Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia with a population of about 5 million, and an area around half a million square kilometres, or almost the size of Spain. Neighbouring countries are Iran and Afghanistan to the South, and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the North. It has a coast on the Caspian Sea, but is otherwise landlocked. Nearly 80% of the country is considered part of the Karakum Desert.
The traditional life of the Turkmen is that of nomadic shepherds, though some have been settled in towns for centuries. The country is known for its fine carpets (one is even featured in its flag) and horses.
Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century. Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, it became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Top experiences in Turkmenistan
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 – unique 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.
Originally developed by the Russians in the late 19th century, Ashgabat became a prosperous, sleepy and largely Russian frontier town on the Trans-Caspian railway. However, at 1am on 6 October 1948, the city vanished in less than a minute, levelled by an earthquake that measured nine on the Richter scale, killing more than 110,000 people (two-thirds of the then population).
Ashgabat was rebuilt in the Soviet style, but its modern incarnation with a mixture of Bellagio fountains, Stalinist ministries of state and various monuments and statues designed to help foster a sense of national unity and identity. At its heart it’s a surprisingly relaxed city, with a varied dining scene and no shortage of quirky sights, making it a pleasant place to spend a few days absorbing Turkmenistan’s present before heading into the rest of the country to discover its fascinating past.
The modern town of Konye-Urgench (from Persian ‘Old Urgench’) is a rural backwater with livestock wandering its chaotic, unpaved roads. Yet centuries ago, this was the centre of the Islamic world, not the end of it.
Khorezm fell to the all-conquering Seljuq Turks, but rose in the 12th century, under a Seljuq dynasty known as the Khorezmshahs, to shape its own far-reaching empire. With its mosques, medressas, libraries and flourishing bazaars, Gurganj (the Persian name for Konye-Urgench) became a centre of the Muslim world, until Khorezmshah Mohammed II moved his capital to Samarkand after capturing that city in 1210.
Chinggis Khan arrived in 1221, seeking revenge for the murder of his envoys in Otrar as ordered by Mohammed II. Old Urgench withstood the siege for six months, and even after the Mongols broke through the city walls the residents fought them in the streets. The Mongols, unused to cities, burnt the houses but the residents still fought from the ruins. In the end, the Mongols diverted the waters of the Amu-Darya and flooded the city, drowning its defenders.
The Mongol generals went in pursuit of Mohammed II who eluded them for months until he finally died of exhaustion in 1221 on an island in the Caspian Sea. The tombs of his father, Tekesh, and grandfather, Il-Arslan, survive and are two of Old Urgench’s monuments.
In the following period of peace, Khorezm was ruled as part of the Golden Horde, the huge, wealthy, westernmost of the khanates into which Chinggis Khan’s empire was divided after his death. Rebuilt, Urgench was again Khorezm’s capital, and grew into what was probably one of Central Asia’s most important trading cities – big, beautiful, crowded and with a new generation of monumental buildings.
Then came Timur. Considering Khorezm to be a rival to Samarkand, he comprehensively finished off old Urgench in 1388. The city was partly rebuilt in the 16th century, but it was abandoned when the Amu-Darya changed its course. (Modern Konye-Urgench dates from the construction of a new canal in the 19th century.)
Today, most of Old Urgench lies underground, but there is enough urban tissue to get an idea of its former glories. Its uniqueness was acknowledged in 2005 when Unesco named it a World Heritage Site. The modern town is somewhat short on tourist facilities and most travellers overnight in Dashogus.
Darvoza Gas Crater
One of Turkmenistan’s most unusual sights, the Darvaza Gas Craters are the result of Soviet-era gas exploration in the 1950s. The three craters are artificial. One has been set alight and blazes with an incredible strength that’s visible from miles away, while the other two contain bubbling mud and water. There have been rumours for years that the burning gas crater will be put out to enable gas exploration in the area, but it was still burning in 2017.
Of the three, the fire crater is the most impressive, and it’s best seen at night, when the blazing inferno can only be compared to the gates of hell. There is a naturally sheltered camping place behind the small hill, just south of the crater. Getting to the crater is an off-road ride and drivers frequently get lost or get stuck in the dunes. There is no one around to give directions, so make sure you go with somebody who knows the way.
