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STUDENT GUIDE TO RUSSIA  / BISHKEK - A STUDENT'S GUIDE
11.01.2017


Bishkek City Information
Everything to know about staying awhile

 

SRAS thanks students Julie Hersh, Peter Bourgelais, Michael Coffey, Cheryl Collins, Sophia Rehm, and Ian Walker for contributing to this guide.

 
 Study Abroad
in Eurasia!

Central-Asia-Studies

Table of Contents (jump to)

  1. What's Going On
  2. Consumer Goods 
  3. Internet, Phones, Post 
  4. Etc.
  5. Cash and Finances
  6. Health and Fitness
  7. Shows and Music
  8. Transport
  9. Religious Services
  10. Museums
  11. Hangouts
  12. Trips Out of Bishkek
  13. Holidays

 

1. Maps and Information      (back to top)

SRAS Google Map of Bishkek has a few places of note marked for you and is fairly up-to-date with respect to the modern street names.

Bus.kg allows you to view all Bishkek's bus routes, as well as plan out your transport from point A to point B via marshrutka, bus, and/or trolleybus. It's also available as an app for your phone and is highly recommended by our students (see the webpage to download the app). Note: the app works on smart phones without data/WiFi.

Bishkek, like many places in the former Soviet Union, has renamed many of its streets and squares from Soviet-era Russian to Kyrgyz names; for example, Derzhinsky Square, named after the founder of the KGB, has been renamed Erkindik ("Freedom") Square. However, in many cases, the old signs have been left up with the new ones and people (including taxi drivers) will use either name. Maps will often list one or both names (with one in parentheses or as a one hyphenated name).

 

2. What's Going On        (back to top)

Kabar.kg is a great English-language resource for keeping up with Kyrgyz news.

Kalendar.kg is an app that is continually updated with what is going on in Bishkek.

GOKG publishes regular event guides for Bishkek and general news about Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan.

Limon.kg is a popular Russian-language news and culture site.

Google.kg: it is truly amazing how much your search improves when you use the country google service. It really helps cut out a lot of sites that you are not looking for gets you more directly to Kyrgyz links. Make sure that the ".kg" is there – sometimes Google will automatically reroute you if you are searching from a different country.

TriptoKyrgyzstan.com is a frequently updated travel website for Kyrgyzstan with a lot useful information. They also have many social media channels to follow.

Facebook.com and VK.com - People in Kyrgyzstan are not as active on Facebook as North Americans are, as most Kyrgyz use the Russian-developed equivalent known as VK. However, both can still be great ways to find out about events. Try searching for Kyrgyzstan or Bishkek on these sites to find huge numbers of restaurants and organizations that have pages.There are several Facebook groups for expats, as well, and those can be a great way to find additional resources.

Expats in Bishkek and Expats in Kyrgyzstan (the first is more active) are two recommended Facebook groups for finding English-speaking businesses, events, health services, etc.

Couchsurfing.com has a fairly active Bishkek community—and even some members outside Bishkek. Messaging them is a great way to meet locals who can show you around and give you recommendations on places to eat and meet.

Enot is a Russian-language website with information about culture, happenings, and people in Bishkek. Unfortunately, it is rarely updated these days.

 

2. Weather and Packing        (back to top)

The climate in Bishkek encompasses extremes of heat in summer and cold in winter. However, the air is dry, so the cold does not feel as biting as in the northern US. Although it snows often, the sun is generally strong and bright year-round. Consider bringing a good hat and sunscreen. Also consider a flashlight, which is also useful for finding apartment numbers in dark hallways (and for the inevitable power outages). If you're visiting during the summer, bring a swimsuit to escape the heat at one of the outdoor pools, such as Sun City. If you are here during the winter, note that, unlike in many places in the US, the roads and sidewalks aren't sanded—meaning they ice over, and it can be very hard to walk. Be sure to bring a pair of hiking boots with good traction.

The city supplies heat to Bishkek homes; it's turned on in November and turned off in March. It can still be quite cold, especially at night, and many people have portable heaters. If you rent a furnished apartment, your landlord should provide one if needed. Hot water, which is also provided by the city, is turned off for about a month in early- or mid-May for maintenance; if you are here at that time and rent an apartment, make sure that it has its own hot water heater for that period.

For more on packing for a long-term stay abroad, see SRAS's Packing List (written mostly with Russia in mind, but still helpful for Kyrgyzstan).

 

3. Safety        (back to top)

Bishkek is a nice city to walk around in, but at night the streets are barely lit, if at all. Also, broken, uneven sidewalks and potholes can be a hazard in the dark. Many people suggest avoiding walking the streets late at night; taxis are cheap, in any case (marshrutkas run much less frequently at night). Also note that pickpockets are not unheard of. Always keep your valuables close at hand, especially when on public transport and at bazaars.

It is a good idea to keep copies of your passport and visa with you at all times—though you can and should leave your passport itself at home. In public parks, avoid smoking, spitting, or putting your feet up on benches: these things may be widely done, but police may target you as a foreigner committing an "administrative offense."

