Things To Know About Kyrgyzstan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz Landscapes.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful Central Asian country that was once a major feature of the trade routes of the Silk Road. It’s an adventure waiting to happen. Aside from its natural beauty, Kyrgyzstan is full of beautifully warm and friendly people that will try to help you in any way that they can. This list of things to know about Kyrgyzstan will help make your visit to the country even more memorable.

If you haven’t thought of visiting yet, you should put it on your list right now! Keep reading to learn some important things to know about Kyrgyzstan.

Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – Language

Most people speak Kyrgyz, alongside Russian. Both languages have huge similarities. For example, the word for cafe in Russian is кафе and in Kyrgyz it is кафеси. Both languages use the Cyrillic alphabet. The Kyrgyz Cyrillic Alphabet has 3 unique characters not found in the 33 character Russian Cyrillic Alphabet.

While speaking Russian will get you through Kyrgyzstan with no problems, it’s also completely possible to travel the country relatively easily with no knowledge of Russian. You can find English speakers here and there, especially in cafes in Bishkek or Osh. There are also many Kyrgyz people using Couchsurfing, who speak English well and are eager to meet travellers.

If you can’t find a common language, you can always resort to hand gestures, body movements translation apps and using props. Kyrgyz people are a patient bunch, so they’re willing to spend time figuring out what you are trying to say.

Kyrgyz English speakers don’t have a strong ‘non-native’ accent when they talk, which means when they do speak English, they are very easy to understand.

I 💜 Signs

Every major city in Kyrgyzstan seems to have an ‘I Love’ sign. some even have 2. Locals love to hang out in front of these signs for crazy amounts of time taking selfies and ignoring everyone around them. Good times.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz I Love Bishkek Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. I Love Bishkek Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. I Love Osh Sign

Interesting Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – It’s Okay to Hitchhike!

Hitchhiking is a completely safe and viable way to get around Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz people aren’t afraid of language barriers and will pick you up and chat with you regardless. You will of course, be asked the standard questions; “Are you a tourist?”, “Where are you from?”, etc. Once you answer, don’t be surprised if your new driver will tell you their life story.

Approachability

Kyrgyz people are friendly and approachable. If you ask someone in the street for help, they will most certainly assist you. Even if you don’t share a common language, they will find a way. They will likely stay with you until your problem is solved satisfactorily

Quirky Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – 3 Som Coins

Perhaps the quirkiest cash denomination I’ve seen in all my travels is the 3 Som coin. It is worth approximately US$0.04. There are apparently no 5 Som coins. You will instead get one 3 Som coin and two 1 Som coins. Or if you get 10 Som change, it will be three 3 Som coins and a 1 Som coin.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. 3 Som Coins

Handy Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan – The Water is Potable!

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Many sites claim that the domestic water supply in Kyrgyzstan is not safe to drink, but those sites are mistaken. Locals and tourists alike drink the water with no problems.

Don’t waste your money buying one-time use bottles of water. Save the environment and bring your own bottle to fill up from the tap. If you’re still a bit worried, you can simply boil your water before you drink it but that’s really not required.

Carnivals

One of the more quirky things to know about Kyrgyzstan is that people there enjoy carnival-like atmospheres. This can range from the hiring of motorised toy cars and selling of light-up souvenirs in a park, to permanent rides, carnival games and stalls set up in a reserve near a river. You gotta love people that just wanna have fun.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Carnival in Osh K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Carnival near Jayma Bazaar in Osh

Important Things to Kow About Kyrgyzstan – City Transport

Transport in Kyrgyz cities is cheap and efficient. Buses cover many major routes in the cities and out to the suburbs for 10 Som/US$0.15. They run at intervals of 5 minutes or less. Bus information for Bishkek can be found here

Taxis

Taxis around the city cost about 100 – 300 Som/US$1.40 – 4.30 depending on the distance travelled. Yandex taxis are also available in Kyrgyzstan and the cars actually have Yandex Taxi written on the side of them. You can use the Yandex Taxi Hailing app to order a taxi if you have data/WiFi access and a phone number that can receive messages in Kyrgyzstan. If you don’t have internet access, you can hail an unofficial taxi by standing on the side of the road. This should cost the same as an official taxi.

Mashrutkas

Mini-vans that work in a similar way to shared taxis, known as Masrutkas, are available for travel within the city, but the system is very hard to navigate unless you have a local with you, or you can read/speak Russian. There are many numbered Mashrutka routes that cost around 20 Som/$US0.30.

