One of the most unique capital cities I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, Astana offered a futuristic perspective on a new city designed for tomorrow.
To be perfectly honest I arrived in Astana with no expectations. I knew I wanted to see the country, I knew where it was located, and I knew it had one of the coolest flags, but I didn’t know that its capital city was going to be one of the most interesting cities I have ever been too.
Located 15 hours by bus from Omsk, an often travelled city on the Trans-Siberian railway, Astana is well worth the trip. Although you need a visa to enter Kazakhstan, which is a minor inconvenience, but once you’re there the people are friendly, there are enough English speakers to get you by, and the architecture in Astana is mind blowing.
As a young capital city Astana is booming with an influx of money from the government who, due to the abundance of natural resources, has made the development of Astana one of its priorities. Filled with a half dozen malls, all within a few kilometers of each other, massive squares lined with obscurely designed buildings, and a display of mega structures filling the empty space that was once open countryside the 12 year old capital is certainly something to see.
To warn you, Astana is not a cheap place to stay, but if you can handle grinding it out in a hotel room that rivals some of the cheapest Indian accommodations the bus station hotel is one of the most reasonable options in the city. It’s not a nice place but it’s cheap considering the mega hotels whose prices are set at hundreds of dollars per night. If you can handle the mice and the subpar sleeping arrangement the $20 UDS price tag is well worth it.
I spent the better part of two days wandering the city streets of Astana marveling at the architecture that appears as if it was designed using the computer game Sim City. Everything in the city appears to be brand new and the buildings have a futuristic design that forces you to pull your camera out every time you see one.
Yet, as I walked through downtown Astana I was overcome by a sense of awe and eeriness. The city seemed empty. Although it was filled with magnificent structures, on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in April, there seemed to be few people around. I couldn’t help but wonder where everyone was as I walked across the open space filled with 10 lane roadways, only a car or two passing by every minute, dozens of brand new apartment complexes, and massive parks with no one in them.
Around the presidential palace only a few skateboarders cruising around the open brick courtyard in front of the building and several police officers could be seen. The white marble building towers over the brand new park filled with freshly planted trees, behind it. The isolation of the building towering over the empty space around it reinforces that sense of emptiness the new capital projects.
Perhaps it was a work day but I had the feeling that the city was more show than function, a city being built for the future. The malls however were a different story. Inside the malls were filled with shoppers looking at all the latest products from Adidas and other popular companies that have made the Kazak consumer their new priority. For me the malls were a cheap place to grab a bite to eat and offered wifi throughout their complexes.
I loved visiting Astana because of its architectural beauty and modern design. The fact that there were few people around gave the sense that my friends and I had the capital all to ourselves. Of course, I spent most of my time in the new city whereas the old city is more populated and its structures are densely built. The people in Astana were incredibly friendly and English there seemed to be far more prevalent than that of Siberia. In fact during my time here I was invited out to spend a Saturday night with some locals, but that’s a story for a different day.