Bishkek could either be called a big town or a small metropolis. With around 0.7 million inhabitants (equal to Amsterdam), newcomers are bound to notice a popular culture concentrated in the compact city centre which offers everything multi-million cities have as well: restaurants from basic to haute cuisine many of which are open around the clock, shopping centres offering merchandise varying from plain to up-market, bars and clubs for young and old, theatres, concert halls and museums for the cultural lot. In all, for all, Bishkek has it all.

How to get around

Most of Bishkek’s attractions are centred within a limited and walkable area, between Manas (formerly Mira) Avenue to the west, Moskovskaya Street to the south, Gogolya Street to the east, and Zhibek Zhol (Silk Route) Avenue to the north. Within this range, Chuy Avenue (named after the river that flow alongside Bishkek) former Sovietskaya (nov Baytik Baatyr) Street which crosses it where the city post office is, and Kievskaya Street which runs parallel on its southern side, and Ala-Too Square together make up for the pounding heart if Bishkek.

Eating and drinking

A typical Kyrgyz meal will feature starchy foods like bread, rice, and potatoes, usually centred 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. As for beverages, one can choose between the traditional Central-Asian kumiss (fermented mare milk), the inevitable vodka and “cognac” (brandy) – apart from European wines which most restaurants and bars serve, although the price often fails to justify the quality.

Uppity shopping

Bishkek has a number of new shopping malls scattered over the city centre – most of which are rather up-market. One of them is called Bishkek Park, on the corner of Kievska and Manas Streets, a brand new shopping center which makes you feel in a European capital. Bowling tracks and a nice skating ring available plus all sorts of mainstream brends and products. The pace is a popular hang out of internationals and local high class
The central department store is called Tsum, having kept its Soviet name, and offers a wide variety of merchandise affordable for most westerners and Kyrgyz elite. A cheaper place to buy household needs is in the basement, The Tsum harbours boutiques, souvenir and artifact stores, computer and household equipment stores and, on the ground floor, the indispensable cellphone and related gadget shops. It is also the best place to get a local simcard which renders local telephone calls extremely economical. Many shopkeepers and staff of cellphone service centres can communicate in English.

“Vernacular” shopping

For those who are fascinated by oriental life, from Morocco to China, the obvious place to go is the popular bazaar. For the less adventurous, , there is a flee market right behind the Tsum, prices of which, however, are on the upper side. 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.
On the outskirts of Bishkek, on a detour from the road that leads to the border with Kazakhstan, ther is the Dordoi Bazaar, which offers local, Indian and Chinese clothes, perfumes, food and spices, apart from tools, equipment and what else one may need to keep one’s household running, as well as Soviet-style military clothing (for mountain trekkers the jackets and the boots should be of interest). Beware, though: many want your money to sell their merchandise while at the back pickpockets just want to take it from you…
The same is true for the Osh Bazaar downtown Bishkek. Here, mainly local goods are found including “antiques” meaning souvenirs of varying origin, as well as Soviet-style military clothing (for mountain trekkers the jackets and the boots should be of interest). Other bazaars worth a visit include those of Ortosay in the south of Bishkek, Madina on the eastern outskirts and that of Alamedin further to the east on the motorway that leads to Issik-Kul.