What comes to mind when you think of Kazakhstan? Barren landscapes? Vast unknown country? A country with a primitive way of life in a land that is frozen in time?

You aren’t alone if you didn’t know much about Kazakhstan. Before going there, we had never heard of it’s capital city Astana, we didn’t know anything about its people and we didn’t really know what countries bordered it; Russia, Uzbekistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan….How can this one nation have so many countries border it? Well, Kazakhstan is the largest land locked country in the world!

It is also rapidly developing. With a large reserve of crude oil and a major exporter of uranium, Kazakhstan is seeing a large influx of foreign investment and nowhere sees that development more than its capital city of Astana. Located in the North near the Russian border, Astana is positioning itself to be a major world city developing architecture that rivals some of the buildings you would see in Shanghai or Hong Kong. And it is going up just as quickly as Shanghai was built. In less than 15 years, this new capital of the country has been built to connect Europe to Asia and bring Kazakhstan to the forefront of people’s minds.

It is certainly at the front of our minds and this is why!


The ever impressive Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre in Astana

When we drove up the the Skan Shatyr Entertainment Centre in Astana, we had now idea what it was. Could it be a government building? Was it a massive stadium, Did the Hershey family decide to open a factory here and shape it as a giant Hershey’s Kiss? We didn’t know. It turned out to be the last thing we ever it would be.


The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre is just as impressive inside!

Imagine our surprise when we walked inside to see that this Sci Fi looking building was actually a mall. A giant Shopping mall complete with Roller Coaster, Drop Zone, boutique shopping, fine dining, unbelievable arcade and fast food court with the first KFC we had seen in thousands of miles.


The beautiful gardens of Astana, Kazakhstan

Astana is a walking city. When you leave the front of the mall, you are treated to this view! People stroll along the gardens towards the main city centre where not a car can be found. Traffic is diverted around the core of the city allowing for families to enjoy exploring in relaxation. There were be-bop boys practicing their dance moves, free runners were flipping off sets of high stairs while crowds watched on and musicians were playing in the street.

We Walked On. 


The amazing fountain show in Astana, Kazakhstan

A light show went off at the fountain as the colours changed to the beat of the music. Once again, a crowd formed to watch the dazzling display as ice cream melted in the heat of the night. Astana may be the second coldest capital on earth, but tonight the air was warm and everyone was out to enjoy the last few days of summer.


The modern Municipal building in Astana, Kazakhstan at night

As we strolled through the centre of the city, we looked on in awe at the gorgeous government buildings surrounding the main square. Young men offered to take photographs, vendors sold snacks and frozen treats and wealthy families sat on park benches checking their latest text message or email from their smart phones.


A different view of the Astana skyline.

It was finally time to explore Kazakhstan’s most famous landmark. We saw billboards and images of this structure throughout the country and were intrigued to visit the capital city of Astana simply to view this unique tower.


The Bayterek Tower. The center piece of Astana, Kazakhstan

The Bayterek tower was built to commemorate the naming of Astana as the new capital city of Kazakhstan. Built to resemble a poplar tree cradling the egg of a magical bird named Samruk, The Bayterek Tower is the symbol of the city.

Astana is filled with unique building like this strewn throughout the capital. There are buildings resembling spaceships, pyramids and even ancient Roman ruins. There are skyscrapers and a modern art structures such as the Central Concert Hall.

We only had 2 days in Astana, but like all of Kazakhstan, we were surprised, impressed and couldn’t wait to come back to explore more.

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    1. debndave Post author

      Thanks Alouise, and we missed taking photos of so many at night since we had very limited time. I’d love to go back to really explore inside and out of the buildings.

  1. charu

    I first would be inclined to think of Barren Landscapes but I find the world is quickly starting to prove me wrong. I had a similar reaction while visiting Macau, China –I expected only glitz and casinos and was surprised at how deep the Portuguese influence and culture there was. Thanks for taking the time to show us the other side of Kazakhstan.

    1. debndave Post author

      That is great to hear about Macau. We assumed the same thing about that destination. It is amazing how often we all form opinions of a place before visiting and then how those ideas are completely shattered once we arrive. That is what I love about travel, we learn something every day.

  2. shane

    The photos in this post are fantastic. It’s nice seeing post Soviet Era countries developing and hopefully the living standard rises as well for it’s residents.

    1. debndave Post author

      Hi Shane, Thanks and yes, it looks like the residents are starting to thrive as well. We met and talked to many locals that seemed to be thriving. They are still hanging onto their roots in the rural part of kazakhstan, but it is changing rapidly in the cities.

  3. Jarrad

    I had never even considered Kazakhstan … what an interesting location to be in Eastern Europe, and bordering so many other countries. It’s not really a place that I’ve heard much about.

    1. debndave Post author

      Hi Jarrad. Yes, most people don’t know a lot about Kazakhstan, but I think that it is going to change in the near future. It’s growing rapidly. I see it as a destination rivalling Qatar in the future. A place for people to go shopping and to witness amazing modern architecture.

  4. Amy

    I’ve never really thought about Kazakhstan, but if I would never have imaghined a place like those photos. Those photos make it look more like Las Vagas than a country in the old Soviet block.

    1. debndave Post author

      That is a great comparison Amy. Yes, Vegas comes to mind for sure. Especially at night. The city is lit up with colourful lighting and massive amounts of electricity. The old Soviet Era is quickly becoming a thing of the past and these countries are eager to develop for sure.

  5. Ken Kaminesky

    Love the shots Dave, good job bro! I’m with Charu, woulda thought tumbleweeds and desolation. Looks like I’m wearing egg on my face. Thanks for enlightening me D&D!

    1. debndave Post author

      Hi Ken, thanks. So glad we could shed some light on Kazakhstan. You aren’t alone, we didn’t expect this city either.

  6. Nam Huynh

    Wonderful architecture and fantastic lights to compliment. What I’m wondering is where are all the people to appreciate this? Or was simply because of the time of the night these photos were taken?

    1. debndave Post author

      Thanks Mica. Dave really does know how to get the unique and interesting shots. When I watch him take photographs, I always wonder what he sees. He’s shooting in the opposite direction to everyone else!

    1. debndave Post author

      Thanks Christy. We are so happy that we made the choice to go out and have a look at Astana at night. We nearly stayed in to get some work done because we were always falling behind on the Mongol Rally. But it goes to show, it’s worth taking the time to see the sites.

  7. Erik

    Amazing night photos! Did you have to use a tripod to capture these?

    Central Asia is very high on my ‘want to do’ list. Maybe in a few years it will be possible for the solo traveler like me.

  8. Jan

    Seems like we were all in the same boat on this one. I was thinking rolling grass plains like Mongolia or arid land, with subsistence level farming. What an amazing contradiction. It is nice to be surprised and such beautiful pics.

    1. debndave Post author

      Thanks Jan. While Mongolia definitely has the plans and deserts that you had already pictured, it was definitely a surprise to see this city of Astana. You said it perfectly, what a contradiction.

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