Uzbekistan: Tracing the Historic & Modern Silk Route


I have long been eager to travel to Uzbekistan, especially given my love for history and desire to see the former centers of the fabled Silk Route. So when I planned a trip to Central Asia, Uzbekistan was high on my list of countries to visit. And it certainly did not disappoint. Not only is it far more advanced and richer than its neighbors, but the people and culture is truly all about hospitality, generosity and sharing in its traditions. I am not even kidding! I was invited to two weddings, several excursions, and even the circumcision party of a vendor’s son. I swear, I have rarely witnessed such hospitality in my life. 


I have to say much of this hospitality relates to the incredible cultural exchange ingrained in the DNA of the people during the long history of the Silk Route and the Islamic traditions that truly dictate the moral compass and habits of the people of this great nation. So I am very happy I was able to travel to Uzbekistan and trace not only the historic Silk Route through Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand but also engage with the people to see how the country is still at the center of global commerce and culture exchange, especially in Tashkent.


COVID TESTING: I was only asked to show that I was vaccinated at the border. If you are not vaccinated, then look into proving that you had COVID and recovered or get a recent negative COVID test. 

FLIGHTS: While I flew out of Tashkent on Turkish Airlines and back to LA via Istanbul, I did not take my originally intended flight from Dushanbe to Tashkent and instead opted to drive across the border. More on that later in Travel Hacks. I did fly from Tashkent to Khiva on the local Uzbekistan Airways, which was cheap, on time and a convenient way to traverse the journey between the two cities. 

TRAINS: Uzbekistan is very well connected in terms of its main cities by train. Now it’s not easy for non-Russian/Uzbek speakers to navigate the railways website (even though it does have English) and make the purchase. I tried and failed many times so I enlisted the services of who made the reservations on my behalf. Now if you can book the Afrosiyab train (bullet train) then do it! Holy crap its like the Lambo of trains especially compared with the horrific old Soviet trains, like the one I had to take from Khiva to Bukhara for 8 hours (note I do not believe they have the bullet train on this route but they still have faster trains for sure). And the cost is comparable. Only issue is availability because it is frequently booked out by locals since its by far the most efficient and cost effective way to travel between Bukhara > Samarkand > Tashkent.

ACCOMMODATIONS: For this trip I booked hotels priced between $50-$60 with the main goal of finding locations in center of the old towns in each city I went to so that I can just walk around and not deal with cabs. And honestly it paid off! I stayed in the Old Bokhara hotel in Bukhara, which was clean, super well located, and had a nice breakfast. I then stayed at Bibikhanum Hotel in Samarkand, which may have the one of the nicest views of any hotel I have ever stayed in:

And then I stayed at the Malika Prime, which was likewise well situated and had an amazing terrace. Now I booked all them in advance because I really wanted places in the center of the old town, but since it was not technically high season I could have likely booked when I arrived there but this will definitely not be the case during high season, like in September and October.

METRO/TAXIS: In Tashkent I used the metro to great effect. Most areas are connected to the metro, which runs frequently, and each station is truly unique (see Journey Journal) oh and did I mention its about 15 cents to use the metro! Taxis are also likewise cheap about $1-2 within a 5KM radius, which is all you really need. You can download and use Yandex, ask a hotel to call a taxi for you, or hail a cab and insist that they use this taxi meter app to charge you (its great when they use it since it seems accurate and fair).

CREDIT CARDS/ATMS: Unlike Tajikistan, almost every major restaurant, coffee shop etc uses VISA or Mastercard and there are ATMs throughout the major cities. I did bring cash with me just in case and thankfully there are money exchanges throughout the major towns. Its still easier to pay with local cash especially for souveniers, entrances to attractions, and taxis etc.


Let’s put things into perspective. The Silk Route was a series of routes that stretched from Europe to China and on it, not only were goods, jewels, agricultural products, textilies, weapons traded, but philosophies, innovations, religions spread and numerous civilizations rise and fall throughout history. It was an incredibly rich thoroughfare that truly shaped the history of the region and millions of people even today!

