Since the tourism industry in Kyrgyzstan is in its youth, there are not souvenir shops everywhere you look. This is both bad and good. A booming tourism industry in Kyrgyzstan would be great in that it would mean travelers could find all kinds of souvenir and gift shops wherever they go, and let’s face it, that is incredibly convenient. However, not having a tourism industry that has taken over the country is also refreshing because travelers can see the original identity of Kyrgyzstan without the glitz and glamour of the touristy mask that many countries wear, making it hard to see the face underneath. In order to help you find the best places for great souvenirs, here is a list of 8 different places that you will be able to unearth some treasures.
SOUVENIRS IN BISHKEK
- Tsum: Multi-Story Shopping Mall
The most well-known place for souvenir shopping is a Kyrgyzstan shopping mall named Tsum. Don’t discount it if you think that just because it is a big shopping mall in Kyrgyzstan, it will not have great, authentic souvenirs. It actually has the most hilarious, random collection of souvenirs I have ever seen. Want a Soviet era gas mask? How about an old Central Asian stringed instrument with a triangular body? Traditional Kyrgyz jewelry with a modern twist? Handmade felt items, chess sets, old paintings, pocket watches, fur hats, tea bowls? Souvenir shopping in Kyrgyzstan’s largest shopping mall feels like a cross between souvenir shopping and antiquing, so make sure to check it out!
- Osh Bazaar: Outdoor Market
Osh Bazaar in Bishkek has a great selection of handcrafted souvenirs. Prices are cheaper, the atmosphere in energizing, and you get to haggle! Osh Bazaar features lots of felt and leather-made souvenirs. The souvenir vendors in Osh Bazaar do not have the same eclectic selection as Tsum, but the prices are much lower and many of the souvenirs are handmade. If you would like to hunt a little bit more for souvenirs, there is a section of Osh Bazaar on the opposite side of the market from the souvenir section where people sell used goods. It is like a massive yard sale. If you want to go digging, this area has lots of junk, but potentially also has some great finds: Samovars, guitars, old Russian books, tea bowls, etc.
- Art Sellers:
Near the main square in Bishkek is a place locals call “The Gallery.” It is a covered row of paintings where you can buy gorgeous paintings with Kyrgyz themes at surprisingly low prices. Some pictures depict everyday Kyrgyz life, some the mountains, and some various festivals or celebrations.
SOUVENIRS IN KOCHKOR
- Altyn Kol: Handcraft Shop
Kochkor is a small town that many people stop by on their way to visit Lake Song Kul, one of the most popular Kyrgyzstan travel destinations. Kochkor is the home of the first Community Based Tourism center in Kyrgyzstan which makes sure that money made from tourism goes right back into the local community. If you are on your way to Lake Song Kul, make sure to stop by the Community Based Tourism center in Kochkor because there is a small store just next to it that sells some of the best quality felt products in Kyrgyzstan: shirdaks (felt carpets), traditional hats, toys for children, etc. All the items are made by women in Kochkor and when you buy something, you directly support the local economy.
SOUVENIRS IN KARAKOL
- One Village, One Product: Handcraft Shop
Karakol is another one of Kyrgyzstan’s popular travel destinations because it makes a good home base from which to branch out and visit the various gorges in the Issyk Kul area. If you find yourself in Karakol, on the main road through the city next to Caravan is a store called One Village, One Product. They sell excellent quality felt and leather products, soaps, and a wide variety of local jams.
SOUVENIRS IN THE CITY OF OSH
- Osh Bazaar: Outdoor Market
The city of Osh is over 3,000 years old and houses one of the largest bazaars in Kyrgyzstan. As an added bonus, the Osh Market is said to have been in operation since the times of the Great Silk Road! Travelers can find a huge selection of souvenirs in this market ranging anywhere from keychains to traditional dresses to tushuks (decorative Kyrgyz sleeping mats).
SOUVENIRS IN CHOLPON ATA
- Roadside Vendors
If you are traveling through Kyrgyzstan, there is a 90% chance you will at least swing by Lake Issyk Kul, the ultimate of all Kyrgyzstan travel destinations. There are several cities and villages that huge the shore of the lake, one of them being the city of Cholpon Ata on the northern shore. On the main road the leads you through the city, there are small stands set up next to the road in the summer where people sell treated animal skins (usually cow, sheep, and goat), baskets, homemade jam and honey (delicious!), and other assorted items. While these stands are small, they sell some great items to take home as souvenirs.
- Kancha: Kyrgyzstan Online Shopping
There is a unique business that sells Kyrgyz felt and leather-made products online. What makes them so unique is that they specialize in high quality sleeves for laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Everything is handcrafted in Kyrgyzstan and uses only local materials. Each type of sleeve comes with several design options, some traditional Kyrgyz patterns, some more modern. To do some online shopping for souvenirs from Kyrgyzstan that also meets a practical need, visit their website at http://kancha.de/en.
Of course, there are other places to find souvenirs: the airport, small kiosks in Kyrgyzstan’s other shopping malls, museum gift shops, and small souvenir shops in the downtown areas of the larger cities. However, these 8 locations mentioned above are the ones that I find the most interesting for one reason or another either. I hope they prove useful to you – happy shopping!
Photos by Vlad Ushakov, photos from sources: http://travel-tourism-trip.blogspot.ru, http://alatoo.nl, http://gofunnpics.blogspot.com