Some currencies are undoubtedly instantly recognisable whereas others are very much less so. Here we have an example of the latter with the som, which is the currency used in Uzbekistan.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
The som is a decimal currency and each one is divided into 100 tiyin. However with the presence of inflation in the country you won’t actually come across the tiyin anymore. Instead all the coins are valued in som, which is the plural as well as the singular term. Here the coins are valued as 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 som. In addition there are lots of different banknotes; in fact it might take you a while to get used to them all. They start with the single som note and go up through the 3, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 som notes.
In reality a lot of the lower denominations of banknotes and coins are practically useless as inflation is still a problem in the country, as it has been in the past. This means you will tend to use the higher-valued notes, which can lead to problems when trying to find the right change to pay for things.
From past to present – the history of the Uzbekistani som
The word ‘som’ was previously used to describe the more familiar ruble currency. However eventually it was used to denote the official Uzbekistan currency instead.
The som came about when Uzbekistan became independent from the former Soviet Union. To begin with the Russian ruble was still used in the country, but eventually it was decided that their own currency should be used instead. Russia brought in a new issue of the ruble in 1993, getting rid of the old Soviet version as it did so. Around this time a lot of the countries that had broken away from the Soviet Union decided to bring in their own currencies instead. This was the case with Uzbekistan, which introduced the som officially towards the end of 1993.
The original som didn’t last long, only staying as legal tender until July 1994 – around seven months after its introduction. This must surely rank as one of the world’s shortest-lived currencies! It was replaced by a second issue of the som, and each individual som was worth 1,000 of the old version of the som.
How to get hold of the Uzbekistani som
The challenge here is realising how worthless many of the som notes actually are. The best currency to bring into the country to exchange is the US dollar, and yet less than $1 US dollar can bring you around 1,000 sum! The National Bank of Uzbekistan is often one of the best places to visit when you need more cash, especially if you are relying on cashing in traveller’s cheques to get what you need. These are not exceptionally popular but you shouldn’t have any problems changing them in a bank.
You can use your credit card to make payment for things as well. However they will not be accepted everywhere. If you are staying in a hotel make sure they will accept your credit card in advance of going there, otherwise you may find yourself stuck. Of course there are cash machines as well, although they are nowhere near as commonly available as you will be used to at home. You should also be aware that some of them may not have any cash in at all. This can be problematic if you go to the trouble of finding such a machine and you still can’t get any cash out!
The moral of the story here is not to rely on one method of obtaining som as you may come up empty. The more options you have the easier it will be to get cash when you need it.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Uzbekistani som
As per usual the best way to do this is by accessing your favourite currency converter. If it has a good list of currencies beyond the usual well-known ones it should have details about the Uzbekistani som available. Just find it via the ISO code UZS and then search for your own currency, or vice versa, depending on which way you want the conversion to work out.
The Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the UK is located in London and it is a good source of information about the country. You don’t have to actually visit the city to find it though, since the embassy has its own website. This has useful sections on tourism and places you might like to consider going to if you visit the country. You can find the website at http://www.uzbekembassy.org/.
Travelling safely with the Uzbekistani som
The main concern with travelling to this country is its border areas with the countries that surround it. Of course things can change very quickly, even while you are there. For the most part you should avoid all the border areas and keep a close eye on the situation before and during your trip.
In the main most people who visit the country have a great trip and do not incur any problems while they are there. However it is wise to make sure you take some sensible precautions as these can make all the difference. Petty crime, as is often the case in other countries, can be a problem although not a huge one. Nonetheless if you make a point of minimising your odds of being a target you can stay even safer than you would otherwise be. For example divide up any cash you are carrying into different pockets, keep any unnecessary valuables back in your hotel safe and be alert to your surroundings wherever you go.
Where to spend your som in Uzbekistan – and what to spend them on
As you might expect from what we have learned about the country so far, Uzbekistan is not situated too far from Russia. However it isn’t actually situated in Europe; instead it is located in Central Asia. It has borders with a number of other countries, including Kazakhstan to the north and west, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south.
If you are planning on finding out more about the country when you visit it, one of the best ways to do so is by visiting a museum. The State Museum of History of Uzbekistan is one of the best. It has more than a quarter of a million exhibits, all of which tell a story about the country’s past. Uzbekistan has quite a history and this can be seen in other parts of the country as well.
One of the undoubted highlights of visiting Uzbekistan is The Ark. This sounds rather grand and indeed it is. It is a fortress of an impressive size, offering a small doorway into the structure so you can explore it in more detail. It is located in Bukhara and is centuries old. There is a museum inside as well as the remains of the Ark itself, so it is well worth seeing on a day out.
Another stunning destination is the Ismail Samani Mausoleum. This is not quite as old as The Ark but it does still date from the 10th century so it is hardly new! The building is notable for its incredibly thick walls, so thick in fact that none of them have ever needed even the slightest repair of any kind. They just don’t make buildings like that anymore!
The capital of the country is a place called Tashkent, and if you go slightly north of this you will come across what is arguably one of the highlights of the entire country. This is known as the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. This is a state park and it is actually fairly new, having been created in 1992. The reason why the park was created was to provide protection for the many species that live there. Many of them were (and still are) endangered so the park provides an important facility and home for many species. These include birds, amphibians, plants and reptiles.
Uzbekistan has far more to offer its visitors than may first be assumed. Its rich history has left many signs and attractions that can be enjoyed by people visiting the country today. Indeed, you are unlikely to run out of things to do while you are there, however long you might be staying for.
It is not a country many of us know a lot about. However as you can see the best way to rectify that is to pay a visit to see things in person. With such structures as The Ark and the above-mentioned mausoleum to see among others, you will gain a far greater understanding of the history of Uzbekistan. Add in the natural sights such as Ugam-Chatkal National Park and you have a recipe for a great trip abroad.