Lydia Berg spends a lot of her time exploring new places and sharing her discoveries on the New York Big Apple Travel blog.
Tired of the same old vacation spots? Get out of your comfort zone with a trip to Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is a country stuck in the corner created by the western border of China and the southern border of Kazakhstan and comprised mostly of an enormous mountain range. Read on for more details on how to visit!
Arrival in Bishkek
For all intents and purposes, Bishkek is the only actual city in Kyrgyzstan. Flying into it, you can tell that it's a former Soviet territory. You do not need to apply for a visa before traveling, however you do have to get one upon arrival. Something to note is that English isn't very useful there. The national language is Kyrgyz, but lingua-franca is Russian, and a lot of business is also conducted in German, which was popularized by German refugees from the two world wars. While quite a few people can communicate a little bit in English, it's not a go-to international language the way that it is in Europe. A large part of the population is still nomadic or dispersed into rural areas.
The country is rugged and mountainous and makes for some pretty incredible backpacking, as long as you're okay with being a very long way from help if you run into trouble. There are lots of pristine landscapes to explore and mountain peaks to scale.
Kyrgyzstan is a very cheap place to spend your time. If you avoid Western restaurants you can easily eat for less than it would cost to buy a halfway decent hot dog while traveling in New York City. Taxis are 25 cents a mile, and beer is less than a dollar a pint. Hotels are only a little bit cheaper than in the States, but you get a lot more bang for your buck. A room normally will run you $50 to $100 per night. Backpacking in the mountains is a cheaper alternative. Also, finding a place to stay cheaply in a smaller village in the country isn't out of the question provided you have a local to help you find such tourist-friendly areas.
There are lots of tiny villages with their own cultures dotting the landscape. You can visit a German-speaking town and have some Bavarian sausage with a beer one day, and then go for some fermented horse milk from your local nomadic Kyrgyz family (I did not actually try that stuff, it smells abominable). There are a large number of small minority groups, all of which have their own unique flavor, making Kyrgyzstan a place that just keeps coming with the new and interesting.
Kyrgyzstan is a wild and primal type of country. Despite the political strife of the last few years there is a growing tourist industry. The thriving nomadic tradition adds a unique experience for a Western traveler that can only be found in very few places in the world, most of which don't make as enjoyable of an experience. This is not to say that the rest of central Asia isn't culturally rich, but the mountains help to protect Kyrgyzstan from the cold north wind, allowing even those who aren't used to harsh climates to come and see.
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