Three years ago I met a lovely guy Jey Chan from Singapore. He came to Kyrgyzstan for two months to teach English at a summer camp at Lake Issyk Kul. Later we met in Hong Kong and he joined the startup company InterCultural Education where I worked for a while. I was always amazed by his love for Central Asia and especially Kyrgyzstan but I never asked him why he loved my homeland so much. It’s never too late to ask, three years later I finally found out his thoughts about Kyrgyzstan:
When was the first time you heard about Kyrgyzstan?
I heard about Kyrgyzstan back in 2013. I was always interested in the mysterious Central Asia and I had confused both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as a single country. I remember calling it Kyrzakhstan then as I had almost zero knowledge of this region and it took me more than 2 weeks before I could memorise the spelling of “Kyrgyzstan”.
Why Kyrgyzstan? (what made you choose this country?
I was in my final year of university and have always been fascinated with the beautiful scenery of Central Asia. When I joined AIESEC, a youth led organization, I saw the opportunity to go to Kyrgyzstan and teach English at a summer camp at Lake Issyk Kul. I looked up Issyk Kul on Google and that was enough to convince me to choose Kyrgyzstan as the destination of choice.
Coming to Kyrgyzstan, as unknown country, what were your expectations?
I actually thought I will be riding horses around Kyrgyzstan instead of cars! On a more serious note, I expected the streets to be dirty and smelly and hot (it was Summer 2013) but instead, what I saw was clean streets with proper roads.
What was the first thing that grabbed you (in a positive or negative way) about Kyrgyzstan?
I still remember vividly on my flight from Urumqi to Bishkek just as we were about to land, I saw a ray of sunshine through the cloud shining on the vast plains of Kyrgyzstan and the land stretched as far as I could see. It was fascinating especially to a Singaporean like me who grew up in a country surrounded by sea. One thing that also grabbed my attention is also how there can be both left hand drive and right hand drive cars on the road at the same time.
What Kyrgyz food (or drink) was your favourite and least favourite?
My favourite dishes are Plov, Beshbamark and Shashlik. In terms of drinks, nothing beats having a nice cup of Aralash or Chalap Shoro under the hot summer sun. I do not have any least favourite since Kyrgyz food actually suits my taste a lot and the Babushka at the summer camp really took good care of my stomach during my stay there
Can you name the three things that you loved about Kyrgyzstan?
The first thing I love is definitely the Marshrutka. It is so convenient and I love how passengers can just pass their fare to the other passengers in front who will in turn pass it to the driver. It was certainly quite interesting see this spirit of cooperation happening even in the minibus.
The second thing I love is Vostok-5. While many Kyrgyz told me that it is a dangerous place, I spent two weeks there with a group of Pamir students and I certainly had really good memories of eating Lagman at Madina and then taking a walk inside KPCY.
The third thing I love is how friendly people in Kyrgyzstan are. Be it ordering food in restaurants or getting lost on the Marshrutka, they are always very patient and willing to help me out.
Which place did you like the most and recommend it to visit?
Lake Issyk Kul is definitely a must go especially in the summer. Lying on the sand while looking at the stars and hearing the gentle waves crashing against the beach is definitely recommended as well as jumping into the lake during mid-day while being surrounded by the mountains.
Would you recommend others to come to Kyrgyzstan? Why?
Yes definitely I would recommend people to come to Kyrgyzstan! The government has been relaxing their visa requirements to make it easier for foreigners to travel to Kyrgyzstan and this place has a lot to offer to those who seek for it. There are so much hidden treasures (figuratively of course) waiting to be discovered and you will be rewarded handsomely after the trip.
What advices would you share with other travellers, who plan to visit Kyrgyzstan?
Be open-minded and curious. While you are in Kyrgyzstan, pick up a few phrases of Kyrgyz or Russian and you will have a much easier time travelling. Also, if you intend to come at around April or May, be prepared to have a bath at one of the bathhouses because the government shuts down the hot water pipe for cleaning during these months.
If you had to choose one word to describe Kyrgyzstan, what would be it?