Night Trains in Uzbekistan – sustainable, safe and fun
Last year, I planned to take several night trains in Uzbekistan. I wanted to maximise sightseeing time and since I don’t like flying, I booked four longer journeys by train.
The first two journeys on night trains in Uzbekistan would take me from Tashkent to Xiva, then back from Xiva to Samarkand. The third one, a day later, on the Afrosiyob High Speed Train from Samarkand to Tashkent. The fourth one was from Marghilon back to Tashkent on the comfortable “O’zbekiston” service (Train No. 059F)
I have written about buying tickets for all trains in Uzbekistan here, and this is a post about my experience on travelling on an Uzbek night train.
Table of Contents
Why take the train?
Uzbekistan is rather large, and now that flights on Aeroflot to Samarkand or Urgench are out of the question for the foreseeable future, a service to Tashkent is the reality for most of us. Some areas of touristic interest, for example Xiva, are over 1000 kilometres away, and while you could always fly, it’s not the most interesting or environmentally friendly mode of transport. Some of the drives will be scenic, some are just desert, some are downright nausea-inducing and a little bit dangerous… but why drive where you could take the train? Night trains in Uzbekistan are some of the most economic, yet exciting ways you can travel in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan has now an excellent rail network, basically linking the far West of the country with Andijan in the far East, with more lines linking the South and looping round the Fergana Valley, and boasting the longest railway tunnel in Central Asia (on the Angren-Pop Line). My advice would be that if there’s a train available, take, it. I found the night trains in Uzbekistan particularly comfortable an here is my experience of my night train rides.
What to bring on the train
Beware there isn’t a ton of luggage space, so what you bring must go in our around the berth somehow. But there are some necessities that will come in really handy on the long train ride. First, take food and water. There is a dining car, but food and drink on the train are disproportionately expensive.
Secondly, sometimes you end up sitting with people who will include you in their banquet of homemade delicacies so it’s nice to be able to contribute – fruit, sweets, snacks from your home country if you have them. I had brought some German chocolate that went down very well, but fresh or dried fruit or soft drinks will work as well.
For the night, consider a small torch, a sarong, comfy clothes to sleep in – depending on the season it can get either very cold or stay very hit at night. Slip-on shoes or flipflops work well in this confined space. Last not least, charge the phone as there are no power outlets other than in the conductor’s office – but there may be in the higher-priced closes compartments.
I had a small suitcase which I quickly stowed under a berth, and a medium size squishy overnight bag containing pyjama pants, sleeping shirt, washbag, a water bottle, ear plugs, glasses case, a Turkish pestemal which can be a towel, bedsheet, sarong… , toilet paper and, of course, my coffee mug, a bit of instant coffee and some snacks.
Each carriage has two bathrooms with a small sink and toilet, which can get very crowded especially in the 56-berth open berth carriages. There is a samovar for boiling water in each compartment, and the water is fine to drink.
Uzbek Sleeper trains
Almost all sleeper trains I encountered in Uzbekistan are old Soviet rolling stock with a partially refurbished interior. Since they’re broad gauge, they are really quite wide and can fit sleeper berths easily.
There are three classes, “Luxe” or “SV” aka First Class, “Spalny” or “Kupe” aka Second Class and “Platskart”, Third Class. First and Second class sleepers have closed compartments of two beds in First and four beds in second class, Since I was travelling on my own and didn’t want to share with random people, especially men, I chose “Platskart”. It was incredibly cheap – I paid something like 12 Euro for the Tashkent-Xiva and 9 Euro for the Xiva-Samarkand trip in Platskart.
Advantages of Open Compartment “Platskart” class
So, having decided I wanted to share my sleeping space with 55 others, I booked “Platskart, close to an exit (and the samovar) and as far away from the bathroom as possible, because, firstly, this part of the carriage gets busy, and secondly, possible smell. Actually, the smell was no issue as there is a self-locking door between the sleeping area and the two bathrooms.
All berths have a relatively thin mattress, a blanket, pillow and clean bedlinen. They were relatively wide for a train berth but short – I am nearly 1,80 metres tall, and definitely had to fold myself up to fit in.
