Our route through Kyrgyzstan
This is the route we drove in Kyrgyzstan. If you are interested, you can click on this image below and it will take you to the actual Google Map online. You can then zoom in (or out) to have a more detailed look.
Border crossing from Kyrgyzstan into Tajikistan (Kyzyl-Art Pass)
Please read about this border crossing on the Tajikistan page.
Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan border crossing (Kegen – Tup/Kensu in Karkara Valley)
We arrived at the border crossing hoping it would be open as a few cases of bubonic plague have occurred in the last week or so. We were told by some friendly Kazakh guys that it was open a few days ago, but it might take a bit longer to cross due to quarantaine measures.
As this is a high altitude (2000m) border crossing, it is only open in summer. It was pretty cold when we crossed in late August!
But it was open and this was going to be our fastest border crossing of the trip, it took us only 25 minutes to clear customs and passport control on both sides. They were all again very friendly and helpful, and on both sides there was somebody who could speak English making it a very efficient process.
On arrival at the Kazakh side we stopped at the Stop sign to get our Russian import document out. Before we had it out we were already waved through to the gate. They pointed to a little booth on the left hand side for our passport control. We walked down and had to make sure both our feet touched the liquid in the sandpit at the top of the path. We assumed it was a disinfectant they were using for the bubonic plague in Kyrgyzstan. Cars on their way out of Kyrgyzstan had to drive through a sandpit as well, but we (on our way into Kyrgyzstan) didn’t.
Passport control didn’t take long. They asked us where we were going, wanted to see the car registration papers and gave our passports back with another stamp added – exit of Kazakhstan.
Customs wanted to have a look inside the car and whilst Jon was opening doors and drawers (again they seemed just curious) I was showing the customs officer the Russian import papers. He studied them for a while and then handed them back. I asked him if it was all ok and he nodded. Didn’t want to stamp it, just gave it back. A few minutes later the gate was open and we were in no-man’s land again.
This section of no-man’s land is very short, maybe 20m, and the Kyrgyz officer indicated where we needed to stop. Just in front of the gate.
They pointed to a little booth on the right hand side for our passport control. We gave him our passports and after a few minutes of him leafing through our pages he added our visa for Kyrgyzstan. Another stamp. The nice thing about Kyrgyzstan is you get your visa on arrival (including land borders), for free, and it allows you 2 months into the country. How awesome is that?
He then sent Jude off to sort out temporary import of the car whilst Jon was required to open some drawers and boxes again. He showed a particular interest in the bikes and indicated he would like to have one, or otherwise he would like some money. Jon said we didn’t have any and in the end he gave up.
In the mean time Jude was sorting out the paperwork for the car in the building on the left hand side. Three guys were playing cards as I walked in and I could definitely smell some vodka as they headed out and left me with the officer behind the desk.
He wanted to see the car passport and I handed him the car registration papers. He wasn’t happy it was just a copy and kept asking for the original, but after telling him a few times that was all we had he decided to enter the information into his computer anyway. I was then given a declaration form that serves as the temporary import paper for the car which I had to fill in. After filling it in, the boss stamps it and writes how long we are allowed into the country with our car. They asked us how long we wanted and when we asked for 2 weeks that was given without any questions.
We need to hang on to this form as it will be needed upon exiting Kyrgyzstan.
And then we were done. The second gate was opened and we were driving into our 10th country for this trip.
Kyrgyzstan – Kazakhstan border crossing (Bishkek)
A police checkpoint on the road is the first sign you are approaching the border from Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan near Bishkek.
We drove straight through the police check and the guys at the next gate pointed where we had to park. He then indicated one of us had to follow him with the passports. Foreigners are not processed in the same line as locals and he dropped our passports off inside an office behind the passport control booths and told Jude to wait.
In the mean time Jon was showing customs the inside of the car, so by the time we had the passports back we could drive straight through and out. This whole process took about 10 minutes.
We then entered no-man’s land and 2 other cars were already waiting on the bridge across the river. They seem to only open the gate for a few cars at a time.
A few minutes later they already opened the gate and we joined the few other cars in a queue. Foreign cars all seem to be sent to a narrow gap in the right hand side of the fence. We parked in the queue but were later told to move the car to the side.
Jude went with both passports to the passport control booth. There we had to fill in the little car process control form (tiny) which they have in a little holder next to the window. Date, brand of car and licence plate is all that is needed on the car process control form.
They also have the arrivals cards at the booth, but they are a bit harder to spot: located just inside the window in another holder. You need to fill in one of these each and sign it. This is the card on which you need to get your second stamp from immigration police within 5 days.
We then joined the queue again, but didn’t realise we still had to complete another step: our temporary import car paper. This was done in the offices on the left hand side, just past the passport control offices. Here you need to get 2 forms and fill in the same thing twice for one person only. Essentially creating a copy. They have forms in English if you ask for them to make it easier.
