Bishkek (Бишкек), the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is also the country's largest city with 900,000 inhabitants. It is located near the border with Kazakhstan. Although the city is relatively young (founded in 1878, it became the capital of the Sovjet Republic Kyrgyzstan in 1926) and has its origins in the Soviet period, it is one of the more pleasant urban destinations in the region.
Bishkek is a pleasant city to wander with numerous leafy parks, tall trees, peppered by Soviet era statues and monuments. However there isn't a great deal to see beyond this, and the city can comfortably be 'done' in a day (or two if visiting the suburban markets). Most museums are closed on Mondays.
The August national holiday of Independence Day is marked with pride and celebration all over Kyrgyzstan. In the capital, parades and exhibitions take place, and folk events, concerts, and demonstrations form part of the revelry.
The Islamic month of Ramadan is the religion's most important event in Kyrgyzstan, taking place according to the Muslim calendar usually in August or September, with the devout fasting between sun-up and sundown. They hit the streets every evening to feast and be merry with friends and the month ends with Eid al-Fitr, a joyful day of feasting and family parties.
Bishkek has a bitter climate, with harsh conditions, especially during the long and cold wintermonths of November to March. Rain or snow is possible year round but on average it is a dry country. Spring and autumn are wetter than the rest of the year when sunny and dry conditions rule the country. In the lower parts of Kyrgyzstan, summers are around 27 °C maximum, and around 15 °C at night. During winter, temperatures are between -5 °C and -15 °C but also here temperatures can drop well below -30 °C sometimes.
|Avg Max||2.7 °C||3.3 °C||10.1 °C||18.1 °C||23.1 °C||28.4 °C||31.4 °C||29.9 °C||24.8 °C||17.1 °C||10.1 °C||4.8 °C|
|Avg Min||-8.6 °C||-7.3 °C||-0.3 °C||6.3 °C||10.9 °C||15.1 °C||17.5 °C||15.7 °C||10.6 °C||4.5 °C||-1.1 °C||-5.4 °C|
|Rainfall||26 mm||31 mm||47 mm||76 mm||64 mm||35 mm||19 mm||12 mm||17 mm||43 mm||44 mm||28 mm|
Manas International Airport (FRU) is serviced by flights from London, Frankfurt, Istanbul and Moscow, as well as Delhi and Ürümqi. In addition, the airport offers flights to a number of smaller regional destinations.
A taxi to and from the city centre can be arranged for approximately 500 soms, but prepare to negotiate from a much higher price. Most international flights arrive in the very early morning hours, so the taxi drivers will demand a higher price based upon the late or early hours. If you share a taxi the price should be 150 soms per person.
The marshrutka 380 connects every 10-20 minutes to the city centre for 50 som to the Osh market and for 100 som to the Western bus station (both destinations are only about 1 kilometre away from each other). The minibus parks right in front of the airport and stops at Chuy prospektesi.
There is a twice-weekly train service to and from Moscow, called the "Kirgizia" with two days operated by the Kyrgyz railways, and the other two by the Russian railways. The train has 2 and 4-berth sleepers and a restaurant car. All trains go through Uzbekistan.
In addition, there is a service that goes to and from Balykchy on the western edge of the Issyk Kul lake. (In 2016) it starts in Bishkek, station II at 6:30 in the morning. One cannot buy tickets in advance, one has to go there half on hour before the train leaves and then the ticket office will sell them for 70 Som per person. The ride takes about 4-5 hours but it is worth it to get in contact with local people. Especially those with many children will use the train instead of the marshrutka. The trip is quite scenic.
Bishkek is approximately a 3½ hour drive from Almaty, Kazakhstan along a relatively good highway.
The Bishkek-Osh highway is a narrow mountainous road in a good condition, and big buses or public passenger minivans are not allowed to cross the Tor-Ashu and Ala-Bel Passes. The most popular option is a shared taxi departing from the taxi stand near the Bazaar in Osh, or from the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek until 20:00-21:00. You better start in the morning, not to miss the great view along the road. Try to reserve the front seat, even by paying a hundred soms more, because the driver will squeeze 3 passengers in the back seat.
There are several private taxi firms in Bishkek that you can easily reach through their three digit numbers including: 150, 152, 154, 156, 166, and 188. Daytime taxis throughout the city are a flat rate of 100 soms and 120 soms past 10PM. There are also numerous "gypsy cabs" situated at nearly every intersection. While most travellers and long-time expats report no problems, you are cautioned to be aware, especially at night and near nightclubs. Generally tourists use the local taxi services which can be reached through several numbers: 150 Euro (Evro) Taxi, 152 Super Taxi , 156 Express Taxi and 188 Salam Taxi. Before 10PM most runs in the city are 100 soms and afterwards are 120 soms.
Many taxis do not use flat rate, you negotiate a price in advance. Short distance inside city can be 80 som. A taxi for a day can be negotiated. An hour drive to mountain costs about 1100 Som while getting back is usually much more expensive because the driver has to run twice without passengers since during your stay he needs to return to the city to work.
