I was born in Bishkek, a fascinating city and the capital of Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia. Now, we live in Belgium and the last time I had gone back to Bishkek was almost 12 years ago. So, this year we decided to spend a couple of weeks there for my cousin’s wedding and just to rediscover the city. Keep reading to find out more about this amazing trip.
Ala Archa National Park
One of the most beautiful places near Bishkek is definitely the Ala Archa National Park. It’s a breathtaking, alpine park in the Tian Shan mountains, and is located approximately 40 km south of the city. The park covers about 200 km², and there are more than 20 small and large glaciers and around 50 mountain peaks.
It is home to 40 species of mammals, among which the snow leopard, and more than 163 types of birds. And the amazing thing is that the squirrels and some birds are absolutely not afraid of people. They just come up to you and the birds can even sit on you.
If you ever get the opportunity to travel to Kyrgyzstan, you simply must visit this gorgeous park. You will love the beautiful nature and the clean, fresh air. It’s a remarkable experience!
My second favourite place when visiting Kyrgyzstan is lake Issyk-Kul, which means warm lake; named like that because it never freezes, even though it’s surrounded by snow-capped peaks. The lake is located in the northern Tian Shan mountains. It’s the seventh deepest lake in the world, the tenth largest one by volume, and the second largest salt lake after the Caspian Sea.
It’s a little far from Bishkek, about 261 km by car or approximately 3,5 hours of driving. But if you can spare a day or two, it will be totally worth it. You can take a boat ride and enjoy the magnificent view of the lake and the mountains.
On the road, you can enjoy some great food in one of the many restaurants that you’ll find in Kyrgyzstan. On our way to the lake, we made a stop at the restaurant Barashek (little sheep), where I had a delicious, Uyghur dish called boso lagman, which is basically home-made stirfried noodles with vegetables and meat.
As you can see on the picture, my dish was without meat, but that’s only because I had it removed. That was one of the only problems I had during my trip: the food. You should know that the food in Kyrgyzstan is based primarily on meat, and because I’m a pescatarian, it was a little tricky sometimes.
So, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, keep in mind that finding good and suitable food is not going to be easy. I eat sea products and even I had trouble finding something decent to eat. Unfortunately, the people are also not as open-minded as you’d want them to be. For many of them, it’s hard to understand why someone doesn’t want to eat meat. Don’t hold it against them, it’s just a whole cultural thing.
But if you do find something you can eat, it’s going to be totally worth the trouble. Trust me, these people know their food. You can get many traditional and original dishes, delicious salads and the best desserts you’ve ever had, and it’s all absolutely affordable. By the way, once you’ve tasted the traditional lepeshki, it will be the only bread you’ll want to have.
Dordoy Bazaar & Street Snacks
In Bishkek, one of the most authentic places is probably the Dordoy Bazaar. It’s a large wholesale and retail market, and one of Asia’s greatest public market places. You will find practically everything there. Most of the goods come from China or Turkey, and they’re not exactly of high-quality, so I don’t recommend buying a lot there. It’s really just a fun place to visit as a tourist.
Another typical thing you will find in Bishkek are the snacks sold in the street, such as these dried fruit rolls. They don’t cost much, they’re fun to eat, and unlike many western snacks, they’re quite natural and not bad for your health.
The whole business is not exactly eco-friendly, of course, because they use a terrible amount of plastic bags and disposable containers. But for many people there, it’s really just a way to make a living, so I guess it’s kind of hard to judge them.
Hawaii | Restaurant & Park
Besides beautiful nature, Bishkek has some fun and modern places. The restaurant/park Hawaii is one of them. You can take a nice stroll there, and have your food in a restaurant or on a boat surrounded by swans. They offer traditional and pretty good meals. The service is, unfortunately, not the greatest. We had to wait quite a long time for our food and they even forgot a couple of dishes.
Another thing that I personally didn’t like about the restaurants in Bishkek is that they don’t bring the main dishes at the same time. For example, if five people order something, three of them will get their food and the other two will get it once the others have basically finished. In Hawaii, I finally got my main course when everyone was done. I’m not used to that, so it was kind of uncomfortable, but apparently it happens pretty often in restaurants there.
As for the rest of the park, it’s really beautiful. There are some fascinating statues and lovely fountains, and even a hotel. It’s kind of like a private, hidden land on the road.
Some of my favourite statues were these Chinese horoscope symbols. If you didn’t know yet that 2020 is going to be the year of the rat, now you do. You’re welcome! I also found out that the year 2023 is going to be all about me. Looking forward to that already.
There was one thing I absolutely didn’t like about Hawaii, though. They have a small zoo, with many different animals who don’t have enough space. It was really sad to see them, so please don’t visit that area. Sadly enough, Asia is not too big on animal rights, but if tourists avoid the zoo, maybe they’ll consider putting something else there.
The New Tsum & Dordoi Plaza Shopping Malls
Shopping malls have become a real trend in Bishkek the last couple of years. These give the city a modern and more western look, which is the main idea behind them, I guess. The stores and restaurants in the malls are also more European styled, with an East Asian touch, of course.
One of the newest malls, the New Tsum, actually opened while we were still there. If you’re looking for luxury brand clothing, like Karl Lagerfeld or Liu Jo, that’s the place to be. In fact, people in Bishkek are getting increasingly interested in original brand clothing from Europe and the US, so the stores are definitely adapting.
Besides stores, you can find really good food in these shopping malls. In Dordoi Plaza, for example, we had some delicious brunches in Bellagio Coffee and in Social Pizza. The food is more western and a little lighter, which is great if you’re a picky eater or have a sensitive stomach. For me personally, grabbing a bite in a mall was a nice break from the heavy and mostly meat-based traditional dishes. Don’t get me wrong, their traditional food is great, but if you’re not used to it, it can be a little much.
So, that’s about it for my trip to the fascinating city of Bishkek. I hope you enjoyed the post and found the information somewhat useful. Kyrgyzstan is a really beautiful and interesting country. If you get the opportunity to visit it, go for it!