If you visit bazaars, remember that many dealers will have problems giving you change. I recommend that you have a bundle with 20,50 and 100 som notes. It also makes it easier to bargain.
Forget about the 1,5 and 10 notes. They have been replaced by coins but you can still encounter som rags that are still valid. The coins 1,3,5 and 10 soms are useful when you visit public toilets (5s) and go by bus (8s). There are also 10 and 50 tyin coins. Both are quite rare due to low value.
It is Always an experience to stroll around at markets and bazaars. Here there are food stalls, clothes, cutlery and you name it!
If you like horse meat they have lots of stalls inside a big Concrete bunker in the middle of the area.
My suggestion is to skip Bishkek altogether. The architecture and monuments are bad examples of Soviet style. Most building are ugly and falling apart. And even several hours in Bishkek are likely to attract policemen who are looking for tourists.
The currency of Kyrgystan is the Som (COM in Russian). You will often see this written as KGS - its not a weight! Som is the Kyrgyz word for 'Pure' and its amazingly easy top get your hands on it here in Bishkek, Many exchange kiosks operate 24/7 and there are plenty of banks as well. The Som is divided into 100 Tyiyn.
Som notes come in 1, 5. 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 denominations. The current issue of notes are from either 1997 or 2009. I never saw a 1 Som note. The only 5 and 10 Som notes I received were from a not-so-great exchange place in Kazakhstan. I kept them as souvenirs. The 20 is the most common one you will see. Try not to get a 1000 Som note. They are only worth about $21/15.5 Euro/£13, but they are hard to get rid of except at a grocery store. I also never saw a 5000 Som note (created in 2009) and recommend you don't accept them.
Coins were only introduced in 2008 and come in (brass coloured) 10 & 50 Tyiyn and (nickel coloured) 1, 3 & 5 Som. To give you and idea, 1 Som is worth 2 US Cents.
If you find yourself in Bishkek, make sure you shop at the Koldo Shop. The word ‘Koldo’ means 'Support' in the Kyrgyz language. If you shop here for some great souvenirs – you can support local people with disabilities who wish to provide for themselves. This fabulous shop is run by a great lady named Altynay Ryskulova. Here name actually translates as ‘Golden Moon’ and she is the angel who runs this amazing enterprise. During Soviet times people with disabilities were not well supported and most Soviet buildings were not accessible at all. Job prospects were bleak. Today there are still many of the physical and social needs. Old prejudices still exist, and there are few support systems for people who have handicaps and they need work. Koldo supports many such people by selling goods produced by people who cannot find work for so many reasons. I stopped in on a day that Altynay was doing renovations of the shop in January. She was very eager to explain the work that the shop does and the people she supports. I did see some amazingly well made crafts that had been made by some of the clients. I hope to have better pictures for this tip soon to show you a better idea of what Koldo looks like.
To best tell the story, I have quoted at length from their leaflet to tell a story not many people know about. Please visit their Facebook page for some great photos.
Koldo is open from 09:00-20:00 every day. Here are some of the great things they sell:
• Honey and jams
• Pickled vegetables
• Knitted items
• Handbags & wallets
• Rugs, pillows & blankets
• Scarves, hats &accessories
• International newspapers, books and DVD’s
Koldo’s General Partners:
• Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia (EFCA) – supports vulnerable groups
• FINCA – (means ‘Estate’ in Spanish) – provides financing for poor micro-businesses
• HelpAge International
• The Embassy of the Netherlands in Kazakhstan
FROM THEIR LEAFLET
“Social shop to support people with disabilities. The purpose of this shop is to provide jobs and career training to people living with disabilities as ell as a smoke-free, family orientated and physically accessible establishment for locals and expatriates to frequent. Currently, there are 124,800 people with disabilities (PWD) living in the Kyrgyz Republic. Of these approximately 80,000 are of working age, yet only 10% are able to find work. Inaccessibility to buildings as well as negative stereotypes contributes to the lack of job opportunities. The gift shop sells products made by our income generation non-government organisations (NGO) along with donated items from the community.”
Erkindik Prospect is a long tree and bench lined pedestrian way interspersed with children's play equipment, food kiosks, ping pong tables. It's a great place to relax (bring some fruit and snacks from the bazaar) and get a sense of Bishkek.
While the streets are paved with greedy and corrupt police (especially by Catstro Street) we never saw any or had to deal with any. What we did have to deal with were tree-lined, side-walk-lined streets that were very pleasant to walk along even during the heat of the day. Bishkek has a nice feel about it, relatively friendly and quiet for a major city. Many of the sights are within walking distance, especially if you stay around the center of town.
The most amazing part about this ceremony is that the steps do not differ at all from the changing of the guards in Moscow. This is part of the more innocuous legacy that the Soviets have left behind in the free Kyrgyzstan. It happens every hour from sunrise to sunset.
The Burana Tower is an 11th century building, that resembles the bottom of a huge minaret. Nearby is a mound which is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun. A small museum contains a variety of objects found in the area, including Buddhist and Nestorian carved stones and Chinese coins.
There is also an interesting collection of 6th-10th century balbals (totemlike stone markers).
A little bit outside of Bishkek there is a hughe outdoor market called Dordoi, where you can buy anything from sheep and horses to a spanking new cassette-player (yepp!). They also had copies of North Peak clothes, if you wanna look smart but dont feel like paying for it. If they dont have it you dont want it! Beware of pickpockets, and its easy to get lost here, we had to use a GPS to find our way out without losing our dignity...
You probably didnt travel to Kyrgyzstan to go bowling, but there is a fairly good bowling alley in the building behind Hyatt Hotel. They sell alcohol here, so it can be quite fun even if you are not a sworn bowling-addict. It is also a disco upstairs if my memory is correct, or was it downstairs?
Pay for the drinks as you order them, if you pay it all in the end there will probably be some "errors".
Tourists come to Kyrgyzstan to climb and trek, and not to see Bishkek. The city can easily be seen in a day, in my opinion. A couple of hours walking, and you would have seen the most interesting sights. Start with Victory Square, walk up to TSUM shopping centre, and follow Chuy prospekt east for 20mins. Voila.
It's like walking back 30 years into Soviet times. This museum used to be the Lenin Museum, and the entire second floor is dedicated to Lenin. It's facinating. You won't see anything like this in Russia.
The third floor of the museum is dedicated to Kyrgyz history.
This canyon is beautiful! Only 30 minutes outside of Bishkek by car, you would be insane not to visit over a Saturday or Sunday. Great for hiking, a picnic, picture-taking, or just bumming around, Allah Baatar Canyon is one of those places that forces you to take a step back and say "WOW! I'm in the middle of nowhere!"
Don't expect mountain lodges or 5-star restaurants here. In Allah Baatar it's you and the elements, so bring some water and your own snacks.
Definately worth a visit. A minimal entrance fee is required.
Toktogul Satylgan The poet, singer and instrumentalist lived from 1864 until 1933.
He was well know for his improvised poems and music.
In the turkish traditions the poems and musicians use to create their poems and music by improvisation.The art is to create on the spot .