Bishkek

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Bishkek (population in 2009 approx. 835,000) is the capital and the largest city of the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan).

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Points of Interest

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  • Museum Museum
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Points of Interest in Bishkek

Bishkek is a pleasant city to wander with numerous leafy parks, tall trees, peppered by Soviet era statues and monuments. However there isn't a great deal to see beyond this, and the city can comfortably be 'done' in a day (or two if visiting the suburban markets). Note that most museums are closed on Mondays.

  • Ala-Too Square - The main city square is a vast expanse of concrete that ceased to be called Lenin square in 1991, and is the site of frequent political demonstrations and regular festivals. A statue of Lenin was the focal point until 2003, before he was banished to a much less conspicuous location behind the museum and replaced by a statue of Erkidik (freedom). At night many vendors set up photograph and karaoke booths, and there's a synchronised sound and light show in time with the fountains, however travellers should avoid visiting the square after dark. There is also a military monument with an hourly changing of guards.
  • National Historical Museum - This museum sits between Ala-Too Square and the Parliament building. On the south side is an enormous statue of Lenin that was moved from the north side of the building after the Soviet Era. The bottom story of this three floor museum displays seasonal exhibits, while the second highlights Soviet-era achievements during the Communist Era. The top floor showcases the history and culture of the Kyrgyz people. Entry costs 300 som. Closed Mondays.
  • Panfilov Park - While this park may be in need upkeep and renovation, it's a great look into the past when Kyrgyzstan was a part of the Soviet Union. Beware that few of the rides have any safety mechanisms, and the safety mechanisms they may appear to have are probably not functional. The ferris wheel offers a great view of the greater city.
  • Osh Bazaar - If you're looking for a fresh sheep's head, locally made Korean picked salad, shashlik or any other type of Kyrgyz snack, this is the city's best known food bazaar. Although it's certainly not Central Asia's most colourful bazaar, there are hundreds of products to choose from, especially in the spring and summer months when produce is fresh from farms in the outskirts of town. There is a separate clothes market south of the main produce bazaar. To get there you can take trolleybus 14 on Chuy, bus 20 or 24 on Kiev or 42 from Soviet. Like any crowded space, be wary of pick-pockets; however visiting the Osh Bazaar is a most and rewarding trip. There are also smaller markets including Alamedin Bazaar and Ortosay Bazaar, which are open daily but are at their largest and most interesting at weekends. Dordoy Bazaar is Central Asia largest market of imports, mostly from China.
  • M Frunze Museum, 364 Ul. Frunze (NE of Parliament (Look for cottage enclosed in government building)). This museum houses the home of General Mikhail Frunze, the World War II and civil war general born in Bishkek (of Moldovan parents) whose name Bishkek bore until the city was renamed after independence. There are many photos and displays of early Bishkek days from an era when it was mostly a Slavic city and few vehicles existed.

Ala-Too Square

National Historical Museum

American University of Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan White House

Parliament of Kyrgyz Republic

Panfilov Park

Manas Square

Osh Bazaar

Ala Archa National Park

Dordoy Market

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About Bishkek

History

Bishkek was founded when the Uzbek khan of Kokand built a small clay fort by a settlement on a tributary of the Chuy River in 1825, to connect up several stop-off points on the Silk Road through the Tian Shah mountains. In 1862 it was captured and trashed by Russians, before they set up their own garrison. Russian peasants were soon lured here by land grants and the fertile soil of the Chuy Valley.

The renamed town of Frunze became capital of the new Kyrgyz ASSR in 1926, but it was renamed Bishkek (the Kyrgyz form of its old Kazakh name, Pishpek) in 1991.

Activities

  • You can buy tickets (80 som) for the Zhirgal Banya (baths) from the ticket office around the side. There's a sauna, ice-cold pool, and for an extra 200 som an attendant will lather you up, scrub you and then hose you down. For those into a little bit of self-flogging, birch branches are available free.
  • If you want to swim, the Karven Club has an outdoor pool which is perfect for a blistering summer's day, and there's a also a modern gym and fitness centre. For one hour it's 400 som but it's much better value to pay 500 for a whole day of use and hang around for as long as you like.

Food

A typical Kyrgyz meal will feature starchy foods like bread, rice, and potatoes, usually centered around some sort of meat, usually lamb, mutton or beef or even sometimes horse meat. Some of the more popular staples are plov, a Central Asian dish consisting of a bed of rice cooked in oil, topped with lamb or mutton, shredded carrots, and occasionally whole garlic cloves. Shashlyk, a marinated and grilled lamb, mutton or beef kebab, is popular all over the former Soviet Union and is typically eaten with bread, raw onion slices, a voluminous amount of vodka. Samsas, much like the Indian samosa, are available at roadside stands across the city. Usually these are cooked in a tandoor oven as a puff-baked pastry and filled with onions, mutton and mutton fat.