Intercity Transport

Mashrutkas are the main form of intercity transport. They operate out of bus stations in the cities and drop off on the side of the road in small towns. You can buy a spot in the van directly from the driver, although there does appear to be a ticket desk at the Western Bus Station. Mashrutkas leave when all their seats are filled. A Mashrutka from the Western Bus Station in Bishkek to the small town of Kadji-Sai near Issyk-Kul costs 300 Som/US$4.30 and takes around 3-4 hours.

Meat

If you’re a meat lover, Kyrgyzstan is the place for you! Meat is the main feature of most menus in the country, with popular dishes being Shishlyk (barbequed meat on skewers), kebabs and doners. The main meats used in these dishes are beef, lamb and chicken. Horse meat is also a popular dish in the area, given that other foods were often scarce in Kyrgyz nomadic history.

It might be hard to find vegan food in Kyrgyzstan, as even some salads have meat in them. unless you want to spend your whole time eating mushroom Shishlyk. Even salads in Kazakhstan can have meat, so it always pays to check what’s in the food you’re ordering!

Unusual Things to Know About Kygryzstan – People Love Drinking Horse Milk

Horse milk is a popular drink in Kyrgyzstan, probably owing to their nomadic history. These days, it is often sold from containers on the side of the road. There are different types of horse milk with different levels of sourness. Yes, you read that correctly. Different levels of sourness. It’s quite unlike any other milk you’ve ever tasted.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Horse Milk on the Silk Road

If you want a super local experience, you could stop at a yurt on the Silk Road and sit down for some horse milk and bread with a local family. Even if the horse milk is not to your taste, meeting locals is always nice!

Music

Whenever you go to a cafe or restaurant, you’re almost guaranteed to only hear 80s or 90s English language music. Normally the songs playing are remixed into more mellow versions of the originals. You can actually be listening to a song for a few minutes before realising that it’s a song you know. When you’re in a car however, locals are likely to not be listening to any music, so that that can chat with you. Or they play Kyrgyz music at a decent sound level and just talk loudly over it.

Bazaars

In the major Kyrgyz cities, when you ask a local what the must-see places are, the first thing they will suggest is the local bazaar. The bazaars are seen as the one-stop place for everything you could ever want and some things you didn’t know you wanted. The Osh Bazaar in Bishkek is huge and slightly confusing, but if you keep at it, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Things to Know About Kyrgyzstan. Jayma Bazaar, Osh

The Jayma Bazaar in Osh is a little bit smaller and easy to navigate. I was able to find what I was looking for within 2 minutes.

On The Roads

While the majority of cars in Kyrgyzstan are left-hand drive, there are also a decent number of right-hand drive cars. Perhaps people drive the later for financial reasons, as they are much cheaper to buy than their left-hand drive counterparts.

Whether they’re on the left or right-hand side of the car, Kyrgyz driver can get pretty crazy. Lane markings are completely ignored at all times and overtaking on the most dangerous parts of bends on mountain roads is commonplace.

Pedestrians can’t escape the craziness either. While legally, cars should give way to pedestrians at traffic lights and designated pedestrian crossings, that’s not always what happens in practice. At traffic lights, turning cars will drive towards you, but will stop to let you cross. Although they may keep inching towards you slowly in a not-so-subtle attempt to get you to hurry up.

At pedestrian crossings, it’s anyone’s guess what cars will do. Most drive too fast to be able to stop for the crossing, while others do the right thing and stop. There is no simple way to cross a road in Kyrgyzstan and pedestrians need to constantly check for cars doing the wrong thing as they’re crossing.

You can read about my adventures in Kyrgyzstan here, here and here.

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Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. View from the Silk Road

Hitchin’ A Ride Along the Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan

My friend Argen in Bishkek had suggested that I should try hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan. He told me it would be easy. As I was a foreigner, I would get picked up in no time. I’m always up for new experiences, so why not? What better place to try than the Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan?

Kadji-Sai to Balykchy

It was only about a minute before the first car driving through the small town of Kadji-Sai stopped. The driver’s name was Asmut and his English was excellent. I have a knack for finding the English speakers in places where other people can’t, apparently. Asmut was probably the first decent driver I’d come across in Kyrgyzstan. He slowed down for towns, which I hadn’t seen any other drivers do. I found out he was on a business trip and lived in Bishkek. He took me to Balykchy, the town at end of the Lake Issyk-Kul.

