The Grand Canyon In Kazakhstan – Charyn Canyon

After the trip to Kolsay Lakes National Park, we joined a local tour to Charyn Canyon.

Needless to mention, the Hong Kong guy who tagged along made me wait again and I always escaped to the bathroom while I waited for him. When I was done, he was ready and then he gave me a look as if he was the one who waited for me. No next time, honestly. In fact, after this Kazakhstan trip, I never contacted him again.

A building near our hostel. I think it’s a little mall with a food court and a supermarket… if I remember correctly.

We had to rush to the meeting point. Fortunately, we caught the tour bus.

The local tour bus was on the way to Charyn Canyon. This could be ‘Tian Shan’ as we were still in Almaty.

It was a local tour so the double decker bus was full of locals who couldn’t speak much English. After we got on the bus, we were asked to sit at the lower deck. All of a sudden, I heard a couple sitting beside us speaking in English so I started talking to them. It turned out that the girl was a local Kazakh and the guy was half German and half Taiwanese. The guy told us he started to become an assistant Kungfu coach when he was 17. He was now a coach with students from different ages.

The famous Kazakh eagle
The bus stopped at a few points where we had some refreshments. This vendor was selling traditional Kazakh musical instruments (toys not real ones).
This vendor was apparently selling some Kazakh snacks. Not really that Kazakh. You can see cigarettes and soft drinks there.

When we arrived at Charyn Canyon, we started walking together. I told the girl about my trip in South America. She said, ‘oh, life was so good’. Then she told me she needed to learn Deutsch and sit an exam in order to go to Germany with her boyfriend. I could feel her pressure when she said it. She paused a few times when she talked about learning the language. She wanted to say something but didn’t. They were planning to get married as soon as possible. She also shared with me some other issues. I said, ‘That was complicated. Do you plan to find a place in the middle? I met a couple at the hostel. The husband is French and the wife is Kazakh. They found a country in the middle and settled down there.’ She then told me the barrier was the language. She didn’t know much English. (It was true. Her English wasn’t fluent.) I consoled her by saying that language wasn’t a barrier. I told her how I got by when I was travelling in South America and I only knew a little bit of Spanish. And then I said, ‘the two of you have an intimate relationship so it would be easier.’ I was lying. I knew. I could sense that she was really struggling with Deutsch and she really didn’t want to go there. I also saw how frustrated her boyfriend was when he was trying to explain the Deutsch grammar to her on the bus. When he was frustrated, the girl was even more frustrated. I could sense that it wasn’t going to go well. In my journal, I wrote, ‘Hope they will be fine together.’

But a few weeks or a month after I returned home, when I sent her boyfriend photos that we took together, he told me they had broken up.

Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon. The locals said, ‘of course, it is not as grand as the Grand Canyon in the US’.
Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon. Yes, you can drive here by yourself. I saw some people and their cars at the car park when I got off the bus but it’d take too long to drive and it may be too expensive too. I don’t remember seeing any campsites here.
The size of the rocks was huge.
This one looked like a sphinx.
I climbed up a rock and took this photo.
‘Don’t put labels on the rocks’? Really? Was that what the locals liked to do?

I asked her to help me take a few jumping shots. When she saw me jumping up and down in front of the camera, she was happy too. She told me she had been to this canyon four times. Then I said, ‘this time must be the best time for you.’ She laughed and said yes. We had a lot of girls’ talk. I liked her. And now in 2022, I hope she is doing well and is with someone whom she really loves. And the guy too. When I look at the photos now, I still think he’s quite good looking. LOL! You know I don’t like to put photos of people in my blog that much. So, ladies, too bad. πŸ˜›

We had lunch by the river. The couple offered me some of their food. ‘Thank you’, I said, ‘I had been living on the generosity of other people over the past few months. Maybe I really look like a beggar.’ The boyfriend laughed.

I stood in the river. It was cold but not freezing but it was good enough for my feet. It was like the cold water in the contrast pool in a spa. It reminded me of the good time I had with Helen in Cuenca.

