If you've had a chance to visit Dubai, then Astana feels incredibly similar.
OR, If you felt that Kazakhstan was a backwater country as portrayed in Borat, then prepare to be blown away.
Where is Astana, Kazakhstan
The Train Ride
The journey begins from the Russian city of Omsk. Either you can take a 1 hour flight for about $250, or a 15 hour train ride, for $30-40. I decided to cheap-out, and take the train.
The train ride itself is peaceful, and the only major event was the passport check on the train itself. One at the Russian border, and one at the Kazakhstan border.
The Shiny, Fancy Expensive New City of Kazakhstan
Taking a taxi from the train station, through the city, you feel that everything is new. The roads are wide, the buildings have only recently been completed, and this is almost like an architectural playground of the newest designs.
Less History, More Future
Honestly, there wasn't much cultural architecture or feel to the city. It's exactly like Dubai… new, spaced out, and with no important historical moments… other than more construction.
But, in a novel, futuristic way, Astana is beautiful, because it shows how a modern city is built, when it has almost unlimited funds, and upward economic momentum.
Government & Futurism
Almaty was originally the capital of Kazakhstan. But supposedly, the president of Kazakhstan wanted to build a closer base to Russia for economic purposes.
The majority of the Kazakh income is derived from the extraction and export of oil. As oil continued to appreciate in value, more money flowed into the Kazakh coffers, and hence, more money is being spent, sometimes senselessly.
Religion in Kazakhstan
While exploring the city of Astana, you definitely won't miss the sight of their 4-pillar-style Mosques. At night time, the lighting is intense enough to really warrant curiosity.
Kazakhstan is a predominantly Muslim country. But a progressive one, compared to Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, or other Islamic nations.
Kazakhstan went through several very rough, very forced cultural changes in it's history.
From being a region of nomadic tribes, assimilation into an Islamic religion, to being invaded by the Mongol Horde, back to Islam, and eventually both the Russian empire, and Soviet communism abolishing religion altogether…
And finally back to a semi-authoritarian republic that allows religion.
The Night Lights in Astana
Because the city is so incredibly new, and historically artificial, the light show is definitely something to see.
Verdict for Astana, Kazakhstan
Cool place. If you intend to walk around, like I did, then get comfortable walking shoes, and try coming here on a warm day. Despite being in ‘central asia' Astana is closer to the freezing Siberian-Russian climate.
The landscape is novel, futuristic and rapidly being built, so within 2-3 years, there will be a lot of new high-tech looking buildings (granted the economy survives on a dwindling interest in fossil fuels).
The prices aren't high, but they aren't low either, and you can uber for a dollar or 2 to any point in the city. You can see everything of interest within 1-2 days for sure.
As stated before, it feels like Dubai, or any brand new, high-investment city.