The national dish of Kyrgyzstan is called besh barmak (literally: five fingers, because the dish is eaten with one's hands). It usually consists of horse meat, although sometimes mutton or beef is substituted in, that has been boiled and served mixed with homemade noodles. A sheep's head is usually served alongside it. If you can land an invitation to a wedding in Bishkek, you'll most likely get a chance to eat besh barmak, although you can also find it are traditional restaurants.

Russian dishes are also fairly ubiquitous in Bishkek because of the large number of ethnic Russians who still live in the city. There are an also growing number of restaurants and cafes catering to more varied tastes.

Uyghur food is popular and fit the taste of many westerners as well as locals. E.g. the chain Arzu have a few restaurants.

Budget

There are hundreds of stands that sell gamburgers, a local adaptation of hamburgers but really share little in common: they are sliced döner kebab-style meat served on a bun with cole-slaw, cucumber, mayonnaise, ketchup and some chips. They usually cost around 60 som. One of the most popular gamburger stands in Bishkek is at the corner of Sovietskaya and Kievskaya, across the street from the main post office. It's a popular area for local students to pick up a cheap meal, and they even serve the rare chicken hamburger.

Throughout the city are a lot of street-side vendors selling samsis, which is a staple of most locals' lunch. The green kiosks opposite the Philharmonic Hall ticket office sell some of the freshest, cheapest and best prepared in Bishkek and they are popular with students from the nearby universities. You can usually find a row of shashlyk grills inside any bazaar or just outside any chaykhana (teahouse).

For some pre-independence nostalgia, try the cafeterias of government ministries and universities. For about one US dollar you can experience what it was like to eat Soviet-style cafeteria food.

  • Fakir - (Behind Bishkek City shopping mall) Provides authentic and safe traditional Kyrgyz food and is very popular with locals. Good sized portions and excellent prices. Open for lunch and dinner. Beer and non-smoking areas available. (80-160 som)
  • Faiza - (Jibek Jolu) Excellent local food frequented by locals. Great samsas and laghman (noodles). Dirt cheap. (80-160 som)
  • Watari, found on Frunze 557, serves delicious udon noodles, curries and soups and the numbers of Japanese expats that frequent this restaurant is a testimony to the quality of its food.

Mid-range

  • Dragon's Den, 5557 Frunze St. Across from Grand Hotel - Great food at great prices and a great expat hang-out, menu offers both great European and local favourites as well (dragonsdenbishkek@gmail.com)
  • Alabama Steak House - (on Baitik Baatyr (formerly Sovietskaya) - opposite Fizpribori) Steak house in Bishkek, it offers a wide range of steaks (~200-600), as well as an extensive menu of Georgian and European cuisine (~150-250). The bar has a good selection of whiskey and wines and is well stocked with other elite drinks. TV-Sports on a 98 inch screen. Their website has an English version where the menu and the bar list are available, as well as the schedule of sport events. [6]
  • Cafe Stari Edgar - Located behind the Russian Drama Theatre; this is one of the most popular places with expas. In the summer, there is ample outdoor seating and in the winter, the bomb-shelter style building decorated in a nautical motif is Bishkek's most original dining venue. The food tends to be average, but the house band has entertained generations of visitors.
  • Aria - One block south of Vefa Center, this Iranian-owned restaurant serves good Iranian and Turkish dishes while also offering Russian fare. The multi-flavored kalyan-hookahs attract a varied, hipster-like crowd.
  • Cyclone Italian Restaurants - (136 Chui) Less expensive than the more upscale Adriatico, it features an extensive menu. It specializes in dishes featuring fresh veal, which is not in short supply in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. (~250-350 som)
  • Dolce Vita Pizza - (on Akhunbaeva, to the east of Manas, about one block) Possibly the best pizza available in Bishkek. Its thin crust is baked in an open-fire oven; there is also a whole range of Italian dishes and pastas. (~250-380 som)
  • Buddha Bar - (corner of Akhunbaeva and Sovietskaya) Possibly the most popular restaurant in Bishkek. Regular entertainment and a menu featuring other dishes than pizza and sushi; shashlyk is also good here. The menu is in English. (~210-300 som)
  • Mexican Cantina, 158 Prospekt Chu/Isanova (Between Beta Stores and UN House),  (312) 610823. 11:30-22:00. Mexican restaurant in Bishkek. Real chips and salsa served when you sit down. Burritos, tacos, enchiladas, carnitas, gazpacho are served. 150-300soms.
  • Metro Pub - (Chui and Turizbekova) This is where international aid workers, embassy staff, mining personnel and Manas Airport contractors come for a pint and a decent meal. Especially crowded on St. Patrick's Day and Halloween. (~210-300 som)
  • Pirogoff-Vodkin Restaurant (Kievskaya St 107, near intersection with Toglok Moldo),  312-61-28-75. Authentic Russian high cuisine served in a tsarist-era setting. And as expected a full vodka list.
  • Shao Lin - (Jibek Jolu and Isanova) 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 - better to be shared. (~210-300 som)

Splurge

  • Four Seasons Restaurant - (across from the Hyatt) Delicious food with a large selection of European and Asian cuisine. Outside dining is available in the summer. Live music year-round, baby-sitting for the kids, and popular with foreign dignitaries. While it's not to be confused with the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City, it's a great dining experience nonetheless.