I spent nearly a week in Uzbekistan because I really wanted to see as much as I could and of course a week was not enough. The usual break down is 2 days in each of the main Silk Route cities and 2 days in the capital, which should not be underestimated since its actually a really nice modern city with a lot to do. My goal was to get a great grasp of the history of the Silk Route but also to learn about its modern history especially in the capital.  

Getting to Tashkent: Initially I set to arrive via plane, but as I was in Northern Tajikistan in the city of Khujand, I learnt that it made far more sense to take a taxi to the border and then another taxi to Tashkent, then drive 6 hours back to Dushanbe and fly out the late the next day. I had seen Dushanbe and going back over the same highway again was not that exciting. So skipped my flight and dutifully went to the border. When I got there, there was two busloads of students and locals, which meant I was at the border crossing for almost 2 hours. But after a VERY thorough review of my passport I was let through. 

I then grabbed a cab for about $25 for the 1.5 hour ride to the capital and along the way we stopped by some cotton farms. Not sure if you have ever seen or picked cotton, but its an incredible plant and the cotton straight from the plant feels super soft. Note that one of Uzbekistan’s largest exports is cotton. It was initially brought to the country from imperial Russia and heavily encouraged under the Soviet Union. Sadly it is a very water intensive crop and has decimated the Aral sea, which at some point was the 4th largest inland sea and now is 10% of its original size. 


After arriving in Tashkent I went straight to my Hotel, Home Hotel. They had very friendly staff so I befriended the receptionists (as per usual lol). Its amazing how excited people get when they (1) find out I’m from California, (2) I have traveled to over 150+ countries with the goal to see the world, (3) I am vlogging the experiences and have a YouTube Channel. Seeing the importance of having locals with you to proudly show you their city and country has literally changed the way I travel. Truly. One staff member I met was Mirjalol, a 21-year old Uzbek from a city between Samarkand and Bukhara. He too was aspiring to create a local travel vlog and was very excited to help me see the capital, and then promised me to show me Samarkand at the end of my trip! 

That first night I decided to walk through the capital and was astounded by how developed and booming it was. I walked down the main blvd all the way to the Amir Timur square then down Broadway, where people were playing all sorts of games, getting drinks, ice cream. It looked like the street was turned into an amusement park. 

I then made my way to the Alishar Novoi theater, where they were having an outdoor concert (mind you the weather was a perfect 75 degrees at night). Walking the streets felt very safe and clean. Truly one of the nicer capitals in Central Asia. The city is growing at a rapid rate, which is not surprising since the economy is doing relatively well and has not been drastically impacted by the crazy energy prices. Why? Well for one, the most common car on the road is Chevy and that’s because it’s assembled locally so its far more cost-effective. Also Uzbekistan is the 11th largest gas producer, which means most of these cars are fitted to run on gas so getting around is cheaper. 

The next day I was a man on a mission and here is what I saw:

  • Metro stations – since 1977 the Tashkent developed its metro system to criss-cross the capital and for select stations they are elaborately designed often to celebrate the rich history of the country. 
  • Minor Mosque – this mosque is one of the most beautiful in the country. I decided to go there for Friday prayers, and boy was I in for a surprise. I think there may have been 2,000-3,000 worshippers, almost as many as I have seen for far bigger Muslim celebrations. And the Friday prayer rituals are far longer than I was accustomed to, but all in all the experience to pray side by side with fellow Muslims in a beautifully ornate mosque was certainly worth it.
  • Chorzu Bazaar – this massive bazaar is located near the center of town. Its layout is in concentric circles with each circle plying a trade or selling certain items — fruits, bread, vegetables, butcheries, etc. But if you are planning to travel to other cities like Samarkand then that one is more worth a visit and this one would be a skip.
  • Timurid Museum – Definitely worth a visit to see the hero worship on exhibit for Amir Timur, the King who united the Uzbek and Tajik tribes and resurrected the region after it was decimated by the Mongol invaders. And in the process he ushered in an era of science, technology, and vast architecture. Despite his incredible achievements, we should not forget he was also a vicious conqueror, and while he may be a hero in Uzbekistan, he is certainly not in other countries he invaded (reminds me when a friend said that Alexander the Great is actually known as Alexander the Bastard in Tajikistan for being an unwanted conqueror!)
  • Tashkent Tower –  This TV tower was created in 1985 and is a truly a must see especially up close. I recommend doing what I did, go eat at Beshqozon, which is said to have the best Plov in the country and admire the tower only a stone through away.

