If you’re backpacking in Central Asia, chances are you’ll at some point be in Almaty or Bishkek. It is a common route to try to get from one to the other.
Many people do that, both the odd backpacker and the regular Central Asian local. It’s also relatively easy: there are daily direct buses connecting the two major cities.
Here I’ll tell you how to take the Almaty to Bishkek bus with all the details. I’ll also share my experience crossing the Qorday border.
Take the bus from Sayran Station in Almaty
The bus station in Almaty that serves the route to Bishkek is called SAYRAN International Bus Station. You might’ve checked the hyperlink only to see gibberish “xn--80aa0arnd.kz”. Worry not! The URL is in Cyrillic.
The name of the station is “Автовокзал Сайран” (Avtovokzal Sayran) in Russian or Сайран Автобекеті in Kazakh. Anyway, the link is safe.
To get to the bus station take one of those buses: 7, 16, 19, 37, 48, 59, 63, 65, 126, 201, or 206. Just check the route on the application 2GIS which is the Central Asian equivalent of Google Maps (it even gives directions offline!)
The bus from Almaty to Bishkek currently runs 5 times a day at 08:00, 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 16:00, 18:00.
The ticket costs 1800 KZT / 3.50 EUR. Unfortunately, you cannot buy online, but you should be able to secure a seat even if you turn up just 30 minutes before the bus departs.
Qorday Border Crossing
After a short 10-minute toilet break and maybe some samsas (mmm, tasty, hot oil drizzling samsas!) and around 4 hours on the bus, you will be at the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border point at Qorday.
You probably don’t need a visa for Kyrgyzstan, unless you’re from one of the less fortunate countries. You can check online here.
Anyway, just take your luggage and follow the crowd. When I was there it wasn’t too crowded, but I’ve heard that it can get quite mad at times.
Also, Central Asian people do not believe in queueing. They will cut in front. Stand your ground!
The border check was pretty straightforward for me. I’m translating from Russian:
I: Privyet, here’s my passport.
Border Officer: …Where’s your visa?
I: I don’t need a visa.
B.O. [checks] Yes, that’s true. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan.
Apparently, even the border officers are not used to easy visa-free travel for most yet, so old habits kick in. Anyway, once you pass Kyrgyz Immigration, you’re met with this street sign of the first village in Kyrgyzstan:
How to get from Qorday border to Bishkek
Once on the other side, it’s time to get back on the bus to continue the journey. However, the bus takes a lot longer than the passengers to go through customs, so you might have to wait a while.
If you don’t want to wait, then don’t. Bishkek is only 20 km from the border and there are frequent marshrutkas running between the border and the center of Bishkek.
I waited 30 minutes before giving up and hopping on the next marshrutka bound for Bishkek.
If you don’t have Kyrgyz Som, there are change bureaus near the border that happily accept USD, EUR, KZT, and some other currencies too. Just don’t exchange much as the rate is much better in the city. Read all about money in Kyrgyzstan as a tourist.
The Almaty to Bishkek bus eventually reaches the Western Bus Station in Bishkek, which is 4 km from the center, so you’ll have to take a marshrutka anyway.
If you decide to take a marshrutka from the border, it should cost 20-30 KGS /0.2-0.3 EUR. It stops directly in front of TSUM – the mall in the heart of Bishkek.
Once in Bishkek, check 2GIS to see which marshrutka to take to your hostel. Chances are it’s close to the center and walking distance away from where the previous marshrutka leaves you.
If you took the bus all the way to the Western Bus Station you need to take bus 224 or 129 to get to TSUM. A taxi through YandexGo should cost around 230 KGS / 2.4 EUR.
If you’re traveling onwards to Osh, I suggest you read my smart guide on how to get from Bishkek to Osh.