So, as you read from my earlier post, we recently arrived in Kyrgyzstan. From the moment we entered this new country I have been in awe of the shear beauty that can be seen everyday. Although I have spent the first few days of my journey in a bigger city, and not completely surrounded by nature, the drive getting to Osh revealed that this country is an untouched gem. That being said, I think it is only a matter of time before it becomes flooded with adventure seekers, which could possibly take away from its unspoiled beauty. But for now it is still rough around the edges, which comes along with a real feeling of adventure.
On my first full day in Osh I was traveling solo because my husband was suffering from a terrible stomach bug. He was out of commission for the day so for the first time since we left Japan I was on my own. I wasn’t trying to be too ambitious because I wanted to be able to check up on him throughout the day, so I just spent the day wandering around people watching, drinking coffee, and writing. It was nice to have some time to myself, as I do love my alone time, but I am more of a person who enjoys sharing experiences with others. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy traveling alone. I’ve done that a little bit and it has it’s advantages but I have come to prefer traveling with husband, my love and companion.
So while I was out people watching and writing at a café, I found that Osh was very different than China, and really all the places I have traveled thus far. Even though it’s geographically in Asia, it was the first time I felt I was seeing something completely different. So what is it that was so different?
As some of you know, people watching is a favorite of mine, and both Kashgar and Osh are amazing places to do that. Why? Well, Central Asia is truly the melting pot of all kinds of people. It is amazing to see the diversity of people in Kyrgyzstan, which is more noticeable in the south near Osh, but can be seen all over the country. It’s amazing to see grandfathers who look Central Asian holding their granddaughters hand who looks like she could be European. People are just beautiful, and it’s so much fun seeing all the diversity.
In Osh I was surprised to see women wearing everything from full burkas to mini skirts and mid-drifts. There was all colors of clothing as well, from head-scarfs to shoes. Let me just say that the women in Krygyzstan are extremely fashionable. I felt a little frumpy in my backpacking clothes that I have been wearing regularly for the past two months. Not only is their clothing amazing but the makeup and all the different colors of hair and hairstyles really stand out. Honestly, my husband has nothing to worry about because I am more fascinated with the beautiful women than the men. That is, aside from the men who have the most amazing felt hats. It seems they are mostly on older men, so again, no need for my husband to worry.
The food is very similar to what we had been seeing and eating in Xinjiang, but I am still so impressed with all the amazing breads and cheese. On my arrival in Osh, after settling in to our room, there was a knock on the door. It was the guy who worked at the front desk saying there was a dinner ready for all the guests, and that we should come down. So I had the opportunity to eat some free food and talk with other travelers. Again, I was flying solo, but my favorite part was seeing what dinner consisted of. There was bread, a dish with yogurt, tomato, cucumber, dill and garlic (amazing!), plain yogurt, along with all kinds of fruit, nuts, candy, and tea. For some, that might sound like snacks but the next day while I was walking near the market I saw many people eating a similar spread of food. I have enjoyed sampling food and going out, but it has been way cheaper and just as good to head to the market for a fresh loaf of bread, cheese, tomato, cucumber and some sort of fruit.
The fruit here is plentiful and delicious. Apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches, melons (mostly hami and watermelons), berries of all kinds, including some I had never seen before. And they are all ripe, juicy, and presumably fresh off the tree.
I’m not sure how else to categorize this other than a random observation but the first night I was in Osh I went on a search for an ATM. This had me crossing the street at a crosswalk. Now, mind you, in every other part of SE Asia and China, the protocol for crossing the street is to slowly maneuver between the oncoming traffic. This can be scary, but once you have it down, it seems normal. So here I am crossing the street slowly, trying to go between the traffic, and to my shock, the cars stopped! I froze for a second because it was so weird. But this wasn’t a one-time occurrence. It happens at almost every cross walk. It may sound strange but this was a real pleasant surprise.
Like Xinjiang and most other cities in Central Asia, Osh has a bazaar. You can find just about anything you need there, from shoes and clothes to spices and fruit. You might have to walk around a lot to find it all but you get what I mean. The bazaar in Osh was pretty big, straddling this beautiful river that happens to run from the surrounding mountains through town. It’s beautiful, and I loved it.
The biggest shock of all, and one that delighted me to no end, was that I found a huge thrift store! At the young age of twelve I bought my first polyester button-up shirt, and that is what started my love for thrifting. Some people grow out of that, but I sure never have. As soon as I saw it, I headed in and was browsing the racks. Again, the ladies here are very fashionable, and the price was right. It was great to buy something new after wearing the same clothes on and off for over two months. Also, because I was flying solo, it was easier to wander around for as long as I wanted. It was so much fun.
For the most part tea is a big deal in Central Asia, and Osh is no different. But there is also a coffee culture, one that doesn’t exist in most of China. So when I saw there was a café that was hailed as having good coffee, of course I headed right over. The cappuccino was so good I ordered a second, and my next trip I got an amazing iced americano. I’m pretty sure I have a problem when it comes to coffee, but that’s better than other things I suppose.
This place is outdoorsy
I realized from the moment we arrived that Kyrgyzstan is a place for outdoor recreation. The mountains are so beautiful, they call you to come explore. This is also where I realized that we were not prepared for this sort of adventure. It’s not that we don’t like outdoorsy stuff, because we definitely do. I love getting into the backcountry or going for a nice day hike. But we didn’t have any of our camping gear. Both of us are wearing shoes that could fall off our feet at any moment. And we have our bags filled with electronics and clothes.
We still plan to get out and do trekking, and maybe some horse riding, but the reality of heading to the backcountry for two days or more is unrealistic. That being said, I of course am already planning all the things we will do when we come back to Kyrgyzstan, with all the gear and the right shoes in tow.
I fell in love with this country soon after arriving. The beautiful landscape and the beautiful people make it easy on the eyes. The food has all been delicious and cheap, making is easy on the stomach as well. The people have been friendly and helpful. The air is so clean, and even if it is raining it brings rainbows and makes everything green. I am enjoying being in a new place with new things, and exploring something so new. I’m terrible at learning any Russian aside from saying thank you, but I’m going to keep trying.
Travel Tips for Kyrgyzstan
- Kyrgyzstan is visa free for many countries. For US citizens, you can get a 60-day visa on arrival, whether you arrive at an overland crossing or at one of the international airports.
- The local currency is the som. 1 som =.015. This means your dollar goes far here.
- Having extra dollars is a good thing. You can exchange it anywhere and can also use it instead of som. Some ATMs actually dispense som or dollars.
- Things are really cheap. A cappuccino and breakfast cost me about $2 in Osh. And it’s way cheaper if you stick to street food and markets.
- Transportation can feel a little pricey, but a flight from Osh-Bishkek (47min) costs around $55, and a shared taxi from Osh- Bishkek (15-18 hrs) costs about $50.
- You have to bargain and stand your ground when arranging taxis. They will try and over-charge you. Know how much things should cost, and be firm. Walk away and shop around if need be. I have found people will usually budge, especially if you walk away, or start talking with other drivers.
- And, the strangest thing of all, watch out for the cute grandmas, they will push their way to get to the front of the line or off the plane. Instead of getting mad, just have a good laugh.
Have you ever traveled to Kyrgyzstan? Or, have you ever wanted to travel to Kyrgyzstan? I would love to hear your experience!