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Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

Almaty is a pretty safe town, but you should still exercise the usual precautions. The commonest emergencies for Westerners here concern late-night activities – people robbed in taxis after emerging inebriated from bars and nightclubs, or passports and money stolen by prostitutes.

Though police harassment is less common these days, it can still happen. It’s best not to carry much cash around, and you certainly wouldn’t want to let your wallet into police hands. If you are stopped on the street, show only a photocopy of your passport and visa (preferably one certified by your embassy or consulate). Writing down a name and badge number helps keep police honest (and may unmask impostors).

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One thing you do have to be wary of is the ‘Wallet Full of Dollars’ scam. Someone finds a wallet lying on the ground as you pass, opens it and finds hundreds of dollars inside. They draw your attention to it and if you stop, it becomes clear there’s nothing in the wallet to identify its owner. The person offers to share the loot with you and if you start to get involved, another person appears, claiming the wallet is theirs and that it originally contained much more money. They demand compensation or threaten to take you to the police, in the hope of intimidating you into making them a payment. Another less subtle ruse is for people to say they have lost their wallet and ask to see the contents of your pockets or bag to prove that you don’t have it. This is an opportunity for them to filch your valuables.

To avoid trouble, ignore anyone who ‘finds’ or ‘loses’ a wallet, and keep walking without hesitation.

There have also been reports of drivers from the airport taking new arrivals to the Almaty outskirts and threatening to strand them. Only large sums of money could persuade them otherwise. To avoid complications, jot down your vehicle’s licence number, give the exact address of the place you want to go, and try not to let on that you are an Almaty novice.

Be wary of accepting invitations to stay with strangers. One traveller’s ‘hosts’ demanded a large amount of money to let her leave with her luggage.

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While you're there

Medical services

Pharmacies (Kazakh: darikhana, Russian: apteka) all over Almaty sell many Western medicines.

Alai (cnr Furmanov & Gogol; 24hr) This pharmacy never closes.

International SOS (258 19 11; www.international­sos.com; Lugansky 11; 9am-7pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat) International-standard clinic with 24-hour emergency service; very expensive for nonmembers.

Interteach (/fax 258 81 00; www.interteach.kz; Ayteke Bi 83; 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm Sat & Sun, ambulance 24hr) Private polyclinic charging €17 for a normal consultation, €52 for an ambulance. Also does remote-area medical assistance.

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