Need a pandemic vacation? Explore Kazakhstan for a day

Need a pandemic vacation? Explore Kazakhstan for a day

If you’re like me, the first week of sheltering in place had its benefits—no commute! More pajamas!

But it didn’t take long before it felt restrictive. Now, folks need a break.

But how do you take a vacation if you can’t leave your house? There are online experiences, but many of us are tired of screens.

Instead, I encourage you to experience Kazakhstan–the world’s ninth largest country–with as many of your real-life senses as possible.

1. Start with steam

Start your day with a leisurely shower or bath. You may not have a Russian banya (steam bath), but you can stimulate circulation with oak leaves (above), or brighten your skin with any creams or scrubs you have on hand.

2. Pause for Tea

young central asian girl putting jam in her tea and on her bread

Now it’s time for morning chai. Have black tea with milk, or with jam or honey.

You can also add jam to bread and butter, or fry up some baursak donuts. My Kazakh roommates also enjoyed sugar wafers (vafli), or fruits like plums, apricots, and cherries, and nuts like pistachios and almonds.

As you eat, play dombira music in the background. (Kobyz is also worthy, but perhaps too somber for your vacay vibe).

3. Snuggle up for a read

kazakh citizens browsing books at the nauruz festival in astana nur-sultan

For young children, download my picture book about how yurts are built, or read aloud from Tales Told in Tents.  Older children might appreciate the modern Half a World Away or Between Shades of Gray, set in Soviet-era Kazakhstan.

For adults, try the overview The Land That Disappeared, the mountain memoir Hearing Birds Fly (set in nearby Mongolia, but a similar feel), or the journalistic expose Dark Shadows. If those aren’t to your taste, Caravanistan has more books set in Kazakhstan. Many of them can be read on your Kindle, if bookstores aren’t delivering.

4. Learn a new dance

You’ll be restless by now, so take a walk.

Or try out the meme-worthy Kara Jorga dance (lyrics here):

Here’s another example, and another one (I’d love to see you do those shoulder moves!)

And here are some video tutorials—in Kazakh, of course!

(And another tutorial. And this one has guy then girl moves. As you’ve guessed, bir, yeki, ush, tort = one, two, three, four!)

5. Break for Lunch

You’ve worked up an appetite, so it’s time for lunch. How about:

plov center

You’ll notice Kazakh cuisine draws from Russian, Mongolian, Mediterranean, and Persian themes. You can order from any of these restaurants if you have one nearby! Pair with tea, sparkling water, or the ever-present Coca-Cola and orange Fanta.

6. Create in Kazakh Style

After lunch, you have several options. Take a nap–it is a vacay day, after all.

Or, read up on Kazakh embroidery and crafts // watch videos on felt-making and embroidery. If you’re inspired, try it with this tutorial for pillows with Kazakh motifs. They suggest gathering felt, wool thread, and pillow stuffing ahead of time. You’ll find a variety of sample motifs online

Sample kazakh patterns

If pillows aren’t your thing, you can draw or paint Kazakh motifs or landscapes with other materials, to give your mind a creative break.

7. Learn the Language

What’s travel without learning a few words? Here are the letters and phrases narrated for adults in English, and an alphabet song for kids (in Kazakh only). Because Kazakh can also be written with our letters, this alphabet video which may be easier for kids used to English. And if you’d like something more visually engaging, try this farm animal tour:

(Make sure your English subtitles / captions are on, and you’ll see a slower pronunciation of each animal after the quick tour.)

8. Enjoy an Evening Meal

You’ll have many Kazakh food options depending on what’s in your pantry, or in nearby stores or restaurants. Consider:

Yes, it’s a meat-heavy cuisine, but you can add Russian salads:

  • Olivye pea and potato salad
  • Shuba herring salad, with beets and potatoes
  • Greek salad with brinza / feta cheese
  • Or more tomato and cucumber salad from earlier in the day.

For dessert, try a Russian honey cake, or Kazakh chak chak (sweet fried noodles)… with tea, of course.

9. Watch a Kazakh Film

Finish the day with a Kazakh film, subtitled in English:

  • Tulpan is about a shepherd who falls for a local girl—who prefers the city instead (trailer). Rent online, or check your library’s streaming video.
  • Queen of the Mountains is a Kyrgyz epic drama from just across the border.
  • Myn Bala is a war epic about the 18th century struggle between Kazakhs and Jungars (trailer).
  • Bride Sabina is a lowbrow comedy about a city girl who finds herself serving a rural family.
  • The Eagle Huntress is about a young girl who learns to fly golden eagles (trailer). Rent online, or watch a subtitled local documentary, The Kazakhs of Mongolia: Eagle Hunters.
  • Taraz is a thriller/crime film set in the director’s hometown.

If you want English narration, all I found was documentaries on nuclear testing, the Aral Sea disaster, and a BBC travel show.

For kids, Timur and the Dragon and Baikonur are short animations with English subtitles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any longer animated films about Kazakhstan with English subtitles–let alone dubbed in English!

10. Wind down with tea

Or alcohol. And more snacks.

Because when is there ever too much tea?

celia drinking tea with friends in kazakhstan

Wind down your day with more dombira music in the background, or look up contemporary artists like Mercury Cachalot.


Anything else you’d recommend? If you try this, let me know!


  1. NW

    What a cool website and idea! I think the dance might be my favorite 🙂 The only thought I had would be to tap into the history of Kazakhstan and its place on the silk road, explore a virtual history or gallery. Especially in Taraz and the south there are a lot of interesting historical sites.

    I found this but I wonder if any silk road materials are on display online?

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