10 Practical tips for bikepacking in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a country that I love and more and more people are discovering it. From the yurts and alpine pasture to the epic scenery with dry bike friendly roads it’s awesome. Therefore following on from my practical guides for Tibet and the Pamir highway here are my tips for a great adventure to your new favourite country….

  1. Get a local sim card. The 4G coverage is pretty good and data is very cheap. I have used the Beeline service with out issue. Free SIM cards are handed out at the airport or from most shops with a Beeline sign (which is every town). The process is easy; go into a shop present the new SIM card and they will register and activate. The best packages are fixed amounts of data for fixed periods I chose a pack of 5gb data over 7 days which cost £0.90!! I then just bought another pack at the end of the 7 days. Smaller and larger and shorter/longer packs were available and relatively easy to understand on the price flyer.
  2. Take a bike that handles gravel roads. The main roads are quiet-ish but you’ll want to explore the hidden corners and this means leaving tarmac behind. I won’t list where to go because it’s all amazing or look at our trip blogs for inspiration. Be-aware that the road into Bishkek is unpleasantly busy with mini buses and lorries and the road into Osh also gets busy, otherwise traffic is erratic but never that prevalent.
  3. Take plenty of medication and antibiotics. I’ve yet to meet a traveller who has spent more than 2 weeks in the country and not got sick. Re-hydration salts and diarrhoea tablets are not widely available nor is it easy to get much else. People try to avoid getting sick by everything from never eating out to disinfecting everything they touch and they still get ill. When a country has so little sanitary infrastructure bugs get spread quickly by shaking hands or washing in streams. With the altitude don’t underestimate dehydration and when you get sick just rest up and it’ll clear within a couple of says. It’s a long way to hospital if you’re in a really dire situation.
  4. Bring plenty of Dollars and don’t rely on ATMs. Cash is still very much king so lots of local currency and dollars as back up. If stuff goes wrong or you need to get out of a remote area then you’ll be able to hitchhike or get a seat in a mini van but you’ll need to pay your way. You pay for your seat and all the space your bike kit takes up and then maybe a bit more. It can add up so don’t rely on kind hospitality or hitching a free ride.
  5. Kyrgyzstan doesn’t do dietary requirements. The standard food is bread, cheese, milk products and meat. In season there are plentiful tomatoes, onions, peppers and Marion survived “fine” as a vegetarian in summer/autumn (albeit with some probable hidden meat consumption in soups etc.!). If you cook for yourself you’ll find pasta and rice. But rice doesn’t cook well at higher altitudes because it takes so long and turns to stodge. Oats can be found but they are mostly only in bigger stores in towns and cities so take your own or stock up when see them. The dried cheese balls are an acquired taste and a bit of a stomach lottery but you have to try them! Yogurt or fermented horse milk (kumiz) is another common offer and both, maybe, surprisingly are generally safer options although Kumiz is epic, lets just say that.
  6. Dogs hate you. Yes dogs will chase you a lot. They hate cyclists it seems and love to give chase.  Rabies is found here and they will snap at your legs given the chance so I would always recommend the rabies vaccination to buy some time to get that far away medical help. The solution is that they stop if you stop because they realise it’s a person, but if you cycle again they’ll just chase again! They only stop if you shout loud enough or you throw stones in their direction. Unfortunately being hit by stones must be a frequent occurrence for dogs because simply raising your arm and pretending will freak them out. I normally have a collection of small stones on my bar bag ready for passing through villages.
  7. Water will need treating almost everywhere. Livestock graze so much of the country that water is normally not 100% safe. A water filter is needed or treatment tablets – please don’t just buy bottled water all the time there’s enough plastic in the world without us adding to the problem. Boiling takes too long for me and at altitude it’s hard to know what temperature the water is boiling at because it decreases with height. I use a l.5litre plastic bottles to carry dirty water and then drink from a filter bottle.
  8. Get ready for more tea than you’ve ever drunk before. Tea is taken black with or without sugar, most Kyrgyz love a a bit of sugar though! It is great for dipping dry stale bread into. It is also always boiled so safe to accept from anyone you meet! I found only Uzbeks stirred jam or sweets into their tea but it might be something you see around the Fergana area.

    Buckets of the Kumiz stuff fermenting
  9. Avoid drunk people. Goes without saying but the only problems we’ve had are from drunk people. Just keep riding and avoid groups of men and women who seem drunk however friendly they might be it normally doesn’t end well. The Kyrgyz do like a drink and a drive after a good dance with the car doors open and playing music on the top of a mountain pass – this is something you’ll see and not only for the frequent big wedding parties. By all means join in with wedding groups if invited but it can be hard to leave without causing offence when joined so beware!!
  10. Don’t go in winter it’s very cold….but beautiful

    The amazing ride out



Any thoughts or questions?

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