After a few hours exploring all that Bishkek in the winter had to offer, we drove 20 minutes towards the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the busiest and largest border crossing in Central Asia.
It’s best that you do this border crossing on foot, a 5 minute walk to the first passport check, as opposed to waiting in car traffic which can take up to 3 hours.
Eventually you’ll cross a narrow river, which is the official physical border between Kazkhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Then you’ll come into a small enclosed structure with booths inside. Head into a door on your left if you have a foreign passport, which they’ll then take inside to stamp.
You now have officially left Kyrgyzstan; you can skip the booths and keep walking towards the Kazakh border control.
In the next enclosed structure, a guard will hand out a small form for you to fill out on the side. Fill in the basic questions on your identifying information and home address, wait in line, hand over the form and your passport to one of the booths inside, and smile for their camera.
After they stamp you in, you’re now in Kazakhstan.
It’s about another 3-4 hour drive (depending on snow conditions), or a 2 hour drive in the summer, to Almaty.
Once arriving in Almaty, we dropped off our stuff at the hotel and began our city tour at Panfilov Park, a central hangout spot in Almaty.
Within the park on the east side is Zenkov Cathedral, once the tallest wooden cathedral in the world and Almaty’s oldest surviving tsar-era building.
A few paces further east is the sensational war memorial with an eternal flame honoring the soldiers of the 1917-20 Civil War and World War 2.
We then took the bus and walked through Republiska Alany, a huge square with the sensational Dawn Of Freedom Monument, honoring the 250 victims and injured during the Zheltoksan protests on December 17, 1986.
Then we headed up to Kok-Tobe hill, 1100m high topped by a 372m high TV tower. Although the cable car was closed, we took the 500 tenge shuttle bus that took us to the top.
Although you can come here for the myriad of family-friendly carnival games, it’s also the place for sweeping views over Almaty and the mountains surrounding the city. Although our very foggy evening took away such a view, it nevertheless added to the surreal ambience of our last night together.
The park here amusingly boasts the life-sized bronze statues of The Beatles, claiming to be the world’s only sculpture of the four band members together:
Then the group said goodbye to 7 of us as we held our last night’s dinner at a fancy place featuring Kazakhstan’s national dish, Horsemeat and Noodles:
The next morning, the remaining 3 of us remaining strolled the local Green Bazaar as it was waking up to a sleepy Sunday morning. The behemoth is a multi-storied, multi-building complex that sells quite possibly everything ever invented under $50 USD or less.
Afterwards we jumped in our guides’, Ben and Eilidh, car for an informal spin around the city.
…including a visit to Presidential Park:
…and Hotel Kazakhstan, famous for being the primary hotel for Soviet aristocracy during the USSR’s heyday. Its considered a landmark in Almaty and distinctive for its crown top:
And as the day was winding down the fog (or pollution, seeing that it was a Sunday) began to clear, finally revealing the famous mountains we’ve been missing out on all this time.
As with the conclusion of another monsoon, I say goodbye to the group and head onwards alone to Tbilisi, Georgia.
– At time of posting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, it was n/a – Humidity: 77% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: fog