We made it to China! Two days ago we crossed the Irkeshtam border which was quite an adventure on its own. More about that in the next post. First it’s time for the report on Kyrgyzstan where we stayed for 5 weeks exactly. It has been a time with many highlights in a beautiful country that we knew little about beforehand. We have climbed mountains, swum in the lakes, rode horses, slept in yurts, ate lots of kuurdak and plov, had way too many vodka’s and made some new friends. We had a great time.
We arrived from Istanbul in the middle of the night and when we drove from the airport into a rainy Bishkek, one of the first thing we noticed is that most of the supermarkets were still open. At 4 in the morning! There were more things we had to get used to: the traffic, the ugly buildings, the lack of pavements, or street lighting, no knife with your food… But it’s remarkable how quick one adapts and after a day or two we knew our way around and Carina could even figure out the Russian writing.
But Kyrgyzstan isn’t exactly famous for its cities so it was time to go explore the country side. We headed for Bokonbaev on the south shore of the Issyk Kul lake. This spot was originally not on our list but we found out there was the so-called “bird of prey festival” in a couple of days. In the Bel Tam yurt camp we met some great people from Berlin whom we spend a couple of relaxing days at the lake with. And after that we even joined them on a horse trek to the Song Kul lake, another beautiful place. We were only about 10 days in Kyrgyzstan now and yet we had seen so many amazing scenery already.
We said goodbye to our German friends and went to Cholpon Ata for a couple of days on the beach. Unfortunately it started to rain after the first day so we moved on to Karakol to organize the 4-day trek to the Ala Kol lake. Maybe the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done. Having had so many highlights in only 3 weeks time, we decided to slow down a bit. We returned to Cholpon Ata for another two days at the beach before going back to Bishkek. It was strange to notice that we liked Bishkek much better during our second visit.
In Bishkek we met Justus (from Mostar) again as well as Mario and Olga. We had an epic vodka night and a lovely Italian dinner before we continued our journey. From Bishkek we travelled south, first to Arslanbob for a bit of apple hunting with Justus and his friends Anya and Eliza. From Arslanbob we travelled to Osh where we ended up staying for 6 days because we had to readjust our plan for China. Those extra days were exactly what we needed. We had to have some rest to get ready for a new adventure.
Total days = 35
Total spent = €1700 = €48,57 per day (for 2 persons)
Which can be divided into the following categories:
Trips & Tours are the costs that had to do with the trekkings like transportation, hiring guides and renting horses or camping gear. A porter/guide is about 2000 som per day (€32).
In Kyrgyzstan we stayed ample within budget and we even compensated the amount we went over budget in our first weeks in Europe.
Note: In Kyrgyzstan there are only a couple of banks that accept the Maestro bank cards. For the rest you need a Visa card. Something to remember when visiting this country!
We had already bought the plane tickets from Istanbul to Bishkek a couple of months ago so they are not included in the breakdown. The price of the ticket was €230 per person (Turkish Airlines)
The places we stayed
I’m not going to mention all the yurts and home stays we stayed at. Also because I wouldn’t even remember their names or addresses (if they even have that). Most of the time you arrange a home stay at one of the CBT (Community Based Tourism) offices that you will find in some places around the country. It costs 500 som (€8) per person per night including breakfast. Lunch or dinner is 250 som (€4) per person. So it’s cheap but considering the standards at some places it’s still a bit overpriced in my opinion. Anyway, most of the time there’s simply no other option (unless you bring your own tent). And since it’s community based the money goes directly to the locals which is good.
The guesthouses we stayed at:
- Bishkek – Interhouse. They are on booking.com and that’s why lots of people go there on their first visit. So it’s a good place to meet other travelers and make plans for the rest of your stay in the country. With 30 USD for a double with shared bathroom (we had a tiny room) it’s not exactly cheap but still one of the better options in Bishkek. And they have decent internet too.
- Cholpon Ata – Angelina’s guesthouse (500 som / €8 per person per night without breakfast). Simple but clean room on a good location near the centre and near the beach. They have a nice courtyard with some fruit trees.
- Karakol – Altamyra Guesthouse (600 som per person per night incl. breakfast). Very nice and modern rooms with private bathroom. One of the best places we stayed. They have wi-fi too but that wasn’t very reliable.
- Bishkek – Bed & Breakfast. Very nice and modern rooms on a very central location. Prices are 20 USD per person incl. breakfast. Shared bathroom. Free wi-fi.
In Kyrgyzstan you move around in either a marshrutka or a shared taxi. A marshrutka is (mostly) a Mercedes bus that seats about 20 people (but crams in another 10 if needed). A shared taxi is a big car or minivan that has place for 6 people max so that’s the more luxurious option. Which means it’s slightly more expensive. A shared taxi is faster too but that’s because it stops less (they all drive like crazy anyway).
The marshrutkas have a fixed price and for a shared taxi you will have to negotiate. The normal procedure is to just show up at the bus station or the bazaar (which is often the same thing) and tell someone where you want to go. Then the word goes around and people show up offering their price. Which is double the price you should pay so bargain hard.
What we paid:
- Bishkek – Bokonbaev: 400 som (shared taxi)
- Bokonbaev – Kochkor: 350 som (shared taxi)
- Kochkor – Balykchy: 200 som (taxi)
- Balykchy – Cholpon Ata: 100 som (marshrutka)
- Cholpon Ata – Karakol: 150 som (marshrutka)
- Karakol – Cholpon Ata: 200 som (shared taxi)
- Cholpon Ata – Bishkek: 350 som (shared taxi)
- Bishkek – Toktogul: 600 som (shared taxi)
- Toktogul – Bazaar Korgon: 280 som (marshrutka)
- Bazaar Korgon – Arslanbob: 200 som (shared taxi)
- Arslanbob – Bazaar Korgon: 55 som (marshrutka)
- Bazaar Korgon – Jalal Abad: 30 som (marshrutka)
- Jalal Abad – Osh: 120 som (marshrutka)
- Osh – Sary Tash: 250 som (marshrutka)
All prices per person. 100 som = €1,60
There were many highlights in Kyrgyzstan but the one that stands out most for me is the trekking to the Ala Kol lake. I have enjoyed every single step (well, maybe except the steep descend) and now I know I have to do that kind of treks more often.
That must have been the morning that we decided we had to stay in Osh and readjust our plan for China. It wasn’t that decision exactly but the fight I had afterwards with Carina. The reason was plain stupid but we were both so agitated that it ended up in a big argument. Apparently we were exhausted from moving to another place every 2 or 3 days. The good thing was that we now had a couple of days to rest and get organized again.
426 pictures. Check out the photo album for our finest selection.
Or, for a quick overview, see the 4-minute slide show: