BANGKOK — Google “Travel Uzbekistan” in Thai and you’ll pull up a dozen-or-so travel blogs detailing every step of a hipster’s Tashkent-Bukhara-Samarkand trip.
These glimpses into Uzbekistan may be the closest many Thais get to seeing or even thinking about the central Asian country – but consul general Aziz Aliev hopes that the blogs will spur more Thais to visit.
In fact, his mission’s main priority is to get more Thais to explore the second most-populated Central Asian country. While about 20,000 Uzbeks visit Thailand annually, only about 1,000 Thais make the reverse trip.
“We want to get to 2,000 this year,” he said.
To promote the country, the embassy now periodically sends bloggers to visit the Kukeldash Madrasah, the UNESCO-recognised town of Samarkand, and to sample hearty plov dishes. One post by Ja Tiew Pai Nai blog about a weeklong trip to Uzbekistan in December received 23,000 likes and comments, such as that from Orawan Arunpoonsup: “I went there just last month. It was beautiful, clean, had good air, and I saw both rain and snow.”
“It’s not visa-free, but the process is very simple,” Aliev said. Uzbekistan Airways flights between Tashkent and Bangkok operate four times a week, and a round-trip ticket costs around 23,000 baht.
Those interested in learning more about Uzbekistan can go see the first-ever Uzbek film to be screened in Thailand, “The Girl with the Red Scarf,” at 4pm on Saturday, at River City Bangkok — it’s about the love between a taxi driver and a village girl. The venue can be reached from BTS Saphan Taksin or any boat that stops at Si Phraya Pier. Admission is free.
Uzbek expats in Thailand number about 100, with many operating small restaurants and bistros in Pattaya, Phuket, or Bangkok.
The consul general hopes that Thailand and Uzbekistan will focus on amping up bilateral trade. Currently, Uzbekistan imports Thai chemicals, oil, paper, aluminum, and machinery – but Thailand has yet to import Uzbek goods ripe for selling such as cherries, peaches, and apricots. The Ministry of Agriculture’s procedures – a known hurdle for embassies – can take three to five years to approve produce for importing. But Aliev says it’s all in the works.
Investing in Uzbekistan is a gateway to post-Soviet markets including Russia, he often says to entice Thai businessmen.
“Russia already imports what we grow because of Western sanctions,” Aliev said. “So if you trade with us, you get a free market in Russia.”
Aliev, 45, has held his post in Thailand since May 2018, after previous positions in South Korea, Austria, and the US. He says there’s been “practically no disputes” since diplomatic missions between Thailand and Uzbekistan were established in 1994, and that both his home and host country have similar cultural values.
“Being on the border of Europe and Asia, we feel particularly close to the people of the Asian continent. We look like Asians, and we have the same values and mentality, such has having a big strong family, and respecting old people,” Aliev said.