This post is a continuation of a previous post. If you haven't, you should start reading from Part 1! Click here.
To recap, the first few days were spent on horses on the summer pastures while heading towards Song Kol, the pristine alpine lake that is only accessible this way. Next, we made our way from the town of Kochkor towards Bokonbaevo, a town on the southern side of Issyk Kul.
Part 2 will cover the bolded section:
Bishkek (1 day)
Kochkor / Song-Kol (3 days)
Bokonbaevo (2 days)
Cholpon-Ata / World Nomad Games (3 days)
Karakol / Altyn Arashan (2 days)
Ananyevo / Cholpon-Ata (1 day)
Bishkek (1 day)
DAYS 5-6: BOKONBAEVO
On the morning of Day 5 we made our way from Kochkor towards the Issyk-Kul for Bokonbaevo. We took a shared taxi (500 soms for 3 of us, amounting to 167 soms per person ~ 2.39 USD) to Balykchy, where we would stop for lunch and transit towards Bokonbaevo. It was a short 1.5 h ride, but I slept through most of it.
At Balykchy, we ate at a cosy restaurant called Cafe Smak. The meal was not the cheapest, but boy it was good. Tripadvisor is a trusty friend when you are looking for decent food options in a totally foreign town. One thing to note - in less touristy towns like Balykchy, even the top-rated eateries like Cafe Smak may not carry english menu. It would be helpful to have an offline Russian-English dictionary downloaded on your Google Translate app, or try to memorise a few key names of the local food. For one, I love manty (dumplings)! I always looked out for 'manty' on the menu whenever we dine.
Kyrgyz food was quite appealing to me - but I will not go into details about it. I think Destination Karakol does a very nice job of showcasing the local food, so you can check the link out if you are interested!
After the nice slow lunch, we headed back to the bus station and took another shared taxi to Bokonbaevo. It cost 500 soms for 3 people also ~ 2.39 USD per person. We drove past the Issyk Kul and took around 2 hours to get to our destination. (Fun fact: Did you know that Issyk Kul is 9 times the size of Singapore?)
Bokonbaevo is cosy village with a population of 10,000, and is the southern shore's largest town and an eco-tourism hub. It is home to the mid-August Birds of Prey Festival, which we missed! I can't really say if it is worth a visit because I haven't been there, but if you are in Kyrgyzstan when the festival is happening, you can consider joining in the fun.
We arrived at Bokonbaevo in the late afternoon, and made our way to the guesthouse which we had just booked on Booking.com. The place was a nice little house with a garden that had an entire yurt in it, and it appeared that guests dine in there, It was not long before we were told by the owner that guesthouse had no space for us.
What a bummer!
Fortunately the owner of the place was a super helpful and friendly lady, who Google translated her way through communicating with us. She brought us across the street to her neighbours, an old lady and her husband. They took us in. The shower was warm, water pressure was perfect, and the hospitality of the old couple was amazing. She treated us like we were her grandchildren. What is with the Kyrgyz people and their unbelievable warmth? I would love to provide a link to this couple's home but they do not do this for a living - they just happened to have space in their home and took us in for a few nights. We paid 600 soms ~ 8.59 USD per person for each night of stay,
Essentially, we learnt that in Kyrgyzstan, you will always find a hospitable local to take you in!
We took a little walk around town and I snapped some photographs of the streets.
The next morning, we hired a taxi to take us around for a full day (3000 soms for a car, so it was 1000 soms ~.14.32 USD for each of us). You can head to the local CBT, Community-Based Tourism, to book a car on the day before, it should cost roughly the same (the owner of our accommodations helped to book a car for us so that was nice).
(More about CBT - it is a decentralised network of tour operators, and has 16 offices across Kyrgyzstan. They can be your go-to agency for tour-related information in every town. Plus, most of their employees are able to communicate in English. However for most of the time we did not have much chance to go with CBT, mainly because we found cheaper and/or more convenient options elsewhere. It is an option though, and if you are planning a trip you could check them out. GoatsontheRoad wrote a post about CBT, but I would take the post with a pinch of salt. Again, use your own judgment.)
Bokonbaevo boasts a sandstone landform named 'Каньон Сказка' (Skazka Canyon). Translation: Fairy Tale Canyon, because with a bit of imagination, you will feel like you have stepped into a fairy tale.
We also spent an entire morning chilling on an unlikely beach in the middle of the mountains. Entrance fee to the Tuz Kol (salt lake) was 100 soms ~ 1.43 USD.
Summary of the journey so far:
Day 1: Bishkek, spent the night at Airbnb guesthouse. 500 soms incl. breakfast.
Day 2: 6-hour marshrutka to Kochkor, 300 soms. Song Kol horseriding tour, spent the night in mountain yurt camp. 7200 soms for tour (all-in).*
Day 3: Song Kol horseriding tour, spent the night at the lake yurt camp.
Day 4: Song Kol horseriding tour, return to Kochkor, spent the night at guesthouse. 600 soms incl. breakfast.
Day 5: ~4-hour shared taxi rides to Balykchy, then to Bokonbaevo, 333 soms. Spent the night at the old couple's house. 600 soms incl. breakfast.
Day 6: Bokonbaevo, visited attractions via car, 1000 soms each. Additional 100 soms for entrance fee to Tuz Kol. Spent the night at the old couple's house, 600 soms incl. breakfast.
Total so far (excluding other meals): 11,233 soms ~ 160.86 USD. Not too bad.
Next up we would be heading to Cholpon-Ata for the World Nomad Games. I'd need to dedicate a whole post on that one!
READ ON: Kyrgyzstan | World Nomad Games