I noticed a lot of stalls along the side of the road in Balykchy selling dried fish. I was told by a local in Kadji-Sai that there was no fishing allowed at the lake, so I really had to wonder where these fish came from!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Dried Fish in Balykchy

My good luck with finding English speakers continued when I decided to check if a local service station in Balykchy had a toilet. It did! There was also WiFi and the staff spoke some basic English. It seemed like a good place to rest and refresh. As I walked out of the service station, I saw a huge Kyrgyz flag in the middle of an intersection and stopped to take a photo. It was then that my second ride stopped and asked if I needed a lift.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Giant flag at Balykchy

Balykchy to Tokmok

In the car was a family of four and a grandmother. None of them spoke English, except the primary school-aged son, but he only really knew a few words. They took me to the town they lived in. It was called Tokmok and it was quite small. But there was plenty happening on the side of the road on the way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Scenery between Balykchy and Tokmok

There were a few cars stopped with flat tyres. Other cars had stopped to help them out! How nice of them. Locals apparently love to make word or picture formations on the sides of hills, out of stones. I’m not sure why, but someone had gone to the trouble of making the FedEx logo on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess?

I also saw quite a few people with small barrel barbecues on the side of the road selling cooked corn. They waved their corn-grabbing tongs above their heads to get the attention of passing motorists.

One of the most interesting things I saw on the Silk Road to southwestern Kyrgyzstan was the unique domes of mosques in the area. In every other place that I’ve seen mosques, the roofs have been smooth domes. The domes in Eastern Kyrgyzstan have raised bits on them that almost make them look quilt-like. I actually think they look pretty cool!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Quilt-like mosque Dome in Tokmok

When we got to Tokmok, the driver dropped his family off then said, “I’m taxi, give me money”. I said, “Take me to Bishkek”, then he said, “Haha, okay goodbye”. Cheeky git. As he’d dropped me in the middle of town, I had to walk a bit to get to the outskirts.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Tokmok Town Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Tokmok Airplane

Tokmok to Bishkek

My next ride along the Silk Road to southwestern Kyrgyzstan came from Jazmek, a security guard at service station in Ivanovka. Ivanovka is actually only about 10 minutes from Tokmok. It started to get difficult to get a ride there. I don’t know if it was because I was getting closer to Bishkek, or because it was getting late.

While I was on the side of the road, a local boy called Hazhik came to my rescue and waved a car down for me. It was a relief to finally be on the road again. I soon noticed that the driver and the other woman in the car weren’t talking to each other. Furthermore, they had angry looking faces. Had I just interrupted a fight?

The woman actually spoke to me, via a translation app when the driver stopped to get some fuel. She was really nice, but as soon as the driver got back into the car, her angry face reappeared and she didn’t say another word all the way to Bishkek. So that was probably the most awkward things got on the Silk Road to southwestern Kyrgyzstan.

Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek to Osh

Argen had told me that I would only have to go just outside the city centre in Bishkek to pick up a ride. So that’s what I did and it did not work out as I would’ve hoped. I figured that I needed to get further out of town, so I jumped in a Mashrutka (van) to a town called Kara-Balta at the intersection of the Osh-Bishkek Highway.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Kara-Balta Town Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Kara-Balta Roundabout. Start of the Osh-Bishkek Highway

That did the trick and I was on the move along the Silk Road to southwestern Kyrgyzstan within minutes. The first car that picked me up was only going to a small town about 20 kilometres down the road. From there, I flagged down a van with a very excited driver motioning for me to get in.

My new friend, Ulan was eager to chat and knew a small amount of English. He gave me some курут or Kurut, a local hard, salty milk snack often eaten when taking long trips. He advised me that it goes well with beer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz Kurut
кыргыз курут – Kyrgyz Kurut

Waterfalls and Horse Milk on the Silk Road

After several hours on the road, I’d been drifting in and out of a sleep state, until Ulan stopped on the side of the road. He pointed to my right and encouraged me to get out of the car. I thought he meant for a stretch, but there was a cute little waterfall in front of me! The waterfall ran into the Kara-Balta River. The Pamir Highway (Silk Road) follows this river for several hundred kilometres.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Roadside Waterfall into the Kara-Balta River K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Roadside Stop - Kara-Balta River

