33. Pack Those Shorts
Sure, the majority of the country is Muslim, but that doesn’t mean it is a strictly religious country. In fact, the modern Uzbek government actively pushes for the separation of church and state and the locals are pretty relaxed about religion. That means you can fit right in with shorts and a T-shirt. I often wore long cool dresses with no sleeves and that was also totally ok. I chose things that were cool, comfortable, and easy to cover up in a pinch.
I wore this thick strap loose dress quite a lot. Easy to cover up and cool.
Myth Busting: Uzbekistan is Conservative
I was worried about traveling to Uzbekistan in the middle of summer that I would have to pack more conservative clothing. To be on the safe side I packed a few Salwar Kameez, which are breathable and conservative, but I was thankful I packed plenty of shorts, T-Shits, and breathable dresses. I fit right in with locals and tourists, none of whom were overly conservative. I did make sure to carry a scarf around with me in case I wanted to visit a mosque. Uzbekistan in its modern state doesn’t actually have that many active places of worship worth visiting though, so you can pack as you would for any warmer destination, with some quick cover-up options added to your suitcase.
34. Mosques are Quiet
If you don’t hear the call to prayer several times a day it is not because there are no mosques, but because in Uzbekistan’s effort to separate church and state they don’t allow the loud public blast of the call to prayer through the minarets.
That being said, there actually aren’t that many active mosques and the ones that do exist are in an older architectural style, so they don’t’ define the skyline as in many Muslim dominated countries.
35. Say “Salom”
Salom is a common greeting for locals. Don’t be shy feel free to make eye contact in the street and say Salom first. The locals will be happy to say it back and continue on their merry way.
36. Locals are Friendly
The locals do more than say hello in casual passing, they are incredibly friendly. Everyone wants to chat with you, make eye contact with you, exchange hellos, or flash their golden smiles. Be prepared to strike up a conversation at dinner with the table next to you, the local sitting on his doorstep or your server.
37. Russian is Being Phased Out
Most guidebooks talk about learning some Russian phrases as one of the things you should do before you travel to Uzbekistan. While a lot of elder locals spoke Russian, the language is being phased out. I encourage you to learn Uzbek phrases to speak to the locals in their preferred language.
It was actually uncommon to find signs and writing in Cyrillic. Unless you are traveling to other areas in Central Asia such as Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, where Russian is more common it is a waste of time to learn the Cyrillic as suggested by so many.
38. English Isn’t Common
Russian may not be as common as it once was, but English still isn’t very common. Since most of the tourism is from Asia, Germany, France, and Russia, most of the locals have learned some phrases in those languages. We were approached a few times and the locals would start speaking French, Japanese, or German to us, assuming we were from one of those locations.
It seems kids are learning English in school though since a lot of younger kids were able to have simple extended conversations with us.
39. Where Are You From
But wait, didn’t I just say that not many people speak English? They don’t, but just about everyone can say, “Where are you from?” Everyone wants to know where you are from. Since they don’t speak English, you’ll often just hear random countries like, “America” or “Deutschland” and that means they want to know your home country.
For me, coming from the U.S. everyone would follow up and want to know what state. Some people knew Alaska was cold and others had never heard of it. For Ganesh, the Australian, everyone wanted to know what city, replying with “Sydney, Melbourne?”
40. Say “Cheese”
A few times a local approached me and I was a bit wary of them, unsure what they would want. Years of traveling in places where the locals are jaded and take advantage of tourists has taught me to be on guard. I had no reason to worry, the locals just wanted a photo with me and would pull out their phone for an epic selfie. Get your best smile ready, and be prepared to be in a lot of photos.
41. Avoid Politics
Uzbekistan is technically a dictatorship, but a mostly benevolent one at that. The locals are generally happy with the way things are and are seeing the benefits of their current leader. They prefer not to talk about politics, so stick to lighter topics. But, I encourage you to read up on the politics and history of the region to be well-informed.
42. Know Your Timur History
Timur is all over Uzbekistan. His place of rest is in Samarkand, grand statues are spread across the country and there are many references to him and his conquest. If you want to understand some of the history and monuments built to him, then read up on his history.
43. Madrasas, Mosques, Mausoleums, & Bazaars
There are three types of buildings you will come accross when visiting the history silk road cities. It is helpful to identify they and know their history.
Madrasas, are old Islamic schools and were once the pinnacle of knowledge spanning maths, science, astronomy, religion, and writing of the Islamic world. Since Uzbekistan isn’t overly religious very few of them function as schools. However, there is one at the Kalon Square in Bukhara that operates as a school. For this reason, you can not enter. Madrasas are grand buildings with arch way entrances, an inner court yard, and two stories of smaller rooms. Most grand buildings you see along the silk road are old madrasas. Some now have bazaars and others are left empty. You do not need to dress modestly to enter these.
Mosques, much like the Madrasas many of the Mosques in Uzbekistan are not not active mosques. You will find many are now museums. The mosques are not in the style of many of the modern mosques found in Istanbul, rather they are often made out of wood with intricate pillars adorning the entrance. If you do enter an active mosque you should cover up with a headscarf.
Bolo Hauz Mosque
Mausoleums, are mostly found in Samarkand, but they are throughout Uzbekistan. These are grand places of rest of Central Asia’s greatest leaders. They look like they could be a madrasa from a distance, but they are smaller and often more intricate with gold and white colors. Personally I found the Mausoleums in Samarkand at Shah-i-Zinda and Timors to be some of the most breath taking structures I have ever seen. It is common to cover your shoulders when entering these areas, but even locals seem pretty relaxed about it.
Bazaars, are large multi dome structures that you see just about everywhere in Uzbekistan. If you see many brick domes with vents on top that sprawl covering quite a bit of distance, then this is a bazaar. Most of them are still active and are great places for souviner shopping.