In general, the kyrgyz people are relatively friendly, but hard to really get a grasp of.
Bishkek is connected to Kashi in Western China via a pass that was an important link on the ancient Silk Road. You can also come from China/Kashgar over the Toragut pass, if you have the time and patience. Known as one of the most frustrating passes in Central Asia, both sides can be closed for holidays or seeming randomness.
Bishkek's Manas Airport is a thirty minute drive from the city center. Most of the international flights depart and arrive at very early hours of the morning. Bishkek Manas Airport (English)
Aeroflot flies daily to Moscow's Sheremyetvo where you can connect to the rest of Asia and Europre. They no longer fly the uncomfortable Tu-154, but the newer Airbus 320, making the five hour flight much more comfortable. In the summer a second daytime flight is operated four days a week.
British Airways (operated by British Med) flies four days a week to London Heathrow with a fuel stop in Yerevan, Armenia. It is nearly an 11 hour flight and you are not allowed to leave the plane during the fuel stop.
Turkish Airlines flies four days a week to Istanbul, Turkey.
There are additional flights on local carriers to the following cities:
Residents of the US and most European countries can purchase a 30 day visa at the airport for $30 on arrival.
While there are occasional reports of requests for bribes or hassling of passengers, it is very rare. Airport personnel are generally formal and sometimes hospitable.
There is an ATM is the basement of the airport and several small cafes open around the clock.
Manas Airport is also home to a US Air Force Base that provides logistics support to the forces in Afghanistan. You will see American fuel tankers and cargo jets sitting along side old soviet passenger jets.
Beware: There are many aggressive taxi drivers awaiting all flights. The normal rate charged by the major taxi companies to the city center is 350 soms (~$9-10). You should attempt to get a similar rate when arriving.
There is a 4 day a week service to Moscow. Two days are operated by the Kyrgyz Railways and two days by the Russian Railways.
In addition, there is also a service that goes to Balikchy on the Western Edge of Lake Issyk-Kul. While slow and accomodation is minimal, it is one of the most scenic railtrips in Eurasia sneeking through the thin mountainous alpine pass to the lake.
Bishkek is approximately a 3 1/2 hour drive from Almaty, Kazakhstan. There are also additional long distance road connections to Taraz, Kazakhstan (leading to Shymkent & Tashket, Uz).
You can also share or rent an entire taxi to Almaty. Both KLM and Lufthansa offer bus service to Almaty airport to meet their early morning flights.
City taxi is 100 Som to go anywhere in the city. Any restaurant or bar will call them for you. Don't pay any taxi more than 100 Som.
Ala-Too square is the main city square. It is the site of frequent political demonstrations and regular festivals. At night many vendors set up photograph and karaoke booths. It is still dangerous at night for foreigners. There is also a military monument with an hourly changing of the guard.
National MuseumThis museum sits between Ala-Too Square and the Parliament building. On the North Side is an enourmous state of Lenin that was on the south side of the building during the Soviet Era. It is three stories, with the first two about Kyrgyz history and the top floor unchanging since the soviet era highlighting the achievments of communism.
Panfilova ParkThis entertainment park is between the Parliament building and the White House. While sorely needing upkeep and renovation it harkens back to the old days. Beware, few of the rides lack any safety mechanisms.
Osh BazaarThis is the city's best known food bazaar where you can buy hundreds of different products from a fresh sheep's head to locally made korean pickled salads. While some guidebooks warn of pick-pockets, most find this a safe and rewarding visit.
Bishkek is a cheap place to learn Russian.
A private 1 1/2 hour lesson with a native Russian speaker should cost between $5-7US. Courses are also available at the American University and Kyrgyz-Slavonic University.
There is also a private school to cater to each student individually, The London School in Bishkek. This school is run by professionals and offer Russian and Kyrgyz to anyone at anytime of the year for as little as $3/hourUS.
There are many international organizations in Bishkek. There are occasional opportunities for persons who speak russian to find temporary or long-term work. Most internationals are recruited from abroad.
There are a number of English language schools that will employ native English speakers.
You must get one of the stylish Kyrgyz felt hats.
Traditional pattern on carpets is other souvenir from Kyrgyzstan. Usually, not cheap.
A typical kyrgyz meal will feature many starches including bread, rice, and potatoes. Most meals are centered around lamb or beef. Some of the more popular staples are "plov" a central aisan dish of lamb, rice, and carrots. Shashlyk, marinated and grilled lamb or beef, is popular all over the former soviet union and typically eatin with a voluminous amount of vodka.
There are a growing number of restaurants and cafes catering to more varied tastes.
There are hundreds of "Gamburger" stands which are a local adaptation to the American hamburger but share little in common. They are sliced gyro style meat served on a bun with cole-slaw, cucumber, mayonnaise, ketchup, and a couple of fries. They usually cost around 20 som (~$.50)
The most popular gamburger stand in Bishkek is at the corner of Sovietskaya and Kievskaya, across the street from the main post office. It is a popular area for local students to pick up a cheap meal and they even serve the rare chicken gamburger.
In addition, throughout the citys are numerous vendors selling "samsi", which are a puff baked pastry with beef or chicken and onions cooked inside. These are the staple of most local's lunch meal.
For a truly Soviet experience try the cafeterias of government ministries and universities. For under $1 USD you can experience true Soviet cafeteria food.
