Money - There are several banks in the city centre, but they’re not of much use to travellers as they don’t have ATMs or change travellers cheques. Most places change US dollars, and euros too, even though the euro rate is not always displayed. As the exchange rate is fixed, there’s no advantage in going to one place over another and there is no longer a blackmarket rate.
Post - Your post may be read first, but at some stage it should still be delivered unless your postcard is truly offensive. Sending a postcard anywhere in the world costs 2M and a 20g letter costs around 2.20M. There are post offices in all towns, usually in the same place as the international phone centre and state-run internet cafe. Post office (Mopra koshesi 16; h9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-2pm Sat, 9am-1pm Sun) This main post office is in the city centre. A postcard to anywhere in the world costs 2M. Letters by airmail cost 2.2M.
Telephone & Fax - Most hotels offer international direct dialling (IDD) and fax facilities, although the International Call Centre (Karl Liebknekht koshesi 33; h8am-7pm) offers better calling and fax rates than hotels. You can call internationally, nationally and send faxes from most big towns at the telegraph station, often referred to by its Russian name, glavny telegraf, or main telegraph office. The major mobile phone provider is MTS (look for the sign MTC – MTS in Cyrillic).
Prepaid SIM cards are available from their offices, though at the time of writing foreigners were only able to purchase them at the main MTS office at the back of the World Trade Centre in Ashgabat. In 2010 we were told that foreigners had to buy and recharge their cards in US dollars (US$7 per card). This makes it problematic to recharge your card as only the main office in any town (including Ashgabat) will accept dollars. By far your best bet would be to ask your guide to buy one for you in their name, as this can be easily recharged anywhere in the country using manats.
Activities - Horse-lovers from around the world flock to Turkmenistan to ride the unique Akhal-Teke thoroughbreds. Many travel agencies offer specialist horse-trekking tours with these beautiful creatures. For further information on riding these horses near Ashgabat. Turkmenistan has wonderful potential for hiking, although the concept of the pastime is not widely understood (this is after all the country that built concrete staircases into its mountainsides). However, if you have permission to visit one of the nature reserves, walking is of course no problem whatsoever. Some of the best places to explore are the Kugitang Nature Reserve and the mountains around Nokhur.
Practicalities - The main daily newspapers are Turkmenistan and the Russian-language Nevtralny Turkmenistan (Neutral Turkmenistan). All papers glorify the president, as is obvious from the pictures on the front pages. There is no independent or privately owned press. The five national TV channels show scenes of Turkmen culture and nature. Satellite TV is widely available.
Dangers & Annoyances - Take care when photographing public buildings, especially in Ashgabat. Local police take this seriously and you may have your documents checked even if simply strolling near the Presidential Palace with a camera in your hand. There are no ‘no photo’ signs anywhere, so you’ll need to ask the nearest policeman if it’s OK to take a picture.
Internet access - once horrendously slow, expensive and limited to top hotels in Ashgabat, is now available in all big towns through state-run internet cafes. Prices are standardised at 6M per hour, and you’ll need to leave your passport with the administrator while you surf. As all internet access is via the state-run www.online.tm, bear in mind that out-going emails may be monitored and many websites (mainly news and politics sites) are blocked, so save any plotting to overthrow the government until you’re back home.