Bishkek

The central square of Bishkek, Ala-Too square

Bishkek (Бишкек) (population in 2009 approx. 835,000) is the capital and the largest city of the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan).

Understand

Bishkek is the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic and sits in the Tien Shan mountain range in the Chui Valley. It is a relatively new city and has limited historical sites, but it makes a great place to start your trips to the mountains and alpine lakes of the Tien Shans. Bishkek is, however, an interesting example of a czarist planned city; laid on a grid with wide boulevards flanked by irrigation canals and large trees, buildings with marble façades, and Soviet apartment complexes. Many young travelers find Bishkek's nightlife a delight and the people are friendly and very hospitable. Bishkek is a city of many young people that hang out in Clubs and small cafes. Kyrgyzstan has the most liberal tourist visa regime in Central Asia, so Bishkek makes a great place to start a tour of the silk road and collect your visas to neighbouring countries.

History

Bishkek was founded when the Uzbek khan of Kokand built a small clay fort by a settlement on a tributary of the Chuy River in 1825, to connect up several stop-off points on the Silk Road through the Tian Shah mountains. In 1862 it was captured and trashed by Russians, before they set up their own garrison. Russian peasants were soon lured here by land grants and the fertile soil of the Chuy Valley.

The renamed town of Frunze became capital of the new Kyrgyz ASSR in 1926, but it was renamed Bishkek (the Kyrgyz form of its old Kazakh name, Pishpek) in 1991.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 3.2 4.9 11.2 18.5 23.6 29 31.7 30.9 25.5 17.8 11 5
Nightly lows (°C) -7.1 -5.2 0.4 6.4 11.1 15.6 17.9 16.4 11.3 5 -0.1 -5.1
Precipitation (mm) 26 34 55 67 61 34 21 13 19 45 42 35

Get in

By plane

The   Bishkek's Manas International Airport ((IATA: FRU)). is a 30 minute drive from the city centre. The airport is not modern, but efficient and features a VIP Hall that facilitates entry and exit if you need more comfortable services. Air traffic control is provided by the United States Air Force as part of its agreement with the Manas Air Transit Center that support operations in Afghanistan. Most of the international flights depart and arrive at very early hours of the morning.

The following airlines with world hubs operate to/from Bishkek:

and for closer destinations:

There are a few ATM in the basement of the airport, and several small cafes and convenience shops that are open around the clock. Keep your baggage tag receipt with you as your receipt may be checked by airport security to make sure you have picked up the correct baggage.

A taxi to and from the city centre can be arranged for approximately 450 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 100 soms per person.

The   marshrutka 380. connects every 10-20 min the city centre for 40 som. The minibus parks right in front of the airport and stops at Chuy prospektesi.

By train

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. Although slow (6–8 hours) and with minimal accommodation, it is one of the most scenic rail trips in Eurasia, sneaking through a thin mountainous alpine pass to the lake.

By car and bus

By bicycle

Taking bikes on public transport. Unfortunately the public transport in Kyrgyzstan consists mostly of minibuses. However, it's usually possible to fit two bicycles inside the luggage compartment in the back of the bus if you remove front wheel, pedals and turn the handlebar. You may have to pay an extra fee of 100 som per each bicycle while transporting them by buses between Karakol and Bishkek, and travellers paying 500 som for each are not unheard of. The nightbuses are usually big buses with enough space for bicycles.

The tunnel at the Tör-ashuu pass on the highway between Bishkek and Osh isn't at 2500m as it is mentioned on most maps. The tunnel is at 3100m.

There are a few bikeshops in town:

Get around

By minibus

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 10 som (12 at night). Ask a local which mini-bus number you should take or buy a map of mini-bus routes at tourist venues. Major stops are near the Tsum department store and Philharmonia. 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" (Stop!). Although there are bus stops, and according to the law marshrutkas should be hailed at bus stop only, but it is not followed too much. So, in practice you can ask driver to stop anywhere and he will drop you off at any point on their route.

By bus and trolleybus

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.

By taxi

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 after 1000 are 120 soms.

Many taxis do not use flat rate (aug 2011); you pay by the meter or negotiate a price in advance. Short distance inside city can be 60-80 som. A taxi for a day can be negotiated. An hour drive to mountain or to a lunch and then back again later can be 800-1000 som.

See

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 Independence Monument on Ala-Too square, with the National Historical Museum in the background.

Do

Learn

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.

Work

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.

Buy

If you want to fit in with the locals, be sure to get one of the stylish Kyrgyz felt hats (kalpaks) worn mainly by men. You can also get textiles such as traditional patterned carpets (shyrdaks), which are well-made but can be expensive. For cheap souvenirs, avoid the Tsum department store and head directly for the Osh Bazaar. You may have to dig around the stalls as there isn't as much variety or quality as in Tsum, but the prices can be far cheaper if you put your bargaining skills to the test.

