for the most part, you can get around central Almaty by walking. although the distances aren’t that short, it’s probably easier than taking public transit. there are a couple instances, though, where it can come in handy, like getting to and from the airport or up to Medeu/Shymbulak Ski Resort.
a brand new (well, less than five years old) system, it doesn’t really do much for visitors, although there’s a central part that runs north/south that might be of use. i’m just a public transit geek so i had to try it — even going as far an extra stop to Baikonur station just because it looks futuristic. it’s very Soviet in style, and while the stations are nice compared to bland American stations, they don’t really compare to Russian opulence and showmanship. that said, it’s super clean and super new. just be aware that times between trains can be around 10 minutes, even in rush hour.
there’s only one line, and it costs 80 tenge ($0.43) per ride, no matter the distance. buy a token from the ticket booth and deposit it in the slot in the turnstile. at first i thought it was RFID like Taipei’s system, but it’s not. don’t bother trying to tap the token on the white dot on the turnstile — it will do you no good ;). just drop it in the slot and walk through. since it’s a flat-rate fare, nothing is needed to exit the station.
the pictures below are of Almaty station (the brown one), Baikonur station (the blue and white one), and Abay Station (the end wall with the man). my favorite part of the system, though, is the detailing on the door. patterns like this are everywhere around Kazakhstan.
subway stops and direction are indicated by these signs on the wall. they point in the direction of travel and the stop with the bar on top is the current stop. as you can tell, it’s a small system. oh, and b-t-dubs, if the blue and white station (Baikonur) looks space-travel-ish, it’s because the station is named after and thus themed for the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the main space launch facility of the USSR (and with NASA’s decline, it’s still one of the main launch facilities today), located in western Kazakhstan.
there’s not much to say about riding the bus except a) good luck trying to figure out which one you need to take, and b) i still don’t know how you’re supposed to pay. regarding figuring out bus lines, it’s a bit hard — you can try out wikiroutes, and Here Maps (apps available) also has bus information in it (not Google Maps).
on the way up to Medeu, i paid at the machine shown below — drop your 80 tenge (same price as the subway) into the slot on the right side of the top of the machine and in a few seconds, a receipt/ticket will print out from the front of the machine. i think it gives change via the coin thingamajig on the left.
on the way back, though, a lady told me not to use the machine (i think) and pay on my way out. exit through the front door and pay the driver. *shrug* i don’t know when you do which, but i guess it wouldn’t hurt to just ask the driver.
UPDATE 2: if you’re in an old-school bus like this one, pay the lady (pretty much always a lady, i think) in the blue smock or the one with the money sitting by the rear door when you exit. this is similar to how it was in Mongolia.