Southern Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city, with bustling bazaars and a lively downtown, Shymkent (Russian: Chimkent) has more of a Central Asian buzz on its leafy streets than anywhere else in the country. The Mongols razed a minor Silk Road stop here; the Kokand khanate built a frontier fort in the 19th century; Russia took it in 1864; and the whole place was rebuilt in Soviet times. Little more than 100km from Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, today Shymkent is a thriving trade centre and also produces cement, cigarettes and phosphates and refines oil – and brews two of Kazakhstan’s best beers, Shymkentskoe Pivo and the Bavarian-style microbrew Sigma. Its population is about 65% Kazakh and about 14% Uzbek. Mosquitoes can be an irritant from June to August.