Some Thoughts on Kyrgyzstan

This is my last post from Kyrgyzstan, and I really just wanted to get some thoughts on paper/web.  I think reflection is such an important thing to do, and I’m often so busy that I don’t have time to do it.  It’s now a month since I left Kyrgyzstan, and I’ve spent a day looking back on the trip and thinking about the country, and my experience.  I thought I’d sort them in a blog post.


On Pre-Conceived Stereotypes

I think it’s so hard to not think in stereotypes.  And, I think the idea of stereotypes is so often correlated with racism.  But, it’s really not.  I worried a lot during my stay in Kyrgyzstan that my pre-conceived ideas of the country made me a bit of a western-snob.  However, when I came home to Canada and thought of the stereotypes that others must imagine before coming to the country, I realized that it’s totally normal to imagine the stereotypes of the country to be a reality.  In fact, it’s so often what our tourism boards promote.  It’s no wonder that people think Canadians ride in dog sleds, live in igloos, and have bears in their backyard; that’s what we promote.

I thought Kyrgyzstan was going to be wilder, more nomadic, and that everyone would be getting around on horseback.  Essentially, I thought Kyrgyzstan was going to be Mongolia.  And while it was free and wild, it was totally different, more developed, and more urban than I expected.  But, based on all the imagery of eagle hunters, nomads, and wild horses in the back country, it’s easy to assume that’s all there is in the country. But, there’s so much more. And that’s definitely not a bad thing.


On Tourism in Kyrgyzstan

The idea of tourism in Kyrgyzstan is interesting to me.  When I go on these projects that are meant to promote tourism to a destination, I’m always left wondering “but is it REALLY a viable tourism destination? Will people REALLY want to come here?”.  And, I think the answer is yes.

But, there are some challenges for sure.

One of the things I always look for in a tourism destination’s draw is does it have something iconic, or unique.  Brazil has Christ the Redeemer, Peru has Machu Picchu, and Cambodia has Angkor Wat, for example.  Iconic locations draw tourism in a massive way.  The growth in visibility of an iconic location can change tourism for an entire country; just look at what Machu Picchu has done for Peru’s tourism.

I don’t think Kyrgyzstan has that.

But, that doesn’t mean that Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have something unique.  I just think that the draw here is going to be for a very niche type of tourist.  I think it’s going to draw the outdoors types. The type of people who want to hike without seeing other people. The types that really want to get off the radar. And, the irony to that is that if tourism grows, those people will no longer be hiking on unbeaten trails.  I think, though, the draw to Kyrgyzstan is going to be for Europeans who want to escape their over-crowded trails for somewhere much more free, and wild.  And, I think it can become THE destination for that market.  And, it is a big market.

In short, tourism has a lot of room to grow in Kyrgyzstan. It has a reason for people to come, and it has capacity to build and expand.  I think that tourism in Kyrgyzstan grows by 500% in the next decade. I think the growth potential is there. But, I also think there may be a ceiling to that growth.

Kyrgyzstan Horse

On My Personal Growth

I had an interesting thought in Kyrgyzstan based on my personal growth.  I often worry if my personal growth has slowed down of late.  I feel like when I started travelling, my growth was on steroids.  Like every day I was maturing a month’s worth.  But, you almost become desensitized to the world after a while.  Things that used to shock or surprise you become part of daily routine.  And, I miss the growth.  I miss the battles. I miss the challenges and finding ways to overcome them.

But, part of that is my own doing. I’ve been focusing on work, and not enough on myself.  Even on this trip, nothing I did really pushed me.  If I want personal growth, I might need to take things to more extremes. For example, in a return to Kyrgyzstan I’d love to do something epic. Like, a 10-14 day trek way off the beaten path.  There’s no way you can’t grow in those regards.


On My Failures in Travel Photography

I didn’t capture Kyrgyzstan the way I saw it.  And, part of that was a result of me vlogging a lot and focusing on video.  But, I really wish I would have had the opportunity to capture more portraits of people.  There were so many opportunities to get shots of my porters on the hikes, of the people that invited us into their homes for meals, etc.  But, I didn’t.

I feel like I kind of failed in that regard.

But, to be fair to myself, I think it’s just a matter of biting off more than I can chew. I do too much.  I need help.  Having an assistant help me shoot B-Roll out in the field, I think, would make a massive difference.  I think it would allow me to focus more on the photography, and I think I’d enjoy the travel experience more, and get more out of it as well.  Having Greg help shoot in Patagonia was so helpful.  I think in the future I might need to ask to bring an assistant along on these projects.

portraits of people

On Development via Tourism

I’ve always been a massive fan of development via tourism. So, I’m so happy to see them working on this in Kyrgyzstan thanks to the help of USAID BGI.  I’ve worked on projects like this in a number of places in the world, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I say this all the time, tourism is the only industry I know in which money goes out of one economy and into another with nothing monetary going the other way.  Essentially, in all other trade there is a “trade”. In tourism, there isn’t. The trade is for an experience. There is no reason why countries shouldn’t develop a tourism industry as it brings outside money into the country.  Moreover, that money usually goes deep into the economy.  It’s not dropped into the hands of the wealthy, everyone benefits: shop keepers, hotel staff, guides, servers, etc.

Kyrgyzstan is well on their way with this project.  And, I’m glad to see that they’re also adding educuational components to their aid.  It’s so easy to just hand money to people and tell them how to use it, it’s much better to empower them and teach them skills that will help them grow long term.  Big ups to USAID BGI for taking this approach, and big ups to the Kyrgyz government for being supportive of it as well.


What’s Next?

I’ve kind of been all over the place of late.  I posted a guide to the best photography locations on Isle of Skye recently, and I’ve got a couple more posts from the UK coming soon. In real time, I’m back in Canada (as you can see on my travel vlog), and there will be posts coming from here as well.  Stay tuned. Lots of content coming.

This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Excellent insight reading this.

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  2. Hi Brendan,

    I just landed on your site and immediatly saw some posts that caught my attention as I’m very keen on going to these countries as well. Your pictures are great and full of atmosphere and accompanied clear writing! And as an aspiring travel photographer/writer I enjoy reading your tips on that aspect as well.

    I was wondering if you travelled here alone, how you got around and if this was an assignment for the project you mentioned?

    P.s I wouldn’t mind coming as your assistent on your next trip 😉

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  3. It’s great you got to visit before tourism takes off… if it every does. Soooo far away though…

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  4. I lived in Kyrgyzstan 9 years ago and have since re-visited; the changes since then have been very noticeable. Infrastructure is now much better outside Bishkek, visas are no longer required, and (most importantly from a tourism perspective) the cost of flights have plummeted. From London, you can now get return flights to Bishkek for less than £300- it is often the cheapest ‘long haul’ destination available. When I first went to Bishkek, it was often cheaper to fly to Sydney as the only people flying to Bishkek from London were on expense accounts, and tickets were priced accordingly.

    Kyrgyzstan will always be a bit niche for western tourists but I agree there is huge room for growth. Independent travel there is cheap and relatively easy; as a ‘soft adventure’ destination it ticks most of the boxes. The geography (no coast), lack of amazing historic architecture, easy connections with neighbouring countries and harsh winters will always limit tourism to some extent in a way that is not the case for, say, Georgia.

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  5. Really nice and sup pub massive fan of development via tourism industry…….

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  6. Thanks for sharing, Kyrgyzstan nice palace. I really like your blog post very much. You have really shared a informative and interesting blog post with people.

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