We spent our final few days in Central Asia in two capital cities – Bishkek and Almaty (technically a former capital). Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan and home to about 1 million people. We decided to skip the long drive across the country from Osh to Bishkek (10-12 hours in the car) in favour of a 20-minute domestic flight from the Osh airport.
We stayed at Interhouse Hostel in Bishkek and it was actually strange to be around so many international tourists again. The guys were in the mood for exploring but I needed some R&R time… enter Mystic Spa, where I had the most amazing massage! It had a very cool Central Asian fusion vibe.
Since I was busy in the afternoon, it was up to the guys to find a good spot for dinner and they did not disappoint! I ended up meeting them at an outdoor food-court-style patio. There were a few different restaurants that you could order from and have the food served right to your table. Lots of charm and atmosphere.
The next morning we packed up and headed back to Almaty, our final stop in Central Asia and the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997. When we arrived in Almaty at the beginning of the trip, it was midnight and we stayed near the airport. So, we hadn’t really seen the city yet and it seemed like a great place to finish off the trip.
The four-hour car ride from Bishkek wasn’t too bad after the Pamir Highway but we did have to switch cars at the border since the drivers are not allowed into the neighbouring countries. The Kyrgyz exit border was quiet when we arrived but by the time we figured out what to do, a group of locals had arrived and were surrounding the border guard. He could tell we were confused so he told the locals to step aside and wait as we were there first. He then asked us about our trip and if we like Kyrgyzstan. He was very proud of his country and thanked us profusely for visiting and told us to spread the word to other travelers – so consider yourself informed!
On the Kazakh side, there was a bigger queue and we were split into different lines. I got to the front first and my border guard looked at my passport and got up and left his cubicle with it! At the same time, Steve reached the front of his line and was trying to convey that he didn’t speak Russian to the woman. This made her pause and then in typical blunt, Central Asian fashion, she said “You don’t speak Russian? Why not?” Apparently, Steve mumbled something about not learning Russian in Canada so then she asked “What are you doing here?” And he simply replied “Tourism…?”
At this point, my border guard had entered the woman’s cubicle and was asking what he should do with it. Once she realized we were together, she stamped us through. Next up was Connor. She looked at him and all he said was “I’m with them.” Stamp. Next!
In Almaty, we stayed downtown at the Sky Hostel. It had a great atmosphere and roof deck for movies (unfortunately in Russian but the ambiance was still good). We spent the next few days exploring with Ashraf and Connor leaving the country on August 3. Steve and I decided to stay a few extra days because our first wedding anniversary was August 4 and we didn’t want to be traveling or jet-lagged. It is actually a really great city to spend time in because it has a European-meets-Asian atmosphere and it very calm and relaxing for a large (1.7 million people) city. The prices were also very reasonable, which meant we could splash out on the fancy Dostyk Hotel for our anniversary as a treat to ourselves!
Some of my favourite things in Almaty were the sidewalk cafes and restaurants with all types of food. We had a great Italian meal at Del Papa, which almost felt like we were in Italy!
We also had some unique dining experiences like this highly-rated diner Steve and I found. It was very cute and authentic Kazakh but we weren’t expecting the gun-themed decor!
There are lots of beautiful urban parks throughout the city so we did a lot of wandering.
The Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments had amazing architecture, but sadly was not open the day we were in the area.
Steve enjoyed visiting the Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen, which has monuments for the First and Second World Wars. The dates of the Second World War appear as 1941-1945 because the Germans did not attempt to invade Moscow until 1941.
Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen is close to the Ascension Cathedral, which is designed in traditional Russian Orthodox style.
As all good things do, our time in Central Asia eventually came to an end. Steve says Uzbekistan is one of his favourite places he’s ever been, so be sure to ask him more about it if you’re interested. We planned a lot of other aspects of our trip around this portion of the trip and I know neither of us regret making so many adjustments to make it work. It is a fascinating part of the world and we highly recommend it for the adventurous traveler!