As legend has it, Khiva in Uzbekistan was born from a vision. In biblical times, Shem, one of Noah’s sons, founded the city after having dreamed of a fire. Timothy Go is also connected to Khiva in western Uzbekistan by flames. On his first trip to this ancient city along the Silk Road in 2018, the former news anchor and serial entrepreneur dreamed of leaves burning.
Five years later, he’s back, this time to set down financial roots. “Noah’s son built the city after having dreamed of a fire. Now, here I am, opening a hotel,” says Go.
It all started after a chance encounter on his first visit when Go left his hotel room looking for Wi-Fi and struck up life-altering conversations with a young Uzbek in the lobby. They realised they had the same dream of opening a hotel and clicked over their ambitions, so they decided to take the plunge.
Go and Muhammad Ali Erkinov opened Hotel Bankir Khiva this March. The name, meaning “banker” in Russian, was inspired by the fact that both had bankers in the family and the street where Bankir Khiva was located was known locally as “where the banker lives”. Go calls the events leading up to the meeting with his business partner “destiny”.
While being a hotelier is uncharted territory, the Singapore-based entrepreneur is familiar with the trials of a start-up, having launched a business every few years since leaving the television news broadcasting industry in 2016.
He has started a sandwich shop, a tour agency, and an online tech media platform. Of the latest project, he says: “I feel like I’m starting over again and it makes me feel good. Most people would have settled down and thought about retirement.”
His eclectic enterprises reflect his risk- taking streak, something he jokingly likens to a midlife crisis. “If I don’t do it now, when else am I going to do it?” says Go, who was born in Manila and grew up in Vancouver. “If I could move to Singapore when I was 25 with neither money nor wisdom, I can do it now at 40-something with better financial stability and more wisdom.”
Khiva in the limelight
Go is 49 this year and on the road to another adventure. When construction began in 2020 on his three-storey, 22- room boutique hotel in Khiva, he dove into the thick of it, carrying lumber and learning how to install tiles and chandeliers.
The Hotel Bankir Khiva team has carved a niche that’s currently missing in Khiva — a modern homage to heritage. Its walls are decorated with abstract paintings, the ceilings are 3m high, and the fittings are contemporary. A rooftop restaurant is in the works.
Since Go last visited the former Soviet republic five years ago, it has changed considerably. “Uzbekistan was just opening up when I first arrived,” he says, “I thought I had found the perfect place to relive the 1970s as an adult. Back then, I saw suited- up men and formally-dressed women on the streets. Today, Tashkent, the capital, is witnessing a building boom with tall structures popping up everywhere and more expressways to make travelling easy. As with any Asian capital, many young people wear casual clothing.”
A heritage site, Khiva has been designated as a tourist capital of the Islamic world for 2024 by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and will soon get its time in the spotlight for its storied landmarks. Travellers will experience a small, thriving city of 93,000 without big supermarkets or shopping malls. Goods are purchased at small grocery stores and bigger bazaars or directly from a farm.
The hotel’s construction has had a ripple effect on the community. The roads outside used to be unpaved — which Go had found charming — but this gave way to more practical considerations when the local government decided to pave the thoroughfare for the neighbourhood. “Once our hotel was built, neighbours also took it upon themselves to upgrade their homes and surroundings,” says Go.
Once our hotel was built, neighbours also took it upon themselves to upgrade their homes and surroundings. – Timothy Go
A home away from home
He divides his time between Singapore and Uzbekistan, where he has become the local English expert and has adopted the local custom of sharing food with the person sitting next to him.
Living in a world heritage site is new to Go, and he doesn’t take it for granted. “There’s something to appreciate, walking the same path as legendary traders,” he says. He recognises the city’s potential to develop, too. “We see plots of land around the historic city and fantasise about building commercial spaces where we can open more restaurants and cafés,” he says.
While tourists will undoubtedly return from Hotel Bankir Khiva with stories and pixel postcards of their own, what story will the hotel tell of itself ?
“That anything is possible,” concludes Go. “The connection you make with people… you never know where it’s going to take you.” For Go, it’s another adventure, in a world steeped in time.
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