Bishkek was an odd place for us. We found an amazing guesthouse named Friends Guesthouse. Nurik, the owner, opened up his home to us and other weary travellers, and we all ended up staying for longer than planned.
Our first three days in Bishkek, we went out only to find food to cook and occasionally enjoyed a dönor kebab. The joys of long-term travelling! When you find a place to decompress, it’s hard to leave.
After disappearing for six days to Issyl-kul, we found the same people still there. It felt like a family reunion. We even celebrated returning by having a BBQ and a healthy amount of Kyrgyz vodka.
I mean, a 500ml bottle of good tasting vodka costs 100-150KGS ($1.48-$2.22). Kyrgyz red wine, on the other hand, wasn’t as great unless you like sweet wine.
Bishkek itself lacks a lot of sights. And we were also plagued with rain whenever we did want to see things!
Nurik, our guesthouse host, warned us about Osh Bazaar. As a foreigner, we may be harassed by people claiming to be the police asking for passports. They’ll show some paperwork saying they’re cops, but it’ll all be in Cyrillic. The scam is that these people will take the passports away and demand money for you to get it back. Luckily, it didn’t happen to us, but it did happen to another guy at the guesthouse.
Inside the bazaar, there was plenty to see. Of course, there’s the kurut, the dried, salty yoghurt balls born from Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic past. Robb and I still cringe when offered a taste.
Chak-chak (Чак-чак) is a dessert food made from deep-fried dough drenched in a hot, honey syrup and formed into a certain shape, most commonly a mound or pyramid. In Kyrgyzstan, they also seem to like their chak-chak in neon colours.
Besides fresh vegetables, there were plenty of vegetables preserved in salt. The Kyrgyz people use it in laghman (noodles). Trying this without washing off the start was not a great idea.
Central Asia was where we had our fill of dried fruit and nuts. We also learned that all almonds are not the same. They liked selling rotting for very cheap.
The most curious thing was the chewing tobacco. It looked like black pepper at first until we got a smell. The Kyrgyz way of using tobacco is to take a few pellets and put it between your gums and hope lip area. The high comes quick. Then spit out the tobacco. Not my cup of tea, but the men do love it.
There are constant reminders of the former Soviet Union in Bishkek. Hidden in leafy greens parks and colourful flowers are statues and busts of random guys. Who were these guys and what they did, I wish I knew.
Manas the Magnanimous (Манас Великодушный) is the central figure in a long epic poem of the same name. He is regarded as a symbol of unity for bringing the various Kyrgyz tribes together in times of danger.
We were lucky to get clear skies and semi-warm weather on our last day in Bishkek. It was also a Sunday right before a national holiday.
We, including the Swedes, said goodbye to Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan the next day. Oddly enough, Bishkek became our refuge and it was hard to say goodbye. The city lacked sights but it made up for it with the people. Mainly, that was all Kyrgyzstan.
- Accommodations: The Friends Guesthouse was one of the best stays we had during our Central Asia trip. Nurik knows how to take care of his guests and what amenities travellers need. Just stay here!
- Coffee: We struggled to find coffee that was affordable. Apparently, us sitting down and them being a cup requires a 15% surcharge on top of its overpriced drinks (i.e. Coffee Relax). Giraffe Coffee is more of a permanent kiosk that roasts its own beans. Reasonably priced. No seating is around, but the Ala-Too Square and Panfilov Park are within a 10-minute walk.