Central Asia is one of those regions that few international travelers are familiar with, nowadays. That wasn’t always the case, however, as the Silk Road was once a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe and Asia, and Central Asia was at the heart of this prosperous trade route. Geographically, Central Asia stretches east-west from the Caspian Sea to China and Mongolia, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north. In between are “the ‘Stans”, including the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Today we have the benefit of an expert in the region, writer Bradley Mayhew, joining us to share a bit about everything we didn’t know that we didn’t even know, about one of the largest — and least visited — regions of Asia.

Yurts at the foot of Lenin Peak in Kyrgyzstan’s Alai Valley (photographer Bradley Mayhew)

What we knew beforehand:

Scott: A little bit – my Dad and I almost went through Central Asia in 2019. I also have a former colleague who went there to the capital, rented motorbikes with a few friends and drove around some of the country.

Trevor: Marathon runner from Kyrgystan. And I had a Canadian friend who was in the tractor business and sold big industrial tractors in Kasakhstan, I believe, which was before Borat. Other than that, Central Asia is such a geographically remote region that I’d know far less than I do if we hadn’t recently recorded a show about travel to Kyrgyzstan with guidebook author Stephen Lioy.

Mountain caravanserai in the snow, at Tash Rabat, Kyrgyzstan (photographer Bradley Mayhew)


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Bradley Mayhew

Bradley Mayhew is a British travel writer who has been writing guidebooks for almost 25 years, notably multiple editions of Lonely Planet guides to Central Asia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya.

Bradley has been visiting Central Asia regularly since the mid-1990s, is the co-author of the Odyssey Guide to Uzbekistan and the Insight Guide to the Silk Road, and is featured in a five-part TV documentary retracing the route of Marco Polo from Venice to China, and has lectured on Central Asia to the Royal Geographical Society. He joins us online.

Listen to Episode 136 to hear Bradley’s answers to the following questions:

  • Where are you currently, and how long have you been living there?
  • What first brought you to Asia and where did you go on that first trip?
  • How did you first get interested in Central Asia?
  • You have a 25-year career writing travel guides: did that career begin in Central Asia? Tell us about that journey.
  • One country it seems you have some of the most extensive knowledge about is Uzbekistan, having written the Odyssey Guide to Uzbekistan in the mid 1990s. You’ve just finished working on a new (eighth or ninth?) edition. What are some of the greatest differences between the first edition and the latest one?
  • Give us a general overview of Central Asia: how many countries are included in the term, how big is it, how diverse…?
  • What do you love so much about the region?
  • Let’s start with “the ‘Stans” – what do these countries offer travelers? What are some of the highlights in each of these countries? 
  • Can they be combined into a single trip? Should they be? Or would you suggest choosing one particular ‘Stan that has the highlight attraction or experience that appeals the most?
  • Tell us about some of the key sites outside of Uzbekistan
  • Tell us a bit about the best Trekking in Central Asia?
  • How safe is it to travel around these countries?
  • If someone wanted to spend 2-3 weeks in Central Asia, what’s a great travel plan?
  • Mountain Experiences – Pamir Highway?
  • Best memory as a traveler in Central Asia?
  • After all these years, what do you still love about the region?
Intricate tilework at the Tillya Kari Madrassah in Samarkand, Uzbekistan (photographer Bradley Mayhew)


Learn more about Scott and Trevor:

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