With bands of pink, red and yellow rock searing across the sides of steep canyon walls, Yangykala is a breathtaking sight and one of the most spectacular natural attractions in Turkmenistan. It’s possible to camp on the plateau above the canyon, although it can get windy there.
Canyons and cliffs slash for 25km towards the Garabogazköl basin and lie approximately 165km north of Balkanabat and about 160km east of Turkmenbashi, making it easy to slot in a trip to the canyon between the two cities. While most tour companies run trips to Yangykala Canyon, not all include it on their standard itineraries, so make enquiries when planning your trip.
In its heyday it was known as Marv-i-shahjahan, ‘Merv – Queen of the World’, and it stood alongside Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as one of the great cities of the Islamic world. A major centre of religious study and a lynchpin on the Silk Road, its importance to the commerce and sophistication of Central Asia cannot be underestimated. Today, however, almost nothing of the metropolis remains, and you’ll need to bring a fair chunk of imagination to get any sense of the place, which makes having a good guide essential, as well as your own transport to cover the large territory of the site.
These two crumbling 7th-century koshk (fortresses) outside the walls of Merv are interesting for their ‘petrified stockade’ walls, as writer Colin Thubron describes them, composed of ‘vast clay logs up-ended side by side’. They were constructed by the Sassanians in the 7th century and were still in use by Seljuq sultans, 600 years later, as function rooms. These are some of the most symbolic and important structures in western Merv archaeology and they have no analogies anywhere else. Great Kyz Kala is now fenced off, but you can clamber into and explore the interior of Little Kyz Kala.
Margiana or Margush
Margiana or Margush is a historical region centred on the oasis of Merv and was a minor satrapy within the Achaemenid satrapy of Bactria, and a province within its successors, the Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian empires.
It was located in the valley of the Murghab River which has its sources in the mountains of Afghanistan, and passes through Murghab District in modern Afghanistan, and then reaches the oasis of Merv in modern Turkmenistan. Margiana bordered Parthia to the south-west, Aria in the south, Bactria in the east and Sogdia in the north.
Historians currently disagree as to the exact history of Margiana prior to the Achaemenid conquest. Some have argued that a kingdom was established and an urban society had begun to develop surrounding the oasis. It has also been postulated the region existed as part of a major Iranian state centred in Chorasmia that controlled Aria, Sogdia, Parthia and Margiana. Other historians have noted that whilst advanced irrigation had begun in the 7th century BC, the existence of such a state is unlikely. It has been also suggested that Margiana was part of the satrapy of Bactria under the Median Empire.
Dehistan or Mishrian was the principal city of Western Turkmenistan from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Located on a major caravan route from Gurgan in northern Iran to Khorezm, its finest buildings were constructed by the Khorezmshahs. Major surviving monuments include parts of a minaret built by Abu Bini Ziyard in 1004 and another built 200 years later, which formed part of the mosque of Muhammad Khorezmshah, this still has a superbly decorated portal, 18 m. high. The city was strongly fortified with a double row of walls and occupied 200 hectares, it declined and was abandoned in the 15th century. Seven kilometres to the north is the Meshat or Meskhet cemetery, where in the nineteenth century some 20 mausolea were preserved. Of these 5 still survive, including the important mausoleum Shir Kabir with an elaborately decorated mihrab of carved and coloured stucco. In addition to the medieval city and cemetery, there are also important sites from the third millennium BC.
Nisa (also Parthaunisa) was an ancient city, located near modern-day Bagir village, 18 km southwest of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Nisa is described by some as the first seat of central government of the Parthians. It is traditionally assumed to be founded by Arsaces I (reigned c. 250 BC–211 BC), and was reputedly the royal necropolis of the Parthian kings, although it has not been established that the fortress at Nisa was either a royal residence or a mausoleum.
Excavations at Nisa have revealed substantial buildings, mausoleums and shrines, many inscribed documents, and a looted treasury. Many Hellenistic art works have been uncovered, as well as a large number of ivory rhytons, the outer rims (coins) decorated with Iranian subjects or classical mythological scenes.
