8 Don'ts While Traveling Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a newly independent state, one of the former Soviet Republics. Although Russian is spoken all over the country except for the remote mountainous villages (called auls or kishlaks here) the mentality, the culture, the people are completely different. Even local ethnical Russians are greatly influenced by the local mentality and are more of the so-called third culture by their mindset.

kyrgyzstan travel

1. Don't Call It Russia

And here is the first DON'T. The Kyrgyzstan people are very proud of their independence, so DON'T call them a part of Russia. They are friendly to Russia but still, they definitely won't be very happy if you call their country Russia.

So, what is Kyrgyzstan like? A small mountainous country with a population of around 5.5 million people. About 80% of its area is covered with beautiful mountains. Since mountains can be seen from wherever you are, it's common among the locals to use 'upwards' and 'downwards' as navigation terms eg: 'go up the street' or 'it's a bit lower down the street'.

It has a continental climate with mild winters and hot and long summers. In July and August it may be as hot as 40 degrees Celsius but you can always escape from the heat taking a trekking tour in the mountains. It's completely different up there. Let's say when it's around 40 in Bishkek it may be 12-15 degrees and raining heavily just a thousand meters up in the mountains. And it's time for some DON'Ts.

2. Don't Go Too High

If you are not sure about your heart and vascular system, lungs and general state of health, you've never been high in the mountains and don't know how your body may react to height DON'T go too high in the mountains! Mountain disease is not a myth! If you are going on a trekking tour make sure you will be able to go down anytime.

3. Don't Ignore Your Body Signals

Pay attention to how you are feeling as you are ascending. If you are feeling dizzy or your head starts aching or your heartbeat feels weird DO NOT ignore those symptoms!

4. Don't Expect Western Standards in Relation To Animals

If you are not an experienced horse rider or you are an animal rightist think twice before you take a horse riding tour in the mountains. DON'T expect western standards here. A horse has always been a working animal, not a pet or an amusement, for the locals. You can always take a car or a walking tour and avoid pain in your body and soul you might gain from a horse riding tour.

5. Don't Eat Too Much

Food. Central Asian cuisine is probably one of the best cuisines in the world, not quite suitable for vegetarians and vegans though. The roots are in the culture, of course. Historically the Kyrgyz are nomads. They have never been agricultural people. And once again we should remember about the mountains.

Mountains are the clue to all the peculiarities here. They are great to breed sheep. And this is what the locals have always done. So, the basis of the cuisine is lamb and horse meat. And believe me, you will never find such a flavorous mutton anywhere on the globe!

And here is another DON'T. Be careful! If you are not used to such food DON'T eat much during your first days of stay and drink a lot of hot tea with every meal.

6. Don't Reject Food Offered by Locals

Hot tea is a traditional beverage among the locals. You will always be offered to have a bowl of tea wherever you come. By the way, here is another important DON'T. Whenever you are offered food or tea DO NOT reject it unless you want to seem disrespectful to the host. It is a tradition. Even if you are full take at least a piece of Naan (the local flatbread) and a swallow of tea just to show respect and appreciation.

7. Don't Make Ethnicity Notes

Kyrgyzstan is an extremely multiethnic place. They account for as many as 80 ethnicities living here side by side. The cultures converge and mix. There are a lot of mixed marriages. In general, the atmosphere is very cosmopolitan and friendly. But unless you are 100% sure you know the person's ethnicity DO NOT try to pay any ethnicity-based compliments or make other notes. Sorry to say this but there are certain local undertows we might not know.

8. Don't Think It's 100% Safe

And last but not least. Many people say Kyrgyzstan is an absolutely safe place. DON'T be confused by those statements. Cities are very poorly lit during the dark hours of the day and it may be extremely unsafe to walk there. Also, watch out for pickpockets on public transport and walking around the city or exploring the local bazaars.
Kalyan Panja