 

4. Restaurants (bars/clubs)        (back to top)

A note about Bishkek night life: places only really begin to get busy at midnight. If you're looking to be part of a crowd, you'll need to push back your night quite a bit. You can find many of the restaurants listed below and more at this Google Map here:

  • Cheap: SRAS now features a growing site of affordable student eateries with reviews written by students. Check it out here! There are fast food joints across from the Vefa Center (at the intersection of Sovyetskaya and Gorkovo), as well as near Tsum and the Beta Stores. Begemot is a chain of burger-and-fries fast food places that are pretty cheap, and Faiza on 157a Mederova is a good place for cheap local food in restaurant that actually feels a little upscale. Ubiquitous столовая (cafeteria)-type cafes also offer very cheap, and often quite delicious, food—check out the one right across the street from Vefa, which has a good lagman.
  • Traditional Experiences: Chaikhana Jalal Abad specializes in Uzbek food and other Central Asian dishes: plov, lagman and especially besh barmak ("five fingers" in Kyrgyz). The name of the food is how you're supposed to eat it! It's located at 30 Togolok Moldo, at the corner of Kievskaya and not far from Osh Bazaar. Also try Faiza, a cheap but very high-quality restaurant serving traditional food near the London School on 157a Mederova. 
  • Former USSR: While most restaurants serve Russian as well as Central Asian food, there are several restaurants that serve dishes from other CIS countries, including Genanstvalye/Генанцвале on the 4th floor of the Vefa Center (27/1, Gorkiy St.) and Mimino/Мимино on 27 Kievskaya. Both of these restaurants specialize in Georgian food.
  • For the Homesick: Metro – also known by its former name of "The American Bar" – has Bishkek-style American and Mexican food. The place has seen better days, but if you take a place at the bar you're likely to encounter a few expats (Chui, 168a). The beer menu here, as with most places in Bishkek, is minimal, featuring the staples of Baltika 7 and Sibirskaya Corona, etc. Obama Bar and Grill also serves American and Tex-Mex. It's expensive by Bishkek standards, but the portions are quite large and you'll probably never be anywhere else with as many pictures of Obama around (95 Toktogul St.). Burger House (locations at 71 Kievskaya and in Cosmopark) is almost an exact copy of Shake Shack, and they will probably insist on speaking English to you. You might also check out our Students Abroad entries by student Cian Stryker, who put it upon himself to try as much American food abroad as possible. 
  • Coffee: Bishkek’s coffee scene is improving daily. One very pleasant coffee and tea house is Cave Coffee, located at Gorkii Street 19. An Americano coffee there costs about 3 USD (tea a bit less), which is not cheap by Bishkek standards but is worth it, particularly in summer if you're looking for a nice air-conditioned establishment with free WiFi. They feature more than 20 varieties of tea. After 6 pm they also have a hookah menu (you'll find that most restaurants in Bishkek feature a hookah menu). Sierra Coffee (at the Tash Rabat shopping center down Gorkogo, and on Manas and Kievskaya) is another good, very Western alternative.
  • For Music: A favorite among Bishkek college students is Old Edgar ("Stariy Edgar"), a cozy spot that features good food, nice atmosphere, and live music in the evening (Panfilov, 273 - attached to the Russian Drama Theatre). They also have a nice outdoor seating area in the warmer months. For more places, for those who speak Russian, catch up on the "in scene" for modern music in Bishkek at Rock.kg. Chicken Star (Erkindik 36, just north of Toktogul) is great for their food (Korean fried chicken), company (everyone is very friendly there), and frequent concerts. Blonder Pub (24 Ibraimova) also often has live music.
  • Specialty Tastes: Steinbrau offers freshly brewed beer and German dishes, plus local favorites like shashlyk. It's set up as a beer hall, with long communal tables, and lots of outdoor seating in the warm months (Gertsena, 5). Yusa has freshly prepared and reasonably priced Turkish food. A favorite of the embassy set, it's quite busy during the week for lunch and dinner (Logvinenko, 14). Lebanese Kitchen offers lots of Middle Eastern favorites, with an option to order an array of maza, or small dishes, and wash it all down with strong coffee. A bit pricey by Bishkek standards, but worth it if you want a change of pace (Frunze, 429). Sarya, a Syrian café, has delicious, inexpensive vegetarian options like falafel and hummus (Sukhe-Baatir/Yunusaliyev). Kyung Bok Kung offers great Korean food, and makes vegetarian bibimbap with tofu upon request (Chui, 30). Closer to home is Cooksoo, a Korean noodle restaurant, right next to the London School. Lastly, there are lots of cheap Chinese restaurants around Tsum and close to the Circus; look for the telltale red lanterns out front. 
  • Try the Rabbit: U Mazaya is a small, cozy, grotto-like restaurant that features rabbit dishes. It's also known for its extensive cocktail menu. Tucked away on Sovetskaya, just south of Jibek Jolu; look for the blinking sign with the white rabbit, and head down the steps. (The name seems strange given that Mazay is a character from a Russian story who saves a bunch of rabbits from drowning after their burrows were flooded.)
  • Mexican: there is a tiny buritto stand located at 34 Baytik Batir (former Sovietskaya St.) that some believe is comparable to - or even better than - Chipotle. The best part - it will cost you about 2 USD (or less if you go for the veggie option, no guacamole). If you're looking for a place to sit down, try Cafe Mexicana. You can get a decent fajita for under 6 USD, and the portions are sizable (corner of Kievskaya/Logvinenko).
  • A Bit of Everything: Democrat Bar and Grill (on Gogol/Frunze) is also a favorite among past students. The food is very good and fairly cheap (most dishes under 4 USD), and the shashlyk is particularly recommended. Besides shashlyk and other BBQ, you'll also find a number of Asian and Russian dishes. You're almost guaranteed to find something to satisfy any craving you may have. The hookah here is also quite good. Live music (mostly rock) on weekend nights.

