It may not be an obvious holiday choice, but those willing to explore Turkmenistan will be rewarded with a cultural feast for the eyes and mind. It is by far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s nations. If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of the Silk Road, then this is the place for you. The ancient cities of Merv and Konye-Urgench inspire visions of caravans plodding along the ancient trade route. In fact, in its heyday Merv stood alongside Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as one of the great cities of the Islamic world. A major centre of religious study and a lynchpin on the Silk Road, its importance to the commerce and sophistication of Central Asia cannot be underestimated. Another must-see here is the Karakum Desert, which is both mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful. The full Turkmen experience is ultimately about mingling with the warm and fascinating Turkmen people themselves. Along your travels, don’t be surprised if you spot golden statues of its bizarre dictator Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled until his death in 2006. He covered this little-known desert republic with statues himself and grandiose monuments while in power.