With my trip so far being pretty active, I fancied a few days chilling somewhere peaceful and Kyrgyzstan’s huge Issyk-Kul lake seemed the perfect place to do that. The lake is essentially split in two where tourism is concerned. The northern shore is filled with beach resorts and holidaying Russians whilst the southern shore is less geared for travellers but is much more peaceful. I opted for the south and was so glad I did.
From Karakol, I took a marshrutka from next to Pushkin Park (alongside the petrol station) to Bokonbayevo. The fare was 150 som and the journey was around 2 and a bit hours. Bokonbayevo is the name of a small town towards the south-west of the lake. There’s not much there but just a short drive away are a number of yurt camps poised along the lake. It was here that I was heading to.
I opted for Bel Tam Yurt Camp, having messaged them on Facebook a few days earlier. The marshrutka handily dropped me off at the bus/taxi station next to the CBT tourist office in Bokonbayevo. From here to Bel Tam a taxi cost me 200 som. Shortly after I was at the ramshackle yurt camp, the pure blue shore of the lake just a few metres away. Bel Tam has about a dozen yurts scattered along its site. In many ways it’s very basic with the site looking somewhere between rustic and work-in-progress. But in other ways it’s got enough amenities for you to be comfortable – Western toilets, cold beers and lots of swing sets where I unashamedly embraced my inner child.
For a shared yurt (though I was the only occupant), it was 800 som a night including breakfast. It’s then 350 som per meal. I brought some food of my own so only had dinners which were really delicious, particularly the last night where we devoured Kyrgyzstan’s answer to dumplings which were heavenly. The yurts were great and super warm. I’d happily live in one in Hong Kong – they’re probably bigger than my flat.
I mainly just chilled by the lake, the warm weather making the rocky beach feel more like South-East than Central Asia, though the water in the lake is a hell of a lot colder. There are a number of activities you can join each day in various places around the camp. Unfortunately I arrived just too late to see the eagle hunting show. They also offer the chance to see a yurt being built from scratch which is pretty cool. Apparently the world record is 12 minutes!
Other than that, the almost desert-like landscape around the camp makes for some great day walks. There are a number of cool abandoned Soviet buildings and parks close by too which were fun to photograph. I also got a part time job teaching one of the summer workers English there! She was super keen which made a welcome change from the grumpy teenagers I’m used to teaching.
After chilling for a while it was time to head back to Bishkek. Bel Tam arranged a taxi back to Bokonbayevo for 250 som. From here, I was swamped by taxi drivers wanting to take me to the capital. If you walk past them however, you’ll find the marshrutkas waiting. Number 504 heads to Bishkek for 250 som. I had to wait for a while for it to go though. The tendency for marshrutkas to only go when they’re full to the brim is an annoying part of Kyrgyz travel. It took about an hour or so of melting in the marshrutka before it departed for the 4 hour bumpy trip to Bishkek. I’d finally come full circle!
Next stop – Kazakhstan!