5. Groceries        (back to top)

  • Dining in: You can get most things you’ll need at Frunze, on the first floor of Vefa Center. But for the largest selection of food, there is the Turkish-owned Beta Stores (Chui, 150). It's probably the only place in town you can buy taco shells, if you really have a jones for such at some point. Globus, in the 6th Microdistrict (an easy ride down the T10), has a huge selection as well. The popular Narodniy chain also offers a good selection, at fairly reasonable prices. Keep in mind that buying locally produced food products (such as cheese or jams) will help support the desperately poor rural areas. There is also good locally produced peanut butter in the refrigerated section of Beta Stores! Goin, a store on Jibek Jolu and Yusup Abdrahmanov (former Sovetskaya), has a ground-floor Chinese market where you can buy tofu, soy sauce, produce, and lots of loose-leaf tea. Berlin, on Gorky St. next to Vefa Center, sells various international items, like canned chickpeas, coconut milk, and rice cakes!

6. Consumer Goods        (back to top)

  • Electronics: The Planeta Elektroniki has some electronics and offers computer repair at a number of locations (e.g. 74 Baatik/Sovetskaya, 168 Kyrmadzhan-Datki, and 160 Toktogul). There are several small electronic stores in Vefa Center, and TsUM has almost a whole floor devoted to electronics, as well. There is an authorized Apple retailer at Manas and Kievskaya.
  • Souvenir shopping, can be done for a price on the fourth floor of TsUMum or the second floor of Beta Stores (Chui 150, on the corner of Chui andat the corner of Isanova). Or, you can head to the Osh Bazaar, where prices will be cheaperlower. It's primarily a local bazaar selling food products and household goods, but they do have souvenirs as well (most of the market is SW of the corner of Kievskaya and Beyshenalieva, on the west side of town). Madina is a fabric market with that sells beautiful and reasonably priced textiles, as well as items like pillow cases and small rugs. A small area of the market also has a wide array of yarn for sale (Shabdan Baatyr below Chui). The Bishkek Park mall has a few small souvenir kiosks, though prices will be higher there.
  • Reading: Raritet (right across from Ala-Too Square) is the city's largest bookstore, with maps and a few English-language books tucked away on the shelves, plus English-Russian dictionaries. There is also a cheaper selection of mostly Russian-language books on the fourth floor of TsUM. Metro (Chui, 168a) also sells books. You can also find a lot of books and dictionaries (as well as basically anything else you might want) in the huge underpass (perekhod) at the corner of Sovetskaya and Chuy. Right near the London School, there’s a small bookstore/stationary store, Bookingham, on Gorkogo just east of Sovetskaya.
  • Retail, Western Style: If you absolutely have to shop at high-end western retail stores, you can try the boutiques nestled into the colonnade near Ata-Too square. There are also a few shiny malls, like Vefa Center (27/1 Baitik Baatyr/Gorkiy) and Karavan (on Kievskaya). However, many folks still go to the bazaars to buy clothes and other goods. Tsum is always busy, too. Every major Soviet city had a Tsum built in the center, Bishkek's is at the corner of Chui and Shopokov.
  • Retail, Kyrgyz Style: If you want to hone your bargaining skills, you can buy from folks with tables on the street or venture to the bazaars. As a Westerner, you are a target for an instant markup, so if you want to play it safe, shop at stores, kiosks, and bazaar stalls where the goods are priced as marked. Most of the food stands are pretty good about this. Osh Bazaar, Orto-Sai Bazaar, and the perekhod near Ala-Too Square all come to mind. The bazaars are a source of a whole bunch of things: clothes, shoes, cheap plastic goods, DVDs that may or may not be pirated, and souvenirs. They are the best place to get a kalpak for a good price—120-150 som, or about $2. The perekhod is also a good source of notebooks, pens/pencils, and various other school supplies. Business Clerk sells fine arts supplies (sketchpads, paints), in addition to office supplies (Mira 29).

7. Internet, Phones, Post        (back to top)

  • WiFi: Free WiFi is avaliable in the Beta Stores and in most restaurants and cafes (look for the telltale WiFi signs in windows). As many homes are not yet equipped for high-speed Internet, and many people cannot afford their own computer or a permanent connection, Internet cafes are also still extremely popular in Bishkek. Going rates for an hour are around 2 USD.
  • Pay WiFi: You can also connect your laptop from home by purchasing special dial-up cards or a 3G modem at nearly any mobile phone store. 4G is available in Bishkek through Saima4G.
  • Calling in Kyrgyzstan: Local numbers have six digits (not seven), but there are several different three-number area codes. To call Bishkek phone numbers from America, dial 011 996 (the three-digit area code and then six-digit phone number). Do not dial "1" before the number. Calling America from Bishkek is easy—dial 00, 1, then the number. Internet cafes (see above) also offer the cheapest way to call home using VoIP technology (for around 5 som - 7 cents - a minute).
  • Post: The main post office is centrally located at the corner of Sovetskaya and Chui. You can purchase stamps and mail letters there. Don't be surprised if you have to use one of the envelopes they provide. You might consider taking getting a postal box there if you will be in Bishkek for some time and expect to get a lot of mail. For shipping or receiving packages or important documents, try the local FedEx (Moskva, 217) or DHL (Kiev 107), as they are nearly always faster and safer to ship things with—though quite expensive.