I also saw a few other landmarks, like Independence Square, which is off limits since the Presidential Palace is nearby, Dhzuma Mosque and adjacent madrasah. If you have the time, check them out. 


A little about Khiva. The small city is in western Tajikistan, and is said to be over 2,500 years old. What makes Khiva so unique is that its like an open air museum. And while people will say you can see it in a day, they are right technically but you really need to spend time there during the day and at night. I regret I was only there for the day (I arrived on a flight at 830AM from Tashkent and then had to take the last train out at 430PM that day to Bukhara). Once you get to the airport in Urgench, you have to take another cab to old Khiva, which costs about $15 and takes about 30 mins. 

The old city or Itchan Kala is incredibly charming and feels like a blast from the past, like Cordoba if you have ever been there. And of course it was one of the famous outposts of the Silk Route. A center of learning, commerce, trade, art, and pride of the people. For example I stumbled on an Madrasah that was converted into a museum to showcase the medical innovations of the day in the city. Here were the main points of interest I saw, which I would HIGH recommend (Note: I did not get a guide for Khiva, and it worked out ok for me though I am sure it would have been a great learning experience if I had one):

  • Mohammed Khan Madrasa: Known to be one of the largest in Central Asia and now converted into a hotel. What an experience to stay in an actual historical monument.
  • Kalta Minor Minaret: Was meant to be 3 times the height it is now (29 meters), but the Khan who was building it in the mid-1800s died and the next ruler just stopped the project. You can just imagine if it had achieved its planned height. Sadly it was closed for renovations, so I could not go to the top.

  • Juma Mosque: When its not to busy this is a really nice place to walk around. The 218 wooden columns that support the structure almost make it seem like a forest and not like something you would have seen before in any other mosque.
  • Tash Khauli: This palace was said to have over 150 rooms and 9 courtyard. I was not so impressed with this one, since its being renovated, but still worth dropping by, especially since each monument is literally next to each other. 
  • Mohamed Pahlavan Mausoleum: A place of worship for a local hero who was a philosopher, statesman and actual wrestler! Very beautiful inside the building and serene. Nice place to rest and meditate.
  • Islam Khodja Minerat: The tallest minerat in Uzbekistan at 76 meters but yet again it was being renovated, otherwise the view would have be amazing especially at sunset.
  • Kunya Ark Fortress: This was the highlight of Khiva for me. Such a beautiful courtyard, throne room for the Khans, and an amazing watch tower, which was thankfully opened so I finally got a majestic view of the city front atop. Definitely a MUST see in Khiva!
  • Other highlights: Have lunch at Terrace Cafe (service wasn’t great, but that is made up with an epic view). 

Make sure to go into the artisan shops and just talk to the locals to see how they live, work, and get a sense of the inhabitants who make up the 2,000 people that still live in the old city. Walk around the perimeter of the outerwall to see the fortifications (random fact, I was told they buried people in the walls). Walk around the city at night, which you should be able to do if you have accommodations in the old city. I’m told the lighting of the monuments and the historic feel of the city especially on a warm night will make the place feel like a tale out of 1,000 and 1 nights.


I love Bukhara. Maybe its how I arrived in the city. But it was a combination of the old town feel of Khiva, with some of the grandiose style monuments of Samarkand. It was known as the ‘Dome of Islam’ and one of the main cities on the Silk Route. I decided to get a guide for Bukhara since again my time was super limited and for whatever reason I really wanted to get a sense of the history to help color my experience on the Silk Route. 