In theory, the upper berth offers more peace and quiet, and you should be able to go and stretch out there as son as the bed linen has been handed out. Or so I thought! Getting up there was a real challenge for me. As you can see in the picture above, there are no ladders leading up to the upper berth, only to tiny steps on the narrow foot end between berths, so you have to climb up somewhat diagonally. Once up there, the space between bed and ceiling is very low and there isn’t much wiggle room. I am tall, heavy and have dodgy hips and knees, so climbing up was a bit of a struggle. The young guys just levered themselves up on their arms, something I aspire to train for and try on my next trip.
So, if you are somewhat awkward with the mobility, take the lower berth. Means you will have to wait for the upper berth sleeper to go to beg in order to stretch out, but people are generally good-natured and polite.
My Experience on night trains in Uzbekistan
Down to the nitty-gritty, here we go, This is how I enjoyed my sleeper train rides.
Tashkent to Xiva
My first train ride from Tashkent Yuzhny started late in the evening. I had just arrived in Uzbekistan, and was still slightly dazed and stumbled from the busy ring road to an even busier platform via a very strict security control – more thorough than at Tashkent Airport! The ticket, passport, handbag -everything was checked and luggage screened, Since trains are often full, it is absolutely mandatory to arrive at the station an hour before departure.
Once though, we all congregated on the huge platform – the station building was already closed, Several trains are standing around, and I waited until my train, clearly marked with Xiva as the destination, rolled in. Then I found my carriage and waited until each carriage’s conductor signalled boarding.
I had bought an upper berth as I though it would be nice and safe, and found it stuffed with bedrolls. Right away, one of the conductors tried to upsell me his private berth and office, which I politely declined. Soon enough, the bedrolls were distributed and bags with freshly laundered bedlinen handed out, so we took it in turns to make up our berth.
I climbed up into my berth with some difficulty and once in, found that the monosyllabic old lady in the lower berth was tucking me in with an extra blanket “because it will get really cold in the desert” And only woke up the next morning when we arrived in Urgench. There is an official “lights out” around 22.00-23.00 and the train does stop at night but lights didn’t go on fully.
The next morning, we arrived in Urgench after daybreak, and the train stood there for a long time. I brushed my teeth and made a cup of coffee and quickly pulled the sheets of my bed, which were collected and stowed away tidily.
Xiva to Samarkand
My return trip, starting in the late afternoon, was a heck of a lot more social as we started rolling before dinnertime. We sat near the conductors office and after some friendly banter and the conductor complaining of his uniform falling to bits, we started getting out needle and thread and fixed the conductors uniform. This way, charging my mobile in the conductors office was a given, and he was extremely lovely to us all evening.
Four Uzbek sisters and their mom who had their berths near mine, started laying out a spread of bread and homemade meatballs, salads and fruit and almost forced the stuff on me. Thankfully, I had brought quite a lot of German chocolate, so I was happy to have something to share.
Again, after running out of appropriate things in Russian to say, I climbed into by berth around 21.00 and slept really solidly until 5.30 when we were about to arrive in Samarkand.
Are night trains in Uzbekistan recommended?
If you generally love train rides, you will love Uzbek night trains. I found them comfortable, safe, and extremely cheap. I my case, quite sociable as well. It is a great way to traverse the country and save on accommodations costs.
The Small Print
I visited Uzbekistan in March 2019 and then again in October 2022 on my own dime. It was on my second trip that I used night trains in Uzbekistan.
Right now I struggle with the appropriate spelling of place names a bit, so while I try to use their Uzbek names, the English and sometimes even German spelling comes through. I understand that “international” spelling may bring this post up in searches better, so for now, I will keep using some anglicised spelling like “Uzbekistan” rather than the Uzbek ” Oʻzbekiston”. Names and spellings may change over time ( see: “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti“) and I do my best to keep track but it is not always possible, and last not least this remains an English-speaking blog so English it is in most cases.
I am not going to drop links here left right and centre. If you wish to support this blog, feel free to use my affiliate link to Booking.com. I use them for about 80% of all my accommodation bookings, especially when my attempts to book direct result in higher price/poor cancellation policy.