Many visitors to beauty spots and other points of interest in Kazakhstan complain about the difficulty of finding what they were looking for.  This complaint vies for top irksome position with ‘bad roads’ that make the trips unnecessarily long and arduous.

Fixing roads is of course a big challenge in view of the vast size of Kazakhstan and its quite small population. But overcoming the lack of signage is something that can be remedied with very little state expense if iprivate enterprise and local initiative are properly harnessed.

It’s no good trying to develop tourism in a big way if foreigners (or locals) can’t find what they are looking for.  GPS systems only go so far, particularly when one goes off the main roads. I recall the time when I first went to Eight Lakes with my very experienced driver Giorgi.  He seems to know every corner of the country from the Caspian Sea to Mount Tengri, from the border with Russia in the north and to the countries to the south.  He certainly is familiar with every spot of interest around Almaty.  Yet he too drove past the turnoff point for Eight Lakes and proceeded for some kilometres before one of our companions, who had previously been to Eight Lakes, wondered outloud if we had gone too far.

What’s needed is for Kazakhstan to fall in step with the growing international practice of using road signs with a brown background to indicate touristic places.

In the United Kingdom, every place that someone thinks the motoring public would want to know about in a touristic sense can apply to have one or more brown signs erected.

The official UK website is here  It provides useful information on several subjects. It is a worthy starting point for a government agency to flesh out some rules for Kazakhstan.

Under the UK’s rules, brown signs are available for ‘attractions’ and ‘facilities’.  Attractions include theme parks, historic buildings, museums, and zoos.  Facilities include hotels, guest houses, camping grounds, and picnic areas.  The brown road signs cannot be used to direct drivers to retail outlets, shopping centers, garden centers, or exhibition centers or conferencing facilities.

Only ‘attractions’ can be signed on a motorway whereas ‘facilities’ as well as ‘attractions’ can be signed on category A roads (main non-motorway roads).

The cost of such signage in England is rather spectacular.  The design and installation of one sign on an ‘A’ road might cost between £8,000 and £20,000 whereas placing the same sign on a motorway might cost twice that amount.  The cost includes design and production of the sign, time spent identifying the best site for the sign, and installation of the post or posts to hold the sign (hole digging, cement, cost of materials, use of vehicle and provision of men). The beauty of the UK’s system is that the signs are immediately recognizable to tourists, do not confuse or attract the attention of non-tourists who may be following other road signs, and are well placed to guide the tourists.

I leave it to the authorities how to deal with the practical aspects in Kazakhstan but it certainly seems that at least natural attractions, such as a waterfalls, or a lake to which tourists go, ought to have one or more standard brown signs installed at state expense as part of the effort to encourage and facilitate tourism.  Profit-seeking facilities, such as resorts/hotels, could be expected to pay for their own signs.

An immediate problem to be resolved up front is who gets to make the signs and who is to determine which facilities and attractions are worthy of a sign.  It wouldn’t do to let every interested person make up his or her own sign with different shades of brown or to act in a dangerous way while installing them.  The regulations developed for the purpose of governing the use of brown road signs might stipulate the standards for producing the signs.

Personally, I think the government should initiate the brown sign program in a ‘soft’ way that gives relatively free reign to the public.  This would get the system started at practically no cost to the government and little cost to the public.  Simple guidelines would issued and publicized stating:

  • Any business or organization involved in the tourism industry would have the right to erect one sign adjacent to a public road at its own cost provided the following rules are followed.
  • A sign should be rectangular in shape, if possible, and no larger than __ cm by
  • The background must be brown (specimen photo in the guidelines could show the preferred shade of brown), and the lettering must be white and no more than __ cm high. The sign could contain an arrow to guide drivers to the destination. It might also contain a non-verbal symbol (pictogram), such as a tent to designate a camping site or a crossed fork and knife to indicate a food serving place.
  • Various instructions would be given for road safety, e.g., the sign should not impair vision of other road signs, should not be closer to the edge of the road than a specified distance, and should not pose a danger to a vehicle or impede a driver’s vision of the road.
  • Anyone who erects a sign under the guidelines must inform the __ agency about the fact of erecting the sign and giving its location with an enclosed or attached photo of the sign.
  • The guidelines should deal with the language or languages to be used on brown signs.
  • If members of the public complain about a sign, they may communicate with the dsignated agency which will have discretion to remove signs that do not accord with the regulations.

In due course, such as when public funds are available, the government might want to take over the production and installation of the brown signs to ensure uniformity, standard appearance and safety.


Book Sales:  Find more stories about Kazakhstan from the 1990s and later in my book, West Meets East in Kazakhstan.  It’s available online in softcover or e-book format from AuthorHouse (the publisher), or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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