Nisa was totally destroyed by an earthquake, which occurred during the first decade BC. The fortress at Nisa was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007.
Turkmenbasy formerly known as Krasnovodsk and Kyzyl-Su, is a city in Balkan Province in Turkmenistan, on the Krasnovodsk Gulf of the Caspian Sea. It sits at an elevation of 27 metres (89 feet). The population (est. 2004) was 86,800, mostly ethnic Russian, Armenians and Azeri. As the terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway, it was an important transportation center.
In recent years, the city made large-scale reconstruction historic district, entrance roads, vital infrastructure. A new Turkish Park and the cascade of fountains. At the end of 2012 has been completely renovated Magtymguly Avenue, the new route merged with the city’s waterfront Bahry Hazar, providing the west motorway junction Balykchy double out of the city along the dike, paved across the Soymonov bay speed motorway Turkmenbashi Airport—Awaza.
State Museum of Turkmenistan
On the 12th of November the greatest museum complex in Turkmenistan and the Middle East opened its doors in Ashgabat, combining the collections of the former museums of history and ethnography, regional study and the arts.
About 500,000 exhibits are displayed in the new museum. It boasts a full collection of Turkmenistan’s most significant architectural finds of the XX century; a large number of ancient Turkmen carpets and rugs; examples of national dress and fabrics; traditional household equipment; musical instruments; weapons; jewelry; orders and medals, and historical documents. Its unique collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures includes not only Turkmen fine arts but masterpieces of some Russian and Western European artists of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries. The collection includes early paintings, water-colors and icons among its exhibits. Moreover the museum reveals the variety of Turkmenistan’s landscape; its floras and fauna, fossils and rare geological finds.
Turkmen Carpet Museum
The Turkmen Carpet Museum or the National Carpet Museum is a national museum, situated on 5 Gorogly Street in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. It opened on 24 October 1994. It has the largest collection of Turkmen carpets of any museum. It has a rich collection of Turkmen carpets from the medieval through to the 20th century, including over 1000 carpets from the 18th and 19th centuries. Aside from its extensive collection of antique carpets, it has many carpet articles, chuvals, khurjuns, torba etc. On the first floor of the museum are Tekke and Sarik carpets. The museum is noted for its huge Tekke carpets. One Tekke carpet measures 193m² and weighs a metric tonne and was made by some 40 people in 1941 to make a curtain for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Another, made in 2001, is even larger, measuring 301m² and 14 by 21.2 metres and was made to commemorate 10 years of Turkmen independence from the Soviet Union. It is recognised by the Guinness World Records as the largest hand-woven carpet in the world. One carpet, made in 1968, is representative of all the tribes in Turkmenistan, fusing together the different styles to display unity. The museum also has carpets dedicated to President Niyazov. Some of the carpets on display are two-sided, often featuring different design on each side.
Long before Merv raised its first tower, Bronze Age villages were assembling along the Murgab River in what is called the Margiana Oasis. The greatest of these ancient settlements, currently being excavated around Gonur Depe, has stunned the archaeological world for its vast area and complex layout.
The excavations are ongoing and during your visit you may have a chance to speak with the archaeologists and inspect the most recent findings. The Royal Palace and necropolis are the most fascinating sites to visit.
There is significant effort being put into conservation, although the work being done (sealing the ruins with mud bricks) is covering up some of the most photogenic portions of the city.
The discoveries were first made in 1972 by Russian-Greek archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi, who still works at the site, continually uncovering new findings. Sarianidi considers Gonur to be one of the great civilisations of the ancient world and while this claim may be disputed, it is a fascinating site. What is certain, is that Gonur is one of the oldest fire-worshipping civilisations, parallel to the Bactrian cultures in neighbouring Afghanistan. The first agricultural settlements appeared in the area around 7000 BC, developing a strong agriculture. It is believed the city was slowly abandoned during the Bronze Age as the Murgab River changed course, depriving the city of water. The current excavations have been dated back to 3000 BC.
