If you are coming to Turkmenistan (and I would recommend it, surprising myself really), stay in Ashgabat at the Botanical Gardens Hotel.It was specifically built for government-type people and, although a little past its prime, it still has touches of stately grandeur (and an appropriately isolated feel) that make staying there a joy.
Every room has a balcony (be careful not to let the door close behind you) and some carpets laid over squeaky floorboards (perfect for a bookshop), and there is a piano (not entirely in tune), a sauna (some warning required beforehand, but I understand it is excellent), and endless hot water (indeed, all the time I was there we had no cold water at all).
If you think you are a dab hand at snooker then try out the table. It is a professional model they tell me. This seems to mean the table is very large, the pockets are very small (only a couple of millimeters wider than the balls) and the cues are too heavy to hold.
Over the back is the lovely Ashgabat botanical gardens. There is an official place to jump the fence (ask permission first) but it is not far to walk around. And the cafe at the gardens’ front door is really good. Despite noisy music (a la Russia – for some reason they always like noisy techno-pop).
The hotel is also almost empty (there were just three other guests in the time I was there), although it has three friendly staff to look after whatever needs looking after, and two guards on duty 24 hours a day at the gate.
It is a bit like coming around to someone’s mansion when they are not home and finding some other people there awaiting the owners’ return. You feel like a participant in some secret society. You sit in the kitchen or at the table out by the guard’s gate, drink endless cups of tea and talk about differences between countries and why you are not married. You disclose your plans for the day at breakfast time, discuss them with the staff, and report on progress once you are done. You get to lounge on the comfy couches and laugh at the television (no cable here), and tolerate the woman who cleans up too much (no matter how much you might tell her otherwise).
Of course, it is owned by the government. Since no one who actually cared about not losing money would run it as it is. But for all that it is quite lovely. More than just quite even.