From Ashgabat to Almaty Aboard the Orient Silk Road Express
Roll through the heart of the Silk Road on this fascinating rail journey aboard the comfortable Orient Silk Road Express private train. Traveling in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, you’ll experience seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Silk Road oases of Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara – fabled cities adorned with blue-tiled domes and graceful arches. The journey begins in Turkmenistan – where the ruins of Merv, one of the world’s great “lost cities,” stands in counterpoint to the gleaming modern architecture of the capital, Ashgabat – and concludes in leafy Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest and liveliest city.
Photos and details: Discover what life is like aboard the Orient Silk Road Express.
Days 1-3: Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), Nisa, Merv
Arrive in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat and make a trip outside of town to the ruins of the ancient city of Nisa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the center of the Parthian Kingdom. Returning to the modern capital, explore the flamboyant gilded architecture that has sprung from the rubble of a massive 1948 earthquake, and gain insight into the country’s history and culture at the beautifully situated National Museum. Board the Orient Silk Road Express and head for the to the UNESCO-listed ancient ruins of Merv, a city of Bronze Age origin. It was such an important Silk Road stop that to grew into one of the world’s largest cities, only to be brutally sacked by the Mongols in the 13th century. Have lunch with a local village family and then depart for Uzbekistan.
- The ruins of Nisa’s two fortresses, which show influences of ancient Greek and Roman culture
- The opulent modern architecture of Ashgabat, which holds a Guinness record for the highest density of white marble buildings in the world
- Learning the story of Turkmenistan at the National Museum, where the collection includes Stone Age tools, drinking horns used in Zoroastrian rituals, and beautifully crafted amulets
- The vast archaeological site of Merv, one of the world’s great lost cities
Days 4-6: Bukhara (Uzbekistan)
Entering Uzbekistan, devote two full days to beautiful Bukhara, Central Asia’s most ancient living city. Its UNESCO-listed Old Town encompasses more than 140 protected monuments, including the Lyabi-Hauz Plaza at the heart of the city and the Ark Citadel, Bukhara’s original fortress. Take in a traditional Uzbek performance along with dinner at a former madrassah.
- Bukhara’s evocative Old Town, with its ageless domed bazaars
- Central Lyabi-Hauz Plaza, adorned with a reflecting pool
- Ark Citadel, Bukhara’s giant ancient fortress
- A performance and dinner at a madrassah
Days 7-9: Khiva, Samarkand
Cross the Kyzyl Kum Desert to the city of Khiva, the last great oasis on the northern Silk Road caravan route. Wander through the winding alleys of the UNESCO-listed Old Town, filled with minarets, cobbled alleys, mosques, and the beautifully preserved Kunya Ark, the original residence of the ruling khans. Continue to blue-tiled Samarkand, the conqueror Tamerlane’s legendary capital, hailed by UNESCO as “the crossroad of cultures.” Check in to a four-star hotel for a two-night stay and begin your exploration of the sights including massive Bibi Khanum Mosque, Ulug Bek’s incredible observatory, and gracefully proportioned Registan Square. Tour of a silk carpet factory and visit a workshop where handcrafted paper is made using a method that dates from the 8th century.
- Khiva’s Old Town (Ichon-Qala in Uzbek), a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Tash-Hauli Palace, built in the 19th century for the khan and his four wives
- Dzhuma Mosque, famous for its carved wooden pillars
- Kunya Ark, the original residence of Khiva’s khans
- UNESCO-listed Samarkand’s Registan Square, bordered by three beautiful madrassahs
- The Tamerlane’s architectural legacy in Samarkand, including Bibi Khanum Mosque, the largest of its day
- Shah-i-Zinda, a row of mausoleums and tombs that collectively span the history of Samarkand
- Ulug Bek Observatory, where Tamerlane’s grandson made historic advances in astronomy
- Seeing artisans make beautifully crafted carpets and paper using age-old techniques
Days 10-11: Shahrisabz, Tashkent
Back on board the private train, travel to Shahrisabz, hometown of Tamerlane, and visit the UNESCO-listed ruins of Ak Saray (White Palace), one of Tamerlane’s most ambitious architectural undertakings. Continue to Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital and largest city. Tour some of its most noteworthy sights, including Amir Timur Square and Kukeldash Madrassah.
