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Aktau: Where The Streets Really Have No Name

Aktau has an address system that’s relatively unique. The streets really are unnamed.

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I landed in Aktau, got in some guy’s truck that he called a taxi, and began riding into town. I pulled out my phone to track the half hour ride and get the lay of the land.

“Unnamed Road” was the label given to the highway I was traveling down.

“Stupid Google Maps,” I thought, how could this road not have a name? It’s the main highway going from the airport to the city — of course it’s called something.

But the mapping app was correct. The road didn’t have a name. None of the roads in Aktau do.

This is a city that was founded in secret — one of the Soviet Union’s infamous closed cities. At that time, it was basically a nuclear power plant, a uranium mine, and a camp for the people who worked in those two places. The city was arranged in districts and apartment complexes that were organized by number, rendering the streets which they were located on irrelevant for navigational purposes. If you wanted to go to District 9, you just went to District 9.

Apparently, this was a system that nobody found any need to update as Aktau opened up and grew into the oil producing epicenter that it is today.

So how do you find your way around a city where the streets have no name?

There’s a system to it. Rather than going to a particular road and finding an address on it, you first go to the district, called a micro-raion, and then to the apartment or commercial building, and then to the specific apartment or business you’re aiming for. So a common address would look something like “15-10-38.” The first number is the district, the second the building, and the third is the house or business.

This system works because Aktau hasn’t lost its work-camp-like set up. People still live in apartment blocks which are still arranged in well-organized clusters. From what I can tell, finding your way around here is about as easy as anywhere else. Well, for the locals anyway.


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Filed under: Kazakhstan, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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