Hostels in Review – “The Great Game” (Uzbekistan)

The ho(s)tel reviews from my time in Uzbekistan, in September 2014. I don’t seem to have written anything about them to booking or travel sites, so, again, none of them are rated. Note that these don’t include my two nights at the Aral Sea, as that was on a bespoke tour.


1) Homestay in Fergana (Olga Skinner), Uzbekistan
Date Stayed: 10 September 2014
Length of Stay: 3 Nights

Ah, Fergana. I’d had a lot of trouble even finding accommodation in the area; not entirely sure way – I remain unconvinced to this day that a city of 190,000 people has no hotels.

I ended up staying in what amounted to a ‘homestay’; I’d found a listing for a guesthouse somewhere online; they told me ‘no problem, come before 6pm’ and gave me brief directions … these proved a little tricky to follow due to Fergana’s lack of affinity with both road signs and building numbers.

Outside Fergana Homestay
The apartment block I stayed in in Fergana. Appearances can be deceptive…

As was to be expected, the ‘guesthouse’ was a flat in a Soviet-era apartment a little walk West of the town centre; in the end quite easy to find, once I knew where it was. Although less than salubrious from the outside, the flat itself was spacious and homely – so homely, in fact, that the older couple who ran it also lived there as well.

It seemed they lived alone, and rent out the other bedrooms (I think there were three) to travellers; during my stay there was only one other fellow guest, a chap from Malta. My room was small but definitely adequate, with two single beds and a desk – I did fear that I’d have to share the room at some point but that never came to pass.

Inside Fergana Homestay
My room in Fergana. Pretty comfortable, all told.

They were a friendly couple, although their knowledge of English was only marginally better than my Russian; very happy to help though, including giving advice on how/where to change money in the markets. They also let us use their computer (no WiFi), although their net speed was akin to dial-up and their web-browser of choice was IE6, so nothing actually worked …
They also showed me the fridges and said “no problem”, which I was a bit reluctant to take to mean ‘you can take whatever you want from it’; in any case I snacked outside a lot anyway so didn’t make use of the kitchen. It was a good-sized kitchen though, so I think if I’d wanted to cook myself some decent grub it would have been pretty comfortable to do so.


2) Mirzo B&B Hostel, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Date Stayed: 13 and 24 September 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Separate Nights

The hostel was in the North-West of the city, quite a distance from the centre so a little out the way, although very convenient for both Chorsu Bazaar and the Khast Imom complex. Initial impressions weren’t too impressive – it was hidden behind a large white wall with a somewhat dodgy-feeling door leading inside.

Once you got into the place, however, it was reasonably pretty. The centrepoint was a courtyard, with trees, benches, and a raised dais covered with rugs, with a table that you can sit round – this acted as the social centre of the hostel. The decoration was definitely styled from the Silk Road with its tapestries.

Inside Tashkent Hostel
The social area; on my second night, one of the staff regaled us with his guitar-playing.

The accommodation was scattered around the courtyard, though in truth I only discovered my dorm – a reasonable-sized room with four beds laid side-by-side, rather than in bunks, and to get in I had to pass through a smaller room with two beds in it. The shower/toilet was in the block on the side next to the dorm – as my bed was the furthest from the door this meant creeping through the whole room past every single bed to get out.

Inside Tashkent Hostel
The bedding; bunkless dorms seem to be a feature of Central Asian hostels.

The staff were very helpful, not only sorting out registration but also, for a small fee, getting someone to go all the way to the station at the opposite side of the city to buy my train ticket to Khiva on my behalf – nice service, I thought.


3) Alibek Hostel, Khiva, Uzbekistan
Date Stayed: 15 September 2014
Length of Stay: 1 Night

Arguably the most interesting view I’ve ever had from a hostel balcony.

Inside Khiva Hostel
View of the Khiva city walls from the balcony.

It has to be said that Khiva isn’t very big, but even so, the Alibek Hostel is very central and convenient, lying as it does almost opposite the West Gate to the preserved city complex. It’s also not too far from a couple of food places outwith the walls, which was convenient when the power went off in the city while I was there so it wasn’t too far or tricky a walk back in the dark.