You also need your car registration papers here and your passport as he slowly copies details from both into his computer. Once the computer process it done, you will get 2 stamps on the forms, a date (by which you have to exit) and a number to match it with the computer records.
He then gives one of the copies for you to keep and puts the other one on a pile. We then had to show all paperwork to 2 guys sitting with the drug dogs underneath a half-open shed before they waved us through. Well, we had to drive back out through the narrow gap and turn right. We slowly kept on driving until somebody stopped us, had a quick look at all the paperwork to make sure we had completed it all and then we could drive out into Kazakhstan after they opened the gate at the end.
Back into Kazakhstan for us to pick up 2 visas and apply for one more (hopefully). As we plan to leave Kazakhstan again tomorrow we don’t need to get a second stamp from immigration police – or so they say. We’ll find out tomorrow I guess…
We’ll add the photos of the border crossings when we have time.
Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan border crossing (Bishkek)
We arrived at the border after quickly downloading our last emails with the Kazakh sim card and found lots and lots of cars parked at a closed gate. We weren’t sure where to go, but the locals were able to tell us cars were being let in a few at a time and we had to join them in the 2 rows of cars.
It didn’t take long, we were in when the gate opened for the second time, but one local seemed in a hurry and cut in front of us. As you enter the gate you get a tiny piece of paper: the car customs control paperwork.
Once inside we just parked behind the other cars that were let in and got out with all the paperwork. Jude, who was driving, was told to go to a queue with the car papers. You hand over your temporary car import form (you get this when you enter Kazakhstan), the car customs control paperwork (fill in date, car brand and licence plate number) and your passport.
He enters some information in his computer and stamps the car customs control paper, which you get back.
In the mean time Jon had been sent inside the building on the right hand side where he had his passport stamped out. This time we only had one stamp on our arrivals card as we hadn’t registered with the immigration police. As we had been in the country for less than 5 days this was not a problem. Mine was stamped as I handed it in at the booth where my passport was checked. This is to the right of the car paperwork, there is actually an English sign as well: Line for Passport Control.
When I handed it in my passport they also wanted the car registration and the car customs control paper. Another stamp was added to the car customs control paper, my arrivals card was stamped where the second stamp from immigration police should be (he keeps this card), and my passport was stamped. He actually asked me if it was ok he would now close the visa (we had used our second entry, so now it was no longer valid.
Jon had been waiting for somebody from border control to show an interest in the car, but when I had my passport stamped we decided to try to get out without them looking at the car as there was still nobody around. We got in the car, drove to the exit gate where the guard wanted to see the passports and we handed in the car customs control paperwork (the tiny bit of paper). He showed off his knowledge of Australia by saying ‘kangaroo’ and opened the gate laughing.
We were on the bridge in no-man’s land again. This no-man’s land is very small and we didn’t even have time to take a photo of the Kyrgyz border post.
A few cars were parked in front of us, but as we approached they opened the gate and we were all allowed in. When you drive in, you will see a car paddock on your right and that’s where we were told to park.
We did and walked back with our passports and car paperwork. We joined the normal queue at the passport control booths (2 were open when we were there), but when we got to the front of the queue he took one look at our passports and sent us back to the office a few meters back. We opened the door, handed over our passports to the immigration officer at one of the desks and went outside to wait for them. Two minutes later he came outside, we had another stamp in our passport. (Kyrgyzstan doesn’t require us to have a visa before arrival, we get it at the border for free – all countries should have this system!)
We then walked to the customs officer and showed him we had our passports stamped to ask what they wanted us to do next (using sign language again as our Russian is just like our Kyrgyz – non-existent). He took us over to a building in the far left corner of the car paddock and took us inside.
They had a conversation and then he took us outside again and indicated he wanted us to drive to the undercover area for an inspection. We drove Lara over and he opened the front door to have a look inside. “Expedition?”, is what I understood and I said “da”. We then showed him the map and explained where we had started and where we were going. Soon we had a little crowd of customs officers around us and our helpful guy was now showing his mates our route with the help of our map. They never wanted one drawer or door opened and told us we could go. But we didn’t want to go yet as we still didn’t have our temporary import paper.
We asked about it and they said we didn’t need it, so we explained that the first time we entered Kyrgyzstan we had to fill in paperwork for temporary importing the car. Again they said no, you don’t need it. But we insisted, saying we would have a problem when we enter Tajikistan and we don’t have any paperwork. At first they again said, no we wouldn’t have any problems, but in the end they gave in and dragged Jude, passport and our car registration paper back to the building in the far left corner of the parking to fill in the paperwork.