Eat

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.

Budget

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.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Cafes

There are a few coffee shops in Bishkek that even feature wi-fi.

Bars

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. See the "Stay Safe" section for more on how be aware while you're having fun in Bishkek.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

While relatively safe compared to many major Asian cities, one should use caution after hours in Bishkek. It is highly recommended against taking an unaccompanied stroll after dusk and you definitely avoid parks at night.

Pickpockets are a major problem in and around markets, especially at Osh Bazaar. Look out for young men with large plastic bags "bumping" into you. Keep your valuables at your accommodation if you plan to visit the markets, and if you bring a purse, camera, backpack etc. keep it in front of you.

Nightclubs and their surrounding areas can be a hotbed for crime in the form of theft, prostitution, or even assault by people waiting to take advantage of an unsuspecting traveler or expat. Ask locals or hotel staff which areas are safer than other and take precautions if you plan on club hopping. Do not walk from nightclub to nightclub at night; instead spend 100 som ($US2.50) on a taxi. Potential muggers have been known to wait outside bars and clubs, especially the ones frequented by ex-pats, follow drunk ex-pats and then rob them.

Keep a cool head and be aware of your surroundings when hanging out inside and outside of nightclubs. Most clubs have numerous buff, semi-professional security guards, but you should be vigilant nonetheless. Do not leave any belongings on the table while you go to dance. Be careful around the taxi area outside the club; occasionally, unsavory characters pick this location to mug drunk foreigners as they leave the club late at night. You might not get much help from club security when it comes to theft.

Bishkek has a large number of prostitutes and sexual-transmitted diseases are on the rise in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. Always take proper precautions if you plan on being sexually active.

If you are a victim of a crime, you are probably best served by reporting the incident to your embassy, rather than to the militsya (police). Sometimes militsya will approach foreigners and ask them for documents, such as your passport. It's best to keep a photocopy of your passport and leave the original at your hotel if you can. On the rare occasion they try to fine you for having "the wrong visa", you are most likely just being set up for a shake down. Be polite, but firm, in your refusal and insist that you be put in touch with your embassy first.

Sometimes policeman approach you on the street, especially if you look like a tourist, such as carrying a big backpack, and ask to check the belongings. Often, their aim is to steal your valuables and money. They can do it very professionally, and you only will notice later, that something disappeared. The best way, is to pretend you don't understand them, trying to call your embassy, or just walk away asap. Also keep your valuables in a safe place and don't expose them to others all the time in Kyrgyzstan. Even sometimes normal local people, who invite you to have a tea at their home, if they see that you left some valuables unattended, may be tempted to steal.

Irrigation ditches and other holes in the ground can seriously injure the unaware person - especially when walking at night. Many streets are poorly lit or not lit at all, and it is easy to fall into them. Avoid manhole covers, grates and similar fixtures - they are frequently loose and even missing.

Cope

Bishkek is more or less a museum relic of the former Soviet Union Bloc. Despite Kyrgyzstan's poverty and the decay of its infrastructure, Bishkek remains a relatively safe, clean, functional city. Bishkek is not an old city and possesses no ancient landmarks, but it nonetheless has its own kind of charm, which often arouses nostalgia in people who knew the old Soviet Union. For some visitors, Bishkek is merely a stop on the Silk Road to refresh supplies before returning to the mountains. However, expatriates who call Bishkek home generally consider themselves lucky to benefit from its easygoing lifestyle, open-minded spirit, party culture and low cost of living. If you come with the right expectations you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Embassies

Connect

Free wifi is now widespread. Most "foreinercafes" have free wifi (Coffee, Foyer, Obama, Cyclone, Pirogoff-Vodkin, Vostok Zapad, Tubeteika, Movie City Bar, Buddha Bar, etc.). There is also free wifi at the vefa shoppingcenter on the corner of Gorkiy and Soviet.

Getting mobile phone service or even internet service is rather straight forward and a good idea, even if you're here for only a few days. You can purchase a SIM card (for GSM phones) at literally hundreds of retailers from: Beeline, Megacom, and Fonex. Also, Nexi-com and Beeline have offer 3G internet services. A SIM card is approximately 100 soms (~$2.25) and you can also now re-charge it at numerous automated machines in the city, many of which feature an English language program. If you do not have a compatible phone, you can purchase a new no-frills model for as little as 1200 soms (~$27).

Go next

Thirty minutes outside of Bishkek the 4,000 metre, 13,000 foot, "foothills" of the Tian Shan range (Celestial Mountains).

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.