Buying train tickets outside of Uzbekistan for Uzbekistan trains was next to impossible. And forget about finding accurate schedules!
We wanted to go through Uzbekistan by train with no transferring. So, we did this:
- Tashkent to Bukhara (Sharq train), 2nd class, 58,145UZS ($8.31 BM/$16.62 official)
- Bukhara to Samarkand (Afrosiyob train), Economy class, 42,000UZS ($6.00 BM/$12.00 official)
- Samarkand to Urgench/Khiva (overnight train), SV class, 224,212UZS ($32.03 BM/$64.06 official)
- Urgench to Tashkent (overnight train), SV class, 286,856UZS ($40.98 BM/$81.96 official)
First, buying the tickets. If you’re lucky, there will be no line at the ticket office (касса). If not, you’ll see a mass of Uzbeks cutting in front of each other, all yelling at the ticket agent all at the same time. A lot of hand-shaking takes place but not a lot of movement. One traveler told me he had to wait two hours to get his tickets.
However, there is a separate office called the “Hall of luxury for rail passengers.” In Tashkent, this office is clearly marked opposite the ticket counters. In Bukhara, it was just an inconspicuous looking, unmarked door. The other two times we bought tickets, there was little to no lines/people hovering at the ticket office.
In Tashkent, this “Hall of luxury” entitles you to wait in an actual, orderly line that goes pretty fast. The fee to use this office is an additional 5,000UZS (72¢ BM/$1.43 official) on to of the ticket price.
In Bukhara, a train employee will pour you tea and you wait on a sofa while she waits in line for you. We paid her an additional 5,000UZS (72¢ BM/$1.43 official) for her services.
There are three different types of trains in Uzbekistan: Afrosiyob, Sharq and the regular train that doesn’t get a special name.
We opted for the cheapest seats on the shorter distance trains and splurging for private compartments on the long-distance trains.
Entering any Uzbek train station is like going to the airport. Only ticketed passengers are allowed inside the station. First, you go through one checkpoint. Foreigners can cut the queue. The all bags are x-rayed. Afterwards, your train ticket is stamped. Leaving the station to pick up some supplies for the train can be a bit tricky, but doable.
We left Tashkent’s central train station early in the morning on the Sharq train. It’s a train built during the Soviet era and has seen better days. But it was pretty comfortable. The cushioned seats reclined and we got to watch Uzbek music videos to our hearts content.
The ride took about six hours with a few stops along the way. At one point, we were skimming the border of Tajikistan and could see the snow capped mountains that marked the line between the two countries.
The train offered hot tea. “Not free but very cheap,” said the Uzbek train worker as he passed by. It turned out to be 2,000UZS ($0.29 BM/$0.57 official). Occasionally, the “samsa lady” would walk by with her cardboard box of baked goods, waking Robb up with the smell of meat pies.
From Bukhara to Samarkand, we picked the afternoon Afrosiyob train. The Afrosiyob train is the pride and joy of Uzbekistan. You’ll see pictures of it everywhere. It’s a Spanish-built high-speed train that can go over 200kpm.
In Economy class, they gave us free headphones to listen to various music channels. On a shared screen, we could track the train’s progress on a map as well as the speed. And the seats have plugs to charge our phones! I almost forgot I was in Uzbekistan! The 260km journey took less than two hours.
Several people we met along the way were not able to get seats on the Afrosiyob train. And this was low season (March-April).
On our overnight train from Samarkand to Urgench, we took the SV class, or as the ticket guy said as I was buying the ticket “VIP class!” We had done the shared kupé before, but with our big bags, it was easier to have our own room.
In our compartment, we got a TV, mirrors all around and two benches with storage, once you lift the seat up. There is a mattress that fits on top of the bench. Each bench had two massive pillows. We were given linens but had to put it on ourselves. The linens also included a face towel.
The window in our compartment didn’t really close. Throughout the night, it would slowly open and I got a nice blast of freezing wind and rain in my face. Eventually, after enough slamming, the window stayed relatively closed.
The bed itself is pretty narrow. I move around a lot when I sleep, so I felt very restricted. I was able to manipulate the bench to come out a few more centimeters which made a world of difference!
The kupé class is a four bed compartment with a door. It’s a tight squeeze if you or your seatmates have lots of luggage. The platzkart has six beds (four in a compartment and two more on the side) and is open.
The 12 hour journey was not that bad. It was just waiting for the train to leave at 00:28 from Samarkand in a freezing train station.
From Urgench to Tashkent, the 17-hour journey was more or less the same. We left Urgench early afternoon after staying at a yurt overnight. So basically, we had two days without a shower. Woohoo!
We did turn on the TV at one point and watched an Uzbek talk show with a cooking segment. Everyone on the show kept drinking tea and no cooking ever really took place.
As we feasted on our nuts and raisins for dinner, we got to enjoy the Uzbek scenery. It was most desert, but the colors kept changing as the sun started to fade.
Our ETA back to Tashkent was at 07:00. So the train conductor woke us up at 05:30 to make sure we got us and he could collect the sheets and put everything back.
Overall, the train rides in Uzbekistan went smoothly and was quite comfortable. Although, while sleeping, I really thought an earthquake was happening. It took me while to figure out that I was actually on a train. Yay, sleep deprivation!