We followed the tour guide to climb the rocks. It was a really nice trek. Very hot and dry. That reminded me of El ChaltΓ©n in Argentina. All the good times. I shouted ‘Ah!’ when I reached the top. I could hear my own echo. That felt so good.

The river in Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon. That’s the river where we had lunch.
The river
I put my feet in this river. It was so nice to have lunch here.
After we finished our lunch, we continued to walk around the national park.
This rock had a hole in it. It looked like an eye. The hole could be formed because of wind erosion. I don’t know. I shouldn’t pretend to be an expert. πŸ˜›
I liked the layers of the rocks. They reminded me of Pancake Rocks in New Zealand.

While we were climbing, I found out that most of the people on the bus could speak English but they sat on the upper deck. That was so funny. Some of them helped me to ask the tour guide questions and then translated the answers. One of them was a fashion model and also a photographer. He did catwalk. I shook his hand twice. I felt so honoured to have met him. πŸ˜€

As we approached the river, the fashion model did a catwalk there. I asked him if I could be a model and I imitated the models doing the catwalk. He took some photos of me while I did it. It was so funny. I asked him if I had the potential to be a model. He said, ‘yes, you did a very good job.’ LOL! Looks like I do have the potential to be one. LOL!! He actually took a very good photo of me on his camera. I gave him my email so that they could send it back to me but I never got any email from him. Fortunately, I had a few on my own camera but those ones were not as good as the one on his.

We walked back to the river. The path was a bit slippery and steep. It was like climbing down a cliff. The local guys were really kind. They held my hands when I climbed down. I gave them a 10 afterwards. Another gentleman picked up the rubbish whenever he saw any and then trashed it in the rubbish bin. I said, ‘thank you on behalf of the national park’ to him. He said it was not from the tourists. It was from the local people. It’s sad.

As for the guy from Hong Kong? He couldn’t even look after himself. He fell down from a high rock and hurt his arm. I think he was trying to imitate the Taiwanese German Kungfu coach and jump from the high rock. I didn’t see it when it happened but I saw the Hong Kong guy lying on the ground trying to get up but couldn’t. The Kungfu coach then rushed to check if he was ok and held him up.

As we returned to the bus, a girl started a conversation with me and eventually I told her about my travel to South America (again). She said I had an interesting life. Yes. I said. ‘I’m happy and am satisfied with my life’. I also told her the longer I travelled, the more I found that people were really generous, whether it be in Kazakhstan or in South America. I was grateful and thankful.

I also told her my plan to Astana. Actually, I didn’t have a plan. I knew there was nothing to see there but the guy at the information centre recommended it ‘After all, it is the capital city’ and the Hong Kong guy agreed with him. I shook my head but I was very flexible and I didn’t have any plans so I didn’t mind making a trip there. After she heard the story, she said, ‘you can go to Borovoye’. Perfect! Now, I had a place to go. πŸ˜€

After I went to the loo, I saw the girl again. She asked me to take a photo with her. I was quite surprised. We exchanged our names and emails. She told me she worked in an English school in Almaty as an assistant librarian. No wonder her English was so good. Very good. I immediately asked, ‘can I visit your school?’ She was excited, ‘yes, of course, come!’ ‘I will go there after my trip to Astana.’ I didn’t plan to take that Hong Kong guy with me. I had enough of him (he spent most of his time on his mobile phone even at Kolsay Lakes National Park when there was no internet connection, he didn’t talk to me, he treated me like a tour guide but at the same time disrespected me and my decisions but his suggestions were really poor especially about routes, he didn’t have much contribution to the trip at all, he was arrogant, he spoke ill of me on the first day when I met up with other couchsurfers at the bar and when he talked with other people, he tried to impress people by telling them how stupid I was (yes, he did and most of the time, the guys did believe him because I am female. I have mentioned it in one of my previous blogs that guys in Asia still (in 2022) think women are stupid and they should stay at home and do housework) he just wanted to take pics and showed off to his friends on Facebook, etc.) I was and am not a feminist but all these behaviours were unacceptable.

