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With its lavish marble palaces, gleaming gold domes and vast expanses of manicured parkland, Ashgabat (‘the city of love’ in Arabic) has reinvented itself as a showcase city for the newly independent republic and is definitely one of Central Asia's – if not the world's – strangest places. Built almost entirely off the receipts of Turkmenistan’s oil and gas revenues, the city’s transformation continues at break-neck speed, with whole neighbourhoods facing the wrecking ball in the name of progress, and gleaming white marble monoliths springing up overnight like mushrooms.

After the 1948 earthquake, Ashgabat was rebuilt in the Soviet style, but its modern incarnation is somewhere between Las Vegas and Pyongyang, with a mixture of Bellagio fountains, Stalinist ministries of state and national monuments. There are some decent restaurants and no shortage of quirky sights, making it a pleasant place to absorb Turkmenistan’s curious present before heading into the rest of the country to discover its fascinating past.

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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Ashgabat.


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