8. ETC.        (back to top)

  • Banyas come in handy especially if you are in Bishkek when the city supply of hot water gets turned off for maintenance. Try Zhirgal Banya at the corner of Toktogul and Ibraimov. While you sit the small wooden room and sweat, thrash yourself with some birch branches purchased from an old women outside, then jump in the icy cold water. It'll get you clean, invigorate you, and make you feel a bit more local all at the same time. S Legkim Parom Spa Complex is another good and reasonably-priced banya option. In addition to the sauna and pools, there is a room with hot stones to relax on, and an indoor “winter garden” (Ibraimov, 117).
  • Barber Shops/Hairstylists: There is a barber shop/парикмахерская on 9a Baatik Baatyra/Sovetskaya for both men and women, and women students can also check out Elina/Элина on Chui 132 or Afina (small, but cozy—Gogol 111). Click here for a guide to haircut lingo in Russian.
  • Charitable giving: Try Реабилитационный центр "Оберег" для детей и молодых людей-инвалидов (Rehabilitation center “Obereg” for children and young disabled people) on Васильева 95, (312) 27 27 26, (312) 28 33 44, or the Детский дом "Путник"/Children's house “Putnik” on Vasilieva 15.
  • Laundry/Dry Cleaning: There is a laundry service, Eco Dry, on Gorkogo just east of Sovetskaya. Laundry service is also available at Tursun in the “Vostok-5” microregion (phone: 633307).

9. Cash and Finances         (back to top)

 
Курсы валют Кыргызстана по отношению к сому

ATMs are available, but we recommend using only those connected with major banks (see below) in order to avoid scams. The closest ATMs to the London School are in the lobby of Sela, across from Vefa. There are also Demir Bank ATMs down Gorkogo in both directions. Also, keep in mind that both the ATM and your bank at home might charge you fees for transactions in a foreign country. Also, your bank will likely block your card if you don’t let them know in advance where you’ll be and the card turns up in a foreign country. Make sure to read our guide to student finances abroad to learn more about international transaction fees that banks commonly charge. While ATMs can be found every few blocks downtown, elsewhere in the city, and especially outside Bishkek, they can be few and far between. Visa cards are the most widely accepted American cards at ATMS (only Demir Bank accepts MasterCards). Traveler's Cheques are another option, and several banks will cash them, but again for a fee, and you may have trouble cashing them outside the center of Bishkek. Bringing dollars to exchange is another option, but we strongly advise against traveling with large sums of cash.

Recommended Banks: AKB Bank (Togolok Moldo, 54—German operated), Bank Baikal (Isanov, 75), and Demir Kyrgyz Bank (Chui, 245) all offer exchange, ATM, and cash advance. The Kazkommerzbank ATMs, including the one at TsUM, are also a safe bet. 

Sending Money from Home: Many banks now offer Western Union and MoneyGram wire-transfer services. However, having someone deposit money into your account at home and then withdrawing the money from a trusted ATM is cheaper. Deposits can be done online transfer or by mailing a check with instructions and your account number to the bank (most banks have a special address for this service - make sure to look it up before you send). 

10. Health and Fitness        (back to top)

The water is Bishkek is safe to drink but is quite hard (high in mineral content). Bottled water is cheap and widely available. Allergy season runs from late March until around the beginning of October. 

  • Emergency Ambulance Service: Dial "103" from any land line for a city ambulance. For a commercial ambulance, you may dial "151." Both are available 24 hours a day, but the commercial ambulance service will cost 680 som.
  • General Care: German-Kyrgyz Medical Center (92 Akhunbaev; E-mail: balbakell@elcat.kg) or VIP Clinic (110 Kievskaya/Logvinenko Street; Tel: 51-27-97)
  • Surgery: Chui Hospital (10 Saratovskaia/Veselaya; Tel: 36-71-50, 36-71-54)
  • Dental Care: Private Dental Clinic VYTAS (125 Chui/Karpinskiy Tel: 43-43-70 or The Diplomat Dental Salon (101 Sovetskaya/Bokonbaev; Tel: 38-66-06)
  • Pharmacies: Some of the larger pharmacies include: Prestige (Kievskaya, 95a; Tel: 62-14-62); Neman (57 Baitik Baatyr/Gorkiy; Tel: 54-28-14; (Manas, 8; Tel: 21-67-92); Central Pharmacy (Frunze, 340; Tel: 68-10-05). There are also “aptyekii” all around the city.
  • Eye Care: There is a large eye care store called “Gtand Eyeware” on the corner of Toktogul and Sovetskaya that sells glasses and contact lens supplies.
  • Chiropractor/Мапуалист: See Dr. Fudashkin at the Family Medicine Center (Центр семейной медицины), on Bokombaevs 144A, 3rd floor.
  • The US embassy also has a good, updated list of medical services on their website.

