Monday, May 8, 2023

[SHYMKENT] You Can Skip Shymkent


Do NOT skip Shymkent if you are planning to head over to Uzbekistan via the southern land border, because this is where the buses and trains depart. That was the original plan but since I cannot find a way to buy those tickets online, I decided to err on the side of caution. If you are also planning to visit the nearby desert provinces of Kazakhstan, then Shymkent might actually serve as a good base for you. After all, it is the country’s third largest city, right? It doesn’t look the part, though.


But I still decided to go anyway, tweaking the itinerary and sandwiching Shymkent between Astana and Almaty instead of placing it at the tail end. As FlyArystan’s plane landed at the airport, I was surprised at how small the terminal was. Or perhaps that’s just the domestic terminal? I did see another building to the left while I was walking into the baggage claim area, which was basically a small room with just one circular baggage belt. No toilets, no nothing. Walk out and you’re already at the parking lot!


And so I had my reservations. Is this really considered a city? To be fair, the place is huge, but you immediately notice as your Yandex taxi cruises down the main boulevards that Shymkent has more of a small town feel to it. Flashbacks that hit me in particular were Bishkek and Mandalay. You know that kind of vibe? You know that feeling that this wouldn’t have the same Disneyland appeal Astana had last weekend kinda atmosphere? That’s exactly how I felt.


I gave up on finding tourist attractions to visit altogether after consulting the Wikitravel page, which was almost empty. My work shift here falls between 11 AM and 8 PM, which means that all sightseeing activities will have to be done in the morning. Since I have two mornings to spare and there is a lack of attractions to visit anyway, I decided to just divide the two mornings between two parks, namely Abay Park next door which is a literal five-minute walk and Independence Park farther afield that requires a 30-minute stroll.


Abay Park is bigger and has all the war propaganda monuments. When we say war, I’m talking about a singular war plane across the metal obelisk thingy, both of which serve as the centerpiece of the park. What I appreciate most about this park, though, is its role in the daily life and activities of the locals. If you want to see how locals go by their day-to-day routines, then this is the place to go to for observation. Other than that, and the two or three military tanks on display, there is also a museum or two within the premises which I no longer bothered to visit because of lack of time.


As for Independence Park, I liked it better, but instead of walking for half an hour I decided to just Yandex it, which took me 10 minutes and KZT500 (~PHP63). Cheap, I know, right? That’s why I succumbed to the indulgence. Independence Park is a lot smaller than Abay Park but has a more definitive purpose, which is commemorating Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union. There is a small avenue inside the park lined up with obelisk thingies starting from 1991 with historical tidbits displayed in bilingual Russian and Kazakh. Since I don't speak the latter and the former has already evaporated from six years of no use, I didn’t learn anything from this trip. No English, sorry.


Despite being more grand and imposing, this park is almost empty, perhaps because it is a bit farther from downtown and it looks like it appeals more to tourists from outside Shymkent. There is a huge flag of Kazakhstan as you approach the stairs going down to the main road, but it wasn’t flying high when I was there because it was hot AF and there was no wind at all. A few backflips away is a mosque with a golden dome, which I no longer bothered to visit because I am not Muslim anyway.


And then I Yandexed back to the hotel, which cost even cheaper at KZT430 (~PHP52) and took just another 10 minutes. And that was Shymkent for me. There are other recommendations on Google such as a zoo and a water park and more parks. There surely is no shortage of parks here, but two will suffice for me. Again, if you are not crossing over by land to Uzbekistan or exploring the desert regions neighboring Shymkent, then by all means, skip. There’s nothing much to see here.

[SHYMKENT] You Can Skip Shymkent

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