When we were getting close to a yurt village, Ulan asked if I wanted to drink some horse milk. As it’s a popular drink in the region, who was I to refuse? I’ll try anything once! He stopped his van in front of a yurt and asked an old lady near it if she had horse milk. She did, so we went inside her yurt, where we sat down on the ground near a table in the middle.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. View from the Silk Road

Suusamyr to Pelmennaya

Unfortunately, Ulan had to drop me off not long after that. He wished me good luck on my travels and left me at Suusamyr. I’m not even sure if this place counts as a town, because I could only see one building. I guess it serves as more of an intersection for the road going to Osh and the road going to Talas, where Ulan was heading. Of course, there was a statue there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Suusamyr

When I looked around me and saw almost nothing, a small thought that it might be difficult to get a ride crept into my head. It was chased away seconds later when a green truck stopped. The driver opened the passenger door for me and I saw that he had a mouth full of gold teeth. His name was Latim. He was also eager to chat with me, although he didn’t know any English at all. He showed me a photo of his granddaughter on his phone, then used the calculator on his phone to tell me his age.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. View From the Truck
View From the Truck

Time for Dinner

It was slow going in the truck as the road is super windy. Plus there’s a lot of up and down because of the mountains. After several hours, we stopped at a place called Pelmennaya. It had the first non-yurt structure I’d seen in hundreds of kilometres. Latim told me to take a seat at one of the tables outside, while he went inside to organise our dinner.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Truck Stop at Pelmennaya

He came out maybe 10 minutes later with some other guys, who were going to have dinner with us. They told me their names, but I forgot almost instantly as I’d had a long and tiring day, that was still far from over. Another man named Andre came over to speak to Latim. I found out later that Andre lived in Jalal-Abad, about 100km from Osh. Latim had asked Andre if he could take me to Jalal-Abad, because he was worried that the truck was too slow. What a sweety!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Pelmennaya
Pelmennaya

I had definitely gotten the gist of what was going on but Andre called his daughter, who spoke English, just to make sure. Andre’s son Vlad was also travelling with him. Neither Andre or Vlad spoke more than a few words of English, but they were armed with a translation app.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Scenic lake on the way to Jalal-Abad
Sunset Scenery on the way to Jalal-Abad

Pelmannaya to Osh

It was almost dark by the time we got back on the road. Vlad was asking me many questions through the translation app. Perhaps the funniest moment was when he guessed that I was around his age when I’m clearly much older than him. I’ll take the compliment anyway.

We stopped at a place called Isabelle Cafe at about 1am for a food and toilet break. I’d fallen asleep during the ride, so I was surprised that we were still several hours away from Jalal-Abad. Osh was still another few hours from there. I’d originally thought I could make it to Osh by midnight, but now it was looking more like 4am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Isabelle Cafe
Isabelle Cafe

We ended up getting to Jalal-Abad around 3am. You would think that there was very little chance of getting a ride at that time, but surprisingly, Mashrutkas were still running! Andre and Vlad found another guy that spoke a little English and was also going to Osh. They told him to look after me.

I finally arrived in Osh at 5am. It had taken more than 18 hours to get there from Bishkek. As you could imagine I was super tired, so I found myself a bed and got some much-needed rest.

Osh, The End of the Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan

Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, after Bishkek. It’s about 20 times smaller than Bishkek though, population wise. I think it’s main claims to fame are the river that runs through it and the mountain in the centre of it. You would be correct in assuming that I made my way to the top of that mountain.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Sulayman-Too During the Day

Sulayman-Too (Сулайман-Тоо)

I decided to head up to Sulayman-Too, or Solomon’s Mountain at night. I’d figured it would be much cooler, as the daytime temperature was 35 degrees. My main reason for doing it at night was that I thought it would be much less busy. Boy, was I wrong! It seems to be a super popular spot at night too. I’m talking at about 9 or 10pm. It doesn’t get dark in Kyrgyzstan until after 8pm in the summer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Sulayman-Too at Sunset

I spied the Ак-Буура Ak-Buura River on the way up. This river starts in the Alai Mountains and is 148km long. The first part I saw didn’t look too bad, but down near the city bazaar it looks pretty horrible. There are actually pipes spewing brown liquid into it. I’m not even going to speculate on what that liquid is and where it’s coming from.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Ak-Buura River and Sulayman-Too K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Ak-Buura River Near the Osh Bazaar

Back to the mountain, I found a shortcut up via a dirt trail. That dirt trail intersected with the stairs that the city had installed. The stairs were fairly irregular and the rocks underfoot in some areas had been coated with a strange shiny, slippery substance.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Stairs on the way up to Sulayman-Too K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Slippery Surface on the way up to Sulayman-Too