Sarianidi believes that Gonur was the birthplace of the first monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism, being at some point the home of the religion’s founder, Zoroaster. The adjacent sites have revealed four fire temples, as well as evidence of a cult based around a drug potion prepared from poppy, hemp and ephedra plants. This potent brew is almost certainly the haoma (soma elixir) used by the magi whom Zoroaster began preaching against in Zoroastrian texts.
Gonur is a two-hour drive from Mary and you’ll need at least two hours there.
Monument Arch of Neutrality
Monument of Neutrality (Turkmen: Bitaraplyk arkasy) was a monument located in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The three-legged arch, which became known locally as “The Tripod”,was 75 metres (246 ft) tall and was built in 1998 on the orders of Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov to commemorate the country’s official position of neutrality. It cost $12 million to construct. The monument was topped by a 12-metre (39 ft) tall gold-plated statue of Niyazov which rotated to always face the sun. The arch was located in central Ashgabat where it dominated the skyline, being taller than the nearby Presidential Palace. The statue was illuminated at night. The arch featured a panoramic viewing platform which was a popular attraction for visitors.
Altyn Asyr bazaar
Oriental bazaar Altyn Asyr also known locally as Täze jygyldyk is the largest market in Turkmenistan, and the fifth-largest in Central Asia. It is located in the outskirts of Ashgabat, in the residential area Choganly. It was built to resemble the shape a Turkmen carpet ornament of Ahal Province. The market covers 154 hectares. At the heart of the bazaar is a tall clock tower, its main landmark. There are 2,155 shops in the market. The market thrives especially on Sundays and sells a massive range of goods, including Turkmen carpets, handicrafts, silks, jewelry, jeans, laundry soap, plastic bags, and bales of rice. It also has a notable camel market.
Ashgabat International Airport
Ashgabat International Airport (IATA: ASB, ICAO: UTAA), formerly known as Saparmurat Türkmenbaşy International Airport, is one of three international airports in Turkmenistan. It is located approximately 10 km (6 mi) northwest of the capital Ashgabat (Ashkhabad). The old airport, with its air traffic control tower and a 12,000-foot (3,700 m) long precision approach runway (12L-30R), opened in 1994 and was named after the country’s first president, Saparmyrat Niyazov. The new airport opened in 2016 after being completely redesigned and rebuilt.
The Turkmen government opened an international tender in 2012 for the construction of a new international airport in Ashgabat, to be named “Oguz Han”. Polimeks, a Turkish construction company active in Turkmenistan since the late-1990s, was declared as the winner of the tender. The new airport was opened on 17 September 2016 . The project costed $2.3 billion (€1.7 billion) and featured a highly unusual terminal design featuring a Turkmen bird. The new airport is able to serve 14 million passengers per year. It has the capacity to handle 1,600 passengers per hour. The airport has a closed-area of 350,000 m2 and include a passenger terminal, VIP terminal, cargo terminal with a capacity to handle 200,000 tonnes of freight per year, a new air traffic control tower (ATCT), a maintenance hangar for three narrow-body aircraft, new fuelling stations, catering, fire brigade, flight simulation, repair and maintenance buildings, parking space for 3.000 cars, a civil aviation school as well as a medical center. The airport has also a new 3,800m long runway to serve wide-body, double-deck jet airliners such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8.
Direct flights to Ahshabad from Minsk, Moscow (Domodedovo), Dubai, Baku, Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Singapore (cargo), Luxembourg (cargo), Istanbul, Dhaka (cargo), Urumqi available.
Destination facts and practical information
Turkmenistan has a cold desert climate that is severely continental. Summers are long (from May through September), hot, and dry, while winters generally are mild and dry, although occasionally cold and damp in the north. Most precipitation falls between January and May; precipitation is slight throughout the country, with annual averages ranging from 300 millimeters (11.8 in) in the Kopet Dag to 80 millimeters (3.15 in) in the northwest. The capital, Ashgabat, close to the Iranian border in south-central Turkmenistan, averages 225 millimeters (8.9 in) of rainfall annually. Average annual temperatures range from highs of 16.8 °C (62.2 °F) in Ashgabat to lows of −5.5 °C (22.1 °F) in Dashoguz, on the Uzbek border in north-central Turkmenistan. The almost constant winds are northerly, northeasterly, or westerly.
