Bishkek is a pleasant city to wander with wide boulevards, leafy parks and 60+ Soviet-era sculptures scattered throughout. There isn’t a great deal to see, and the city can comfortably be ‘done’ in a day. If however, you are afflicted with an interest in Modernist architecture, you might find yourself never wanting to leave.
At over a kilometre long, and with over 20,000 people working there, Dordoi Bazaar is the biggest market in Central Asia. At the heart of the bazaar are over 6,000 stalls, most of them fashioned from double-stacked metal shipping containers. It’s unlike anything else we’ve seen. It’s mostly clothes and cheap Chinese goods, though: the interest comes more from getting lost and seeing how the market works, rather than the goods themselves.
The bazaar has shrunk a little in recent years, as Kyrgyzstan’s economic difficulties and stricter trading regulations have put a dent in this kind of trading. But the place is as chaotic as ever, and nowadays you can plan a day at Dordoi in advance on the market’s own website.
Open from 9 to 16 every day. Several marshrutkas head there from the city center, catch them anywhere along Abdrakhmanova (Sovietskaya) street.
Bishkek’s second biggest market can’t compete with Dordoi for size, but it’s right in the center of town and more interesting in the variety of goods on offer on a smaller surface area. You can find plov spices, tools for poking holes in flatbreads and every possible part of a butchered animal on display, as well as handmade baby cots, kitchen hoods and winter boots. One of the most beautiful parts of the bazaar is the choykhona (tea-house) at its very centre. Cobblers, hairdressers and knive sharpeners ply their trade here, alongside beggars, fortune tellers and mullahs.
Like Dordoi, Osh bazaar is an ecosystem that spreads far and wide, especially in the direction of the bus station, populating the surrounding streets with cheap hotels, eateries, bars and brothels for traders.
Osh bazaar is located between Chuy and Toktogul, and Kuliev and Beshenaliev streets. It’s open from 9 to 19 every day.
Orto Sai Soviet Flea Market
To seek out treasures with a story, pop in to the Orto Sai flea market on a Sunday morning. Here, traders sell from their collections of Soviet memorabilia, Lenin medals, books and bric-a-brac. Next to them, ordinary Bishkek residents spread out blankets to sell items from their homes that they no longer have a use for. This makes for an emotional journey into Soviet Central Asia; and at the same time, pieces only ever cost about $1 or less.
Operates every Sunday morning 7-11 on Yunusalieva street, close to Ata Turk Park, east of the regular daily Orto Sai bazaar.
The Sunday livestock market outside of Bishkek does not have the same fame as that of Karakol, for good reason: the animal market in Karakol is definitely a much cleaner and more civilized affair. If however you are in the mood for something more “unedited”, come for the mud, the stink, the fights, the butchering and the low-low prices of Bishkek’s Mal bazaar, or in Russian, Skotniy Rynok (Gmaps).
We have some more good tips for Bishkek souvenir shopping in the forum, and we welcome your input!
Bishkek’s parks are its treasure, changing colours throughout the year. Dubovy (Oak) Park in the center has ping-pong tables, squirrels and sculptures. The longer parks (Erkindik in the center and Jash Gvardiya just east of Osh Bazaar) make for really nice long walks. Ata Turk Park (Axunbaeva) is beautiful in fall and has questionable amusement rides. Panfilov has less trees and is only interesting if you are new to the Post-Soviet world – it’s a typical amusement park. Finally, if you have done all of these and you are still in Bishkek, you are ready for Flamingo Park.
Some standout buildings are the Wedding Palace (Dzhumabeka-Abdrakhmanov str.), the 18-story apartment building, the history museum and the Presidential Palace (both on Chuy) & Zhirgal banya (cnr Pravda/Sultan Ibraimov-Toktogul).
Museums and galleries
Most museums are closed on Mondays.
National Historical Museum. Currently (May 2016) under renovation, with a chance that the real highlight of the museum, the Communist murals, will disappear. More info after the renovation finishes. Before, it was not worth a visit for the exhibits on offer, with no English translation, but all the more for the murals that offered an insight into the former use of the building as the Lenin museum. A big Lenin pointing the way forward is still posted at the back of the museum. From the outside, the building is a masterpiece of Soviet Modernism. Price: 150 som, Open 10am-6pm Tue-Sun.
Museum of Fine Arts. A fine Brutalist building hosts the best collection of figurative art in Kyrgyzstan with works from Russian- and Kyrgyzstan-born artists. Stand-outs are Theodor Herzen’s graphic work on “Manas” and the work of Gaspar Aitiev.
Modern art Al Halal (Moskva 49, cnr Sultan Ibraimov str) is a small gallery dedicated to local artists. b’Art (Karasaev 3) is an art NGO staffed by intelligent people doing interesting things, who are happy to tell you more about modern art in Bishkek.
Small museums. If you are getting bored and know a fair bit of Russian, you might start to gain an interest in the many small museums Bishkek offers.
Things to do
Hiking, horse riding, rafting, mountainbiking etc. in the mountains near Bishkek deserve a topic of their own, yet to be written. Please check elsewhere for now. We do already know all about skiing.
- Bishkek walking tours exist. I haven’t been on one so cannot judge the quality. Please let me know if you have.
- Bathe. In summer you will want to swim. Karven Club (Toktogul 77) comes recommended by the LP, but know there are many more swimming pools in Bishkek. April/May, when the hot water gets switched off for maintenance city-wide, is the time for communal banya. Zhirgal banya is most famous.
- Learn Russian. Bishkek is one of the cheapest places to do it. Many people on the street have the same level as you, which makes it feel like you are getting good at it (you’re not). Try London School (Abdrakhmanov/Sovietskaya 39) or the Russian Center of Culture (Erkindik 2/1)