The balcony serves as the main social area; it’s quite large with several tables, and accessible both from the hostel itself and from the downstairs entranceway. It’s a good-sized building without being large, colourfully decorated with lots of local fabrics, and the dorm I was in was probably more cramped than it felt; six single beds again laid out across the floor rather than being in bunks. It also felt quite ‘dark’, due to the decoration more than the lack of windows.

Inside Khiva Hostel
I do feel sometimes the line of beds is a bit ‘regimented’, and the gap between the beds is quite small, but the room’s nice & welcoming.

It is quite a sociable hostel, partly due to the balcony being open and welcoming, but partly also I think because the type of backpacker who gets this far into Uzbekistan is the type of person who’s more interested in places and people than in partying, so are more likely to be calm, friendly and chatty.

Inside Khiva Hostel
The balcony of the hostel; good-sized but, for the only social area in the place, quite small.

The hostel also does food; in that sense it’s more of a guesthouse than a true ‘hostel’ – it looked quite a wide spread, although I’d already arranged to go out for a meal with a couple of the other backpackers there before I found out I could eat on site.


4) Hotel Nukus, Nukus, Uzbekistan
Date Stayed: 18 September 2014
Length of Stay: 1 Night

A rare hotel; though to be honest in a region the Lonely Planet guide describes as “desolation”, it’s more just taking what you can find.

Outside Nukus Hostel
The Hotel Nukus – a fairly standard Soviet-era building; rectangular and uniform.

It’s fairly ‘standard’ from the outside – a plain-fronted, rectangular building near the centre of the town – while inside it has the feel of a place with grandeur long since disappeared, leaving only memories of past glories and world-weary decoration. Peeling wallpaper, old-fashioned and grotty furnishings, and a somewhat grubby carpet litter the main corridors, and the ‘theme’, such as it is, continues into the bedrooms.

Inside Nukus Hostel
The bedroom; I’m taking the picture from my bed – to my immediate left is the bathroom, making the room an odd L-shape.

I was sharing the room with a backpacker called Marta, who’d organised our trip up to the Aral Sea. We shared a cramped and very odd-shaped room with two single beds in it – my bed being in a small narrow section next to the bathroom, almost as if they thought ‘oh we’ve got this space, what shall we do with it – I know, let’s stick a bed in it’.

The bathroom was small, with stains so entrenched they’d become part of the colour scheme, and the water pressure varied from low to non-existent, which caused confusion at one point as the taps suddenly came on without warning or reason (it’s hard to know whether a tap is on or off when no water comes out).

Inside Nukus Hostel
The bathroom. Lovely.

Downstairs was a large, but generally completely empty, canteen, with long tables and a large television; the nearest the hotel comes to any kind of social area. Food was so unmemorable I can’t actually recall if we ate any.

Such ‘luxury’ all comes at a price – we paid the local currency equivalent of US$11 each (the actual price for foreigners if you paid in US$ is 15, as they convert money at the official rate whereas our som had already been converted at black market rate). Cheap by Western standards of course, and if you come out all this way you already know not to expect The Ritz, but …


5) Rustam & Zukhra, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Date Stayed: 20 September 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

I quite liked this place. It had a nice combination of sociability and ambiance, reasonably decent facilities, and good location. The only down-side was the unreliable and slow WiFi; in mitigation though, during my stay one of the other backpackers was a full-time traveller who was doing all manner of work-related things via Skype and uploading large files so that might have affected things.

As seems to be the style in Central Asia, it’s built around an open, airy courtyard where you can sit and eat, chat, and relax in the sun – the main entrance goes straight into it too, in a manner similar to that of a castle keep. The rooms and dorms are built around the sides of this yard, on two levels – my dorm was on the upper level, accessed by an outside staircase.
The place had the feel of a traditional guesthouse – a kind of homely setting with Central Asian ornamentation and decoration that I could have imagined Silk Road travellers being invited into to eat and stay in the Middle Ages.

Inside Bukhara Hostel
The courtyard; the doors coming off it are all going to other dorms and private rooms.