Notes: Most medical centers do not directly accept American insurance. You will need to pay up front and submit the receipt to your insurance agency for a refund. Each entry above (except pharmacies) has advertised that English speaking care is available. 

Gyms: There are several gyms offering aerobics, weight training, and swimming. The one closest to the London School is Fitness House (Sovetskaya 67). Or you can try the Karven Club (Gogolya, 77), which offers generous discounts to International Student Card holders. Other gyms include the Dolphin Sports Complex (Chokmorova, 304—at the intersection with Molodaya Gvardiya) and the Sports Palace (Togolok Moldo, across from Spartak Stadium and the tennis courts). Lovely Mama (locations at Frunze/Pravda and in the 4th microregion) offers yoga, kickboxing, and other interesting fitness classes.

11. Shows and Music        (back to top)

  • Music and Dance: Check out the Philharmonia (Chui, 210), or the State Opera and Ballet Theater (Sovietskaya, 167). You'll likely be surprised by the quality!
  • Drama: The Russian Drama Theatre (Tynystanov, inside Dubovy Park) plays Russian classics. For local flare, try the State Academic Drama Theatre (Panfilov, 273) or the Kyrgyz Drama Theater (222 Abdymomunova) for Kyrgyz classical theatre, or Dom Kino (Logvinenko, 13) for Kyrgyz folk theater.  
  • Purely Traditional: Kyrgyzstan has recently undergone a cultural revival and many traditional forms of performance are making strong comebacks after decades of Soviet censorship and repression. NoviNomad.com runs a listing for these. See also SRAS's article on Manas performances, if this sort of thing interests you.
  • Children's Theater: If you're feeling less confident about your language comprehension, you might want to try the State Puppet Theater (Abdyrahmanova, 230A) or the Children's Theatre (right next door). Both are good options, whatever your language level! In season, the performances at the puppet theater are on Sundays at 11 am (Saturdays at 11 am in Kyrgyz).
  • Circus: The circus, at the corner of Frunze and Sovetskaya, most often hosts circuses from China and CIS countries. The atmosphere is always celebratory, with vendors selling toys and snacks outside the building before the show.

12. Transport        (back to top)

Bishkek’s public transportation system is extensive but can be difficult to navigate. The destinations of the buses, trolleybuses, and marshrutkas (minivans) are posted on signs inside the windows. You can also see all the bus routes—as well as map your route from any point A to any point B via marshrutka, bus, and/or trolleybus—on this site. Buses and trolleys cost 8 som, and marshrutkas cost 10 som (after 9 pm, 12 som); pay as you enter marshrutkas and as you exit buses. Expect all vehicles to be extremely crowded (although the marshrutkas tend to be more crowded than buses) during rush hour and keep your purse/wallet in a safe place.

For taxi services, try Alpha/Альфа, phone 65 77 77 (or +996 312 579999)—70 som for 3 kilometers, then 10 som for every extra kilometer. Also Econom/Эконом, phone 90 60 60. The day rate is 70 som, the night rate is 90 som. SMS Taxi conveniently allows you to order a cab by texting your location or intersection to 1424. Rates are 40 som, plus 12 som/kilometer.

For bicycle rentals, there's VeloPro (Akhunbayev 128). You can rent a bike by the day or hour. To rent mountain bikes, try FreeBike at 91 Shukurova St.

13. Religious Services        (back to top)

Russian Orthodox: The Resurrection Cathedral (Voskresenii Sobor) on the corner of Jobek Jolu and Togolok Moldo has services every other Sunday from 9am to 1pm.

Roman Catholic: The Church of St. Michael the Archangel is located on 197 Vasilieva Street, phone.: 996 312 32 64 50

Islam: The Central Mosque on the corner of Gogol Street and Moskovskaya holds regular services.

Jewish: There is a synagogue on 193 Karpinskii/Cuyunbaev Street, phone 996-312-68-19-66

14. Museums        (back to top)

The State Historical Museum, just behind Ala-Too Square, displays the archaeological and ethnic history of the area. There are no English signs yet, but for buffs of Communist history the Revolution exhibit is a must-see as it exists largely unchanged from Communist times.

The State Museum of the Fine Arts (Sovetskaya, 196) is an unimpressive building housing a remarkable collection of local artwork, produced in both folk and classical styles. 

The Frunze House-Museum (364 Frunze St.) is a modest thatched cottage engulfed by a two-storey museum, propaganda, and military weaponry. Mikhail Frunze was a native of Bishkek and is credited with whipping the town into submission during the Russian civil war. He's understandably not Kyrgyzstan's favorite son and the fact that this well-kept museum and the large statue of him gallantly on horseback near the railway station still stand is interesting in and of itself.

O.M. Manuylova Memorial House-Museum (Tynystanov, 108) is small, cozy house dedicated to the work of Olga Manuylova, a Soviet sculptor from Russia who moved to Kirghizia in 1920. The museum also has special exhibits, featuring both Soviet artists, and contemporary painters and sculptors.

