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krisek Bishkek - A travel report by Krys
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Bishkek,  Kyrgyzstan - flag Kyrgyzstan -  Bishkek
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krisek's travel reports

A modern and pleasant capital of Kyrgyzstan

  10 votes
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Although Kyrgyzstan is very Asian, its capital looks very Soviet-like. Its most prominent structures follow a social-realism style in architecture, mocking the Neoclassicism like most of the large town in the former Soviet Union. Bishkek is green though.

State building in the heart of the city
State building in the heart of the city
I had high expectations from Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek. I heard great stories about the country landscape and the hospitality of people. I arrived in Bishkek after a few hick-ups. First, I had to turn back from the border to get my Kyrgyz visa, which had become necessary a few weeks before I arrived at the post, and while I was on the road. So, my delayed arrival put me in the Kyrgyz capital city about an hour after sunset, one day later than planned. It was not ideal. I had little time to find a hotel. I did not have any Kyrgyz soms (local currency), I had not eaten all day, and I really could use a drink, too. First hour in the city was very hectic. I switched my discovery mode to find a money exchanger, who would accept euros or pound sterling. Eventually, I risked jumping into a taxi with an empty wallet. But the driver found an obscure bureau de change, I changed some cash and could relax a little.

On the way in to the city, I spotted a very nice little church. It was nicely lit at night, and I so wanted to come back there to take some pictures, but I had no idea what its name was and the cab driver drove like crazy. There was no way for me to find out. I could not even describe where it was. It was a lost sight for me. So, I went back to the hotel, ordered a drink at the cafe downstairs and a night snack. I left sightseeing until I was going to be back in the city a couple days later.

Favourite spots:
Soviets House
Soviets House
A little square in the centre with the National Philharmonic in the centre, a university building on one side and ministry of something on the other. The modernist-ish architecture of the philharmonic contrasted dramatically with the neo-classical facades of the university and the ministry. The front of the theatre and the ministry sported elaborate plant and flower compositions. Such attention to floral decoration of municipal squares is decreasingly common, from my experience.

I spotted the square on the first night I arrived at the Kyrgyz capital when looking for an ATM. I so wanted to come back here to have a look at it properly. On my last day, my taxi dropped me off at the main (and huge) square of Bishkek, where a Russian pop group, Eros, was going to give a concert that night. I therefore wanted to avoid the fast increasing crowd and walked off in one of the four possible directions without knowing where I was going to end up. And how lucky was I to find the square I wanted!

What's really great:
Bishkek travelogue picture
Prices! After a few crazy days in the overpriced Kazakhstan I welcomed the more reasonable prices in Bishkek. A pint of beer was just under €1 (50 soms but it was easy to find it for 45 soms or less) and a full blown, three course dinner at a mid range restaurant was about $6 (200 soms), excluding drinks. Compared with Kazakhstan, which was almost ten times more expensive, at least for drinks, it felt like a great relief to the backpocket.

The city was nicely green. Countless large leafy trees ran along the streets and pavements creating an atmosphere of walking in a park.

It was safe. Drivers often left their cars unlocked with windows down when drinking tea in a nearby cafe. That was so refreshing! I have not been able to do that for ages in many countries, unless I was alone in a desert and there was only one cafe!

National Kyrgyz Filharmonic
National Kyrgyz Filharmonic
Bishkek is often referred as just a large town, which made it as a capital of an independent country emerging out of the fall of the Soviet Union. When I visited, it seemed to have been stripped off historical buildings completely. The city centre was full of large socialist structures, which rather than to impress, were made to intimidate. So, Bishkek could not be called cozy. Its open spaces, wide avenues and squares would contribute to a description of 'modern'. Such a pity that nothing remains from the times, when Bishkek sat on one of the branches of the Great Silk Road. And yet for those interested in architecture and urban planning of the 20th century should find the Kyrgyz capital rather fascinating. Particularly around the Ala Too Square, Chui Avenue, and Yusup Abdrakhmanov Street.