The dorm itself wasn’t anything particularly special – a relatively plain room with single beds lined together (again, no bunks). A fairly decent array of power sockets mitigated against a slight feeling of crampedness; the bathroom was en-suite too which was definitely a plus, although one of my roommates did manage to cause a short-circuit while having a shower; he’s not sure how he did that either but he was slightly concerned…

Inside Bukhara Hostel
It’s fairly clear that most of the nice decoration is saved for public/social areas.

On request, the hostel/guesthouse (I’m not sure where the line diving the two is drawn when looking at places like this) does food – breakfast was a really good combination of scrambled egg, bread, and fruit, which pretty much everyone on site recommended; they also cook up food for later on in the day which was equally as good.

Outside Bukhara Hostel
The frontage of the hostel. The main doors take you through a short, wide, passageway and out into the courtyard.

It’s easy to miss from the outside – it’s slightly set back from the main street and not completely obvious – but it is very central; it’s just about in the pedestrianised zone that covers the city centre. It’s about two blocks from “The Pub”, a small local pub which brews its own beer for (at the time of visiting) a remarkably cheap 3,000 som/half-litre, and close to a handful of, admittedly touristy, restaurants that sell a passable Plov for a handful of dollars. About 100m away, on the opposite side of the main street, is where you can catch the minibuses and taxis to the bus station.


6) Hotel Furkat, Samarkhand, Uzbekistan
Date Stayed: 22 September 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

Well now.
One of the other backpackers I kept bumping into in Uzbekistan (Paul) had previously passed through Samarkhand and recommended this hostel as being comfortable, nice, and with a good Wi-Fi connection. What he didn’t tell me was how weird and quirky it was …

Finding it was the first task; it’s on a side street just off the southern end of the popular Tashkent Street, and near the Registon, so while definitely convenient, it does take a little poking around on quiet, narrow, suburban streets with few tourists. In addition, the place seems to have a couple of annexes, so I did have to myther a bit to ensure I had the right one. It’s not really obvious from the outside – it just looks like any other building on the street, with a large metal driveway gate.

Inside Samarkhand Hostel
Very weird decoration in the dorm room. The vintage radio isn’t pictured, but the small bust of Stalin is …

Inside, however, it’s a completely different world.
It’s built around a courtyard (really, this just seems to be the standard style for Central Asia) – this one however looked very ‘busy’ and ‘lived-in’, with tables in alcoves, a big plastic wall hiding the clothes-washing area, lots of trees, and a parrot. Yes. It was quite vocal too. I’m not sure how many floors it had, but everywhere I looked were iron staircases leading upwards, clinging to the walls like shoots of metallic ivy.
My dorm was slightly underground, and with the aircon, definitely the best place to be in the mid-afternoon heat. It was a four-bed dorm, no bunks, and all empty on my arrival, but the lack of people was more than compensated for by the ‘clutter’. The room was full of … well, ‘memorabilia’ would be a good word, ‘junk’ might be another. Pictures, ornaments, board games, even an old radio, all seemingly from the Communist era. David Dickenson would have been in his element. Whereas my hostel in Bishkek had a similar ‘theme’, that was very understated compared to this almost ‘junk shop’ environment.

Inside Samarkhand Hostel
Part of the courtyard. Although quite large, it was very ‘cluttered’ and full of trees, so hard to take a picture of the whole thing. The staircases were legion and seemed to appear everywhere, both up and down, with no evident pattern.

I ended up spending all my time alone in the dorm – no other travellers were sharing. That’s not to say there were no other travellers on site – on my second day I shared breakfast in the courtyard with a handful of Germans, while on my last day breakfast was served on the top floor balcony, and shared with a 4×4 of British Indians driving from the UK to India for charity, and a horde of elderly Australians whose average subject of conversation was “he’s dead you know, yeh heart attack.”. Again, the boundaries between hostel and guesthouse are blurred …
Breakfast, by the way, was a vast spread of cheese & crackers, fruit (mainly melon), yoghurt, hard-boiled egg, and a few other sides; definitely hearty and filling.

Note that the view from the top of the hostel isn’t as impressive as you’d think, even though it’s on what felt like the third floor – possibly because all you really see are roofs of the houses below you, and none of the really pretty buildings are that tall.

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