15. Hangouts and Places to Walk        (back to top)

Ala-Too Square is to Bishkek what the Kremlin is to Moscow: it's the center of the country's government and the city's life. Unfortunately, it's not as pretty as the Kremlin, as it was built almost entirely from Soviet concrete and asphalt. The main sites here are the White House (which houses the offices of the Kyrgyz parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh), the Manas Statue (which replaced the “Statue of Liberty” in 2011, which replaced one of Lenin in 1991), and the Flagstaff, which is ceremoniously raised and lowered every day at sunrise and sunset respectively and which has a guard changed every hour during daylight. In spring and summer, large fountains turn on, along with colorful lights, in the evenings. During the day, tandem bikes and roller skates can be rented on the Square, and performances and ceremonies are held here on holidays.

Statue to the Martyrs of the Revolution showcases Urkuya Salieva (in the middle). She was a Kyrgyz woman who organized a collective of soldiers for the Red Army and then was killed by "rich peasants" who feared for their property. She is surrounded by smaller memorials to other revolutionaries and the "awakening proletariat." 

Felix Derzhinsky (the founder of the KGB, whose services are also not fondly remembered by most locals) also oddly still has a statue. He's been moved to one side of the National Library (near the corner of Sovetskaya and Ibraimov - he used to be near the entrance of Dubovy Park) and his name has been removed, but the statue still stands.

The Avenue of Heroes lines the park that divides Molodaya Gvardiya. The busts of heroes and statues of soldiers declare on repeated plaques: "We went to war for Communism!" The memorial was built by the Komsomol in the 1960s.

There is giant MIG airplane on Kievskaya in front of the National Guard headquarters. The city was once famous for training fighter pilots. 

The Manas Statuary Complex (outside the Philharmonia at Chui, 210) shows the Kyrgyz national hero in a pose that strikingly resembles the Moscow logo of St. George, no doubt to show that similarities between between Kyrgyz and Russian cultures existed in the Soviet imagination. Manas is shown slaying a dragon (he is also guarded by one in the legends about him). His wife, Kanykei, is to his right in the traditional Kyrgyz dress of married women that can still occasionally be seen on the streets of Bishkek. Kanykei was his confidant and trusted adviser, part of a small but prominent tradition of strong women in ancient Kyrgyz history. Also featured are several statues of famous manashchi, the traditional bards that handed down the Manas legend from generation to generation. They are positioned as they would have sat in a yurt and recited their poetic tales. Although the tradition is now reviving, the Soviets broke this traditional chain by censoring and officially discouraging traditional forms of the tale as too "nationalist" for the USSR. Of those depicted, Sayakbay is known as the greatest bard.

Ataturk Park is in walking distance of the London School on Ahunbayeva Street is named after the founder of the Turkish Republic and looks like a larger version of Panfilov Park with fewer amusement park rides, ping-pong tables, and a memorial to soldiers who fought in the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

Panfilov Park houses Bishkek's Spartak Stadium, as well as a variety of Soviet-built amusement park rides (wheeeee!) and a good deal of the city's population on national holidays. Panfilov Park is named for General Ivan Panfilov, who died leading a regiment of mostly Kyrgyz infantry against Nazi tanks near Moscow. You'll see several monuments and mentions of him and his infantry around town. 

Dubovy Park is named for the century-old oak trees inside (the adjectival form of "oak" is "дубовый" in Russian). In summer, this peaceful park hosts open air cafes and art shows. Other major attractions include The Red Guards' Memorial, a giant red obelisk marking the common grave of Bolsheviks who died in the 1918 counter-revolution. The man credited with defeating that counter-revolution is Yakov Nikoforovich Logvinenko, who is also buried here (he died several years later) and whose name is still on a local street sign. There is also a very congenial monument of Marx chatting with Engels, probably about the Monument to the Glory of Labor (also featured here) or maybe about one of the former "Great Kyrgyz Politicians" whose busts line one trail of the park. 

Victory Square (corner of Frunze and Ibraimov) boasts two major monuments. The first is "Manas 1000," a giant concrete yurt (traditional Kyrgyz housing) which was built to honor the 1000th birthday of the legendary Kyrgyz hero, Manas. The date also handily coincided with the 40th anniversary of the end of WWII. The other monument, an eternal flame with a female statue who eternally mourns her fallen soldier husband and son, solemnly remembers the end of that bloody war.  

16. Trips Out of Bishkek         (back to top)

Ata Beiit (The Cemetery of Fathers) is a museum outside of Bishkek honoring the victims of the Stalinist repressions of the 1930s. Founded as a burial place for 137 people who had been shot in the purges, including the founders of the original Kyrgyz Soviet state, the memorial complex now honors all victims of the Stalinist repressions. The Museum of Ata Beiit houses personal belongings of the killed and archive documents as well as a memorial plaque along the right side of the museum with names of all victims of the repressions from 1937-1938. Also buried at Ata Beiit are some of the 86 victims of the April 2010 uprising against former President Bakiev.

Burana Tower: Visit a ghost town in the Chuy Valley in northern Kyrgyzstan. The Burana Tower, along with grave markers, some earthworks and the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums, is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun, which was established by the Karakhanids at the end of the tenth century. The Burana Tower is a large minaret (an architectural feature of Islamic mosques) located 80 km east of Bishkek. An external staircase and steep, winding stairway inside the tower enables visitors to climb to the top. The entire site, including the mausoleums, castle foundations and grave markers, now functions as a museum and there is a small building containing historical information as well as artifacts found at the site and in the surrounding region.

