Bishkek City Guide
Any traveler who commonly visits Central Asia will usually refer to Bishkek as the place to pick up visas and supplies before visiting the neighbour countries. But there's more to it.
If the above is not you and this is a place that you specifically want to visit for tourist purposes, then there are certainly some fun and profound experiences that this new city can provide. Bishkek with its international Manas airport is also good starting point for tours around Kyrgyzstan.
When arriving for the first time, you will almost feel like it is a place in Russia. The layout and infrastructure of the city are remarkably similar, as well as the people speaking the language too.
Because you are someone who wants to spend some time here, you may want to consider learning a few key words in Russian. There are very few tourists who stay here besides for stops, and although the locals are helpful as always, the language will be a problem if you're not practical for getting around.
Weather in Bishkek
The effect that the weather has on your first impression when visiting the city is much like seeing two sides of a coin, so be sure to be sure to plan this beforehand.
Much like other Central Asian countries, the climate is on the extremes of both cold and hot. If you choose to arrive in winter, one thing that you will have to bring is hiking boots or shoes with strong studs. The roads and sidewalks in Bishkek are not sanded or smoothed out, resulting in very uncomfortable walks when not properly equipped.
Fortunately, the cold is bearable in this city unlike others, the intensity against your skin is low as the air in Bishkek is quite dry, which also means that you can enjoy the weather rather than just shivering your way through it.
Summer in Bishkek is quite hot as you might have expected, it is common to experience several power outages depending on what level of heat arises, so prepare yourself if you rely on technology. Like the cold can be combatted, so can the heat. Be sure to bring swim clothes or swimsuits as the city holds many outdoor pools for the purpose of cooling down and having fun.
Although it is a new city, the region itself is quite old and has a lot of history that would excite any Soviet-era fans. Originally named Pishpek, it was found in 1825 when the Uzbek Khan of Kokand built a fort right on the Chuy River which was where a settlement resided. This act linked various key points from Silk Road through to the Tian Shah mountain range.
The region soon began its series of reformats as the Tsarist Russians came and destroyed the existing structures in 1862 with Atabek being the last Kokhand ruler. Russian military units were placed there and commenced the reformat of the region, During 1926, the name changed again to "Frunze" which had its start with peasants that were seduced by land grants to live there by the Russians. Frunze was announced the capital of Kirghiz ASSR.
All throughout the mid-late 80s and peaking in 1990, several civil riots were happening in South Kyrgyzstan due to lack of independence which with time would spread to Frunze if nothing changed. As a result, in 1991 the city was officially renamed once again to Bishkek and soon after accomplished their independence as the Soviet Union released their control.
After Bishkek had announced its independence, several of the once ethnic Russians left the city, this resulted in less than 5% of the town's population being ethnic Russian today. There is no doubt that despite the independence of Bishkek, Russians left their mark and it shows through their language and city structure.
Food in Bishkek
Despite not being a tourist hotspot, Bishkek has a variety of restaurants and cafe's that can suit every type of food enthusiast. Whether you want to have a meal or are just looking for small bites, have a look at the places below!
For those who desire Central Asian culture in the form of food, then the Chaikhana Jalal-Abad is for you. Located around the corner from Osh Bazaar, the Chaikhana offers food from almost every country in the region, it is hard what to pick and whether to be loyal to Kyrgyzstan. Traditional dishes to help you decide include the "besh barmak," "Lagman" and "Shashlyk" all of which will provide you with real insights on Kyrgyzstan's food compared to surrounding countries.
Situated on Gorkii Street, a pricey but pleasant experience is Cave Coffee. Whether you are from the United States and want something familiar, or want to be experimental with the local teas and coffees, this cafe will have your fix. Cave offers more than 20 varieties of coffee and teas ranging from not only Central Asia but Western hot drinks too.
Whether you are from a Commonwealth Russian country or want to experience what food would taste like in those places, visit the Mimino on Kievskaya street and they can fulfil this. Although most places in Bishkek serve Russian foods, many don't offer the other dishes from related Commonwealth countries. Georgian food tends to be a crowd pleaser at Mimino, with dishes like Mchadi, Lobio, and Mujuji which are all beefs with cultural twists, you are guaranteed to experience a range of tastes.
