No, You May Not Visit Turkmenistan


We're hitting the road again soon, for Turkey and Ukraine, and there is just enough time for a quick fly-in fly-out to somewhere else, so we made a bid to visit our first "'Stan."

We'll arrive at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul late in the evening, and Turkish Airlines' flight schedule works out great. It would allow us to keep pushing east. Just a brief layover in the raved-about new Turkish lounge, and off we'd go to Ashgabat.

Alas, it was not to be.

The Turkmen government requires a letter of invitation (loi) in order to grant a tourist visa. They're available through travel services (Uncornered Market blog does a good job describing how to get an loi), and we applied through a friendly, helpful service in Ashgabat.

We didn't invest much of our hearts in our quick little prospective visit, and it's just as well, because Turkmenistan didn't invite us, at least on the dates we could visit. This morning brought an email from our man in Ashgabat:

"Please, be informed, the Migration Service of Turkmenstan
has announced some limitations on issuing LOIs (for tourist visas) for the
period between March 11 till March 25. Now, we must shift the dates of
your travel to Ashgabat before March 11 or after March 25. 

Please, advise if it is possible for you to travel to
Turkmenistan during the period of March 9 till March 11?"
March 9 till March 11 isn't going to work. Most places you get to choose your own dates to visit. Of course, this makes me want to visit more.

Next time.

Missing: One Formerly Great Inland Sea

Bissell Speaking of studying your maps like a good little schoolboy, I was in school during the Soviet period and learned all about the Soviet Union’s great lakes. I knew them well, west to east, the Black Sea, then the Caspian, then the Aral (Lake Baikal was in Siberia and thus off schoolboys’ maps). By now I’ve been to the Black and Caspian Seas, but I’m afraid we may all be running out of time to see the Aral.

Tom Bissell took us there and told us as much in his 2004 Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, and now there’s a nice update in Prospect magazine: the Aral Sea has shrunk to ten per cent of its original size and contends for “the worst pace on earth.”

Name That Stan

Most of us world travel fans who studied our maps in school will be able to tell you that Ashgabat is the capital of one of the five Stans that emerged from the Soviet Union – Turkmenistan, to be exact. NPR reporter Frank Langfitt didn't know where Ashgabat is, but he filed an entertaining little piece yesterday on "extreme travelers," in which he interviewed two of the top-ten-ranked people at

Just personally, as far as "where you've been" websites go, I like better. is klunkier to get your information into, and lets you map your visited countries on a fun little map you can use elsewhere, like so: