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Expo Trip Report

I deeply apologize for not submitting this trip report earlier. I spent a few hours in Almaty, a day in Kyrgyzstan, a day touring Astana, and 6 days at the Expo. Finnair is the only airlines I know of that serves blueberry juice as a drink option. 

I chose to make a side trip to Kyrgyzstan, because it was the only other stan country which did not require USA tourists on a short stay to have a visa. I saw the Osh Bazaar, Al-Archa mountains, and the monuments and Soviet era buildings of the city.

I felt Astana to be a very safe city. You don't have to worry about crime, Islamic terrorism, and stray dogs/cats. During my entire week in Astana, I did not see any dogs at all, with or without a leash; I only saw 1 stray cat under a bridge. The exception was the K9 dogs held on a leash by the military police at the Expo grounds. The only aspect of safety I cannot comment on is taxi drivers and the nightlife, for which I had minimal exposure to in Astana (though you have to be very careful with the taxi drivers in Almaty, even if you catch one from the authorized airport taxi stand).

Astana International Airport has 2 terminals. One is newer and modern. The bathrooms there are clean, modern, and big. Getting through customs took only 10 minutes. The sun is already up, even at 4:45 AM. Avoid people approaching you for a taxi at the airport. You can take bus #10 from the bus stop, located across the street from the older terminal to the city center. It only costs 90 KZT (325 KZT is 1 USD approx). The city gets windy at times, and can be on the chilly side in the dawn hours, but can also be hot during mid-day hours. The sun doesn't set before 10 PM. The bus #10 can also take you from the city center to the Expo site for 90 KZT. The bus system is a little different than what it is like in the US. You just get on and the conductor will eventually come to you for payment. She will also provide a ticket to you (unless they run out of paper).
During your bus trip, sometimes people will want to practice their English with you. Even though it's a Muslim country, a lot of Kazakh women here are dressed like East Asian women in western or East Asian countries. 

There are a lot of futuristic looking buildings in Astana. Don't miss out taking photos of them. I went to see the National Museum, the Khan Shatyr shopping mall, and Hazrat Sultan mosque while I was there. They let you sleep in the mosque if you wish. If you draw a line that connects the Khan Shatyr shopping mall, the Kaz Munay Gas and Oil building, and the Bayterek, you should walk along that line at night time. You will see the fantastic lighted buildings with LED display lights. It's like Times Square, Las Vegas Strip, and Dubai all rolled into one. There's also an excellent pure vegetarian (AKA lacto-vegetarian in Western countries) restaurant called 108m2. I got a chance to try Russian borscht and Kazakh manti there, which I would not have had a chance otherwise. If you are short on time, you can skip going up to the Bayterk, because you can also get an excellent view of Astana from the top of the sphere at the Expo, without paying anything additional.

You can take bus #10 from the city center to the Expo site. Directly in front of the Expo site is the Mega Silkway mall and directly across the street from that is Nazarbayev University (the bus stop is in front of there). I always made sure to get back to the bus stop before Midnight, because though I have heard that Astana has night buses (meaning those running from Midnight to 5 AM), the information on that was not clear (even the Info Desk at the Expo and the info desk at the Mega Silkway was not clear about it).

I recommend spending 1 hour at Nazarbayev University and 2 hours at Mega Silkway mall (1 hour for looking around and 1 hour for lunch). The bus to the Expo stops right in front of NU. Ask the guard if you can get a campus tour. A volunteer will give you a 1 hour tour of the place. An Expo volunteer told me that it's the only university in Kazakhstan where there is no corruption and people get admission their based on merit. It is also the best university in the country. The university is only a few years old.

The Mega Silkway mall is a very grand and elegant mall. There are many lacto-vegetarian options here (pizza, egg-less noodles, and Korean vegetable set for example). The mall has a food court and also some high-end classy restaurants as well. The prices here are cheaper than in the States. The mall also has a grocery store. It also has an electronics store - so if you forgot to bring your voltage converter and foreign plugs, or if you took a lot of photos and videos and your memory card is full, you can purchase it here. The mall also has a travel center and an information desk (though I found it was useless for answering my questions about the night buses). If you didn't buy your Expo tickets in advance, there is also an Expo center inside the mall in which you can buy your tickets. There is what you would call a pre-Korea pavilion inside the mall. The mall is listed on the Expo map, and while it may or may not technically be part of the Expo site, since it's just across from it, you can effectively think of it as part of the Expo site.

