"Welcome to Bishkek" Bishkek by RB_Oakes

Bishkek Travel Guide: 120 reviews and 327 photos

By mid-afternoon, we were in Bishkek. The ride right before the border was the last time I heard my favourite Russian pop song, the Oi Oi Oi song, which I have been unable to find since. My guesthouse was not the most legal of operations, and it was murder to get there, but I’ll have to say nothing more on that one.

There aren’t a lot of cities more remote than Bishkek, capital of tiny, mountainous, impoverished Kyrgyzstan, but it felt a lot more familiar than just about any place since St. Petersburg. Part of the reason were the mountains to the south, not unlike those rising to the north of Vancouver. It immediately helped to orient me. Another big reason was the multitude of amenities for Westerners. Bishkek has several Western food shops, and at least one notable Western restaurant, Fatboy’s. The proper ingredients aren’t necessarily available, so authenticity was iffy but I was very pleased with having anything resembling a burrito and milkshake. Even the post office was normal. I mean, I met people later who’d had their camera stolen there, but I enjoyed having a place to go online without masses of kids playing video games. That this is all anybody uses Internet cafes for in Central Asia is really depressing – those kids need to take advantage of that resource, not squander it on idiocy. Add a couple of brewpubs and Bishkek is very Western.

Kyrgyzstan, however, is not all that modern. Bishkek overall is a very Soviet city by design. The apartment blocks are typically rundown and dark. The streets are generally quite dark. The main street heading south is a buzz of marshutnoes and sidewalk cafés. Dance clubs open early. Despite its reputation as a place you don’t want to be after dark, it never felt at all menacing to me.

Outside Bishkek, the country is stuck in a hopeless post-Soviet rut. A single mine, a Canadian joint venture, accounts for around 20% of the GDP. The Kyrgyz people are nomadic, and outside the city they either stick to those ways, or bum around small Soviet towns not knowing what to do with themselves. I first headed for the region of Issyk-Kul. This is the largest lake in Central Asia, and home to one of the few beaches in the region. By Western standards, you can hardly call places like Cholpon-Ata and Tamchy resorts, but I suppose by Kyrgyz standards they are. The president of the country has a villa on the shores of Issyk-Kul near Cholpon-Ata.

  • Last visit to Bishkek: Sep 2004
  • Intro Written May 15, 2005
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RB_Oakes

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