Ashgabat Turkmenistan, ASB
EK2215 Ashgabat to Dubai with FlyDubai, economy class
The capital of Turkmenistan is eerily empty, even during peak hour. At midday, I count not more than two cars on its eight-lane streets. So at 1.30am, we have a clean, 10 kilometre run to the airport to the north of Ashgabat.
The airport was opened in late 2016 and the terminal entrance is modelled on a Turkmen falcon and the bow of legendary warrior Oghuz Khagan. In his reign, the previous dictator, Turkmenbashi, had the city's utilitarian Soviet buildings clad in dazzling white marble, and the theme continues in the airport. Its beautiful ceilings, with patterns drawn from traditional carpets, have few to admire them. With no music and little life, the gold and white airport is like a zombie zone.
I've checked in online but have to collect my boarding pass and drop off luggage. The queue is minimal, but it just doesn't move: everyone appears to be in stasis. I jump across to the empty business class desk so I don't spend any more of my life watching nothing happen. No-one blinks an eye.
To go airside, everything is scanned: my passport and boarding pass, my finger and thumb prints of both hands and, finally, my retinas. There are a couple of flights leaving at about the same time as mine, but I'm the only person in the security line, observed by no less than seven stern, unspeaking guards as I navigate the security obstacle course.
FOOD AND DRINK
Once past the entrance, I spy five cafes and bars serving sandwiches, coffee and the local pale lager, Berk. There are a few people in each, though the most lively is a tiny hole-in-the-wall pouring beer and serving nuts and coffee.
A few souvenir shops are open even at 2am: I buy a couple of excellent mousepads designed to resemble oriental carpets, but steer clear of the pricey carpet bags. Avoid the overpriced Tanqueray gin, the alcohol to buy here is Turkmen aragy (like arak) and Georgian wines. If you don't have any manat, US dollars are accepted, euros are preferred.
Here's something I thought I'd never say again: "Where is the internet cafe?" The airport Wi-Fi isn't working for me, and I want to check into my next flight. It is open, and charges $US5 an hour, but doesn't have change for my $US10 note. Regardless, Turkmenistan's prohibitive internet laws block most social media platforms and many websites including, it appears, that of my next airline.
ONE MORE THING
The airport was formerly known as Saparmurat Turkmenbaşy International Airport, named for the country's former dictator, who modestly renamed himself Turkmenbasy, or Father of the Turkmen.
As with the rest of the bizarre city of Ashgabat, I find the eerie atmosphere of the airport unfathomable. The paucity of departure boards adds to its unsettling quality.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
Belinda Jackson travelled as a guest of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains. See goldeneagleluxurytrains.com