Almaty (Kazakhstan) to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
The easiest way to get from Almaty to Bishkek in Central Asia is to take a marshrutka (minibus with a fixed route). These leave the utilitarian Sayran bus station a few times a day in the east of Almaty and cost 1,200 Tenge. The journey time is around five hours depending on how long you spend at the border.
You could also take a shared taxi to the border for around 3,000 Tenge but you will have to then find transport to Bishkek on the Kyrgyz side, making a marshrutka the most logical choice.
Flying is another option, but given check-in and waiting around you won’t save much time and will be missing out on one of the most scenic journeys in Central Asia.
I took a bus from Sky Hostel in central Almaty (Kurmangazy Street) and got off too early having to walk a couple of kilometres along the main road (Ulitsa Tole Bi) until I reached the large bus station next to a dried out lake. You can tell you are in the right place by the hordes of taxi drivers touting for customers and buses and trucks being loaded with goods and people.
Almaty to Bishkek Bus
I walked through the thronging car park up into the main building. Bishkek was signposted above the entrance and I found my way to the ticket counter and purchased my ticket for the next marshrutka.
I bought some water for the journey and went out the back to the waiting vehicles. As is common practice in this part of the world, there is no set time and the minibus won’t leave until it is full. Three or four people were already waiting and it took about an hour to fill up.
We left at around 3pm and set off through the congested streets of Almaty. It took over an hour to get clear of the city and then we drove up into rolling steppe land that was very similar to Mongolia; rolling green hills as far as the eye could see dotted with the occasional yurt or ger. To the South the Tian Shan mountains were an ever-looming presence.
The green pastures melded into the white jagged mountains towering thousands of metres above. I put my headphones on and gazed out of the window in my element. There is truly little better than being on the road surrounded by nature’s great majesty with the onset of a new destination on the horizon!
The Kordai Border Crossing
We reached the border at Kordai at around at around 7pm after brief stop half way to stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat from the roadside café (plenty of hearty dishes such as plov).
As is customary, we left the marshrutka with all our belongings to cross the border on foot and be collected at the other side. It took a matter of minutes to exit Kazakhstan and enter Kyrgyzstan and I was surprised that there wasn’t even a luggage scanner. As both countries are VISA free for UK nationals it was just a case of showing your passport, being photographed and then through.
Almaty to Bishkek – Entering Kyrgyzstan
I followed the others from my marshrutka and waited on the other side of the border to be picked up. A river separated the two countries and border guards and soldiers patrolled the area. I noticed some large birds of prey down by the river but thought better of getting my camera out. The sun was starting to set and it got chilly waiting the 30 minutes or so for our ride to reappear.
The journey into Bishkek took around half an hour and we were soon deposited at the Western Bus Station on Silk Road Avenue. As luck would have it my hostel (Apple Hostel on Chymkentskaja Street) was just round the back of the bus station less than 5 minutes walk away.
Bishkek is a capital city but is unlike one I have ever experienced and it seemed like a provincial village. No modern or high-rise buildings, mud roads and an air of the mysterious about the place. It was pitch black by this time and bus stations always seem dodgy at the best of times so I was glad to find my way to the hostel quickly.
After checking in at the hostel I went next door to a soviet style canteen. I ordered a big plate of plov for a few pence and settled down to a beer in the hostel. I could barely walk due to falling while hiking in the mountains at Shymbulak outside Almaty, and hobbled around waiting for my trip to the Burana Tower at Tokmok the next day.
Looking to get around more of Central Asia? Check out this useful guide on how to get from Bishkek to Osh.
Looking for somewhere to stay after your journey from Almaty to Bishkek? Check Booking.com for hostels and hotels.
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