Kyrgyzstan's capital, like many places in the former Soviet Union, has an extensive network of minibuses, known as Marshrutkas. There are hundreds of mini-buses (marshrutkas) that ply all parts of the city. They generally cost 15-20 som. They typically have around 14 seats, with standing room for around ten extra people during busy periods. Marshrutkas are easily identifiable and display their number and basic route information (in Russian) on the front. There is a great English website for checking connections. To flag one down, simply hold out your right hand, parallel to the ground. Once you get on, pay the fare to the driver. When you want to get off say "ah-stah-nah-VEE-tyeh" or simply "Stop". According to the law marshrutkas should stop at bus stops only, but this is only respected if the driver sees a police car. So, in practice you can ask driver to stop anywhere and he will drop you off at any point on their route.
Bishkek also has a bus and trolleybus system which is less extensive and generally slower. They only stop at designated bus stops and operate only till 22:00. The fare is 8 som in buses and in trolleybuses. Passengers enter at the back door and leave at the front; they pay on exit.
Much of central Bishkek can easily be explored on foot.
There are only a few bike shops in town. They all rent bikes.
Bishkek is probably the best choise for food in Kyrgyzstan. From typical Kyrgyz food like Besh barmak or central Asia classics as Plov, Shashlyk or Samsas can be found around the city. Also Russian dishes are fairly ubiquitous in Bishkek because of the large number of ethnic Russians who still live in the city. There are an also growing number of restaurants and cafes catering to more varied tastes from Turkish to Korean. Also Uyghur food is popular and fit the taste of many westerners as well as locals. E.g. the chain Arzu have a few restaurants.
There are hundreds of stands that sell gamburgers, a local adaptation of hamburgers but really share little in common: they are sliced döner kebab-style meat served on a bun with cole-slaw, cucumber, mayonnaise, ketchup and some chips. They usually cost around 60 som. One of the most popular gamburger stands in Bishkek is at the corner of Sovietskaya and Kievskaya, across the street from the main post office. It's a popular area for local students to pick up a cheap meal, and they even serve the rare chicken hamburger.
Throughout the city are a lot of street-side vendors selling samsis, which is a staple of most locals' lunch. The green kiosks opposite the Philharmonic Hall ticket office sell some of the freshest, cheapest and best prepared in Bishkek and they are popular with students from the nearby universities. You can usually find a row of shashlyk grills inside any bazaar or just outside any chaykhana (teahouse).
For some pre-independence nostalgia, try the cafeterias of government ministries and universities. For about one US dollar you can experience what it was like to eat Soviet-style cafeteria food.
There are a few coffee shops in Bishkek that even feature wi-fi.
For young and single people, Bishkek's nightlife is impressive. Foreigners are welcomed at most venues with open arms, and many times they do not need to pay a cover charge.
|Backpackers Hostel Free & Easy in Bishkek||47, Ulitsa Kara-Koo Archa-Beshik Jal||Hostel||-|
|Castle Hotel Bishkek||Cholpon Ata, Lake Issyk Kul Bishkek||Hotel||-|
|Crocus||Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek city, st. Komsomolskaya 5.||GUESTHOUSE||-|
|Rodem House||109,Umetalieva st.||HOSTEL||-|
|Interhouse Bishkek||Topograficheskiy,9 Sovetskaya Cross Skryabina||HOSTEL||-|
|Silk Road Backpackers||8, Isanova Str. Apt. 49||HOSTEL||-|
|Baikhan||VIP, Ala- Archa 1 Leshoz street||HOTEL||-|
A number of international organizations have offices in Bishkek, however most employees are recruited from abroad. If you speak Russian, there might be occasional opportunities to find temporary or long-term work. There are also a number of English language schools that will employ native English speakers. Due to the current unstable political situation, there is not a large amount of foreign business investment, but there is the Kumtor Gold mine and many foreign exploration companies attempting to develop the natural resources of the country.
Bishkek is a cheap place to learn Russian (or Kyrgyz). A private 1 1/2 hour lesson with a native Russian speaker should cost between $5–7. Courses are also available at the American University of Central Asia and the Kyrgyz-Russian-Slavic University. There is also a private school that caters to individual learning: The London School in Bishkek. This school offers Russian and Kyrgyz to anyone at anytime of the year for as little as 120 soms/hr. During the warmer months they are often full so book in advance.
You will find internet access in Bishkek fairly easy to locate as there are a number of internet cafes. Outside Bishkek, access may be more difficult to find, although a number of internet cafes are opening in some of the regional centres such as Osh, Djalal Abad, Tokmak and Karakol.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Kyrgyzstan's country code is +996.
There are three GSM-based operators in Kyrgyzstan: MegaCom, Beeline and O!.
Coverage and speed are good in the major cities, but can be very slow to non-existent in the countryside. When purchasing a SIM card, you officially have to show a photo ID. Since March 2014 SIM registration in Kyrgyzstan is compulsory. Existing SIM card holders must register personal ID details by March 2015 or face disconnection. Start-up price for prepaid SIM cards is around 125-200 Som.
Kyrgyzpost is the national postal service in the country. Services are relatively cheap but slow. It might take weeks for a letter or postcard to arrive in your home country. For packages, use international courier services like DHL, FedEx, TNT or UPS.
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