The Top of the Hill

Once I got to the top, I encountered a fairly sizeable crowd of people hanging out, taking selfies and such. I pretty much ignored them as realised that I had a 360 view of the city below. It had only taken 10 minutes to get to the top for the awesome view, so definitely worth it!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. View From Sulayman-Too

There was a huge Kyrgyz flag at the top and the constant wind meant that the noise of the flag moving could be heard for quite a distance from the peak.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Silk Road to Western Kyrgyzstan. Osh. Kyrgyz Flag on Sulayman-Too

I noticed stairs going down on the other side of the mountain, so I went down that way. I found a cafe, then a park at the bottom. People in the park were hiring out motorised toy cars for kids to drive around. As I’d also seen that in Bishkek, I guess it’s a Kyrgyz thing?

Keep an eye out for the next installment of my adventures in Unbelievable Uzbekistan!

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The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Lake Issyk-Kul from Kadji-Sai

The scenically beautiful Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan was once a major stop on the trade routes of the famous silk road. Things are much different these days. Continue reading to find out all about the quirks of eastern Kyrgyzstan!

Entering Kyrgyzstan/Кыргызстан

After a 3 hour drive in a Mashrutka (minvan) from Almaty, we arrived at the Kyrgyz border. There was no line on the Kygryz side and the immigration officer was quite lovely. He welcomed me to Kyrgyzstan and I was out of there in about 2 minutes! On the walk from the immigration building to the next Mashrutka, I was offered at least 20 taxis.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kyrgyzstan Border. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan

I’ve gotta say at the point that Kazakh drivers could be pretty crazy at times, but I think Kyrgyz drivers have them beat. I tried not to pay too much attention to our position on the road until I realised at one point that our van was passing a car on it’s right, that was already passing the car to it’s right. On a two-lane highway with cars fast approaching from the opposite direction. Who needs rollercoasters, eh?

The Mashrutka dropped me off at the Western Bus Station in Bishkek and the driver kindly called my friend Johny, before driving off. Johny is a friend of a Kyrgyz friend I met while travelling a few years ago. He answered my million and one questions then helped me get some money changed. Then he had to go off to work. He dropped me off at a cafe to wait for my host Argen, who was also busy working late. After 2 hours in Bishkek, I was convinced that everyone in the city worked way too hard!

Bishkek/Бишкек

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre

Once Argen arrived, it was fairly late, so he drove me to his place and brought me some local food to apologise for his work taking longer than expected. He was eager to hear about my adventures around the world, so we stayed up talking way later than we should have, despite the fact that we were both very tired!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. 3 Som Coins

City Centre

I made my way to the city centre the next day to do some exploring. I noticed that things were much cheaper in Kyrgyzstan than they were in Kazakhstan. That was great, considering that Kazakhstan was already a lot cheaper than other places! One thing that was weird though, was the 3 Som denomination of coins. When you got 5 Som change, it would be a 3 Som coin with two 1 Som coins. In 81 countries, I had never come across this denomination before!

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Flower Butterfly K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Horse and Flag

The city centre is very open and clean. There seems to be a lot of sculptures, statues, fountains and flowers. The fountains only seemed to run at certain times of the day though, so you had to be in the right place at the right time.

The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek

Some fun things I noticed around Bishkek were happening in parks. There was a general carnival kind of atmosphere with music, bubble blowing and fairy/candy floss. In addition to that, there were lines of bikes and scooters being hired out. Perhaps the cutest thing was the motorised flashing toy cars available for kids to ride around in. Then possibly the most gimmicky, was the ‘train’ driving around the city centre.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Motorised Toy Cars K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek City Centre. Train

While I was wandering around, I needed some help to find a place I was looking for. Luckily I had a phone number for the business. I asked a local couple if they knew where the business was. They didn’t speak any English, but still helped me by calling the number and waiting with me until someone from the business to come and get me. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing that for me back home, even though I can speak the language!