- Shahrisabz’s Ak Saray, a monumental palace complex that includes the remains of a massive portal covered with brilliant blue, white, and gold tile mosaics
- Tashkent’s Kukeldash Madrassah, one of the largest 16th century madrassahs remaining in Central Asia, constructed of baked brick with a classic glazed tile facade
- Amir Timur Square, dominated by an equestrian statue of Tamerlane
- On board the train, a tasting of Uzbek wines
Days 12-14: Turkistan (Kazakhstan), Almaty
Cross the border into Kazakhstan and make a stop in the historic city of Turkistan to see the revered Sufi sheikh Khoja Akhmed Yasavi’s mausoleum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Disembark in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and a thriving business center situated amid the majestic Tien Shan mountain range. Visit Panfilov Park, a hub of the city and home to Zenkov Cathedral, before concluding the journey with a farewell meal in a traditional Kazakh yurt.
- Turkistan’s UNESCO-listed Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmed Yasavi, commissioned by Tamerlane in the 14th century and topped with the largest dome in Central Asia
- Panfilov Park, a green oasis in the middle of Almaty where locals meet to stroll and unwind
- Colorful Zenkov Cathedral, one of the tallest wooden structures in the world and an impressive feat of engineering that survived a massive 1911 earthquake unscathed
- A farewell meal in a traditional yurt
Dates & Prices
Minimum group size: Minimums vary – call for confirmation status
Land Tour Price, Per Person.
Apr 13 - 26Ali Baba, double occupancy$6,445Ali Baba, single occupancy$8,830Aladdin, double occupancy$7,525Aladdin, single occupancy$10,360Sultan, double occupancy$11,195Sultan, single occupancy$17,240Kalif, double occupancy$11,545Kalif, single occupancy$17,770Oct 19 - Nov 1Ali Baba, double occupancy$7,135Ali Baba, single occupancy$9,530Aladdin, double occupancy$7,935Aladdin, single occupancy$10,830Sultan, double occupancy$12,795Sultan, single occupancy$18,990Kalif, double occupancy$13,215Kalif, single occupancy$19,610
- Accommodations, as noted in the itinerary.
- Most meals, as noted in the itinerary.
- Arrival/departure transfers, provided you arrive and depart on the tour start/end dates and in the tour start/end cities.
- All guided off-train tours, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Services of an experienced Train Tour Manager as well as local guides for scheduled off-train tours.
- Complimentary tea, coffee, and mineral water from your car attendant at all times while on board the train.
- Baggage handling.
- Complete pre-departure information, including detailed packing list, reading list, and Touring with MIR handbook with country-specific information, maps, and travel tips.
- Assistance booking your custom flight arrangements, on request. (Please note that international airfare is not included in the land tour cost).
- International airfare, including taxes/fuel surcharges, and surface transport to the point of joining/leaving the tour. MIR is able to assist with arrangements, as detailed in the itinerary.
- Meals and drinks not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Single supplement (difference between double rate and single occupancy rate) if requested or required.
- Optional pre- or post-tour extensions.
- Expenses incurred as a result of delay, modification, or extension of a tour due to causes beyond MIR’s control.
- Visa fees, excess baggage charges, airport departure taxes, vaccination, and other medical costs.
- Travel insurance, including cancellation, medical, and evacuation insurance.
- Items of a personal nature, such as phone calls, email, laundry, and alcohol.
- Gratuities not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Travel entry pass to Turkmenistan payable on arrival.
Level 2: Moderate
This rail journey by private train features significant touring on foot, throughout which travelers are expected to keep up with other group members. Walking during touring days will be on a variety of surfaces, with many streets and sidewalks being uneven, and elevators generally not available during touring excursions, leading to some stair climbing. Challenges on board on board the train include long onboard distances with heavy doors, as well as steep steps and gaps to navigate while embarking and disembarking. Only those willing to accept local standards of amenities and services should consider joining this program.
Travelers must be able to walk a mile per day keeping up with other group members. Streets and sidewalks can be uneven or unexpected surfaces, and handrails are not always present. Steps, which may be required due to lack of elevators, may be steep and/or uneven, and may also lack handrails. The distance on board the train between sleeping and dining carriages may be significant, and there are many heavy doors to navigate when moving throughout the train. Getting on and off the train involves navigating steep steps, low platforms, and possible gaps between the train and the platform. Navigating rail stations may also involve traveling up and over steep steps/footbridges to cross tracks, or steep steps and dark tunnels to cross under to/from the train station. Although porterage is provided where possible, you may have to carry your baggage for short distances.
General shortcomings of the tourism infrastructure may include problems with bureaucratic service and availability and quality of public restrooms when not on board the train.