Ideal for anyone who is just making a stop in Bishkek, or is sick of trying all these new foods and wants cheap fast food, Begemot is perfect for satisfying a stomach.
Serving in the form of food stands, here you can buy the equivalent of an American burger and sides. If you are in the city, these are not hard to find as they tend to scatter on most corner business streets.
There are more recommended restaurants in our blog post about the road from Bishkek to Osh and everything in-between.
What to do in Bishkek
Many of the sites and favourite locations in Bishkek follow the formalities of other Central Asian countries, though due to the Russian impact on the city, there is an exciting variety that will excite tourists.
Renamed after 1991 from Lenin square and originally built in 1984 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Kyrgyz SSR, Ala-Too Square is arguably the biggest attraction in the city. If you are staying in Bishkek for a while, here you will see many political events happen as well as festivals of all types including light shows and live music. Any event of large magnitude will almost always be held here if appropriate, so when visiting always keep it in the back of your mind.
Known for its visually confronting meats (animal heads for example), the Osh Bazaar is the most known food center in the city. If you haven't got a weak stomach, then this bazaar is a great place to visit as it has a wide variety of foods to choose from that are very fresh. As well as the above, they also have vendors that sell local apparel, which you can wear or bring home as souvenirs as they represent the standard dress code which is not common in the west if that's where you reside.
Mainly for the history lovers as the site looks like it's had enough fun, Panfilov Park provides a very insightful perspective into Bishkek when they were united with the Soviet Union. A recommendation would be only to use the Ferris wheel, most of the rides look extremely dated and old which leaves questions open for whether or not they are fully functional and safe.
Make your way to the exciting Dordoi Bazaar with its Chinese goods being send all over Central Asia. The Dordoi Bazar is Central Asia's biggest bazaar near to the Kazakh border, and kind of a bazaar for bazaars. You can find everything you're not looking for. :)
For single traveler, Bishkek surprisingly has a very fun nightlife. Not only are tourist incredibly respected and encouraged to come into most venues, but they also receive several free entries!
If you are familiar with the transportation systems of other countries in Central Asia, then your going to find it easier to get around in Bishkek. Due to former Soviet Union control, there are some notable differences, enough to make it interesting and not enough to make it more confusing.
Unlike a lot of other cities in the region, Bishkek contains several private taxi firms that run at a flat rate; this ensures that there will be no overcharging as long as you do your research on prices. Alternatively, you can also take regular cabs, which also means you run the risk of being scammed due to drivers charging there own rates.
A common trend amongst Soviet Union countries is the influx of minibuses. Although Bishkek is not part of this anymore, the transport system is still very much identical resulting in minibuses being the cheapest form of transportation available due to the convenience. They go to almost every city city/larger village for only few dollars and have several stops for toilets. It's not the most comfortable way of transport when you're in full bus. So make sure to be there early enough and choose the best seat available. They do have a kind of a schedule, but most they drive when the seats are sold, so it may take a while.
Rent a car
Renting a car is not recommended if your stay in Bishkek is short. The road system is entirely different from other regions in nearly every way. It is not unusual for road rules to be disobeyed and not uncommon to get pulled over by just the exterior aesthetic of your vehicle or who is inside it. It's ok if you are used to chaotic traffic. Look here for rental cars in Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan
The most comfortable and most expensive way of transport is hiring your personal driver. Go anywhere, stop wherever you want to for photo stops along the way. You will want to stop every few meters for the stunning views along the mountain passes. For high passes and mountain roads, make sure it's 4x4 vehicle. Look here for local drivers in Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan.
Fortunately, the crime rates are very low regarding violence or any class A offences, despite this, there should still be precautions regarding pickpocketing and robberies.
Due to the active nightlife, this is also the prime time for most thefts to occur. The best way to avoid this is to always ask officials of the night clubs the safest approach so that you don't risk being robbed, and to also go with a crowd rather than wondering alone.
The main precaution you can take is to never leave things unattended, especially in Bazaars and Nightclubs where the environments are crowded. The above may seem like common sense, but it has to be taken seriously. Due to the poverty in the city, the likelihood of people recognising opportunities to take items is very real, so always stay aware.
Although Bishkek isn't the tourist hotspot city of Central Asia, it does have redeeming features that are nonexistent in any other areas due to its unique history. If you choose to follow this guide, you can be sure to experience the best that this city has to offer!