Drinks

Cafes

There are a few coffee shops in Bishkek that even feature wi-fi.

  • Kafe Coffee - two locations- 9 Manas Ave/South of Moskovskaya & 40/1 Togolok Moldo, which is south of the City Sports Hall towards Chui. Both locations serve a variety of non-alcoholic, heavily caffeinated drinks and feature free Wi-fi. The Togolok Moldo site also has outdoor seating. As of May 2010, The Kafe Coffee located on Manas uses the SAIMA CARD - a pay system of Wi-fi.
  • Sierra Coffee - Opened in Spring of 2012-57/1 Manas, next to the Russian Embassy, between Kiev and Toktogula, has brought a near "Starbucks" experience to Bishkek. Excellent coffee and coffee specialist drinks. Good breakfasts, sandwiches and wraps. Free WiFi. Counter service by English speaking staff. A place to network and to meet other English speakers. Sierra also roasts their own coffee, offering fresh roasted coffee for sale in a variety of origins and roasts.
  • Kafeman - (Isanava/Chui, south of Beta Stores) This recently renovated cafe used to be Bar 2x2 but as of July 2012 is an upmarket cafe also selling alcoholic drinks and also has an outdoor seating area.

Bars

For young and single people, Bishkek's nightlife is impressive. Foreigners are welcomed at most venues with open arms, and many times they do not need to pay a cover charge. See the "Stay Safe" section for more on how be aware while you're having fun in Bishkek.

  • 12 Bar (Razakova Str. 32). Set atop one of higher buildings this makes a great place for a rooftop drink. A plush place where Bishkek's young and wealthy go to see and be seen - hence good idea to dress up at least a little. Drinks around $2-4 a pop.
  • Fire and Ice - (Chui and Erkindik) This popular, Pakistani-owned disco near the Bishkek city center is located right above a bowling alley.
  • Retro Metro - You'll find the DJ spinning from inside a the front section of a tube train engine (hence the name). The 80s kitsch is a popular spot for really late night partying.
  • Promzona - A trendy Russian rock establishment with a mostly Russian clientèle. Jazz musicians play on Tuesdays with rock and blues acts on the weekends. Check out their extensive drink menu. 600 soms entry fee.
  • Sweet 60s - (Molodaya Gvardia and Kievskaya; near cinema Oktyabr) Live music everyday, with jazz evenings on Wednesday and Sunday.
  • Golden Bull - (On Chuy, next to the White House. Enter from the back yard of another building.) 300 som for entrance. Beers cost 200 som. the new staff are not that friendly as it used to. Do not go alone in any condition.
  • GQ Exclusive night club -(Location: пр. Чуй, Phone (551) 44 44 11) Located by Sonaba not far from the Sports complex and movie theater. Upscale night club with dancing girls on the stages. Opaque floors that light up for ambience with the music. There's also a show at the bar where they light the bar on fire. Generally 500 soms entry unless you make connections.

National Drinks

There are many national drinks which are very healthy. Kymyz is a fermented dairy product traditionally made from mare's milk. Kymyz is a dairy product similar to kefir, but is produced from a liquid starter culture, in contrast to the solid kefir "grains". So, it is advised to taste Kymyz, during spring and summer seasons. Also, try the slightly fizzy wheat drink called "shoro," sold at stands around the city. It is reportedly a hangover cure.

Shopping

If you want to fit in with the locals, be sure to get one of the stylish Kyrgyz felt hats (kalpaks) worn mainly by men. You can also get textiles such as traditional patterned carpets (shyrdaks), which are well-made but can be expensive. For cheap souvenirs, avoid the Tsum department store and head directly for the Osh Bazaar. You may have to dig around the stalls as there isn't as much variety or quality as in Tsum, but the prices can be far cheaper if you put your bargaining skills to the test.

  • 56′ 0″ N&lon=74° 37′ 15″ E&zoom=17&layer=O&lang=en&name=Bishkek   Dor Doi Bazaar (Dordoy) (10 mins outside the city towards north east.). Open air market with hundreds of double stack shipping containers. It's divided into multiple sections based on the types and origins of goods.
  • Geoid, Kiev 107 (entrance on the left side, coordinates: 42 52.524/74 35.629). Geoid sells maps for trekking 1:200'000 and overview maps 1:1'000'000. 150-300som.
  • DVDs & Software @ Tsum, Chuy 155. Cheap DVDs and Software at the 3.floor
  • Zum Department Store. Mobile phones, clothing, wine, souvenirs, tobacco, make-up, electronics. This shopping mall is located in the centre of town off of Chui street. Complete with Mastercard and Visa ATMs, Zum also displays a great selection of food stands, just outside. Like anywhere in Bishkek, don't be afraid to haggle

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Bishkek on Wikivoyage.

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