I took a mini bus from Almaty in Kazazhstan across the border into Kyrgystan (the most difficult country to spell that I have visited so far). The road was amazing with flat steppe as far as the eye could see on the right hand side, and the huge snowcapped Tian Shan mountain range that I felt I could reach out and touch on the left hand side. The road was a well paved dual carriage way for most of the way.
I was worried about the border crossing - if they took too long with my passport there was a good chance that the driver of the mini-bus would just head off without me. Leaving Kazakhstan was no problem, a clean large immigration hall, not much of a queue, and waved through customs. Easy! A short walk across a bridge with a small river flowing below got me to the Kyrgyz Immigration post, a much more rustic affair.
The locals were just showing a passport to one of the guards outside the bright green tin hut, but my passport needed special attention. It was handed into the hut, but I was told to wait outside. After a few minutes (that seemed a lot longer), my passport was returned with a stamp on the visa. It appears that they don't need to see you to stamp your passport. Waved through customs again, and located my mini bus. Would that all border crossings where that easy!
The roads on the Kyrgyz side were not as good as the Kazazh side, but the mini bus got me safely to Biskek's bus station.
Independent travel isn't big in the 'Stans and if you haven't got a lot of time you just have to bite the bullet and get a private tour - which is what I did in Bishkek. That got me a day out of the city, and to two amazing but very different places.
The first was a hike into the Ala-Archa mountains about 40km south of Bishkek, I was amazed how quickly you can get from a big city into the countryside. The Ala-Archa region is beautiful, and reminded me so much of Switzerland. My guide was a pretty young student, who was studying Tourism, and had excellent English. Our driver was more the strong silent type, and our car for the day? a pretty modern BMW 5 series. Not really what I had expected.
After the delights of hiking up a huge hill to see a cemetery (it sounds worse than it was, as the views down the valley were spectacular), it was a drive past Tokmak to a village called Kegeti where the Burana Tower is situated. The tower looks like the stump of a minaret, and you can climb up a dark circular staircase to the top where there are good views of the surrounding country side. I'm told there are also views of the mountains, but it was cloudy when I visited, so I could only just make them out in the haze.
What's maybe more interesting is the Balbals near the tower - ancient stone markers, some have Arabic written on them, some are in the shape of little men. They reminded me of tiny versions of the Moai I had seen on Easter Island.