Hostels in Review – “The Great Game” (Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan)

Some reviews from my time in Central Asia. I don’t seem to have written anything about them to booking or travel sites, so none of them are rated.

1) USSR Hostel, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Date Stayed: 28 August 2014
Length of Stay: 8 Nights, in three segments

Outside Bishkek Hostel
The apartment block that contained the hostel. Very Soviet, yes …

Walking up the hostel definitely gives a sense of where you are – or at least where you were; it’s on the 4th floor of a 9-storey Soviet apartment complex, which sits on top of a row of shops. It’s a large concrete block, basically. Not pretty, but functional. It’s located a little way to the East of the city centre, a fair walk but on the main road so easy to get to by mikrolet, and obviously quite convenient for both the local supermarket, and a slightly overpriced restaurant.

It’s still a fully lived-in block – most of the apartments are residential. The ‘main’ entrance is around the back of the building, near to a small childrens’ play area. This is further evidenced by the layout of the hostel itself – with three bedrooms (two private, one dorm), a kitchen, a bathroom, and separate toilet, it’s a converted apartment and still very much looks and feels like it. This means that the kitchen provides the only real socialising area in the place.

Inside Bishkek Hostel
The kitchen/social area of the hostel. A comfortable size for the few people who stay there.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have charm; it’s warmly furnished and feels homely, and surprisingly isn’t cramped; the dorm’s a 4-bed but both bunks are along one wall, leaving quite a lot of space in the rest of the room to move around, store stuff, and sit down to rest. The kitchen, while not massive, is certainly large enough to comfortably fit most of the people staying if they so wished. The bathroom’s not large, but if you think of it as a typical family home bathroom rather than a hostel, it starts to feel more fitting.

Inside Bishkek Hostel
The dorm room in the hostel, complete with Lenin statue on the desk.

Given its location, layout, and name, you’d not be surprised to know it ‘plays’ on the theme a bit, with Soviet memorabilia in the dorm room, including small busts of famous Soviet figures (Lenin, Stalin, Gagarin, etc).

I found the staff to be incredibly friendly and welcoming, willing to put up with all the nuances and awkward questions that I had. In fact, I liked the place so much, I stayed there over a week, in three different sessions.

2) An Unknown Hostel in Almaty, Kazakhstan – possibly the “Home Hostel NUCHA”
Date Stayed: 5 September 2014
Length of Stay: 1 Night

I hadn’t intended on staying here, and with hindsight I probably shouldn’t have done. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad place in and of itself, just that I myself was in a bad place at the time.

I’d booked to stay in a different hostel in Almaty, but on the bus on the way there I’d got chatting with an English chap, working as a teacher here, who suggested I come to the hostel he was staying in, because it was cheap and friendly. He’d also invited me out that evening to a restaurant & bar he knew with a few friends, however then he buggered off without me that evening, while I was still trying to find where the hostel was on a map. No real loss in a way – his Russian was only marginally better than mine and his catchphrase was “I love Almaty, the women are gorgeous”, which probably tells you all you need to know.

It turned out the hostel, despite being on what felt like a dark narrow side street with trees and no pavements, was reasonably central, or at least close to a few restaurants and an easy walk into the middle of the city. It felt like quite a stereotypical party hostel – bright primary colours and whites abounded, the large but crowded dorm had simple metal-framed bunk beds, the kitchen and social area with large TV and video games consoles both felt quite busy, and I had a sense of a slight feeling of ‘organised chaos’ with staff wandering aimlessly about, clothes drying racks being placed in inconvenient places in the way of the bathroom, and an impression that anyone could just wander in off the street if they so wished. It also had Wi-Fi, but this was frequently crashing.

Inside the unknown hostel in Almaty
I have the same picture print in my bathroom! Note too the butterflies; a quirky touch. I’d probably have liked it more had I intended to be there.

Maybe my impressions of the place were tainted by my first couple of hours there, but I didn’t feel it was the right place for me at the time, so I stayed only one night and headed the next day to the hostel I’d originally booked. It’s telling that I don’t remember what it was called; I have a reasonable idea where it was (somewhere just SE of the city centre, near Dostyk Avenue), but Google Streetview doesn’t yet exist for Almaty. Deeper research has discovered a place appearing on Bing Maps called “Home Hostel NUCHA” (which doesn’t appear on Google Maps; the site is something called ‘Guest House KZ Hostel” which is in reality around the block) which has a similar layout and room look on the few pics I’ve found of it, so it may have been there.

3) Almaty Central Hostel, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Date Stayed: 6 September 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

In a way, it helped to have spent a night in Almaty before coming to this hostel, as it was quite tricky to find – its name belies the truth a little in all honesty. Although on one of the main cross-city roads, a couple of buildings away from a crossroads, and two blocks from a decent-sized supermarket, it wasn’t signposted at all, and from the outside looked like a large house. The main door was at the end of the driveway, on the side of the building, near the outdoor washing lines.

As in Bishkek, the hostel is but one small part of a larger residential building – not an apartment block this time, rather it occupied half the ground floor of a townhouse. Aside from a small kitchen area, there was one large dorm, a reception area, and technically a lounge but this seemed to be permanently occupied by the hostel owners – a fairly mono-lingual older couple and their family. They weren’t around much and didn’t seem too organised when they were – it took them a while (several hours) to work out who I was and that I’d pre-booked – although they were friendly and ‘inclusive’ – on the wall was a noticeboard of many of the backpackers who’d passed through, and as I was leaving she insisted on taking a photo of my feet for it!

The décor felt quite muted, with reasonably darker shades of furniture and flooring (browns), and without much natural light in the room. It did feel quite spacious though; a six-bed dorm with the bunks spread out around the walls meant there was a fairly good space in the middle of the room to move around.

Inside Almaty Central Hostel
The dorm in the Almaty Central hostel – quite understated colours and ‘mellow’, definitely in contrast to the other hostel.

I’ve always felt that the style of hostel determines the type of people who stay there; in this case, as the hostel was small and calm, the other backpackers staying were quieter, more ‘travellers’ than ‘party people’; two of my room-mates this time were another British guy who had a fascination with Russia and was taking a slow trip around the ex-Soviet states of Central Asia, and a Dutch lady living in Hong Kong who was aiming for Uzbekistan but having trouble getting the visa – not people who were here for ‘a good time’.

4) Biy Ordo Guest House, Osh, Kyrgyzstan
Date Stayed: 9 September 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

I quite liked Osh, as a small town, and maybe that was partly because the hostel was quite cute.

Although located a little way out of town, on a very residential street opposite a small shop in the suburbs up towards the airport, and though it didn’t feel that big, I felt it had a kind of calming charm. There was a courtyard with tables to eat at, in the centre of which was a fairly imposing fountain, and on my evening there I met up with a backpacking couple who’d come from Uzbekistan that day and we swapped notes while I ate their pizza.

The Courtyard of the hostel in Osh
I rather liked this fountain; quite colourful and quirky

The dorm room was a little smaller than I’d been used to, but it wasn’t full so it didn’t matter too much. It had a predominantly ‘wooden’ vibe, with bunk beds made of planks of wood rather than metal, and laminate flooring rather than carpet.

Inside Osh Hostel
The dorm room in Osh. It was quiet and pretty comfortable.

As I was only there one night, I didn’t really speak with the staff much – certainly I don’t remember having any issues with them.

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