If you arrive by plane and Almaty is your first impression of Kazakhstan, then you'd be easily forgiven for thinking that Sacha Baron Cohen is full of S*&t. This place is euro-tastic, it stinks of money and the 'B' word is strictly a no-no.

I was really surprised by Almaty; whilst there's still evidence of the soviet 'grey-wash', its a bustling city of bmw/mercedes traffic jams, expensive shops and leafy parks oozing with lavishly noisey wedding parties. Weddings are a big deal here. There must be about 50 of those ridiculous white stretched hummers circling the city at any given time.

Although we spent the first week trying not to be tourists (in a bid to avoid the police in the absence of Joe's passport) downtown Almaty was a cool place to just 'be'. From our apartment, we could see the snow capped Zailiysky Alatau Mountain range, easily walk up the main street for a beer (or a kebab - oh my god delicious), hang out in the afternoon sunshine in the parks. If it hadn't been such a nervous wait for us, Almaty was certainly the place to chill out.

It was nice to be in an apartment too, above the cacophony of car alarms, police speakers pulling people over and trolley buses whirring on the street below. We needed time out after China, and having an apartment, internet and a kitchen was the perfect anecdote - almost back to some semblance of reality.

The Kazakhs are great too; adidas seems to have captured the fashion market by storm, and the ruski looking women wouldnt be seen dead without enough makeup to star in a Robert Palmer video. We've found everyone to be good humoured and friendly, and willing to try and help us even with the language barrier. They must be a very trusting race as well as the national past time is taxi driving. Everyone in Kazakhstan is their own private taxi company; when you want to go somewhere, it's as easy as sticking your hand out and waiting 3-5 seconds for a car to pull in (usually 3 cars which helps with the bargaining process). You tell them where you want to go, negotiate a price, and jump in. Everyone does it. Business men, little old ladies and strumpets alike.

But the spoils of Almaty really only have enough juice to keep a traveller entertained for a couple of days before adventure further afield starts calling. Once Joe's passport had arrived back in safe hands, we took a weekend camping trip to Lake Kapshagay. Joe dusted off his kite and board on the lake and was stoked to find that we'd stumbled upon Kazakhstan's one and only Kitesurfing Club - and their finest location.

Almaty certainly enamoured us with the impression that Kazakhstan is a country on its way up. We'll tell you what the rest of it looks like soon...