Bishkek travelogue picture
Hotel Kazakhstan (KGS 1,200; $35) right by the bus terminal was not my first choice but I liked it a lot. Its location was great for my purposes, and its adjacent cafe of the same name played hysterical live music. The triple room I stayed at was branded semi-lux. It was a good size, mega clean, the bathroom was lovely and spotless and the air-con worked quietly.

The staff knew little about anything to do with travelling, despite being so close to the bus terminal, but was helpful and friendly. Including the security personnel, who kindly offered their escort to the terminal at night when I wanted to change money there.

I wanted to stay at a hostel or some kind of backpackers place but it was late when I arrived and the taxi driver did not know about anything like that.

Bishkek travelogue picture
Somehow it was the casinos that dominated Bishkek's nightlife. The Mongol Casino was new and kept advertising heavily. Others were Essey, Vegas, Rio, and Eldorado. I am not a casino person, so I did not check any of them.

I preferred local cafes, which often stayed open until wee hours of the morning and played live music. The Kazakhstan Cafe, next to my hotel was so convenient that I did not have to venture very far. It was popular, served good beer, excellent food, the personnel was very friendly and the live music was not necessarily psychedelic, but so amateurish that it made me laugh so much. The locals loved it so much, though. The cafe was often packed and the band must have felt encouraged to try harder and harder. The harder they tried, the funnier it was. It was pretentious and unnatural. Perhaps it was meant to be like that. I do not know.

Kazakhstan Cafe at Night
Kazakhstan Cafe at Night
Bishkek had plenty of parks scattered around the centre. Some of them were very pleasant. The giant leafy trees, which must turn in the autumn created a great calm ambiance right in the heart of the metropolis. Locals seemed to like those spots as many hang there, gossiped on the benches, ate ice-cream widely available from fixed or mobile stands.

If someone preferred hanging in cafes, there were plenty of them, too. I sat at one of them near the National Kyrgyz Philharmonic. It served traditional tea (black and green) always from the ceramic pots, as well as coffees and a range of Kyrgyz, Central Asian and European dishes. Manty seemed to be very popular with the Kyrgyz, who normally ordered five or six large ones with meat, as they were always priced by piece. I liked that the locals took time having their meal while discussing current affairs.

Chinese style chicken from Kazakhstan Cafe
Chinese style chicken from Kazakhstan Cafe
Bishkek, for a capital of a country, had many restaurants, as expected. Many Chinese restaurants seemed to dominate Chui street, for some reason. I have not eaten at any, as I dined and lunched outside the capital, with the exception to the Kazakhstan Cafe, where I tried their Chinese Chicken. It was fantastic. It came on a hot sizzling plate with plenty of peppers, garlic, onions, green beans and this wonderful sauce. Had the chicken been boneless, it would have been truly perfect!

Cafe Kazakhstan had a comprehensive menu, including a number of very reasonably priced Chinese dishes. All were tasty, fresh, looked good and were of a good size. Their decent draft beer was KGS 55, whose taste was inconsistent. One night it tasted better than on the other.

Other recommendations:
Governmental building
Governmental building
Bishkek's Manas International Airport (FRU) is about 30km out of town. Since most international flights leave at terribly unsociable hours, the only sensible way to get there is by taxi. It costs about 420 soms ($12) in the middle of the night or 4 o'clock in the morning. The airport is equipped with old instruments, which are insufficient to lead aircraft in poor weather conditions. This means often delays.

Taxis are cheaper when pre-ordered by telephone I found. There is a myriad of private, unassociated taxis everywhere, too but they would always try to take an advantage of a foreign visitor, and the taxis ordered by phone run fixed tariffs.

Published on Saturday October 25th, 2008

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Thu, Nov 06 2008 - 05:29 AM rating by rangutan

Just great! I love to read of strange places beyond normal tourist destinations.

Mon, Oct 27 2008 - 01:45 PM rating by magsalex

Interesting, informative and with a personal touch - great!

Sun, Oct 26 2008 - 08:46 AM rating by marianne

I lovethe photos, Soviet style architecture, which in fact I like.

Sun, Oct 26 2008 - 07:48 AM rating by davidx

You are an ace - it's as simple as that.

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