Few places are as physically bleak and barren as Turkmenistan, which is mostly scrubby desert that becomes a blast furnace in summer. The only visual respites from this bleakness are the beautiful Turkmen carpets displayed in markets, homes and museums. You're also likely to see some pretty surreal structures, especially in the capital, Ashgabat. President Niyazov, a kind of modern-day feudal lord, has embarked on a lavish building spree, erecting monuments to himself and to his visions of grandeur for the country.

This extravagance is hardly worth the trip. We do not recommend a visit to Turkmenistan. The country shares a long border with Afghanistan, a nation in chaos whose troubles could easily infect its neighbors. Even after the situation in Afghanistan settles, Turkmenistan is likely to attract only the most adventurous travelers or those businesspeople vying for the chance to tap Turkmenistan's considerable natural gas reserves.

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