This country is located in the central part of Asia. It may not be a country you are all that familiar with, but we’ll find out a lot more about it here. Furthermore you may not yet know that its currency is the som. We’re about to find out about that here too.
The som is divided into 100 tyiyn. However while coins for the tyiyn are still available, they are not often used due to the rate of inflation largely making them obsolete. If you do come across them they are available in the 1, 10 and 50 tyiyn values.
The coins you will use while you are there are the 1, 3, 5 and 10 som coins. You’ll notice they have a coin worth three som, which is quite unusual. Normally coins for many currencies are available in ones and twos in smaller amounts, and never a three.
There are lots of banknotes available but again some of them aren’t often used. This holds true for the 1, 10 and 50 tyiyn notes (yes, these amounts are available in note form as well as in coin form) and the 1, 5 and 10 som notes aren’t used much either.
The ones you will use are higher in value, starting with the 20 som note. Apart from this you can use the 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 som banknotes.
The Kyrgyzstani som can be traced back to the fall of the Soviet Union. Currencies were a little uncertain following this momentous event, since there was no idea whether the Russian rouble would be kept throughout the countries that had achieved their independence.
The so-called rouble zone held until around 1993. In fact Kyrgyzstan was the last of the newly-formed countries to leave the zone and adopt its own currency, which in this case was the som. It came into being in May 1993 and one new som was worth the same as 200 roubles. Banknotes were immediately issued for use although coins would not follow until around 15 years later.
You are unlikely to be able to get the Kyrgyzstani som prior to getting to the country. Only the most popular currencies are generally provided by your traditional bureaux de change at home. If you go to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, you will find cash machines quite easy to find. However this may not be the case elsewhere. Similarly credit cards can be used in the capital but not in all outlets, shops and restaurants. Elsewhere it is a little more problematic.
If you are thinking of taking traveller’s cheques with you, think again. The same situation applies with regard to cashing these in. You might be able to do it in the capital but elsewhere will be difficult. The best bet is to get some US dollars prior to going to the country and you can exchange those in outlets whenever required. The larger the denominations of US dollars you have the better.
Since you probably won’t know the exchange rate for this currency off the top of your head, you’ll need a good currency converter to do it for you. The som is not one of the most popular currencies in the world; neither is it one of the most familiar. This means some of the more basic currency converters probably won’t include it. You’ll need to find one that is all-encompassing and provides conversions for most if not all of the currencies used in the world today. Rather than scrolling through the options given, simply type in the ISO code for this currency – KGS. This should take you straight to it if it is there to be found.
Remember that this will provide you with the standard exchange rate as it is at the moment. You’ll get a slightly different rate when you exchange your own currency for the som, primarily because you will be at the mercy of bureaux de change or bank rates. However it gives you a starting point.
If you wish to learn more about this country, one of the best places to visit first is the official website for the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic. You can access this at http://kyrgyz-embassy.org.uk/.
It is worthwhile to get the latest travel information concerning Kyrgyzstan before you plan to go there. This applies just prior to travel and also while you are there, since things can change quickly. While the country as a whole is reasonably safe to visit, there have been incidents and clashes in border areas. Indeed, according to the British government website, some of the borders have been closed without notice at various times. This could make entering and leaving the country difficult.
It is imperative that you are very careful where you travel and that you pay close attention to your personal safety. Kyrgyzstan has experienced a high level of crime that does sometimes target foreigners. Theft is common and muggings also occur. It is best not to go out at night but if you do, take great care as to where you go and who you are with. Official advice says not to use buses or similar vehicles as they can be dangerous. Pickpocketing is a threat here so make sure you take great care of all your belongings. You are required to carry your passport at all times so keep a close eye on that too.
With all that’s gone before, you may be doubtful that you would ever want to visit Kyrgyzstan. Certainly great care should be taken and you should always adhere to official advice before travelling. However if you should ever go there it pays to know a bit about it.
The country is bordered by Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Samarkand. The capital city is called Bishkek, as we have already learned, and it is located near to the northern border of the country. This is not an old city and thus there are few landmarks that have a real history here. The National Historical Museum is worth a look, as is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, which is an impressive building. Visiting the Dordoy Bazaar is something of an experience, particularly as it is a huge market with many different areas and goods for sale.
Elsewhere in the country you can find Song-Kol Lake. This benefits from being hard to access, so if you do find it you will be one of the few people there. Make sure if you do go you only attempt the journey between June and September, since this is the only safe time to do it.
Another option is to visit Sulayman-Too Sacred Mountain. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be found in Osh, another major city in the country. You can climb the mountain (many do) and be rewarded with impressive views out over the city and the surrounding areas.
Perhaps even more impressive than this is the Kyrgyz National Park called Ala-Archa. This is an alpine park and isn’t that far to the south of the capital city. You would hardly believe you are that close to the capital when you see the sudden change in surroundings. Mountainous areas with a river valley cutting through the middle provide amazing scenes and many opportunities to take some memorable photos. Mount Komsomolets is here and many people arrive each year to scale it. This park attracts many visitors and there are many delightful areas to discover once you are inside. It would be easy enough to spend an entire trip to the country in this one park, such is its appeal.
We have discovered that visiting Kyrgyzstan is not without its problems and potential dangers. It is not one of the better-known countries of the world and there is no real tourist industry here. However it does have some great locations and attractions to share with the wider world. It is a shame that instability within the country means it is rather off-putting for many to visit. In many ways it is still finding its way after the break-up of the Soviet Union and still trying to establish itself as a country that is well-run and is a great place to live.
It is not hard to find impressive sights here you can see when the time is right. Hopefully one day the world at large will come to visit Kyrgyzstan and see how much it has to offer in the way of great attractions. Until then we should perhaps only view it from a distance to ensure we can see the best of the country without being in any unnecessary danger at the same time.