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Kyrgyzstan Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

The main international airport is in the capital Bishkek with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul and Uzbekistan Airlines via Tashkent offering the best connections from the UK. Kyrgyzstan is linked by the Torugart Pass to China and the nearby city of Kashgar.

Flying times from UK

Connecting flights from the UK take between 10 and 12 hours.

Time zone

Kyrgyzstan is +6 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

British nationals can enter and stay in Kyrgyzstan for up to 60 days without a visa.

Do's and don'ts

In general it is best for both men and women to dress conservatively when outside of the capital Bishkek.

Always ask permission first before taking photographs of people.

Some dishes are eaten without cutlery and for these you should use your right hand. Always avoid touching food with the left hand.

Vodka is a very popular drink and it is not uncommon for people to freely share it with you!

Money

Kyrgyzstan remains largely a cash economy and the official currency is the Kyrgyz Som (KGS) which is 100 Tyin. Notes are in denominations of KGS 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1, and 50, 10 and 1 Tyin. Banks and licensed currency exchange booths, called ‘obmen balyot’, will quickly exchange currency. US Dollars and Euros are the best recognised in Kyrgyzstan but ensure that the notes you wish to change are in excellent condition with no tears. ATM machines are common in Bishkek but rare in rural areas and credit cards are also not commonly used outside of the capital.

Tipping

Tipping is becoming more common, as the tourism industry attracts more visitors. Most cafes and restaurants in Bishkek add a 10% service charge to the bill or expect you to round up the bill. A guideline for tipping your drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

The influences of nomadic life flavour Kyrgyz food heavily. Mutton is a staple, as are bread, milk products and noodles. Food can have a Russian twist, particularly in the north, but Bishkek has the global variety expected in a capital. Traditional dishes include besh barmak, meat with noodles, shashlyk, skewered chunks of mutton barbecued over charcoal, and lipioshka, round unleavened bread – all of which can be found sold on the streets in markets. Plov, rice fried with shredded turnip and scraps of mutton, served with bread, is a Central Asian staple and laghman, a noodle soup with mutton and vegetables, was originally imported from Chinese Turkestan. Koumys, fermented mares' milk, which is slightly alcoholic, tea, beer and vodka are all popular.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

Like the country's cuisine, festivals also reflect the Kyrgyz nomadic lifestyle. The Navroz Spring Festival is an ancient event that celebrates post-winter renewal around the spring equinox. Expect markets, traditional games, music and a lot of fun. The National Horse Festival, held in late July and August, features competitions ranging from straightforward races to wrestling on horseback whilst the Kyrgyz Kochu Festival, marking the annual migration of nomadic herders from summer pastures, has featuring horse racing, folk music, food and drink. Also worth experiencing in August are the Birds of Prey Festival and Independence Day parade.

Shopping

Handicrafts abound in Kyrgyzstan with a range of embroidered costumes, leather goods, rugs and pottery. In Bishkek, it is also worth visiting the state-run department store, TsUM, a remnant of the Soviet era, and full of postcards and other souvenirs. All cities in Kyrgyzstan have markets and bazaars. Bishkek's Tolchok Clothes Bazaar is the place to pick up a warm leather coat, while the Osh and Al-Medin bazaars are excellent for food and handicrafts. Particularly popular are embroidered Kyrgyz felt hats, or kalpak, felt carpets and chess sets with traditional Kyrgyz figures.

Suggested reading

The Bradt Travel Guide and Lonely Planet’s book on Central Asia are a good place to start and provide detailed Kyrgyzstan travel advice. For more of an insight into the region try ‘Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia’, by Philip Shishkin or ‘Shadow of the Silk Road’, by Colin Thubron. Chingiz Aïtmatov, who carved out a career as a senior Kyrgyz diplomat, was also a wonderful wordsmith. He was born in Kyrgyzstan in 1928 and his works have been translated into more than 100 languages picking up many prizes along the way. His novel ‘Jamilia’ may be the most beautiful tale to come out of Kyrgyzstan, a poignant love story set against the backdrop of war.

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on Kyrgyzstan the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Kyrgyzstan Holiday Ideas

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan Holiday Review

“My thanks to all those involved in putting the arrangements together, it was a fantastic trip which will live long in the memory.”

GC - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan - August 2015

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