Tips for driving Kyrgyzstan

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I spent 2 weeks road tripping through the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, a former republic of the USSR. There are going to be 2 posts about Kyrgyzstan. The first is “tips” and the second part is the actually story and what we did.

The rundown:
Kyrgyzstan is known for it’s beautiful mountains and lakes. It’s also one of the poorest countries in Central Asia. It’s capital is Bishkek, and it’s second largest city is Osh, located near the Uzbekistan border. Most of the country remains nomadic. Although they do get tourists, it’s a lot less touristy than Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.


I traveled with my cousin Max. When planning our trip, we decided to rent a car since we had limited time and wanted to see as much of Kyrgyzstan as we could. In addition, if you take public transportation, you generally have to go back to the capital city of Bishkek each time. So for example, our trip would look something like this: Bishkek to Cholpon Alta back to Bishkek then to Naryn, back to Bishkek, than to Osh. For us, this would be a huge time loss. So driving our own rental car, seemed more practical for us.

Some pointers for those who are brave enough to drive, and then some !!:
+ Highways on the map often end up really being dirt roads.
+ One time we discovered our road was just wheel imprints in a valley of grass.
+ They ARE highways. Just Kyrgyz highways.
+ There’s a path from Naryn to Kazarman that you SHOULD NOT TAKE. Make sure to ask around before you leave.
+ There are no road signs indicating anything.
+ Don’t drive at night. It’s possible, but they’re no road lights.
+ If you arrive early enough, you can usually stop at a CBT office, and ask for a guest house. I assume they can book up, but we went in late August and they were never booked up.
+ CBT is Community Based Tourism, which benefits the local people.
+ The people are pretty relaxed. If you want to do a horse backing trip and the people aren’t really answering all of your questions, it’s normal. Just show up the day before and you’re set.
+ The people of Kyrgyzstan are some of the nicest I’ve met. They mean well. They will invite you into their homes, feed you Cumis (fermented horse milk), help you find your way, help you change your tire, you name it. I almost always felt safe in Kyrgyzstan (maybe even more so than America!!!) Except sometimes on the roads. Only one road. The false road between Naryn to Osh.
+ The country is very poor, but the people seem happy. It just solidifies the idea that money doesn’t buy happiness. Family and friends do. And they stick close with family and friends.
+ In Central Asia, it’s customary to bring a gift when you stay in someone’s home. Even when people would help us out we tried to give them something in return. Bring something from your homeland, maybe candies or soap, to give out! (Something you can bring a lot of) We usually only had fresh/dried fruit and nuts, but it was well appreciated.
+ If a drive says 3 hours? Make it 5. These roads don’t play.

Beware of the Police! & other traffic rules
+ The police in Bishkek are pretty frequent. Remember, go 60km/hr in cities and 90km/hr on highways. Keep your lights on always.
+ When you see the city sign, you are in the city. Don’t just think that because it looks like a highway, it’s a highway.
+ If the police get angry, (like they did with us) call your car rental guy. Azamat, our car rental guy, was really helpful when it came to that.
+ + + We google translated and there was an error that had some curse words by accident. The officers went livid.
+ If the police charges you, never give more than 500 som (~7usd). If they ask more, they’re ripping you off.
+ + + The police can be corrupt. If they notice you’re a foreigner they might charge you more. A lot of times you can just pay them off and keep driving. Azamat told us that the last car renters paid 3000 som(~43usd) when being pulled over for not having their lights on.

How do I get from the Airport to my hostel/Guesthouse/Couchsurfing Host/Hotel:
+ Download the app 2GIS and download the city Bishkek PRIOR to arriving to Bishkek.
+ When you click directions by public transportation, it will list a bunch of busses to get to where you want to go. Then, when the pesky taxi drivers constantly follow you around, you can say “Dasveydanya!” (“goodbye” in Russian)
+ The price difference will be miraculous, although if you have a ton of bags maybe it would be better for a taxi.
+ If you want $20 off your next hotel/hostel use my booking link!

Vegetarian in Kyrgyzstan??
+ Vegetarians are not welcome!! Just kidding. But bring food with you on your journey if you are. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with bread. I’m pretty sure we would go 10 hours without eating just because there were no places to eat. If there were, it would be Shashlik ( skewered meat). If you want to ask in Russian “biz myaca” means “no meat” Sometimes they just don’t consider chicken meat too. + In Osh and Bishkek you will be fine as there are many Western Cafes that have Vegetarian choices..

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