It was all in Russian so he helped us fill it in. He basically wrote it on one bit of paper and Jude had to copy it twice onto new declaration forms. One was kept there and the other one was given to us. Stamped and with a 14 day permit. We had asked for 14 days as that would give us a big enough window to leave Kyrgyzstan (we had already spent nearly 2 weeks in the country and were only planning on another week this time).
And then we were allowed to go, and this time we were happy to go as it was now actually dark and we try to avoid driving at night. At the gate the guard wants to see the stamps in the passports again, he had a good look at the photos and our faces, and then he opened the gate. We’re in Kyrgyzstan again!
A word of warning if you enter here into Kyrgyzstan. A few hundred meters further (after the last gate) there is a police station on your right. As it was by now dark and we were more concentrating on not running people over who were hard to see at night in the dark street, we completely missed the stop sign and frantic waving and whistle blowing followed. We stopped and luckily the police officer only told us there was a stop sign and as his English was as non-existent as our Russian or Kyrgyz he gave up and waved us through (well, we took his waving towards the parking area as a signal to continue driving, This might have been a liberal interpretation, but it worked). So keep a look out for the stop sign and make sure you stop there.
As we were only in Kyrgyzstan a short time we never bothered with a sim card (well, we spent nearly 3 weeks here but most of our time was in areas with no reception, including our hike so we decided it was not useful to buy one for us). We picked up some free wifi in various places and it seems to be getting more popular to have wifi for tourists in cafes, restaurants and hostels. We saw a lot of advertising for Beeline, a company we have seen in Laos and have heard are in Uzbekistan as well. That might be a good company to go for.
Food and shopping
Kyrgyzstan is heaven for those who eat meat, especially if you like kebabs (shasliks) and shoarma. Jon was able to eat from roadside stalls everywhere, just pointing at things that looked or smelled good. You can hardly go wrong there.
As a vegetarian it is always possible to find ingredients for a salad, and if you eat dairy you can choose from many cheeses. One of our favourites was Brinza cheese. They do have some deep fried goodies suitable for vegetarians and as they generally cook in vegetable oil those are safe to eat. We even found some with spiced potato and onion inside a pastry outer. Delicious.
There are plenty of supermarkets although most are more mini markets where you can definitely get the basics. The best places (we found) for buying local produce is straight from the growers alongside the roads. They sell everything (in late summer). Potatoes, onions, tomatoes, pumpkins, honey and all the fruit you can imagine! Watermelons were specifically prolific when we were there in September. They are delicious but absolutely enormous!
Apart from selling all kinds of fruit, the fruit juices are also amazing here. Supermarkets will sell any kind of fruit juice imaginable. Our favourites were cherry and grapefruit juice.
Land Rover garages
There are no Land Rover garages in Kyrgyzstan, but ask locals if you need a garage. Every town has a place to work on your car. We needed a welder in Osh and found a local to guide us to a garage. The first one didn’t do welding, but the second one did. We were (as usual) helped immediately and not long later we had our rear disc brake protection plate welded back on.
We filled up in many places (as you do when traveling around), including many small garages in the mountains, and never had any problem with fuel quality. We have been told Gazprom has the best fuel quality. You do pay a little bit extra for this, but we found they were also one of the few petrol stations who accept credit cards. All other petrol stations is cash only.
It is the usual Russian system whereby you need to go inside first and pay for the number of liters you want to get. Quite annoying as it is not possible to actually fill up to the top (unless you want to pay more and try to get the money you didn’t use back…).
We paid around 40 som per liter (diesel, petrol is a little cheaper), Gazprom was the most expensive at 42.50 som. This was less than a dollar (47 som to the dollar at the moment – Sept 2013).
Kyrgyzstan is by far the easiest country in Central Asia to get a visa. You simply rock up at the border and are given a 3 month free visa on the spot. This is currently applicable to 44 nationalities, so make sure you check you have a passport of one of those 44 nationalities. They are given at land borders as well as at the airport.
The roads in Kyrgyzstan were good and we saw quite a bit of roadworks to improve roads. There are some potholed sections and as soon as you get off the main roads they turn quickly into sandy or rocky tracks. The tracks into the valleys around Karakol definitely need a decent 4WD. And the same for any of the higher passes, especially if you are in Kyrgyzstan later in the year as snow will make it dangerous without a 4WD to cross them. On the first day of snow in 2013 (mid Sept) we already found more than 10cm of snow on the top of Kaldamo Pass at 2985m. Many locals in their 2WD got pretty stuck and needed our help (pushing and shoveling snow) to get back on track.
We saw many animals in Kyrgyzstan, again most of them sheep, horses, donkeys, cows and goats. But we were also lucky to see a lot of other animals. Unfortunately we were not fast enough to capture any of the ibex on camera, but here are the others: