I have it admit it’s a little weird that I saved Bishkek for last. The capital has the biggest airport and it’s usually where people start. Bishkek is a pleasant city in its own right, but let’s face it, it’s not what you come to Kyrgyzstan for. But to be honest, it is kind of nice to be in a big city again.
Beyond the typical Central Asian chaos of bazaars taking over sidewalks (or roads, when there isn’t one) at the edge of the city, Bishkek feels orderly and almost Western. Bus routes and marshrutkas run on a schedule, and there are apps for figuring it out. 4G data in Kyrgyzstan is ridiculously cheap (8GB per week for $1.50), topping up is done by machines found in virtually any corner store or cafeteria, and people here are rabid smartphone users. Malls with international brands urge visitors to check in on social media, cafes serving real coffee do the same. Restaurants offer choice, for once — though sushi/pizza combo restaurants tend to be oddly prolific. Streets are lined with mixed-use residential buildings and shops and department stores.