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Posted 13 Sep, 2013 | Posted in: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Our Story, Travel Blogs | 19 Comments

After an amazing 10 days in Kazakhstan, it was time to say goodbye. We had planned to see more than just Astana and Almaty, but after having some fast-paced travel days, we decided to just stay put and travel slower. We spent a whole week just in Almaty and had a great time there. We did so many things and learned a lot about the country from our new Kazakh friends…we actually could have stayed longer!

market in almaty
Our day spent at the market in Almaty was amazing…as was this fresh honey!

The morning of our departure, we took a city bus to the long-distance bus station where we boarded one of the many marshukas (shared mini-vans) bound for the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. The ride started off ok, but after a short break for lunch, we were all shuffled into a different marshuka. Our backpacker mentality kicked-in and we both automatically said “no”. We’ve seen the scams before, you pay the full price to one city and switch buses mid-way where they expect you to pay more money to get to your final destination.

bus from almaty to bishkek
Our marshuka from Almaty to Bishkek

But since everyone was moving their bags over (all local people) we decided to just go with the flow and follow along, either that, or be stuck at the dusty, middle of nowhere stop. Our new marshuka was older, louder and much shitier (is that a word?) Nick and I were sitting in the very front seats of this mini-bus and the engine started to overheat. It was cranking out extreme temperatures from the air vents, directly into our faces. Our entire bodies were sweating; opening the window didn’t even help because the air outside was over 30 degrees. We were crawling along the highway at about 50kms/hour.

Finally we arrived at the border.

Before starting on this trip, we had read (and been told) that citizens of most western countries don’t need a visa for Kyrgyzstan, we just receive a stamp in our passports on entry. When we got up to the counter, the passport control was flipping furiously through our passports in search of something. We both looked at each other knowing what he was looking for. He finally gave up and said: “You have a visa for Kyrgyzstan, yes?” Um, “No, we don’t need one” was our reply. He went asking around to his colleagues and lucky for us, our research was correct and he stamped us out of the country – surely the passport control should know this though and not have to be told by a couple of Canadians!

kyrgyzstan visa
Luckily we were able to get our visa on arrival at the border!

We continued to walk about 1 km to Kyrgyzstan and were stamped in with no problems. We then had to wait for our marshuka to take us to Bishkek. We people watched, drank some water and stood around in the shade waiting for our bus, or anyone that we recognized from it for that matter. After about a 1/2 an hour we started to think we had been left behind. We walked back to the border area to look, we were scanning the people but recognized no one.

Then we spotted him! He had just taken longer to go through customs with the vehicle than we had…phew. We waved at him with huge smiles on our faces, but he just looked right at us with a blank stare and drove about a kilometer away where he pulled into a gas station. Oh good, he’s just fueling up we figured. So we hoofed it there, lugging our bags on our backs in the scorching sun (swearing at him for not picking us up along the way). Just as we were arriving at the gas station, we saw our white minivan peeling out of there as fast as possible.

It was official, we were being left behind!

We had a little bit of local currency that we had exchanged at the border so we decided to flag down the next minibus or car we saw and ask for a ride. Within a couple of minutes, a local bus that runs from the border to Bishkek pulled over. It was only going to cost us 50 cents to get to the city. Luckily we had enough and hopped in.

kyrgyzstan som
Having some local currency on you at all times is a must

We spent two nights in Bishkek at Silk Road Backpackers. A husband and wife team own this one and the hostel that we stayed at in Almaty. The hostel was ok, we at least had a double room and didn’t have to endure sleeping in a dorm room…but like a few other places we’ve stayed on this trip, the door to our room didn’t lock.

ala too square bishkek
Beautiful Ala Too Square in Bishkek

We spent our time in Bishkek wandering around the leafy streets, eating some amazing local food, applying for and obtaining our Tajikistan visas (yay!) and just chilling out. Bishkek was an alright city, we had heard it’s basically just a place to eat good food and to apply for some of the many visas a traveller needs in this part of the world.

food in kyrgyzstan
Enjoying some delicious chicken shashlyk (kebab)

We thought it was a nice stopover, but knew it was just that…we wanted to get to stunning Lake Issyk-Kol as soon as possible!

Have you ever been ripped off when taking transportation? Tell us about it below!

