Published internationally in July 2003 as Kabul: The Bradt Mini Guide.
First published in Kabul in September 2002 as a pamphlet.
Last updated June 16 2003
Admittedly, leisure time is not something most Afghans or foreigners working in Kabul will be thinking of. For most people, work is the order of the day as the efforts to reconstruct the country struggle forward. Nevertheless, there are some things to do which you could consider outside the long office hours and outside your guesthouse room -- when time permits. Here are just a few ideas:
For sport there are tennis and squash courts at the old German Club (at the time of writing the club has been taken over by US management and changes are expected), the UNICA Guesthouse, the Intercontinental Hotel and the British Embassy.
The swimming pool at UNICA is popular (members only). The ICRC, Italian and French embassies (invitation only), and Intercontinental Hotel (guests only) also have pools.
The reopened Microrayon public swimming pool was very busy on August 19 2002, Independence Day, when the place was full of Afghan men. It cost 20,000AFA (20 cents) and the water was very cold and murky, leaving little to the imagination as to what was at the bottom.
There’s football every afternoon in Shahre Naw Park with the Afghan All Stars (local kids having a kick around – boisterous but fun). The Mustafa Hotel ran a football league in 2002 and plans a baseball league in 2003.
There’s usually rugby at the ISAF base across from the US Embassy on Fridays.
The Hash House Harriers in Kabul started in August 2002. The first meeting was on a Friday at the Intercontinental and cost US$3. Conservative clothing is a must for all runners. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Fitness centres and beauty parlours
There are a number of fitness centres around town, and Turkish baths and beauty parlours for women. Men and women should remember that even in a fitness context shorts are unacceptable. Both should work out in long tracksuit bottoms, and women should wear long-sleeved tops.
There’s a new fitness centre at the Intercontinental Hotel. Monthly membership is US$80, members receive an ID card and the centre is open from 06.00-21.00 daily. The Men's Section has a barbell bicep bench, combination weight bench, stair stepper, combination lat press and the ladies section has an exercise bike, tread mill and two exercise mats. There are separate shower and changing facilities. Currently the swimming pool is only open to men.
Gold Gym In the Soviet-era district Microrayon 2, this is one of the more popular gyms with Afghans and internationals alike. It is visible from afar thanks to an imposing hand-painted poster of a superhumanly proportioned body-builder in a pair of very short red shorts. The gym is run by the former Afghan wrestling champion Bawar Hotaki and has 30 brand-new exercise machines which are mostly weights based. No Afghan women use the gym. Membership is 300 Afghanis a month. Opening hours are 06.00--10.00 and 14.00--20.00. It gets very congested in the evenings.
Rokhsar Beauty Parlour Flower Street. This is one of the better beauty parlours in town; it is also slightly pricier. The all-women zone is a single room offering waxing, threading, make-up, hair styling, washing and cutting, manicure, pedicure and henna-ing.
Thai Traditional Massage Tel: 070 29 7557. The Thai massage service is offered by one of the women working at Lai Thai restaurant. The traditional Thai massage incorporates acupressure and joint-loosening techniques, and is done through clothing. The expert masseuse, who has more than ten years’ experience, uses her weight to manipulate the body; the end result purports to improve blood circulation, boost the immune system and flush out toxins caused by stress.
Currently, the massage is done on a mattress on the floor in a small, furnished room above the restaurant, although the management plans to move the service to a more pleasant location in the coming weeks. One hour’s massage is US$25. You need to book an appointment in advance.
Wahida Assa 2 Guesthouse, Shahre Naw; tel: 070 28 7360. Wahida runs a beauty parlour at this guesthouse, and also describes herself as a ‘mobile beauty parlour’ for women only at their homes. She only uses imported beauty products. Facial US$10, pedicure US$8, manicure US$7, haircutting, waxing and massages are just some of the beauty treatments she offers.
A professional massage is also available, by appointment only (tel: 070 28 8208), at Ming Ming’s, off the Kolola Pushta main road pass the UNICA Guesthouse.
Culture and entertainment
The Aina Media and Cultural Centre, next door to the Ministry of Planning, has a lovely grass courtyard. In the summer big-screen film showings and musical evenings take place. There are also regular exhibitions at the centre. Every Tuesday night Aina has a film showing at 20.00.
There’s live music in the outdoor courtyard at the Mustafa Café throughout the summer as well as a summer cinema season on the large outdoor screen. Check dates and times at the Mustafa Café.
Finally, consider learning the local language at a number of places or from private tutors.
Shops in town for those creature comforts:
Asree Store and Bakery. Half way down Flower Street next to the Marco Polo Blue Palace Store. This bakery sells French baguettes and doughy white leavened loaves. The raisin bread is excellent.
Hollywood DVD Music and Video Store. Flower Street, (next to Asree Bakery) sells rip-off DVDs for US$1-2. The choice is pretty ropey. Action films and Bollywood epics are the favoured genre, but the selection is always being increased.
There’s a Roman Catholic Mass at the Italian Embassy at 17.00 on Sundays and feast days. Father Moretti will be more than pleased to see you.
The Survival Guide to Kabul©