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11 Things to do in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan
Catch Cultural Performances on the Cheap
Whether looking for tickets to the Bishkek Philharmonic, State Puppet Theater, Russian Drama Theater, Opera and Ballet, or any of the other numerous theaters in town; tickets range from free to just a couple of dollars. Schedules can be a bit hard to find, but check around at the various ticket offices to see what is on offer when you pass through town.
Visit the many Bazaars
Bishkek has a number of thriving markets, catering to specialties from second-hand clothes to housing materials to fresh food from the countryside. Osh Bazaar is one of the most accessible, while Dordoi is probably the biggest. These two both carry a pretty wide range of products, including souvenir stands selling plenty of the Kyrgyz felt products that some tourists go so crazy for. No matter which market you choose to visit, remember to bargain down prices for the best deal.
Seek out Soviet style!
Like the rest of the Central Asian capitals, Bishkek still has a few visible relics of its Soviet past throughout the city. Epic Stalinist architecture down Chuy Avenue and the occasional hammer and sickle throughout town combine with a number of monuments to heroes and war casualties to leave just a touch of a reflection of the time the country spent as the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic.
Marvel at Musty Museums
Given the magnificent history of the region, Central Asia should have glorious museums full of relics and stories from nomadic migrations and the conquests of Genghis Khan through the Russian and Soviet periods into the present. In Bishkek, though, not all of the museums attain quite these levels of splendor. Some, like the National History Museum, are interesting but at times lacking English-labeled descriptions. Others, like the Zoological museum, have seen such better days that a visit is quite interesting all the same. No matter which type of museum you prefer, though, Bishkek has you covered.
Chill at Chaikhanas
The topchan teabeds at teahouses like Chaikana Jalalabad are great places to spend an afternoon sipping tea or reading and chatting. These establishments generally offer quite a lot of local food as well, so after those long overland treks across Central Asian borders, the chaikanas are a wonderful opportunity to relax in the comforts of a city.
Get out of doors at Ala-Archa
Just south of Bishkek in the foothills of the Tien-Shan Mountains is Kyrgyzstan’s Ala-Archa National Park. From the main alpine base and hotels, paths lead on to a Soviet Ski Base, glaciers, and waterfalls all within the Ala-Archa river valley. At only 40km or an hour’s drive from town, Ala-Archa can be an easy daytrip or weekend getaway. Another option for hiking near here, but with a bit more comfort thrown is well, is the Teployie Kluche health resort.
Climb an 11th century minaret at Burana
The sparse remains of the ancient Karakhanid city of Balasagun still lay under the area’s overgrown hills, but somehow the 11th century Tower of Burana still stands tall despite centuries of earthquake and neglect. Visitors can climb a spiral staircase up to the top of the tower for a small fee, or wander around the ruins and an interesting cemetery with gravestones carved into small statues of those who died.
Buy a Horse in Tokmok
The Sunday livestock bazaar in the village of Tokmok is probably the best place to buy a horse in all of Kyrgyzstan. Even if you’re not in the market to purchase, a chat with some of the vendors about the comparative costs of livestock versus more ‘usual’ mainstays of modern life can be an instructive look into the prevailing concerns of life here. The trip from Bishkek to the Burana Tower (above) on public transport will usually require a transfer in Tokmok, so try to make the trip on a Sunday to visit both together.
Tap into the city’s surprising Jazz scene
Perhaps surprisingly, a thriving live music scene is growing up in small bars throughout Bishkek. Jazz music in particular has established itself as a common sound in the capital, and there’s even an annual Jazz Festival every April that celebrated its 8th year in town in 2013. Regular spots include the Fortuna Jazz Club and Na Dzerjinke Pub, but ask around or visit www.jazz.kg for specific dates and venues to hear some good music in Bishkek.
Stock up on Visas
This is probably the most common reason tourists linger in Bishkek. All of the Central Asian states as well as a number of tourist favorites like Russia, Iran, and China all have embassies in town. Combined with the relatively cheap costs and access to international restaurants and western-style bars (both rare in other areas of the country), Bishkek is not a bad place to linger as you wait on bureaucratic machinations to finish processing your passport.
Beat the Crowds
With relaxing visa laws and expanding flight options, Kyrgyzstan is beginning to pop up more often as a tourist destination on Western radars. For now, this is still a destination that will elicit confused looks from friends and family when you tell them where you’re headed and a place that still feels a bit wild compared to much of the world. Given the amazing opportunities and ease of low-cost access, though, this may change soon. Come now!
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