December 9, 2014

How to Navigate the Bazaars in Bishkek

0_venividi_ruAs you meander across Kyrgyzstan, you’ll no doubt end up in the capital city at some point in your journey and either purposely seek out or stumble upon a bazaar.  At this point you’ve probably already read up on all the information about Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan that you could and know that a trip to a bazaar is a must. Nevertheless, as you stand just outside the elaborate, chaotic maze of vendors, already spying something of interest tempting you to venture into this whirlwind of arms, legs, bags, and money exchanges, you’ll no doubt find yourself thinking, “If I go in there, how in the world will I ever get out again?” A prudent question.

No one should miss out on the experience of bazaar shopping when they travel in Kyrgyzstan, so allow me to offer some tips to help you navigate Bishkek’s bazaars.

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BAZAARS: INSIDER INFORMATION ABOUT BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN

When it comes to more in-depth information about Kyrgyzstan wikitravel unfortunately

doesn’t have all the answers. You’ve probably heard about Dordoi and Osh Bazaar, but there are actually several main bazaars in Bishkek that are frequented by locals and foreigners alike that are big enough to get lost: Osh (known for its large food and souvenir section),

Alamedin (known for its wide selection of tools and building supplies), Orto Sai (a smaller, cleaner version of Osh Bazaar minus the souvenirs), Madina (known for its fabric section), and Dordoi.  (Dordoi is a different beast all together; I’ll talk about that separately.) Osh Bazaar isAlmaz Isman Kalet the most popular bazaar amongst people that travel in Kyrgyzstan because it is huge, cheap, and has the best selection of traditional Kyrgyz souvenirs in the country.  However, Osh, Alamedin, Orto Sai, and Madina Bazaar all sell a wide variety of items and cover several blocks.

KEEPING TRACK OF WHERE YOU ARE

Let’s just state the obvious high-tech way of keeping track of your whereabouts in a bazaar: GPS.  Snicker all you want, but many an experienced traveler has fallen prey to the labyrinth that is a Bishkek bazaar, has had to swallow their pride and whip out their GPS.  However, if you prefer bazaar shopping the hard-core way, sans technology, there are 2 things that will help you out tremendously. 0_86594_a6e047fc_XXL

First of all, before you walk into a bazaar, look at where the mountains are – that’s south.  As long as you can orient yourself to the mountains, you’ll always at least be able to figure out which way you need to walk to get out again and head that way.  Secondly, every main bazaar in Bishkek is divided into rough sections – food (and even that is divided into sections for fruit, vegetables, etc.), household goods, clothing, tools/electronics, souvenirs, shoes, toys, painting supplies, etc.   Remember which section you started at and in general which sections you had to pass through to get where you’re at and you’ll be golden.

Even if you only remember where you started, you’ll be able to find a bazaar seller that knows0_8659c_21e586_XXL_Alexander_Belenkiy enough English/German/French to point you back in the direction of the section you need.

DORDOI BAZAAR: TRAVEL ADVISORY, KYRGYZSTAN

When it comes to practical travel warnings, Kyrgyzstan has no greater travel hazard than Dordoi Bazaar. Dordoi is the largest bazaar in Kyrgyzstan, stretching over 1 kilometer in

length.  What can you buy there?  A better question might be, what can’t you find there?  This wholesale bazaar is made up of double-stacked shipping containers and is full of anything and everything you might want.  However, it also has the potential to eat both locals and foreigners alive!  Dordoi is so huge that there are actually maps printed out of it to help people navigate.  Don’t let its size dissuade you from going though!  You don’t want to miss out on the experience0_86591_cbb7657a_XXL while you’re traveling in Kyrgyzstan, just make sure you’re prepared before you dive in.

  • Tip 1: Get a map of the bazaar if possible.  Some coffee shops stock free maps of Dordoi that travelers can take.
  • Tip 2: Locate the minaret of the mosque located within the bazaar.  You can spot the minaret from the main area where buses drop people off at the bazaar.  If you’re shopping in the section around the mosque, the minaret will help you find your way back to the public transit drop-off spot.
  • Tip 3: Know which section of the bazaar you started at. Dordoi is divided into 4 major sections: the Chinese section (everything there was made in China), the European section,0_86595_19496139_XXL the Kyrgyz section (locally produced items), and the fur and leather section.  Each of these large sections is divided into smaller sections, for example, office supplies, shoes, kitchen items, etc. in the Chinese section.  Many of these sections are numbered.  If it’s numbered, you’ll be able to see the number of the section you’re in hanging from the ceiling on one of the main walkways.
  • Tip 4: If you’ve got GPS, use it!  Trust me, your ego will applaud you for using it in this bazaar.
  • Tip 5: Go with a local.  If you’re taking a tour with a travel company and a trip to the bazaar is or can be part of the itinerary, your guide would be a good option.  Now, visiting Dordoi with a local isn’t a sure-fire way to make sure you don’t get lost (because even some locals get lost in Dordoi), but if you go with someone that is at least roughly familiar with the layout,жетимбель3_Роман_Хитёв it’ll give you a much better chance of successfully finding your way around and out with too much hassle.

 

BAZAAR SPREE

Don’t miss your chance to experience an authentic Asian bazaar as you travel around Kyrgyzstan.  Yes, they’re huge and might seem easy to get lost in, but that’s the fun of it!  There are so many things to see and people to meet in a bazaar, you’re certain to walk away with bags of goodies, gifts, souvenirs, and great stories.  The only travel warning you should heed in Kyrgyzstan is that you’re going to want to buy everything you see in the bazaars – there’s so much great stuff.  Just make sure you’ve got some cash, employ a few basic tricks to help you navigate the bazaars, and go for it.

Picture from source venividi.ru, pictures by Alexander Belenkiy, picture by Almaz Isman Kalet, picture by Roman Hitiov

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