Manas Ordo: Manas Ordo is a park built around Manas's Kümböz, a mausoleum most likely erected around 1334 and thought to be the final resting place of the Kyrgyz epic national hero Manas. The monumental epic poem Manas is considered to be the most treasured expression of the national heritage of the Kyrgyz people. The poem is twenty times longer than the Iliad and Odyssey combined. Manas is treasured in the national imagination as the most ideal of heroes, a man who courageously fought against external foes and reunited his scattered people. The site includes a horse track, a museum, a rose garden surrounded by 40 statues of Manas’ soldiers, an offerings site, and a yurt where fortunes can be told. The complex was built in 1995 for the 1000 Years of Manas celebration, the first - and to date the largest – national celebration that has taken place in Kyrgyzstan since its independence. Manas Ordo is situated in Talas region, in the central part of the country to which one can get only having crossed the Tuashu Passage (3200 m high).

Barskoon Waterfall: Located approximately 20km south of the village of Barskoon (pronounced bars-kone) on the southern shore of Kyrgyzstan's Lake Issyk Kul is the Barskoon Waterfall. We sit by a place where two of the three falls are visible and have a picnic in this beautiful spot. You will find two monuments to Yuri Gagarin here. Legend has it that as he was hurtling into space on the first-ever manned space flight, he looked down and saw this waterfall. After his return from space, he made a point of coming to visit the waterfall, where he left an inscription on one of the rocks. From this point, a steep trail leads up the mountain to the three falls.

Ala-Archa National Park : Bishkek is located in a hiker's paradise, and one must-see for all lovers of beauty is Ala-Archa National Park, located in the Tian Shan mountains. In Kyrgyz Ala-Archa means "bright juniper" – named for the abundance of junipers in the area. The Alamedin River flows along the gorge, which can be wild and dangerous at the beginning of spring and in early summer. The region has many climbing routes of varying degrees of intensity, which makes it a beloved place for tourists, climbers, and citizens of Bishkek alike – to be used as a recreational area for relaxation, or a training ground for climbing.

The Equestrian School (Bakinskaya, 204; Tel: 27-96-98) gives horseback riding lessons. 

The Maple Leaf Golf and Country Club was built by Canadians (in case you were wondering about the name). Rent your equipment from the Pro Shop, complete 9-holes of golf course surrounded by the Tian Shan Mountains and then stop by the Club House for drinks (GPS coordinates 42.806957, 74.704321).

To get out and see the countryside, contact Community Based Tourism (58 Gorkiy St), a private agency that promotes “socially and environmentally responsible” travel throughout Kyrgyzstan, from the remote village of Kara-Suu to the tourist area of Lake Issyk-Kul. Its list of activities and prices are refreshingly transparent. You can sleep over in a yurt (roughly $10 USD), watch a folklore concert (600 som) or rent a camel (80 som an hour). Cheap, yes, but more important, the money goes directly to the people of Kyrgyzstan, rather than into tour operators’ pockets. 

NoviNomad.com has offices in central Bishkek (Togolok Moldo, 28; email: novinomad@elcat.kg) and can arrange all manner of eco-tourism from hiking in canyons, to skiing on glaciers, to building yurts with Kyrgyz craftsmen. 

Kegeti Gorge is located in the steep forested slopes of Kegeti Valley, about 90km from Bishkek. The canyon has various hiking routes which lead to scenic waterfalls, valleys, and meadows.

Lake Issyk-Kul is Kyrgyzstan's largest lake, located southeast of Bishkek. It is 180km long, 70km wide, and has an average depth of about 300 meters. Its north side has many beaches that are popular destinations for tourists, and various hotels and sanatoria (spas) can be found all around the lake. Also on the lake's north side are the Gregorievka and Simeonevka valleys which offer hiking paths with spectacular views.

Kol-Tor Mountains
The Kol-Tor mountains are located about 250km away from Bishkek, to the south of Lake Issyk-Kul. The mountains have trails for hiking and skiing and are a popular destination for excursions on horseback and camping.

Lake Song-Kol, located in the mountaintops of Naryn Province south of Bishkek, is about a six hour car ride from the capital. From June-September, CBT organizes horseback riding treks to Song-Kol, and homestays by the exquisite lake.

Chong-Kemin valley is only 2.5 hours from Bishkek, reachable by marshrutka. CBT also operates a lovely guest house in Karool-Dobo village in the valley. It’s a great place to hike and see the countryside, without having to travel far from the city.