***Goat Notes:

In Almaty – Take bus number 45 from along Dostyk Ave. to get to the Sarayan Bus Station (Long Distance Bus Station) the cost is 80KZT, taking about 30 minutes to get there.

Marshukas from Almaty to Bishkek run from early in the morning until the evening, leaving when full. The cost is 1,300KZT and it takes 5 hours to get there.

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN ALMATY

FROM THE LEAFY STREETS OF ALMATY: ARE WE IN KAZAKHSTAN?

ASTANA: THE DUBAI OF CENTRAL ASIA

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19 thoughts on “Almaty To Bishkek: Goodbye Kazakhstan, Hello Kyrgyzstan!

  1. FYI, they’re “marshrutkas.” 🙂

    Sorry to hear you got left behind – I’ve taken marshrutkas across borders throughout the former USSR and have never had that happen. Crazy! (although I actually took a shared taxi from Almaty to Bishkek – a little more comfortable!).

    Enjoy Isskyk-Kul – Karakol is great, as is Bokonbaevo on the south shore. Nice yurt camp to stay at right by the lake shore that can be arranged by the CBT there.

  2. Hi both! Thanks so much for sharing this Information! I’m from Amsterdam, currently in Almaty for a short holiday. I’m crossing the border for a short stay in Bishkek, so this is extremely helpful. Fingers crossed we’re not encountering too much hassle at the border… Cheers, Johan

  3. …well, we were left behind, just like you guys. But at least we came prepared after reading your blogpost. We took a taxt and went on a marvelous horse riding tour the day after. Best wishes!

  4. Thank for helpful article
    We are in Almaty my wife is from Tajikistan, she can only stay for 5 days. Minus weekend. That means you got 3 days to renew your visa. We went to ovir, nobody speaks English. Had to find and pay interpreter. Waited on different wrong windows, around 12pm. Found out the right window, when we got close to window they close for lunch break, had to go back at 3 pm. After 2 hours in line, they told us Tajikistan application is excepted only before noon. Then we ran in to weekend. I was so mad that I thought we will bribe immigration at the airport or pay panelty, but then one agent told me that at the airport they won’t allow you to travel, there is 5 day jail and you have to go to court etc. Which scared the day light out of us. We had to get agents help, she had to get letter from hospital that my wife was sick $100, then to ovir, $100 more, then court panalty $100 more, and finally agent fee 100 more. I am US citizen, can stay 2 weeks, which expires on Sunday, your article gave me idea to take bus to Beshkek, and return for for $10. Thank again. Mumtaz Lalani

  5. Dear both, nothing surprising about border crossing between Almaty and Bishkek. The Marshrutka price corresponds to the fare till the border. Once crossed the border, you are 10 km from the centre of the City, and you have a lot of taxis or buses waiting for you for a very tiny fee to to rejoin the city center. You have the same at the west ofr Kyrgyzstan between Talas (KG) and Taraz (KZ). The reason is the cars and buses take a lot of time to cross the border and it is quite quicker to cross by foot. And then find another bus to continue.

  6. Once in Georgia we were going from Batumi to Gori with marshrutka. Because everybody wanted to go further, to Tbilisi, the driver didnt want to leave us directly in Gori, so he stopped in the middle of the highway and said “Gori is only 6 km from here, bye!” 🙂

  7. Planning for a vaction in krygstan and read lot of beautiful places but cant hike for long ….just a samll hike for 2-3 hrs ,,would it still be nicer to visit krygstan or skip as cant do long hikes to see wonderful lakes or glaciers ….how about the month of may ?

    1. There are shorter hikes that you can do in Kyrgyzstan, but there are also many long ones, and many that are high altitude. You could do a hike around the village of Arslanbob! That’s a beautiful place, with shorter walks. You could also do a horse riding trip! Enjoy.

  8. I traveled from bishkek to almaty in a minibus in less than 4 hours. Cost was 1000 som. Crossed the border walking and bus driver was waiting for me outside the customs and dropped in the almaty city centre. No problem at all. Ertan

  9. was taking the private car from Almaty to Bishkek in Dec 2015. cold , dry and all white outside the window all the way.. definitely must go again in summer.

  10. love your site. a dream might be moscow – almaty- bishkek – tashkent -nukus
    – ashgabat – turkmenbashi -(boat) – baku – istanbul – london – usa.

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