The Turkmen of Turkmenistan, like their kin in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran are Muslims. According to the CIA World Factbook, Turkmenistan is 89% Muslim and 10% Eastern Orthodox. Most ethnic Russians are Orthodox Christians. The remaining 1% is unknown. A 2009 Pew Research Center report indicates a higher percentage of Muslims with 93.1% of Turkmenistan’s population adhering to Islam.
A Turkmen can be identified anywhere by the traditional “telpek” hats, which are large black sheepskin hats that resemble afros. The national dress: men wear high, shaggy sheepskin hats and red robes over white shirts. Women wear long sack-dresses over narrow trousers (the pants are trimmed with a band of embroidery at the ankle). Female headdresses usually consist of silver jewellery. Bracelets and brooches are set with semi-precious stones.
Turkmen (Turkmenche) is a Turkic language spoken by 3,5 million people in Turkmenistan, where it is the official state language, as well as by around 2 million people in northeastern Iran and 1,5 million people in northwestern Afghanistan.
Turkmen is a member of the East Oghuz branch of the Turkic family of languages; its closest relatives being Turkish and Azerbaijani, with which it shares a relatively high degree of mutual intelligibility.
The most prominent figure in Turkmen cultural history is the eighteenth-century poet, Magtymguly. Virtually all Turkmens know his poetry by heart. The Turkmens also have a unique musical culture that is tied into the oral literary tradition. Turkmen music features the two-stringeddutarand thegyjak (a violin-like instrument), accompanied by singing.
The traditional Turkmen dwelling is a felt tent called agara oy(black house). It is often called a “yurt” in Western literature. The felt covering is attached to a wooden frame. The tent may be assembled or taken down within an hour. In Turkmenistan it is no longer a primary residence. Instead it is used in summer pasture areas or constructed for recreation or holidays. In rural Turkmenistan, most people live in one-story homes made from clay and straw. Often these homes are located within a walled courtyard which also contains an agricultural plot and livestock. In the cities of Turkmenistan,high-rise apartment dwellings are also common.
Turkmen cuisine, the cuisine of Turkmenistan, is similar to that of the rest of Central Asia. Plov (pilaf) is the staple, everyday food, which is also served at celebrations. It consists of chunks of mutton, carrots and rice fried in a large cast-iron cauldron similar to a Dutch oven. Manti are dumplings filled with ground meat, onions or pumpkin. Shurpa is a meat and vegetable soup. A wide variety of filled pies and fried dumplings are available in restaurants and bazaars, including somsa, gutap (often filled with spinach), and ishlykly. These are popular with travelers and taxi drivers, as they can be eaten quickly on the run, and are often sold at roadside stands. Turkmen cuisine does not generally use spices or seasonings, and is cooked with large amounts of cottonseed oil for flavor.
Shashlyk, skewered chunks of mutton, pork, chicken, or sometimes fish, grilled over charcoal and garnished with raw sliced onion and a special vinegar-based sauce, is served in restaurants and often sold in the street. Restaurants in Turkmenistan serve mainly Russian fare such as pelmeni, buckwheat (grechka), golubtsy, and a wide variety of mayonnaise-based salads. Lagman, an Uyghur noodle dish, can also be found in some areas.
As in the rest of Central Asia, green tea is the primary drink, consumed at all hours. In the Turkmen language, “chai” (tea) can refer to eating a meal or sitting down for a visit. In the Dashoguz region, it is sometimes drunk “Kazakh-style” with milk, often to disguise the salty taste of the drinking water in that area.
The music of the nomadic and rural Turkmen people is closely related to Kyrgyz and Kazakh folk forms. Important musical traditions in Turkmen music include traveling singers and shamans called bakshy, who act as healers and magicians and sing either a cappella or with instruments such as the two-stringed lute called dutar.