I arrived in Bukhara after a hellish train ride from Khiva at 1215AM. The cab from the train station to the old town is meant to be $5 but you will learn on your own travels, unless there is a legit meter, cab drivers are among the biggest charlatans and will take advantage of you. My driver told me $15 and I negotiated him down to $10 since I was exhausted. He dropped me off outside the old town and I had to walk in. But while that was annoying it was magical. Walking through a near empty town at 1AM with 70 degree temperature is pure magic. I took a left then right then left and next thing you know Im standing in front of this:

…and my hotel turned out to be right around the corner!

The next day I secured the guide and off we went exploring. Here were the highlights:

  • Lyabi Hauz Ensemble: We started our tour here at the heart of the old city. And I especially loved walking around the Nadir Devonbegi Madrasah and Kukaldosh Madrasah where we saw artisans working diligently on their trade: painting, woodcraft, sewing etc. The Lyabi Hauz pool is also interesting since they were the sources of water and gathering people for the local community!
  • Jewish synagogue – We then stopped by a still functioning synagogue in the old city, which teaches hebrew and provides a space for worshippers. Bukharan Jews have a storied history in the city and are now located in the 100,000s throughout the world, especially in the U.S. and Israel.
  • Trading Domes – I found the trading domes fascinating as great examples of the vivacious nature of the Silk Route. Each domes was dedicated to a certain craft where mercantes from across the known world sold and traded those items: Toqi Sarrafon (money exchangers), Toqi Telpakfurushon (cap sellers), Toqi Zargaron (jewelry)!
  • Karavansaray Kulita – We made a special stop at this caravansarai, which is where merchants resided when traveling along the Silk Route! At these watering holes/motels there were hamams (baths), mosques, trading domes, and residencies. I loved the idea and this one was awesome since the family (my guide’s family actually) completely renovated the area to ensure it stays true to its historic appearance and lasts for generations. 
  • Mir Arab Madrasah & Kalyan Mosque/Minaret – This place was pure magic. I arrived at the madrasah around the time for the call to prayer and walked around feeling like I was living in the height of the Islam’s golden age in the city. Definitely a MUST see!
  • Other Key Highlights: Ismoil Somoni burial site; Old city wall; Fortress Wall; Chinor restaurant; Blacksmith (Kamalovs family – to see the generational establishment and the making of their incredible knives – I bought two in the shape of storks).

Bukhara is truly a must see! Though I would have stayed longer next time, at least 2 full days. After my day in the city, I took a cab to the train station and bullet train to Samarkand in 1.5 hours (that train is everything!)


When I arrived in Samarkand I took a cab to the hotel I was staying, which was a PERFECT pick. The BibiKhanam Hotel has one of the nicest views of any hotel I have been too since it showcase the dome of the BibiKhanam Mosque right next door, as if it was a mere extension of the hotel. 

The city is ancient and was the capital of Amir Timur, who really resurrected the city after it was destroyed by Gengis Khan. So its not surprising that he is revered in the city and even buried there. Overall Samarkand can’t be missed if you are visiting Uzbekistan. Frankly you have to go there if you are in Central Asia period!

Here are the highlights of the places I visited:

  • BibiKhanam Mosque – built to commemorate Amir Timur’s love for his wife (though there seems to be a back story that she may have built it for him while he was on a military campaign in India). It was unfortunately left to the elements and then destroyed by an earthquake. But now it is being renovated, and is a beautiful testament to love and the Islamic architecture of the time. 
  • Gur-Emir Mausoleum – The mausoleum was built by Amir Timur for his  grandsons but when he died suddenly en route to a military campaign in China he was brought back to Samarkand and buried in the Mausoleum. Today Uzbeks and Tajiks traveling from afar come to pray and pay homage to Amir Temur, as he is still very much venerated in the country.
  • Shaikh-i-Zinda – This is the burial site for ‘Living Kings’ and is located near a cemetery. Its nice to walk through and see the architecture and pay respects to the Prophet Mohammed’s PBUH uncle who had been killed and buried in the burial site. If you had to miss this place you are not at a terrible loss. Its interesting but not mind blowing.
  • Observatory – I personally wanted to stop by the observatory about 4 kms from the city since it truly optimized the innovation and intelligence that prevaded the region and Silk Route in general. Ulughbey (the king of the entire empire) who created the observatory was an astute astronomer and truly in a league of his own for foresight and innovation. While the location is not spectacular the significance of the site is incredible. 
  • Siab Bazaar – I did make a stop by this bazaar which is located near the center of town and would highly advise seeing it since its so vibrant, generally clean and has a lot of interesting things on sale.
  • Registan – I am leaving the best for last! This complex made up of three Madrasahs built over 200 years is nothing short of breathtaking. I may dare say one of the most beautiful monuments I have ever seen especially when it is lit up at night. I HIGHLY advise spending significant time walking through the square (which was at the heart of the Silk Route and later become the location of official proclamations and public executions) and going through the courtyards of each madrasah and looking up at the ceiling of the Tilya Kori Mosque!

