Considered one of the fastest-developing post-Soviet countries in the world, Kyrgyzstan is more than happy to welcome any tourist in the mood for some Central Asian adventure. Encompassing 199,951 square kilometres of land area and harbouring just over 6 million inhabitants, it has a proud water percentage of 3.6%. Historically part of the world-famous Silk Road, it had quite a shifting yet interesting history that you might want to read about. So, before you hop onto the plane to land in Bishkek (the capital city), be sure to keep these five essential tips in mind!
So you’ve probably heard about how affordable Eastern Europe is, right? Well, this prospect only amplifies as you breach the bounds of Central Asia as prices there are even lower. Kyrgyzstan is by no means an exception to this rule and you will find that even a modest budget will get you by just fine (to say the least). Food is cheap (both at restaurants and supermarkets) and housing seems like a total steal. When you can find entirely private rooms for 12-16 USD (using the equivalent amount in their Som currency, of course), you know that things are going your way in terms of budget (wink)! Oh, and let us not forget that you don’t have to necessarily opt for a private room – you can always stay at a Yurt for around 6 bucks (smiles)!
2. Language barriers:
Alright, so the basic idea in Kyrgyzstan is to understand the mentality of the locals. Being a post-Soviet country, they are currently doing their best to stick to their own and to protect their national heritage. This means that more and more people use the Kyrgyz language to get by on a day-to-day basis (even in large cities). This, however, does not mean that they do not speak any other tongues. Russian is a co-official language to the Kyrgyz one and it is often vocalised between ethnic groups – it is like a common ground that everyone seems to have silently agreed upon. The touristy areas of Bishkek have a few English speakers but if you go to the country knowing absolutely no Russian, you are going to have a hard time getting your meanings across. It is advised to get a versed friend or a guide in such cases. Oh, and the more you stray from the big cities, the more you are going to notice that the Kyrgyz language is the only one spoken.
3. Choose a mountain, claim the peak:
Central Asia is well-known for its rough terrain and continental temperatures and Kyrgyzstan is a faithful adherent of this rule. Like its immediate neighbour, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan is as mountainous as a sovereign state can get (in fact, you cannot go anywhere without them looming on the horizon like proud bastions). Mountain-hopping, thus, is not just a Tajikistani possibility but it is also advised here. Intrepid travellers are most certainly going to cherish the varied and often desolate landscapes that the country has to offer. The only thing that we recommend, though, is to pack some thick clothes, as altitude changes the climate properties!
Though the touristy areas of the capital city will have you believe otherwise, tipping in Kyrgyzstan is not part of the local culture. The aforementioned and more versed establishments do tend to bend that rule a bit but they are by no means the mascots of the entire country. If you are on a tight budget, tip the workers of the higher-class, more tourist-oriented locales and do not bother doing so when you get out of the big cities. Even rounding up the bill just a tad is considered more than generous. There is one thing though: if you are generous (or if you have the budget for it) and tip, it will be accepted with utmost gratitude – so if you feel like it, go for the international 10%.
While most people worry about the countries ending with a “stan”, we are happy to say that Kyrgyzstan is the most tourist-friendly of all of them. Westerners can enjoy an experience close to their own and attacks/crimes are rare. Of course, we never recommend flashing expensive photo gear around as that is common sense. Bishkek, for example is so safe that you can even walk around at night in most places. So yes, this may just be a holiday spot for you (wink)! Oh, and do not let the fact that over 85% of the country is Muslim scare you as the people themselves are extremely friendly and they practice their ways in such a way that it hearkens back to shamanic times – definitely interesting to further research.
Did you enjoy our list? What experiences have you had in Kyrgyzstan and what unforgettable adventures have you been part of there? Tell us all about it below in the comment section and be sure to check back from time to time for some exciting new articles and updates! Safe travels!