Wednesday, 23 December 2015

KAZAKHSTAN: Unexpectedly Wonderful City

City Of Astana

There are snow-capped mountains to be found even in summer, quaint little countryside villages, old world charm of its largest city Almaty and the new world glitz of its capital, Astana.

Not to forget the shopping complexes that offer all the top brands and more and restaurants serving excellent food.

The country, which gained its independence from the old Soviet Union in 1991, is now opening up to the world outside.

It has made it easier for tourists to travel there by extending visa-free facilities to citizens of some countries, Malaysia included, and its national airline, Air Astana, is spreading its wings to more corners of the world.

Almaty, the old capital, has numerous attractions, with the Shymbulak Ski Resort located some 20 minutes from the city being among its biggest draws.

This is the biggest ski resort in Kazakhstan – rising to some 3,200 metres above sea level. It was also one of the venues for the 2011 Asian Winter Games.

The cable car ride to the top station offers a panoramic view of the resort, which operates the whole year round and receives about 500,000 tourists annually. Incidentally, the best time for skiing is from November to April.

Then there is the lesser-known Lesnaya Skazna Mountain Resort which is about 45 minutes from Almaty. This resort is perfect for camping trips with family and friends. There is also a hotel, skating rink and forest park. The climbing park is suitable for both children and adults.

Within Almaty, there is the Green Market with its maze of stalls selling everything from homemade goat cheese and Korean salads, to hand-knit woollen mittens and socks.

There is also a huge selection of fresh vegetables, dairy products and meat, as well as a number of non-food household items.

Prices change seasonally, and it can be quite expensive, but shopping here is a real experience.

As with most modern cities, Almaty offers a great choice of food – from western to Asian and the more traditional Kazakh cuisine.

Horse meat is popular here and most restaurants serve it in some form.

Astana, which is about 90 minutes' flight from Almaty, is a planned city.

As the seat of the government of Kazakhstan, Astana is the site of the Parliament House, the Supreme Court, the Ak Orda Presidential Palace and numerous government departments and agencies.

It is also home to many futuristic buildings, hotels and skyscrapers and is a centre for sport, healthcare and education.

One of Astana's main attractions is the tent-like entertainment centre called Khan Shatyr, sometimes called the world's tallest tent.

Underneath the tent, in an area larger than 10 football stadiums, is an urban-scale internal park, shopping and entertainment venue with squares and cobbled streets, shopping centre.

There is even an indoor beach resort! This 'beach' located on the fifth floor gives you a special feeling that you are swimming on top of the mall!

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