17. Official Holidays             (back to top)

DATE

HOLIDAY

TYPE

January 2  

New Year's Day

State

January 7

Orthodox Christmas   

Religious/Orthodox

March 8

International Women's Day

State

March 21

People's Holiday Nooruz

Religious/Muslim (Pagan)

May 1

Labor Day

State

May 5

Constitution Day

State

May 9

Victory Day

State

July 24 Orozo Ait (End of Ramadan) Religious/Muslim

August 31

Kyrgyz Independence Day State

October 4

Kurman Ait (Sacrifice Day)

Religious/Muslim

November 7

Great October Revolution Day

State

 

A note about Bishkek night life: places only really begin to get busy at midnight. If you're looking to be part of a crowd, you'll need to push back your night quite a bit. You can find many of the restaurants listed below and more at this Google Map here:

  • Cheap: SRAS now features a growing site of affordable student eateries with reviews written by students. Check it out here! There are fast food joints across from the Vefa Center (at the intersection of Sovyetskaya and Gorkovo), as well as near Tsum and the Beta Stores. The Begemot chains sell a burger and fries that is the closest you can get to standard American fast food for a cheap price, and Faiza on 157a Mederova is a good place for cheap local food. Ubiquitous столовая (cafeteria)-type cafes also offer very cheap, and often quite delicious, food.
  • Traditional Experiences: Chaikhana Jalal Abad specializes in Uzbek food and other Central Asian dishes: plov, lagman and especially besh barmak ('five fingers' in Kyrgyz). The name of the food is how you're supposed to eat it! It's located at 30 Togolok Moldo, at the corner of Kievskaya and not far from Osh Bazaar. Also tryFaiza, a cheap but very high-quality restaurant serving traditional food near the London School on 157a Mederova. 
  • Former USSR: While most restaurants serve Russian as well as Central Asian food, there are several restaurants that serve dishes from other CIS countries, including Genanstvalye/Генанцвале on the 4th floor of the Vefa Center (27/1, Gorkiy St.) and Mimino/Мимино on 27 Kievskaya. Both of these restaurants specialize in Georgian food.
  • For the Homesick: Metro – also known by its former name of "The American Bar" – has Bishkek-style American and Mexican food. The place has seen better days, but if you take a place at the bar you're likely to encounter a few expats (Chui, 168a). The beer menu here, as with most places in Bishkek, is minimal, featuring the staples of Baltika 7, Sibirskaya Corona, etc. Obama Bar and Grill also serves American and Tex-Mex. It's expensive by Bishkek standards, but the portions are quite large and you'll probably never be anywhere else with as many pictures of Obama around (95 Toktogul St.).
  • Coffee: We have yet to encounter a truly wonderful cup of coffee in Bishkek, but a very pleasant and western-style coffee and tea house to spend an hour or two in isCave Coffee, located at Gorkii Street 19. An Americano coffee there costs about 3 USD (tea a bit less), which is not cheap by Bishkek standards but worth it particularly in summer if you're looking for a nice airconditioned establishment with free WiFi. They feature more than 20 varieties of tea. After 6 pm they also have a hookah menu (you'll find most restaurants in Bishkek feature a hookah menu).
  • For Music: A favorite among Bishkek college students is Old Edgar ("Stari Edgar"), a cozy spot that features good food, nice atmosphere, and live music in the evening (Panfilov, 273 - attached to the Russian Drama Theatre). They also have a nice outdoor seating area in the warmer months. For more places, for those who speak Russian, catch up on the "in scene" for modern music in Bishkek at Rock.kg.
  • Specialty Tastes: Steinbrau offers freshly brewed beer and German dishes, plus local favorites like shashlyk. It's set up as a beer hall, with long communal tables, and lots of outdoor seating in the warm months (Gertsena, 5). Yusa has freshly prepared and reasonably priced Turkish food. A favorite of the embassy set, it's quite busy during the week for lunch and dinner (Logvinenko, 14). Lebanese Kitchen offers lots of Middle Eastern favorites, with an option to order an array of maza, or small dishes, and wash it all down with strong coffee. A bit pricey by Bishkek standards, but worth it if you want a change of pace (Frunze, 429). Sarya, a Syrian café, has delicious, inexpensive vegetarian options like falafel and hummus (Sukhe-Baatir/Yunusaliyev). Kyung Bok Kung offers great Korean food, and makes vegetarian bibimbap with tofu upon request (Chui, 30). Lastly, there are lots of cheap Chinese restaurants around Tsum and close to the Circus; look for the telltale red lanterns out front. 
  • Try the Rabbit: U Mazaya is a small, cozy, grotto-like restaurant that features rabbit dishes. It's also known for its extensive cocktail menu. Tucked away on Sovetskaya, just south of Jibek Jolu; look for the blinking sign with the white rabbit, and head down the steps. (The name seems strange given that Mazay is a character from a Russian story who saves a bunch of rabbits from drowning after their burrows were flooded.)
  • Mexican: there is a tiny buritto stand located at 34 Baytik Batir (former Sovietskaya St.) that some believe is comparable to - or even better than - Chipotle. The best part - it will cost you about 2 USD (or less if you go for the veggie option, no gaucamole). If you're looking for a place to sit down, try Cafe Mexicana. You can get a decent fajita for under 6 USD, and the portions are sizable (corner of Kievskaya/Logvinenko).
  • A Bit of Everything: Ranked #15 of 109 restaurants in Bishkek on TripAdviser, Democrat Bar and Grill is also a favorite among past students. The food is very good and fairly cheap (most dishes under 4 USD), and the shashlyk is particularly recommended. Besides shashlyk and other BBQ, you'll also find a number of Asian and Russian dishes. You're almost guaranteed to find something to satisfy any craving you may have. The hookah here is also quite good. Live music (mostly rock) on weekend nights.


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