Keeping the ‘Stans Straight, Part 1: Kyrgyzstan

We know how embarrassing it can be when you mistakenly say “Kyrgyzstan” when referring to Kazakhstan at a dinner party. The music screeches to a halt, forks and jaws drop, all eyes turn to you. They’re all thinking the same thing: “Kyrgyzstan?! Uhh, ya mean Kazakhstan?” You bow your head sheepishly, grab your coat, and walk out the door. You are no longer welcome at that party.

Fortunately, we are here to make sure that you never make such an egregious error again. For the next week or so, we’ll present a short primer to help you keep straight the so-called ‘Stans (by the way, “stan” simply means “land” or “place”). Up first: fittingly enough, Kyrgyzstan.


Capital: Bishkek

Location: Shares a northern border with Kazakhstan and eastern border with China.

In a nutshell: The population of this mountainous ex-Soviet republic is traditionally nomadic, with only about one-third of residents living in urban areas; agriculture makes up the largest portion of the economy. There’s good reason to spend so much time outside: with its scenic, snow-capped mountains and lush valleys, Kyrgyzstan has been hailed by some as one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the world.

How you know it: One of the few countries in the world you’ve never been able to spell.

Interesting factoid: The Kyrgyz people were some of those who initially raided China, eventually causing them to built the Great Wall.

Make sure to check out: Bishkek: it’s the newest up-and-coming city in Central Asia– and yes, such a thing exists. Also take a look at Ala Archa National Park, 40m south of Bishkek, and home to dozens of glaciers.

Also in the series: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan.