Kyrgyzstan is one of the least visited countries in Asia with few people knowing about its beautiful landscapes, fascinating history and unique culture. It is a lesser known travel destination but becoming an ultimate getaway to adventure seekers or off-the-beaten path travellers. It has a distinct charm that definitely leaves a mark in your travel stories. A country filled with beauty and discovery.
People called us crazy for visiting this country during winter. But, just like last winter in Mongolia, nothing beats an experience where there are less tourists and more unusual stories. You’ll find write-ups about spring and summers in Kyrgyzstan but not their long and cold winters. It has a different appeal that makes you appreciative of the richness of nature.
Here are five reasons why you should include Kyrgyzstan in your next travel and consider it in winter.
1.The natural landscapes will stun you
Its nickname the Alps of Central Asia will never disappoint. Imagine looking over snow-capped mountains, clear blue sky and frozen alpine lakes in vast, open spaces. Everywhere is an endless rolls of mountainous terrains and snow-filled valleys. It is like Mongolia meets Switzerland. Rugged and pristine. But, be prepared with harsh, freezing negative temperatures. Still, the landscapes are breathtaking. Worth being uncomfortable in five layers of clothing.
I never thought that Kyrgyzstan has this glowing pastel sky at sunrise. It’s simply amazing and lasts for few minutes before the sky turns all blue. It’s similar with Bolivia, so captivating.
2.Experience the land of horses
The Kyrgyz are experts in riding horses with twice or thrice as many horses as the residents. Especially in winter, you’ll meet fewer people along the roads and more of horses. At first, they look overwhelming but you’ll get used to it.
In Naryn region, we had an epic horse trekking that started at 2,100 m altitude to 3,400 m in nine hours! We trekked from Kyzart village to the frozen Songkul Lake. I was really surprised that it became part of the snowy mountains with smooth perfect surface. They said it is only accessible from June to September but I guess we’re crazy travellers pushing our limits just to see it in January.
By the way, our group got lost in the middle of this snow wilderness. Some open areas have weird (out of the blue) chilling winds. One of us had his horse fell down twice. Someone had hypothermia. Hunting dogs had chased us. Definitely, not your usual travel experience but one for the books. It annihilated my 30-min happy memories of a horse ride in a countryside in England. Now, I find it silly and pretentious. If you want real horse riding experience, Kyrgyzstan has it.
3.Unique local culture, food and history
Most of the time, food is not on my to-do list during travels. Actually, I prefer to stick to familiar types of foods. I don’t experiment to avoid food poisoning or just the discomfort of eating something unknown. But, we were on a tour package that included food, so I had no choice but to try. Thankfully, that rounded my Kyrgyzstan experience!
I love their sweets and desserts! Try their winter jams – blackberries, raspberries and apricots. I like their bread because it’s soft (bit spongy) compare with Russia’s winter hard bread. They eat it by soaking the bread into the jam (do not spread) or the meat, noodle soup. Try their national dish Lagman for an authentic food experience (though too oily). We tried eating lamb, beef and horse meat always with a tea.
Our first destination was Balasagun, an ancient city in the historical Silk Road. We visited their cemetery and saw these tombstones dating back to the 6th century. We took photos of the Burana tower, the only evidence of a once great trade city. It’s just amazing that we still get to enjoy these historical remnants. This is my 3rd Silk road adventure (Xi’an in China, Kharkhorin in Mongolia and now Balasagun in Kyrgyzstan). Hopefully, I can visit more!
Majority of them are Muslims but I was curious why they don’t wear hijabs. Found out it was because of Soviet’s influence in the area. Their country was shaped by Turks and Soviets. They just got liberated in 1991 even though they have a 2000+ years of history. Do you know they have petroglyphs? I’ve recently been in Peru so I was pleasantly surprised to see these in Kyrgyzstan.
4.Meet the nicest, hospitable people
Kyrgyz people give you lasting impressions. Our host’s family was so welcoming even though they cannot speak English. His mother cooked pre-dinner (not part of the package) and breakfast for the three of us. She even danced on a Coldplay song just to entertain us. In fact, all the people we met were warm and friendly. They will refill your food or ask you to eat some more. You can feel their genuine pleasant personality. (Invite them for few shots of vodka! They’ll love it.)
5. It’s budget friendly
Everything is cheap in Kyrgyzstan. We spent 150$ per person for four days inclusive of food, accommodation and all the travel adventures. In Bishkek airport, I had a muffin and coffee for 2USD. That’s airport rate! In local restaurants, the meal rate is 1$ to 5$. Vodka is cheaper than in Russia (1 liter at 3$). I find it a bit crazy. Their prices are similar to Myanmar! Maybe because we were with a local guide so he took us to all the local places. I can officially recommend it as one of the top destinations for budget travellers. You get more value from your money.
I can give you more reasons but the photos speak of the beauty and charm of this country. Give it a try and send me a message if you want details of our tour guide/agent Askat.
Visa on arrival or e-visa (1 day) for Filipinos / $40 / 90 days validity
All photos are mine except the last 3 from Mary’s phone and photo #4, #8 from Erick.
We are travelling to Leh Ladakh (India), Georgia and Armenia this April. Any travel tips? Recommendation for hostel? Guide?