Bishkek is often described as ‘just’ an entry point to Central Asia, but the city is filled with hidden gems. Look a little closer and you’ll see why the тихо (quiet) Kyrgyz capital has so much to offer.
1. Soviet art and monuments
Scattered around the city are Soviet street murals and statues to heroes of the past. They may be vein attempts to brighten the concrete structures that make up the city, but they’re a piece of history none the less. You may even come across the first name Melis, which is an acronym for:
2. Bazaars – Osh and Dordoi
Filled with souvenirs (like the ever practical Kalpaks) and everything you’ve never wanted to buy, the bazaars of Bishkek are a sight to behold. Dordoi (Дордой) is the largest in Central Asia, and well worth at least half a day to get lost and find your way out again.
A trip to the former Soviet Union isn’t complete without a visit to the communal sweatbox. Complete with swimming pools and kalpak-ed old men (see #2), a trip to the oven-like banya will make the 45 degree heat outside seem chilly.
4. Sierra Coffee
Easily the chic-est hangout for Bishkek’s young and beautiful, Sierra boasts great coffee, friendly staff and strong wifi. Ideal for escaping the heat or cold of the street, Sierra’s 4 locations across the city are a popular place for those who want to be seen and coffee lovers alike.
5. The food from across the former Soviet Union
When you think you can’t bear the thought of another spoonful of plov, Bishkek’s array of cuisine from across the former Soviet Union has you covered. The Georgian and Armenian restaurants in particular offer mouthwatering servings and are not to be missed.
6. Ala Archa National Park
This spectacular alpine reserve is less than an hour from the centre of the city and makes for a perfect day trip. With pristine waters charging through lush valleys, you’ll forget you’re just a stone’s throw from the smoggy city.
7. Kymyz, Shoro and Kvass
Drink venders line the streets of the city for those times when the heat of a Central Asian summer becomes too much. But beware, foreign traveller! One of these drinks is fermented horse milk, another is fermented wheat with animal fat, and the third is fermented bread water. Are you feeling lucky?
8. The nightlife
Imagine a shisha pipe…filled with either milk or cognac…and then taken onto the dance floor. Welcome to Bishkek. For a sleepy little city, Bishkek punches well above its weight when it comes to nightlife. There seems to be a steady rotation of bars, pubs and clubs closing down and re-opening, which makes every weekend a new experience.
When Bishkek’s cognac shisha pipes have left you in need of a recharge, why not head over the 10th largest lake in the world? Issyk-Kul is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the capital, and is just a few hours away. There are also beach parties is you’re pining for more of the madness.
Bishkek’s bigger, richer and cleaner brother. With its wide boulevards and clean air, Almaty at times can be mistaken for any European city. Many of the Soviet buildings have been torn down, and the fashion (and prices) is very Western. A few days in Almaty will have you pining for the big Soviet village that is Bishkek.