Fakir (Behind Bishkek City) provides authentic and safe local food. Popular with locals. Non-smoking areas available. Good sized portions and excellent prices. (~$2-4)
Faiza (Jibek Jolu) excellent local food frequented by locals. Great samsas and lagman. Dirt cheap. (~$2-4)
Cafe Starry Edgar Located behind the Russian Drama Theatre. This is one of the most popular places with the expat crowd. In the summer there is ample outdoor seating and in the winter, the bomb-shelter style location decorated in a nautical motife presents Bishkek's most original dining venue. The food is okay, but the house band has entertained generations of visitors.
Doka Pizza (corner of Akhunbaeva and Sovietskaya) It is possibly the most popular restaurant in Bishkek. It has regular entertainment and a menu featuring more than pizza. The shashlyk is also good here. ($5-7 USD)
Metro Pub' (Chui and Turizbekova) This is where the aid workers, embassy staff, miners, and contractors from the airbase all come together in the most international environment in Bishkek to down a pint and grab a decent meal. The staff are also quite popular and used to the flirting. They are especially crowded on St. Patrick's Day and Halloween. (~$5-7)
"Shao Lin (Jibek Jolu and Isanova) is one of the best known Chinese restaurants in Bishkek. The quality is up to most western standards, but tends to still be a little oily. The soups are especially large and better shared. (~$5-7)
Restaurant Adriatico (Chuy and Togolok Moldo) is owned by an Italian who imported his own italian chef. The prices are slightly higher, but the handmade mozarella and homemade gelato are well worth it. (~$15-20)
Bombay Restaurant has pretty good indian food, for about $5/dish. The chicken does not live up to expectations, but the samosas are good, and the mutton meals found here were quality. It is a nice break from Kyrgyz food.
Golden Bull (Chuy 209) has some nice dishes for about $5/dish. After the regular Kyrgyz food, steak cravers will enjoy the spicy steak, which has an Indian flavor but does not shy away from the meat. Also, a cold Heineken is a nice relief from strange Baltika beers.
Chili's Steak House astronomically priced steaks which are mediocre at best. Do not recommend.
For young and single people, Bishkek's nightlife is impressive. Foreigners are welcomed at most venues with open arms and many times do not pay a cover charge. Please note: Nightclubs can be very dangerous and you should be aware of your surroundings. Like anywhere else, keep a cool head and be especially careful of hanging outside of nightclubs. Most clubs have numerous buff and semi-professional security guards.
Golden Bull near the White House is one of the most popular nightclubs in Bishkek. Any night of the week you are guaranteed to find a large and lively crowd.
Fire and Ice Chui/Erkindik is another popular spot.
Promzona is a Russian rock establishment with a mostly Russian clientele. It closes by about 2AM on the weekends.
The south guest house is great. It's in a nice neighborhood away from the pollution and crime in the center. The owner is helpful and friendly. If it's crowded and you want some privacy, he'll put you up at his sister's house for about the same price.
Alpanist, Panfilov 113. The Alpanist is one of the best deals in town, for those willing to pay a bit more for a lot more luxury. $36 for a single, you get a very nice room, shower with consistent hot water, toilet with a strong enough flush for toilet paper, the nicer toilet paper (not the usual sandpaper), and yes, air conditioning! The highlight of this place for us, however, was the existance of English speaking CNN and BBC (even the MBA Business Center Hotel doesn't have this).
MBA Business Center Hotel, Panfilov 237 at Panfilov and Frunze. Large spacious rooms, $60 for single, $76 for double (breakfast included), filled with uncomfortable beds and showers with iffy hot and cold water pressure. However, the space makes up for the lack of comfort, and the staff is friendly.
Bishkek is not a particularly safe city at night. It is highly recommended against taking an unaccompanied stroll at night.
Stay out of the parks at night and avoid walking alone or in small groups at night.
At night, stay away from the area around and especially in front of the Dostuk hotel (where Heaven is located). The area is known for prostitution and crime.
DO NOT walk from nightclub to nightclub at night. Spend 100 som (about $2.50) for a taxi instead. Criminals wait outside the bars and clubs (especially the ones frequented by ex-pats), follow drunk ex-pats, and then rob them.
Above all, be careful in Bishkek. There's a lot of crime and foreigners are targeted.
Due to the extremely high rate of prostitution, there is a very high level of venereal diseases- please take precautions if having sexual contact.
For some, Bishkek is a little like Eastern Europe 20 years ago and for others, it is just a poor city with little character. Possibly somewhere in the middle lies the truth. Bishkek is not an old city and lacks few, if any, landmarks. For most travelers it is just a stop on the silk road to refresh supplies and return to the mountains. But, for many international workers and their visiting guests it is home.
Come with little expectations and you will be pleasantly surprised!
Bishkek Video Rental & Used Bookstore259 Prospect Chui - ph:996 503.928.016
They stock a large array of English language movies and used books and are located near the infamous Metro Pub. They will buy your used books. Open every day from 10-21:00 and until 22:00 on Friday/Saturdays.
Only thirty minutes away are 4,000 meter peaks of the Tien Shan (Celestial Mountains).
Al-Archa National Park This park goes the length of one of the most beautiful valleys and you can hike in several kilometers to a glacier. It also features a hotel and couple of small cafes. Taxi services can take you and wait a few hours for about 1000 soms ($25).