I was also fortunate to get access to climb up one of the minarets to have a birds-eye view of the square (as a guard and they will direct you to how to get up there). Simply incredible!!

  • Other highlights: Wedding Party at Mo’jiza Restaurant; Renting a bike to get around the monuments; Islam Karimov Mausoleum for the former president.  


Uzbekistan not only met, but FAR exceeded the expectations I had for the country. I asked numerous people why they are proud to be Uzbek and they all agreed it was the hospitality and generosity of the people. I fully agree! Rarely have I been treated so well by so many from all levels of society. And the history of the country, especially at the heart of the trade, culture, philosophy, art, architecture and entertainment of the Silk Route left so much to imagine and appreciate. 

I was truly able to get a great sense of what this incredible thoroughfare, stretching thousands of miles across most of the known world, was all about. When I come back I want to re-explore some of these key cities and even venture into the Aral Sea area to appreciate the varied topography of the country. Can’t wait to make my return!


BOOKING TRAINS: I struggled to book my trains through the local site in Uzbek (couldn’t make the final payment for some reason) and so I found another company that was able to do it for me Advantour. They were professional and very prompt. When I got to Uzbekistan, I got locals to help with changes to my bookings since they were able to search and book trains that were seemingly not available on English sites.  So don’t despair but find locals or a local agency to do the bookings for you if you can’t figure it out.

GETTING VISA: I struggled with the eVisa for Uzbekistan. I was able to complete the whole form on the official website but when it came to uploading my picture and passport copy, it just would not accept the copies. So I found who were on top of it for a certain fee and able to secure the visa for me within days. Again if there is a technical glitch don’t despair (and of course dont bother calling the ministry in the local country or even the consulate in your country, as these will lead to long-winded rabbit holes and possibly dead ends), there are agencies that can help.

FINDING A GUIDE: I found most of my guides through the hotels and friends of friends. It allowed me to price shop but also to meet the guide in advance, tell them my goals (for me for example I want to be on the move, exploring off the beaten path places, getting great stories, engaging in the local experience [like visiting their homes], helping find cool spots to shoot for the vlog, and maybe even helping me by holding the camera), negotiate a price that makes sense for my time on the ground and what I want to achieve. While I don’t always get a guide, because I want things more bespoke, spontaneous, and personable, sometimes you really need one that is dedicated to you when you have limited time, language barriers, security issues, and really want to get the ‘off the menu’ experience without having to over research on your own and miss something important.

OFFLOADING LUGGAGE: While this does not always happen, you can go to a nice hotel and drop off your luggage at the front desk or bell captain who can hold on to it for you as you explore a city. I have done this so many times and its great when you are in a city to quickly explore and dont want to tow your luggage around or find a luggage storage in a railway station. However you will need to tell them sometimes that you plan to check in later but for now just need to leave your luggage while you walk around.

If you are still reading this blog, then thank you for your support and I hope you found it useful for your trip to Uzbekistan. And hopefully it means you are interested to read more! In that case, I would recommend the [KYRGYZSTAN BLOG] Blog, which is part of my journey through Central Asia!

~ Stay Curious. And I look forward to seeing you on my next Final50 Journey! ~