Turkmenistan’s national poet is Magtumguly Pyragy, from the 18th century, who wrote four line goshuk lyrics. The Central Asian classical music tradition mugam is also present in Turkmenistan by name as the mukamlar.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering the country overland tends to invite more scrutiny than arriving by air. Baggage checks can be very thorough at lonely border posts, while the understaffed airport in Ashgabat seems more interested in processing people quickly rather than pawing through your underwear. You’ll need to pay your arrival tax and collect your Entry Travel Pass if you’re travelling on a tourist or business visa.
In Turkmenistan official regulations state that you need permission to export any carpet over 6 sq m, though trying to export a smaller one without an export licence is also likely to be problematic. In all cases it’s best to take your carpet to the Carpet Museum in Ashgabat, where there is a bureau that will value and tax your purchase, and provide an export licence. This can take up to a few days.
Everyone requires a visa for Turkmenistan, and unless you’re on a transit visa, you will need to be accompanied by a guide for the entire length of your stay in order to obtain one, which makes a trip here quite expensive by regional standards. Permits are required to visit national parks and visas need to be endorsed to permit travel in various border zones, so it’s important to know your itinerary before you begin the visa application process.
Visas for Turkmenistan
All foreigners require a visa to enter Turkmenistan and transit visas are the only visas issued without a letter of invitation (LOI). Prices for visas vary enormously from embassy to embassy.
As a general rule, plan on getting a visa at least six weeks ahead of entry to Turkmenistan, as the process (even for transit visas) is lengthy. Ideally work through a Turkmen travel agent with experience in the field.
The only visa that allows unaccompanied travel for tourists is the transit visa. Relatively easy to come by, they are normally valid for three days, although sometimes for five days and in rare cases, more. Turkmen embassies in Europe (as opposed to those in Central Asia or Iran) are more likely to grant longer visas. Transit visas can be obtained at any Turkmen consulate, although if you apply without an LOI, the application will need to be forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ashgabat, meaning a processing time of around 10 to 14 days.
Tourist visas are a mixed blessing in Turkmenistan. While they allow the visitor to spend a decent amount of time in the country (up to three weeks as a rule), they require accompaniment by an accredited tour guide, who will meet you at the border and remain with you throughout your trip.
Permits are needed to visit the border regions of Turkmenistan. Given that the centre of the country is largely uninhabited desert and the population lies on the periphery, you need permits for some of the most interesting areas. Ashgabat, Mary, Merv, Turkmenabat and Balkanabat are not restricted, but anywhere outside these areas should be listed on your visa, thus giving you permission to go there. Travellers on transit visas can usually transit the border zones along the relevant main road, if they correspond to the country they are supposed to exit to. If you get a tourist or business visa on arrival, you’ll automatically have your visa endorsed for all areas of the country.
The following areas are termed ‘class one’ border zones and entry without documentation is theoretically not possible, though there’s actually little chance you’ll have your documents checked:
Eastern Turkmenistan Farab, Atamurat (Kerki) plus adjoining areas, Kugitang Nature Reserve, Tagtabazar, Serkhetabat.
Northern Turkmenistan Entire Dashogus region including Konye-Urgench, Dargan-Ata, Gazachak.
Western Turkmenistan Bekdash, Turkmenbashi, Hazar, Dekhistan, Yangykala, Gyzyletrek, Garrygala, Nokhur and surrounding villages.
Anyone entering Turkmenistan on a tourist or business visa must be registered within three working days with the State Service for the Registration of Foreign Citizens (aka OVIR) via the local bureau of the state tourism company. The tour company that invited you will undoubtedly organise this. You will need two passport photos and your entry card, which you’ll need to pick up at the airport or the border post where you enter the country. As well as this initial registration, you will automatically be registered by any hotel you stay at in the country for each night you stay with them – this service is included in the room price, and you won’t have to do anything. However, travellers on tourist visas are therefore only able to stay in hotels with licences to register foreigners, the only exceptions being when you spend the night in a place without such an establishment, making these the only legal opportunities to stay in a homestay. Transit visa holders do not need to be registered, and can sleep wherever they please.