The driver came and told us to get on the bus. The girl was writing me her email. While she was doing it, I thanked the driver and I told him that I loved Kazakhstan because of him and the people on the bus. The girl helped me to translate it. The driver was very happy after he heard that.

It was getting dark. I saw trees and many birds nests. It indicated life. It made me smile.

The bus stopped at place where we could take photos of the sunset. It was beautiful. I took loads of photos. My heart was full.

The beautiful sunset
After the sun had gone down, I took this photo.

The bus ride continued. It was around 9pm. Dark. Suddenly the bus stopped. The driver was taken to the hospital by the police to have a breath alcohol test. We waited on the bus.

The driver came back again and the ride continued. 

We finally arrived at the central stadium. We then had dinner and headed back to the hostel. My roommate, an Australian guy, was still there. I invited him to join us the next day.

He mentioned about his visa and registering with a Kazakhstan relevant authority. In fact, getting a visa to Kazakhstan was complicated for some people. A letter of invitation (LOI) was needed for some. When I check it now, it is simpler but still a bit complicated for some countries. If you are interested in going there and if you need to apply for a visa, you may consider using an agent to help you instead. Feel free to check out the following website to find out more details πŸ‘‡πŸ»


The next day, I toured around Almaty with my roommate, who had been residing in Europe for quite sometime to run his own tour company. When I first met him, I screamed, ‘English! You speak English!’ He was shocked. He didn’t understand why I was so happy to have found an English speaking traveller. But after spending a day in Almaty, when I saw him again in the morning, he said, ‘Yeah, I can understand why you missed someone who can speak English so much.’ πŸ˜€

We had an overnight train to catch to Astana today so in the morning, we just walked around Almaty. The Hong Kong guy said he’d join us but again, he took a long time to get ready in the morning again. He took so long that my roommate started working on his computer and I started doing research on my mobile. Finally, when the Hong Kong guy was ready, I had escaped to the bathroom again. He then said he was waiting for me (or us, my roommate and I).

We went to the Green Market but it was closed because it was Monday but some stalls were open.

Some stalls at the wet market was open, like this one that sold drinks and other ones that sold kebabs.

The weather was getting bad – cloudy and windy. It was very very sunny when we were in the market. I said to my roommate that it would rain. It was like this a few days ago. He said he could feel the rain in the air too. When we were talking about the weather, the Hong Kong guy said, ‘look, this is what my app said’ then he showed us the app that he used and said, ‘this app is very good and accurate’ and then he kept talking about the weather app he had. I remember we unintentionally brought the weather topic up again after an hour or two and my roommate teased him, ‘so, what does your weather app say?’ The funny thing was the Hong Kong guy didn’t get it. My roommate saw how hard I suppressed my laughter.

While we were walking towards the national museum, the tourist (I think I should just change the term ‘Hong Kong guy’ to a ‘tourist’ which is more appropriate and by the way, not all the people from Hong Kong are like that ;)) checked Lonely Planet again. He did it a few times today. My roommate and I couldn’t stop laughing. Shops were in front of him, but he still referred to LP to help him choose which one was good. Restaurants were right in front of him but again, he checked LP to check the reviews… I shouldn’t have introduced LP to him but that was something that I didn’t expect.

When the weather was bad, the best thing to do was to go indoors so we headed to the national museum. It cost only 100KZT. That was a very good price. We paid extra for an English guide. My roommate just walked around by himself without paying for the guide. The guide told us some history of Kazakhstan. Was it worth it? Well, I learnt something but my roommate was right. You didn’t need a guide. Why did I get persuaded by the tourist? I honestly don’t remember. But I took the opportunity to ask the guide questions.

