As part of the Silk Road Journey
Wow what a country! This has got to be one of my favorite up and coming destinations. Get here before people start figuring it out!
Plane: Kyrgyzstan has two major airports one in Osh and the other in the Capital Bishkek. Chances are you will need to go via somewhere to get to either.
Overland: I’ve crossed two of the borders involved with getting into or out of Kyrgyzstan on my Silk Road journey. The first is coming in from China at Irkeshtem, you will need help. There is no public transport, you will need to pay a tour company (or at the very least a taxi driver who understands the task at hand) in Kashgar to take you to the border where you will be dropped on the Chinese side and have to walk into Kyrgyzstan. You will need someone to meet you on the other side, again there is no public transport (not even a taxi) to take you onward from the border. I can recommend my good friends at East Wind Travel Agency, a local Kyrgyz company, to collect you from the border and move you around the country.
If you’re coming the other way you may be crossing the border from Uzbekistan, going out of this one is a nightmare, I can’t imagine it would be as bad coming in. You will need to fill in the customs card from Uzbekistan, about all currencies and electronics you are carrying. For more information on Border Crossings on the Silk Road read this blog.
Currently, the only mode of public transport in Kyrgyzstan is trolley buses in the cities. There are also taxis, however my recommendation would be to hire someone to take you around, it will work out cheaper. Private tours are not expensive, and you can set your own itinerary – again I recommend my good friends at East Wind Travel Agency.
Hiking – 90% of Kyrgyzstan’s landscape is covered by mountains which are absolutely spectacular. If you’re fit enough, make sure you go for a guided hike in this awesome landscape.
A traditional Homestay – Sary Tash Village is a lovely place for this. The homestay we use has a few rooms where the group and I sleep on mats on the floor, it is also well heated and the scenery around the village is breath taking, with good views on a clear day to Lenin’s Peak – Kyrgyzstan’s highest mountain. They also have a Ger in the yard, which serves at the restaurant. You will sit on the floor and enjoy traditional Kyrgyz food – try the little savory donuts. Whenever they put these out I can’t stop eating them.
Osh – Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city has a lot to offer. The main things are the Osh Markets, Town Hall with its statue of Vladimir Lenin out the front and accompanying park as well as a nearby Russian Orthodox church. The most amazing thing to visit here is the Sulieman Too Mosque and Museum. The museum is in a cave about half way up the Sulieman Too hill, and contains all sorts of artefacts from the area. The museum is also UNESCO world heritage listed. Make sure you climb to the mosque on the top of the hill, the view of Osh is amazing at sunset and you can see the Fergana Valley stretching into Uzbekistan.
Issyk-Kul Lake – This one is unfortunately still on my bucket list and I am hoping to finally visit one of the largest alpine lakes in the world this year. My guide is always showing me pictures from his trips here and the scenery and sunsets are absolutely stunning.
General Scenery – Driving from place to place and being able to get out of the vehicle and take pictures of the stunning scenery that seems to be everywhere you look, is reason enough to consider a private tour. Besides stunning mountains, you will see local families living in old railway wagons and traditional Gers, livestock crossing the road – even the roads are amazing and make great photo opportunities. Our guide always stops and takes us over to see a random family to see how they live in their Ger, people don’t seem to mind having a load of westerners tramping through their home, but you really need a guide to ask and explain to the family. Private tours can be arranged through East Wind Travel Agency – it is owned by a friend of mine and is also locally owned and operated out of Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan has a microclimate, so you will need to be prepared for basically anything. If your coming from China, chances are you’re leaving Kashgar and it will be quite warm. If you’re headed for Sary Tash Village and it’s September, chances are it will be snowing and really cold when you get there. If you then head on to Osh, it will likely be 30 degrees Centigrade when you arrive from Sary Tash. Layers are a good bet for traveling in this region, that way you can take some on or off depending on what the weather is doing.
Most people in Kyrgyzstan will speak no English, again another reason to go on a private tour with a guide. The languages spoken here are Kyrgyz & Russian, if you plan on staying a long time in this country, learning the Russian alphabet (which is not as intimidating as it looks) will be really useful.
Kyrgyzstan is the most relaxed of the Central Asian nations when it comes to letting people in and as there has been a push on tourism, many nations now don’t require a visa and just get a stamp on arrival. Nations that do not require a visa include, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada and EU Countries. (Note this list is not extensive and you should check with the relevant authorities if you need a visa as these rules chop and change all the time.)