Getting to Issyk-Kul/Ысык-Көл

I met an interesting Australian lady named Jenny in Bishkek. She was retired and spent a great amount of her time travelling the world. I only hope I’m still doing that when I’m in my 70s! Jenny was heading to Kadji-Sai, a small town near Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake, Issyk-Kul. She invited me to join her and we were on our way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek Road to Issyk-Kul. Mountain Views

After walking around trying to find the Mashrutka to Kadji-Sai, Jenny and I ended up getting a public bus, number 53 if memory serves correctly, to the Western Bus Station for 10 Som/US$0.14. From there, we got a Mashrutka (minivan) to Kadji-Sai for 300 Som/US$4.30 each. Kadji-Sai is a small town near Issyk-Kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world. We stopped at a place called Ak-Zhol for 30 minutes on the way. This place had awesome mountain views and some interesting statues.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. On the Way to Issyk-Kul. Welcoming Statues at Ak-Zhol

Perhaps one of the less appealing quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan was the driving. Our driver was pretty erratic and there were more than a few close calls. I think the only thing that stopped him having a major accident was the police few cameras set up along the highway. We had initially wondered why the van kept suddenly slowing down. But once we spotted a camera and saw some cars on the other side of the road flashing their lights to warn others, we knew what was going on. From then on, whenever the van slowed down drastically, we’d have a peek out the window to look for the camera.

The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan in Kadji-Sai/Кажы-Сай

The first thing you notice about Kadji-Sai, besides the huge lake and mountains surrounding it, is that it is very small. The whole town consists of about 5 cafes, a resort and about 3 small magazins. Magazin is the local name for a store. The second thing you notice is that no one speaks any English, which is a little strange for a place that has a pretty big summer tourist season.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Kadji-Sai Town Near Issyk-Kul. K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Kadji-Sai and Mountains. Near Issyk-Kul.

The Quirks of Eating in Kadji-Sai

Eating in Kadji-Sai was an adventure! Only one place had an English menu, but the translations were so bad that an omelette with meat, turned out to be an omelette with meat dumplings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek. Kadji-Sai Town Near Issyk-Kul. Omelette with Dumplings

At other cafes, we had to rely on people who didn’t speak English, to translate Kyrgyz menus into English. Of course, that worked out super well! Nah, it meant we ended up with liver shishlyk, (шашлык, barbecued meat on skewers) when wee had ordered lamb shishlyk.

What was even more amusing was the hand-written bills given to us at the end of the meal. With a 10% service charge added, of course! That seems to be standard throughout Kyrgyzstan though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek. Kadji-Sai Town Near Issyk-Kul. Hand-Written Food Bill
560 Som/US$8 for lunch and tea for 2.

We finally noticed a hut by the lake that had Shishlyk, so we decided to give it a try.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Makeshift Restaurant By Lake Issyk-Kul at Kadji-Sai

They’d actually made some effort to decorate it inside and it all looked very welcoming. They even gave us blankets to use when it started getting a bit cool. Unfortunately, they only had chicken shishlyk at the time, which was fine, because that’s exactly what we were in the mood for.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Inside Makeshift Restaurant at Kadji-Sai. Near Issyk-Kul.

The chicken did take quite a while and was still a little undercooked, but this hut still seemed to be the best food option in town. At under 200 Som/US$2.80 per skewer, it wasn’t bad value either

The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan – Chipboard For Construction

Apparently, the cheapest wood composite material known to man is used to build houses in Kadji-Sai. Considering the extreme temperatures of the area, 30 degrees plus in summer and 20 or below in winter, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be the best choice. It would make the whole building process a lot cheaper though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Chipboard for Construction at Kadji-Sai. Near Issyk-Kul.

The chipboard used for the walls is then coated with a concrete veneer, so it doesn’t look like it’s made from chipboard when it’s finished. The place that we stayed at didn’t bother with the veneer though, so both the outside and inside walls, plus the floors were all just chipboard. It didn’t smell great. It also looked like someone had just given up halfway through construction.

Lake Issyk-Kul

Lake Issyk-Kul was the reason that we had gone to Kadji-Sai and it did not disappoint! Issyk-Kul means warm lake in the Kyrgyz language. Despite the below-freezing temperatures the area is subject to in winter, the lake never freezes over.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Quirks of Eastern Kyrgyzstan. Sunset at Kadji-Sai. Near Issyk-Kul.

What’s even more interesting, is that archaeologists have discovered artefacts of a 2500 year old advanced society in the lake. I just liked the fact that it’s quiet and you can sit down with a book and contemplate the big issues of the world. Or just clear your mind and breathe in the tranquillity.

The adventure continues in my next post when I attempt to hitchhike along the Silk Road from Kadji-Sai in the east to Osh in the southwest. Stay tuned!

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