I tried to enter the country again in 2020 but couldn’t go because of the pandemic. There was a tour to Turkmenistan announced last year in 2022, but the country still wasn’t open, so I couldn’t go then either.  In December just after my trip to Eritrea, I had another opportunity to visit Turkmenistan on an Austrian economic mission. I have a friend in Germany with a luxury goods company who had invited me back in September. However, there was some miscommunication between us and then it was too late to register for the trip, so I was thwarted again. I feeling was quite angry and anxious that I couldn’t go on this trip, so I tried to get a visa in other ways.

I wrote to a guy I know at the consulate of Kazakhstan and another guy who had promised to get me into Turkmenistan for a jeep tour, but none of these attempts came to fruition, so I kept waiting. I thought that I would have to wait a long time, but luckily around mid-March, it was announced that they were opening the borders again and issuing tourist visas. I got newsletters distributed from probably ten different tour companies. I read that the first tour company was planning a tour there in April, so I wrote to them immediately asking if I could join. All in all, it took about five attempts for me to finally make it to Turkmenistan, but I guess the fifth time is the charm. ✨

Let’s have a slice to celebrate my achievement! I made it to all 193 member countries of the UN, plus a few! 🥳

Success with Saiga Tours

I ended up traveling to Turkmenistan with Saiga Tours. It’s run by an Australian couple that used to work for Young Pioneer Tours, the company that I believe messed up my visa to Turkmenistan the last time around. After leaving Young Pioneer Tours, this couple went on to create their own company, which I was glad to travel with. They’re a lovely couple with a young daughter who they took with us to Turkmenistan, so we had a cute child with us the whole time. 😊

The company basically organized everything for me. I had to fill out my application, and they arranged my invitation to the country from the tour company. The invitation needs to be approved by the government of Turkmenistan, so Saiga Tours took care of that while I prepared everything else. There wasn’t too much that I had to tell them, but I did have to give them some information to receive my invitation.

They told me it was quite unlikely that my visa would get approved since I’d been denied before, but as I mentioned, it was questionable whether my application had ever been sent at all. Another reason that they were concerned is because of what I do professionally. The country doesn’t want people who support freedom publicly and have a large following to say anything bad about them, but I’ll mostly share positive things about Turkmenistan with you.

Saiga Tours sent in my application and after just about two or three weeks we got confirmation that I was approved. It’s a relatively easy process because you don’t need a visa in advance. You just get the invitation letter approved by the government, and then you fly to Turkmenistan to get your visa on arrival.

Obviously, flight connections aren’t that good at the moment. There’s a daily flight from Istanbul, but I was still in Africa when the tour started. I had my Easter holidays with my girlfriend Karyna and her son already booked, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of our time together.

I was still supposed to be in Zambia when the trip to Turkmenistan first began, but I made a deal with the tour company. They told me that I could still get a visa to travel with the group if I arrived a couple of days late, and then I could stay longer after the rest of the group left to do some more things privately, which is exactly what I did.

I’m glad I didn’t have to rush through my beautiful holiday in Zambia 🌈

Distressed in Dubai

The tour started on a Saturday, and I flew in on Monday evening. There are only two flights a week directly from Dubai to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, so flying on Monday saved me the hassle of going the long way through Istanbul. It also gave me enough time that I didn’t have to cut my trip to Africa short. It gave me a night in Dubai as well, so I went to a meetup there that evening before I was ready to fly to Turkmenistan.

I’m always happy to be back in Dubai 😁

That Sunday, I flew back from my Zambian safari to Dubai. I spent the rest of Sunday and the whole day of Monday in Dubai before my evening flight, so I had time to go to a yacht meet-up while I was there. 55 people from the Staatenlos community all chartered a big yacht, which should have been fun, but unfortunately, I had a mishap along the way.

It looks like paradise! What could go wrong?

The yacht meet-up was just a few hours before my flight to Turkmenistan, which was at midnight. The event was from four until eight in the evening, so I had to go straight to the airport from the event. I had brought my backpack and all of my gear in the taxi on the way to the meetup, but it was a completely unregistered unofficial taxi that my girlfriend had caught to our flat from another site.

Speaking of the flat, here’s our view 🤩

It took us to the meet-up afterward, and when leaving the cab, I accidentally left my backpack inside. I had been stressed out because we were a bit late, and one minute after the taxi left, I remembered that my stuff was still in the trunk. At that point, it was already long gone and we didn’t even know the license plate of the car. That’s when the problems began. 😔

It turns out that being on a yacht feels much less relaxing when you’re worrying about your belongings.

Luckily I still could have flown. Even though all of my stuff was in the big backpack including my second passport and many important documents, I still had my primary passport, the invitation letter, and my credit cards in my trousers, so I could still have gone, theoretically. Also, it’s Dubai, so I wasn’t too worried about getting my stuff back eventually, but getting it back in time proved to be quite a hassle.

Of course, I had the meet-up waiting for me, so I went there first where I relaxed more and more while my girlfriend and her friend worked hard to get my stuff back.

Thanks to my girlfriend, I was still able to relax a bit 😎

They first quickly went to the shopping center to ask about the camera footage, but you can only review it with the police there, so that was unsuccessful. However, we have good contacts through the security of our flat in Dubai, and those guys gave us access to the video of the taxi waiting for us in front. We bribed security to give us the license plate, then we searched for the plate number, called several taxi companies, and finally, we found the driver and were able to get his phone number. The driver ended up picking me up from the meet-up at nine o’clock with all of my stuff in tow and driving me to the airport. I said goodbye to my girlfriend, then finally flew to Turkmenistan. ✈️

I was so happy to finally have my ticket to Turkmenistan!

