Travelling in Kyrgyzstan is getting easier every year, but it still requires an adventurous spirit and a bit of patience due to the lack of infrastructure outside of Bishkek.
To help you make the most of your trip, I'm going to share with you some of my best Kyrgyzstan travel tips.
Travelling in Kyrgyzstan does not have the same language challenges as travelling in China for example. However, it is important to remember that English is not widely spoken, save for tour agents and some guesthouse staff (certainly not all).
Outside of this it can be very hit and miss, and in truth, it's usually more of a miss. Knowing a small amount of Russian is extremely useful for guesthouses, transport and general communication.
It is better to bring 50-100 USD / Euro banknotes than the smaller ones. Because in exchange offices they may change them by a lower rate.
You will be able to access ATMs that accept foreign cards in Bishkek however it can be hit and miss outside of the capital, Karakol and Osh. It's best to bring some additional US dollars in cash just in case.
These can be converted to Kyrgyz Som at any bank in the country, however, do be aware that the dollars have to be in excellent condition.
TRANSPORTATION IN AND AROUND KYRGYZSTAN
The best way to get around Kyrgyzstan is by marshrutka or private taxi. Internal flights are most reliable between Bishkek and Osh and there is a limited train service but it's unreliable and inconvenient and in truth is best avoided.
The climate in our country is continental: it is cold in winter and hot in summer. However, if you are in a mountain area, the weather changes very fast. Especially over 3000m you can see 4 seasons in 1 day! Don’t be surprised if it snows in summertime, it happens quite often in the mountainsJ
Proceeding from the above, do not forget to bring warm waterproof and windproof jackets, raincoats, hats, gloves, scarfs and sweaters if your itinerary includes visiting of mountain area.
At the same time, bring your caps, sunglasses and sunscreen if you are coming in summer. It is easy to get a sunburn as well;)
And as you are coming to the mountainous country, you will need your trekking shoes and walking stick maybe.
There is no electricity in mountain area over 2 000m above sea level. There is a generator in yurt camps that is on normally from 7-8 to 10-11pm. This is when you can charge your phones and cameras.
The power socket in Kyrgyzstan is European type.
Do not worry about water quality in villages you visit and stay. Taking into consideration that it undergoes heat treatment, do not be afraid of drinking tea/coffee, eating soup etc. Concerning plain water, we always give to our clients bottled mineral water which is safe and very good for the health. However, it is not recommended to drink tap water.
During your transfers you might have a problem with absence or bad condition of WC. So sometimes it is better to use “open air” toilets. Please, be aware that the most of public toilets are “traditional” which means that you need to squat. Our guides and drivers usually know and try to stop at the places with good toilets (restaurants, petrol station).
Concerning the WC in homestays, please note that there is normally 1 toilet in 1 house to share. In yurt camps the toilet is outside and for use of the whole camp.
Safety & security
It is safe and secure if you decide to walk by your own in the city. The most of the hotels we offer to our guests are situated in city center where the streets are well lit. The rate of crime in our country is like everywhere in the world. Anyway, always choose light streets and be where people are.
Kyrgyz Republic is a secular country where everyone has right any religion or belief he prefers. However, 80-85 % of population are considered Muslims. But Islam in our country is totally different from Islam in Arabic countries. The reason is that before this religion came to the region local people used to practice animism (e.g. Tengrism – sky worship), totemism, shamanism, had an impact of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Bouddhism. Islam started to get spread in the area only by 10 century. That is why today Islam in Kyrgyzstan is presented in a “light” form. It means that only a small percentage of people are practicing Muslims – they pray 5 times a day, women are covered, they don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat pork etc. But the majority of population just celebrate religious holidays, fast during Ramadan, learn by heart Coran – that is it.
So you may wear what you want and don’t need to be covered. Only when you visit a mosque or a church women have to wear light coats (so there is no uncovered part of the body) and headscarf. Men entering the church, must take their hat off.
Another thing to note is visiting cemeteries. Foreigners like to take photos of graves because they are very different from the ones they used to see. As they are all situated in the countryside, locals do not like when the strangers walk there too long, talk to each other out loud, laugh. It is evident that might offend them because they do not want spirits of their family members to be bothered. It is okay if you just take a photo fast and quietly.
If you wish to buy some souvenirs, you can buy the leather / wooden / felt ones. These are the main materials used in making traditional souvenirs. Depending on where you come from, it might be even practical! For example, felt hats, scarfs and sleepers are ideal for cold winter. They are not just souvenirs, they are very popular among local people.