Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan and its bustling streets, filled with cafes and markets, can be a real shock if you’ve just emerged from a few days in high mountain pastures. On the other hand, it’s a great place to relax while you get your visa renewed and stock up on supplies for the next adventure.
If you’re fighting bureaucracy on all sides, trying to get onward visas and facing a long wait, you’ll meet plenty of other travellers to commiserate with. A change of scene is no bad thing after a few days so consider a trek to the nearby Ala-Archa nature reserve. It’s about 40km straight up from Bishkek but the climb is reasonably gentle and easily managed on a lightly loaded bike. Take a tent so you can have a mini-break from the city for a night or two, while still being only a quick run downhill by bike if you need to zip back.
Sleeping: Word of mouth has helped make the family-run Nomads Home the hottest backpacker spot in Bishkek. You can pitch a tent in their garden (130 Som per person) or take a dorm bed (200 Som) in the yurt, with full access to a kitchen and plenty of space to chill out around the garden. There are also two private rooms. The information book has great tips on applying for visas and getting around Central Asia. It’s directly behind the Eastern bus station, only a few minutes from the centre by bicycle or public transport. Our only reservation is about the single shower. When all the beds are full, you may face a long wait for a morning wash. There are no signs to Nomads Home so make sure you look at their site for the map.
Self-catering: The Turkish supermarket Beta is the most popular choice in Bishkek. It’s right downtown on the main street, Chuy Prospektisi, and there you can find a wide selection of food including divine cakes and fresh bread in the bakery. Prices are generally very competitive aside from the produce section, which is still outdone by the outdoor markets.
Another popular chain is Nerabotin. They’re all over the city but slightly more expensive than most markets and Beta stores.
To go fruit and vegetable shopping, you could take a minibus to Osh Bazaar but it’s not really necessary to go so far unless you want to explore the whole market. For most foods, try a small bazaar just off the corner of Soviet and Moskva streets. Turn left at the intersection if you’re walking south, towards the mountains.
If you’re staying at Nomads Home, take the short walk to Alamedin Bazaar. Just turn left on Jibek Jolu and walk a couple hundred meters to the next intersection. If you look to your right you’ll see the market. There are several sections selling food but the biggest is right in the middle in a covered hall. There you’ll find produce, meat, fish, cheese, spices, noodles and just about anything else you could want. You can even find bike boxes here if you’re heading to the airport and many stalls with simple bicycle parts.
Eating out: The simple Russian-style cafeteria attached to the Nerabotin store on the corner of Manas and Chuy makes a central and cheap lunchtime dining option.
Just across the street is a cafe with plenty of outdoor tables under Baltika beer umbrellas. There is a very friendly english-speaking waitress here and prices are quite reasonable. It’s no problem to ask for vegetarian versions of the menu options.
Staying connected: Internet access can be found everywhere in Bishkek. One popular and reliable chain is called Shmeli (roughly translated from the cyrillic) and their black and yellow bee-themed stores are easy to spot all over town. They charge 40 Som an hour for internet access and it is easy to hook up your USB stick to the computers. Wifi is available in some cafes but it usually costs an astronomical $6-10 U.S. an hour. The `free` wifi zones on the fourth floor of Zum and in some cafes only allow access to limited websites and aren`t really useful.