The guide said the traditional Kazakhs had fair hair and green eyes but the Mongols came and because of inter marriages, they now had dark hair and eyes. The coins in the past looked like the Chinese ones – with a hole in the middle because they had trades with China. The design of the coins changed later. We could find imprints of Arabic on the coins. That was because of the Muslim influence. And then came the Russian design.

She told us how the Kazakh eagle killed the animals. She said the Kazakh eagle caught the fox and broke the vertebrae of the fox, sat there and waited for the master to come. They never damaged the hair of the animals. Also they didn’t eat raw meat. The master fed them.

The Kazakhs drank fermented mare’s milk too with a few % of alcohol, just like the Mongolians. They had to keep shaking the milk to keep the taste (just like what I did at Argi’s ger in Mongolia). They had a container for the milk and they carried it when they rode the horse so that the milk inside could still be shaking. That was a clever idea.

After the guided tour, we went separate ways. Β 

The national museum displayed a ‘Golden Man’. The researchers (or Indiana Jones) found a body wearing clothes like a warrior and the clothes were embroidered with gold. They estimated the dead person was around 16 or 17 years old. The Golden Man was a symbol of Kazakhstan.

It was interesting that this museum devoted a section to oil paintings. I wish I had more time for that. I love paintings. In fact, there were a few pieces there that I really liked. We arrived at the museum at 4pm and it closed at 6pm. But as I walked around, even before 6pm, the staff started to close the halls. I liked the halls of anthropology which displayed rocks and bones.

The museum also explained the colours on the flag of Kazakhstan. Blue meant peace, tranquility and prosperity. The sun meant wealth. The eagle meant wisdom, intelligence and vigilance.

We left the museum. It was raining. We went to the supermarket to get something to eat. I saw some fizzy drinks. I wanted to try them. The guys were looking at them too and I said I wanted to try. My roommate said, ‘yes, it is decided that we will try it. Your dream came true’ πŸ˜€ That was so funny. There were many different flavours. We picked a few and shared the costs.

We went to a fast food restaurant nearby. The staff at first didn’t want to help me. There was no price anywhere. My roommate didn’t eat there because he had bought enough food from the supermarket but I had to as I needed to catch the overnight train and there’d no food on the train. The staff saw me talking to my roommate who had a European tourist look, she then helped me. Maybe I looked like a Kazakh and that’s why she didn’t help me? I actually had a similar experience when I was travelling Bhutan. The lady at the reception of the hotel thought I was Bhutanese and she thought ‘why did she speak to me in English?’ She later explained to me why she didn’t help me at first. Well, I appreciated her honesty but shouldn’t she help anyone who made a request at her hotel? Like here in Kazakhstan, shouldn’t the staff help their customers at their store?

We quickly finished our dinner and went back to the hostel to try the fizzy drinks. Guess what, they tasted really bad, like medicine. After I had my first sip, I grimaced and said to my roommate, ‘It tastes so… cheap.’ He didn’t get it at first but after he had his first sip, he laughed, ‘I couldn’t think of a better word than that.’

I had to say goodbye to my roommate. It was so nice to have him with me today. It was raining very hard so the tourist and I caught the taxi to Almaty 1 train station from the hostel. It took only half an hour to get to the train station. I was glad we were there early.

We bought a return ticket from Astana to Almaty on the express train, Talgo. It was good that they had seats this time and it was also good that the train would return to Almaty early in the morning, that’d mean I’d have enough time to visit the school right after the train trip.

At around 10:30pm, a staff came and asked us to follow him to the platform. I looked at my watch, ‘one hour before it departs?’ I thought to myself. We followed him. It turned out that yes we had to be there early because we needed to make our beds. The train also provided duvet, bed sheets and pillow cases and even a towel. That was good. I don’t want to comment on the cleanliness though – OK, I should be honest to my readers – I found a finished apple inside the folded duvet.

20 – 22 hours on the train… But it’s good that there was a bed. I was actually lying on my bed while I wrote this journal. It was 1 April 9:44am.

29 – 31 March 2013

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