There are 2 hotels just steps away from the Expo site. I think one was a Hilton.

If you have already bought your ticket (I bought mine online from the US), you don't need to show your passport or ID card when you go to security. Just show them your ticket. The security line is fairly quick.

There are several entrance and exit points to the Expo, but the main one is just in front of the Mega Silkway mall. Once you enter, you will see the Sphere in front of you. Be sure to take a photo with the Sphere behind you. Then go to the Information Desk on your left and pick up a schedule for today's events. Then go to the souvenir shop. You can buy an Expo passport book (which you will use to get your stamps from the different pavilions) for 2200 KZT (325 KZT equals 1 USD approx). They also sell the best kind of honey in Kazakhstan there. The souvenir shop also had Polo shirts with the Expo log, key chains, notebooks with Expo design, Kazakh hats and more.

Next thing you want to do is visit the Sphere. Allocate about an hour for each of the 7 levels of the Sphere. The first level is the Kazakh pavilion (took only about 5 minutes to get in; I remember at the Shanghai Expo, people waited for 4 hours to get in the China pavilion, and that's if you were lucky enough to even get a ticket in the morning when it opened). Levels 2 to 6 are for different aspects of energy. Level 7 is where you can get a panoramic view of Astana. There's a glass floor too. The line to the solar ride on the  6th floor was about 30 minutes long; that was one of the longer lines. 

Overall lines at the Expo were not that long. 5 min, 10 min, or 15 min at max. A few exceptions were like the Korea pavilion.

After you have finished your tour of the 1st level, take the glass Buck Rogers 25th century-like flashing light elevators to the 7th floor (maybe 5 minute wait) and walk your way down to see what's on the 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd floors in that order. They will not allow you to take the elevator from the 7th floor to any other floor besides the 2nd, unless you have some medical condition. 

Do not, I repeat absolutely do not miss the Cirque du Soleil Reflekt show that's on there. I have seen Cirque du Soleil shows before, but this is like on a whole different level. Photos and videos of the show are not allowed. There's an extra cost beyond the Expo admission to see the show. It's worth watching.

Thoughts on pavilions. Thai pavilion offered free massages. They were very enthusiastic, but I was not impressed by their pavilion. Israel, Japan, Turkey, UAE, and South Korea had great pavilions. The Shanghai week cultural event in the auditorium was fantastic. India pavilion had lots of souvenirs on sale. They also had some snacks such as samosas and pakoras (similar to Malaysia pavilion). India pavilion had a restaurant, but closed down. Turkey pavilion had a nice heat sensor exhibit - you don't want to miss that. Uzbek pavilion had a restaurant (again you would miss it if you didn't explore the upstairs). Some of the pavilions did have a restaurant upstairs. Vietnam had some good drink offerings at their pavilion, plus a photo send option. 

There are a lot of classy full-service restaurants at the Expo. One Italian place had a nice dish of beet root with goat cheese. Delicious! Also an Afghan place with biriyani rice and potato curry with Afghan bread. Some lacto-vegetarian options at the Expo were caprese sandwiches, cheese mushroom fries, among others.

One thing you might not immediately realize is that some of the pavilions have things going on the 2nd and 3rd floors - such as their restaurants and other things are located there. 

Expect people will ask to take photos with you, if you look like a foreigner. Also expect that some Expo volunteers will want to tag along with you in their free time to practice their English. If they hear you speak English or you look like a foreigner, sometimes the volunteers will go out of their way to give you a guided tour of their pavilion, or their section (which is a great thing!)

Each day is somebody's national day.

Around 9 PM or so, there is a parade which starts near the US pavilion, and goes around the Expo site. The parade has people dressed up in avant-garde style. Awesome! I loved walking the parade length with them.

Around 11 PM or so, the Sphere lights up with a fascinating light show. Think of it as the 3-D version of Korea's Big-O show. Along with a fire and light show in the fountains next to it. Getting there 10 or 15 minutes before the show is good enough to get a good seat.

Some nights there will be a dance party. Almost like a night club in the Expo grounds in a way. The dance party location is near the Sphere and Cirque du Soleil area.

There is a very high chance I forgot some things to talk about and will come back later to add to my trip report.


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Video version of my trip report .. 1st link shows my first 3 days at the Expo. 2nd link shows my last 3 days at the Expo (it also includes a side excursion to the Hazrat Sultan mosque as well as my layover on my way back home). Enjoy! 





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