Bishkek is not usually considered a destination in and of itself but the city plays an important role as a stop for people who are trekking the Tien-Shen mountains or adventure travellers road tripping the Silk Road. I would argue however, that if you live in the area (Central Asia-Middle East) and you have a 3-day weekend with nothing to do and you happen to get a pretty good deal on a flight and have a few weirdo friends willing to go with you-then book a weekend trip to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; you will be delightfully surprised at what you find.
Book a tour through your hostel/hotel to Al Archa National Park. Ask your driver to stop along the way for snacks and water, as the only place on the mountain is a fairly unfriendly lodge that may or may not have something to serve you, although beer can be had there. Do understand that you will be peeing in nature, come prepared with songs of encouragement/distraction for each other.
The hike to the waterfall takes about 3 hours. Keep your eyes open for the sign that marks the trail to the waterfall or you will end up at an abandoned house which is really quite creepy in the fog. Lookout for the curiously friendly, little white tailed squirrels but do understand that they like nuts and will follow you around when you’re trying to eat your trail mix. Definitely check the weather and dress for it, October was chilly and wet.
Go back to Bishkek proper and grab a carb and starch heavy lunch (you just hiked so you deserve it) from one of the vendors at Osh Bazaar. Osh Bazaar is worth a look but you probably won’t want to spend much time there; its more of a local market that is crowded and difficult to navigate, it also did not yield any local arts and crafts.
After the bazaar you can carry on down the street and meander through whatever parks you come across all the way to Ala-Too Square. You can also take a bus or a fairly cheap taxi if you don’t want to walk but part of the joys of Bishkek is stopping in the many little parks to check out statues and look at the crumbling Soviet blocks. The whole city is like a living museum to the USSR so the walk will not disappoint. Ala-Too Square is a wonderful relic of the Soviet era; close your eyes and imagine the announcements coming over loud speakers and rallies in the square, after all it used to be called Lenin Square. In this area you will find some interesting architecture in the form of government buildings and intriguing statues.
After your city walkabout, grab a cab over to Zum Department store to pick up some surprisingly gorgeous Kyrgyzstani souvenirs. You’ll have to go all the way to the top floor to find the arts and crafts. Among the items found here are colourful rugs and embroidered wall hangings, traditional shoes and hats, and my particular favorite, a silk and wool scarf that is quite possibly the finest thing I own. If you don’t feel like shopping, then you can always go to Green City Spa to relax and get yourself scrubbed down before dinner.
You’re probably getting hungry again, I would suggest Navat restaurant for a simply delicious dinner option serving traditional Kyrgyz food.
Back to the hostel/hotel to drop off your belongings and freshen up. Now its time to check out the Kyrgyzstani nightlife. Women be warned dress UP…we did not jeans, hoodies, and boots); but probably should have, men just need to look decent, because they reserve the right to “age and face control” you! Steinbrau Brewery, to be honest, was pretty boring but if you want to start slow this would likely be the place to go, they have a great selection of beer. A slightly more upscale lounge/karaoke alternative is Center Bar, but you may be faced controlled and your Muslim friend wearing a hijab will most likely be discriminated against and told to leave. No worries though because Metro Pub is across the street and they did not discriminate. Metro Pub was packed on a Friday night, lots of dancing, pretty decent throwback (1990-2000’s) music, and you might find a guy wearing a Putin t-shirt to take selfies with.
Kyrgyzstan is definitely not a country commonly travelled by many, I went in with zero expectations and left completely charmed by the green city and total lack of pretense.
Just for fun, here is my friend being a creep.