Arriving in Turkmenistan

The flight was only about three hours, and the plane was pretty empty with probably 20% occupancy or less. I sat in the emergency seat exit row and caught some sleep. The entry formalities in Turkmenistan are still quite strict. Along with China, they were one of the last countries to open back up after covid. They still require a PCR test on arrival which generally takes a long time. It only took us about 90 minutes, but it took about four hours for most other people, from what I’m told.

Then I went to get my visa on arrival which also took some time. I had to pay fees with the bank at another location at the airport, so it was not a quick process. The flight landed at half past three, and I was finally ready to go at around six in the morning. The group had already left for the coast of the Caspian Sea, so I had a full day ahead in Ashgabat. My plan had been to catch an early morning flight to the coast of the Caspian Sea, but that didn’t work out because of the very slow process at the airport. The only other flight was in the late evening, so that left me with a full day in Ashgabat.

I booked a hotel for myself so that I could just sleep from seven until 12 pm. After a few hours of sleep, I would spend the rest of the day exploring the nation’s capital. I had already booked a private driver and tour guide, who I later used as well when I came back for a private tour. He took me around Ashgabat that day, and that night I flew to Tukmenbashi by the Caspian Sea to meet the rest of the group.

Welcome to Ashgabat

Entering Turkmenistan turned out not to be such a big deal after all. The visa process went fairly smoothly as they stamped my long-awaited visa. I went through immigration, and I was finally in Turkmenistan! As one of the least visited countries in the world which I had so much difficulty getting into, that passport stamp felt like a huge achievement — plus it would always be special because it marked my visit to my final fully recognized country.

The hotel where I stayed didn’t have internet, so I couldn’t use it for a few days at the beginning of my trip. There are only two hotels in Turkmenistan with unrestricted internet. Turkmenistan has some of the highest level internet censorship of any country in the world, and even VPNs don’t work there. For about $2,000 you can unblock your IP address to access the internet, but more than 80% of IP addresses are blocked in Turkmenistan, and it’s very hard to get internet. Locals who are able to use wifi have even been made to swear on the Quran that they will not try to use VPNs or proxies to get around the system.

There is some internet at the hotel, but basically everything Western is blocked. The only Western website that worked for me was Gmail, and everything else seemed to be blocked. Even my websites were blocked, so I wasn’t able to announce my luck to the world at having finally arrived in Turkmenistan. Instead of getting online, I got a good night of sleep so that I would be ready to explore Ashgabat the next day. 😴

Above-Average Ashgabat

The Turkmen capital Ashgabat has a lot of interesting buildings. There’s a lot of wealth from the oil and gas industry in Turkmenistan, and you can see that in the nation’s capital.

Ashgabat has actually won a Guinness World Record for having the most white marble buildings of any city in the world, most of which are uninhabited.

Mostly unoccupied white marble buildings

The country’s former president was obsessed with breaking world records, so Ashgabat also boasts the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel, the largest building in the shape of a horse, and the largest architectural star (in the city’s outskirts). It’s a little bizarre, but it makes for it an interesting place to visit.

The biggest star structure in the world ✴️

My driver took me all around the city to see a lot of different things in Ashgabat. We saw the Neutrality Monument that commemorates Turkmenistan’s official position as a neutral country.

The Neutrality Monument is known by locals as “The Tripod.”

We also saw the Independence Monument, which was near where we found the huge Ferris wheel. I wanted to ride the Ferris wheel but it was closed, much like the majority of things that there were to do in Turkmenistan.

The Independence Monument

You hardly even see people on the street, perhaps because Turkmenistan is the least densely populated country in Central Asia. Speaking of the street, another interesting thing about Turkmenistan is that in the capital, only white and silverish cars are allowed. Black cars or cars of any other color will be impounded because as the white marble city, the cars must be uniform as well. Also, the president is superstitious, and white is considered to be a lucky color in the country.

White cars in the white marble city

As you can see, the effect is beautiful and makes quite an impression, but of course, such beauty can only be achieved under a paranoid dictatorship. 😅

The fact that Turkmen still love Lenin is proof of my assertion.

We visited lots of different parts of the city. We saw various monuments, and we also made a point of seeing the rest of Ashgabat.

This used to hold a Guinness World Record for being the world’s largest unsupported flagpole.

There was a big earthquake at some point that wiped out a lot of the city so there isn’t much historical stuff to see, but there was an old Russian-style market called the Russian Bazaar that was interesting. We walked around there, got some food, and shopped for the trip ahead.

We visited a nice mosque in the center of town, although there is a much bigger mosque outside of Ashgabat that I would visit later when I returned.

We had lunch at one restaurant and dinner at another. Lunch was at a steakhouse and dinner was at a more local place but it was all pretty nice with good food and cheap prices. 😋

Venturing Deeper into an Elusive Country

In the evening I was dropped off at the airport to fly to Turkmenbashi with Turkmenistan Airlines, the national carrier. The flight was about an hour and 30 minutes to the coast of the Caspian Sea. I was picked up and taken to the hotel where I got to meet the rest of the group and the tour guides before going to sleep early to be ready for the next day.

The next day we were due to visit Yangykala Canyon, and I would also go to the Awaza District, a nearly-empty tourist zone with lots of hotels at the seaside. After that, I looked forward to going straight to hell… or the gates of it, anyway.

Join us next time as we continue on our adventure to Hades… well sort of. Stay tuned!