After 16 wonderful days in Mongolia, it was time to leave and head to my next exciting destination: Kyrgyzstan! Whenever I had told people where I was heading next, I had been met with curiosity. Because Kyrgyzstan definitely isn’t a standard backpacker destination. I have, however, always been interested in the Central Asian countries (or “the Stan’s”, if you will), and thus chose Kyrgyzstan as my first Stan to visit because a visa is not required unlike all the other Stan’s.
Arriving in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, was an interesting experience. I boarded the full plane in Ulaanbaatar after much confusion, as the gate on my ticket had Istanbul as the destination. I found out that there would be a stopover in Bishkek, where a few of us would get off, before the rest continued on to Istanbul. I was worried about my luggage being sent all the way to Istanbul, but it turned out to not be a problem. I had never tried anything like this, but it makes sense when flying between such sparsely visited destinations. The flight was beautiful and I had great views of the Mongolian desert, the Altai Mountains, the vast steppe of Kazakhstan and finally, Kyrgyzstan. Four hours after boarding the plane, I arrived in Bishkek and met my friend Steve at the airport.
Steve and I have travelled together before; we met each other in the Faroe Islands, travelled to Iceland together and met up again in London. This time, we had planned to travel together for a month through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Going by what I had read online before coming to Bishkek, my expectations of the city weren’t high. Basically, people describe Bishkek as this boring city that people only go to to get visas for other countries in Central Asia. While Steve and I were also going to get a visa (to Tajikistan), it wasn’t our only plan in the city. We spent an entire day wandering around the city and while everything is easily seen in a few hours, it’s not because Bishkek is lacking in sights, but because everything is located close by.
I was actually very pleasantly surprised by the amount of sights to see and things to do in Bishkek. It didn’t take us long to see all of the main buildings that are all located in the center of the city:
After seeing all of the main buildings in the center as well as a hidden Lenin Statue, we went for a stroll in Panfilov Park, which is an amusement park in the city center. I was so surprised to see this area! I don’t know why, but I expected Bishkek to be bland and dull, but it was full of atmosphere! Everywhere, children were running around and playing, people were eating candyfloss (including us) and playing tabletennis and other fun games. I could imagine being young in the city and coming there to hang out every day! I loved this park a lot!
Our next stop was the Osh Bazaar, which again was full of life and atmosphere, but unfortunately, the amount of people there was just too much for us to handle. We walked in a loop around it and got out of there as fast as we had gotten in!
We had planned to buy some fruits at the market, but had to give up because of the crowds, but thankfully Bishkek has some decent supermarkets (unlike anywhere else in Central Asia, as we later found out).
The next day our plan was to go to the nearby Ala Archa National Park after applying for our visa, but it was raining hard and eventually started thundering and lightning, so after much trouble of even finding a marshrutka (mini bus) to go there, we gave up and went back to the hostel for a lazy day! The weather only got worse, so the national park wouldn’t have been much good going to anyways.
The day after, we continued our travels in Karakol, a quaint town located in the easternmost corner of Kyrgyzstan, with many beautiful places to be explored nearby. Stay tuned!
Here is some info on travelling in Bishkek:
- There is a marshrutka just outside the airport’s arrivals hall waiting when planes arrive. It takes you to the city center for 40 soms per person, which is way cheaper than a taxi. A taxi costs 500-600 soms from the airport to the city center.
- Marshrutkas around the city cost just 10 soms per person, which makes walking seem stupid. You can get to the Tajik embassy by marshrutka or catch a taxi for 300 soms.
- We stayed at Interhouse in the city center and paid 11 USD per night for a double room. It was a very clean and comfortable hostel, but unfortunately, the staff didn’t know much about Bishkek and how to get to the different places around town. There is free wifi, towels and breakfast that changes every morning (sometimes it’s fully vegetarian, otherwise you can ask to get it without meat).
- The Tourist Information Center in the city center is very helpful and can even exchange money for you.