No Disguises Needed. Welcome to Unapologetic Bishkek.

Why do you hate Bishkek so much?” I recollect asking some people at my hostel upon my initial arrival to the city.

It’s grey, gloomy, decrepit, and loaded with Soviet architecture,” they stated.

That was the moment I knew Bishkek and I would get along just fine.

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But Bishkek is not gloomy.  In fact, the sun has shined nearly the entire time I’ve been here.  Grey?  Sure…the buildings lack the color scheme that comes to mind when one thinks of Venice.  Decrepit?  Absolutely.  There is no hiding the ramshackle buildings of this city.  But construction is currently taking place and newer buildings are popping up all over the place.  What about that Soviet architecture?  Well, Bishkek is full of it.  Which, truthfully, adds to the appeal of the city.  I arrived in Bishkek after a long layover in Moscow and wasn’t tired- I felt inspired.

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What I loved about Bishkek most is that the city doesn’t try to be something it’s not.

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What you see is what you get here.  It’s a medium-sized capital city.  Relatively safe and pretty hospitable.  The people aren’t walking the street smiling but will certainly ask you your name and where you’re from once they see your outfit lacks fur and dons sunglasses, which is very atypical of the locals.  They may tell you to head to Issyk-Kul, the pride of Kyrgyzstan, and when you respond with “But I adore Bishkek and want to stay here,” they will relish in your words for the entire day (by the way, Issyk-Kul lives up to the hype 110%).  And then those same people who weren’t initially smiling will be grinning from ear-to-ear and insist you take their photo.  These kinds of photos become the best souvenirs.

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Bishkek has a pulse in the summers.  Shashlik joints line the streets and residents are outside, enjoying the magnificent nature at the edge of their city.  Bishkek speaks a different language in the winter.  Shashlik joints have closed and the people pile on the fur, even though the temperature doesn’t always warrant such attire.

But the city doesn’t hibernate.  It simply marches to a different beat.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone tells me, “Well, you should have come here in the summer, not the winter”.  I travel in winter because I enjoy traveling in winter.  I see about five hours of daylight in Norway in the winter, so traveling is what keeps me sane.  Traveling is how I beat the winter blues.  Temperature is never a factor as long as a place has more daylight hours than where I currently live.

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Winter in Bishkek is imaged by icy sidewalks, fathers fixing their child’s winter clothing, and unquestionably busy coffee shops.  Winter is also imaged by old ladies sitting on street corners bundled up while trying to sell steamed corn on the cob to potential customers walking by, children playing in parks while sporting four layers of clothing, and university students taking their books into cafes to take refuge from the plummeting temperatures.

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This past month has been quite the journey.  I started in Bishkek and ended in Bishkek.  And no matter how much I enjoyed Almaty, I still looked forward to coming back to Bishkek.  After only being here four days initially, I felt at home.  The city is the easiest city to get around in the world (really, no joke).  The ladies working at my hostel were accommodating and completely altruistic.  They insisted on making me a daily grand breakfast no matter how many times I insisted I was not hungry.  They constantly asked how my day went and what places I went to (they were probably disappointed when I said I only went to places to eat!)  I genuinely felt at home in Bishkek.

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Getting a SIM card is easy in Bishkek.  Wi-fi works well in Bishkek.  As someone who goes on vacation for a month and spends much time working on freelance assignments, I was sincerely thrilled to see the internet speed here (I believe this is a newer phenomenon).

As I spend the next couple of years deeply exploring this region, I’m looking forward to seeing the growth of this city.  Bishkek makes for an ideal base for Central Asia travel for most citizens around the world as visas are either not needed, or required only upon arrival.  I know I’ll be back.  And I know I’ll be back more than once.  I can’t wait to see what this city has in store for me next.

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I officially leave Bishkek and all of Central Asia behind in nine hours.  While I’m eager to get back home and into my usual routines, I’m also a bit sad.

It is impossible to be a solo traveler in Central Asia.  IM-POS-SI-BLE.  The people just simply don’t allow it.  And as I spent a month not getting an ounce of work done as I had planned, I can’t help but leave knowing that this is why I am absolutely, 100%, positively, emphatically, and undoubtedly in love with traveling.

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Comments (19)

after reading this I’m more than excited to go to Bishkek in April! you’ll have to give me directions to all cool cafes and other places you enjoyed! And well, I just know I will love it there as much as you did! :)

the last part of this post -> couldn’t agree more! <3

ill definitely hook you up with some details! i think youll really enjoy the place!

Glad you liked it! :) Looking forward to see you again! :)

me too <3 thanks for a wonderful time in bishkek and beyond <3

Megan,

I really enjoyed reading about your journey through Central Asia. I doubt I could find any Americans who have ventured through that neck of the woods, so Kudos to you. By the way, you take awesome photography! Keep up the good work and enjoy getting back to your life in Norway. The sun is starting to shine a bit more in Scandinavia these days. :)

Cheers,

Mark

thanks so much for your comment mark! yall have sunshine??? i havent seen the sun since i arrived back from kyrgyzstan actually lol! snow and clouds here in oslo and i see no end to it!

youd be surprised at the number of americans in kyrgyzstan and kazakhstan. granted, there are hardly any tourists to begin with. but basically every single one i met this trip was actually american. i met maybe a total of 5 from other places!

I love Bishkek :-) The high speed internet available throughout the city is definitely a new phenomenon, though. In 2008 there were far more ‘internet clubs’ (because nowhere had wifi), and I spent a fortune in the one closest to my house… usually waiting hours for things to upload or download. Which hostel did you stay at? It sounds much nicer than the place I stayed (Sakura – although Sakura was conveniently located.) I personally think Issyk Kul is overrated. I much prefer Sary Chelek, although it’s much more of a challenge to reach.

i had a feeling that wifi speed was something new ;) when i was out at cholpon-ata, the internet speed was terribly slow. so it hasnt really reached beyond bishkek yet im guessing!

i stayed actually at interhouse hostel in bishkek. i loved that place. it was so cozy that i had one day that i just sat inside the entire day. kind of embarrassing…but you sometimes just need those days.

ahhh i loved issyk-kul. not sure i would have enjoyed it the same in the summer, however, since i dont like places that lose their charm when the tourists arrive (although those sexy speedos know how to put on some charm). i was supposed to head towards osh and randomly met a girl living in cholpon-ata who invited me home with her and her family after a few minutes of knowing her. definitely an amazing experience.

really excited to see bishkek evolve over the years! and explore some more of kyrgyzstan! hopefully i can make it to sary chelek next time ;)

I stayed at Sakura – it was much more centrally located than Interhouse (although given how many times I had to run to The London School, Interhouse probably would’ve been more convenient). It was cheap and clean, but that’s really the only positive things I have to say about the place. You definitely seem to have had a more positive experience.

I like the southern shore of I-K, because even in the summer it isn’t crowded, and there’s very little development.

I prefer travelling in winter, too. Cities just feel different then. Wish I had time to hop on a plane to Kyrgyzstan myself this winter. And Bishkek seems like an easy introduction to Central Asia.

makes me feel better that someone else is a winter traveler, too ;) but then again, we live in the same place so maybe it’s for the same reasons haha!

hope you make it to c.asia this year! it’ll blow you away!

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