Located on the southern shore of Issyk Kol in Kyrgyzstan is one of our favourite destinations – the Soviet era Sanatorium at Jeti Oguz. Founded in 1937, it is one of the last Soviet era sanatoraums left still operating in Kyrgyzstan.
Visiting a Soviet Sanatorium is an experience everyone should try at least once. Stepping back in time, the buildings alone are worth a visit. Ornate with amazing murals, grand hallways and quirky designs, topped off with strangely placed art and design and furniture not seen for decades. The last renovations might have been in the 1970s, but there is a certain homeliness about them.
The staff can be abrasive and cold but given a chance can be a laugh and great fun. During the Soviet Union workers were given free holidays at these retreats in order to revitalise so that they could return to work productive and healthy. The treatments themselves range from the orthodox to the insane.
Jeti Oguz Sanatorium itself is famous for its hot spring baths utilising a mixture of locally sourced hot spring water combined with hydrogen sulphide and radon. Yes, you read that correctly, Radon, the chemical linked to increases in cancer. At Jeti Oguz it’s claimed a radon bath will actually cure cancer among dozens of other illnesses. Technically you need a doctor’s prescription for any of the treatments here, however luckily there are doctors on site who are happy to see you, once again for a very nominal fee.
Among the other treatments available include massages, acupuncture, pulsating therapy whereby they attach weird electrodes to pressure points and muscles in order to stimulate circulation and even another type of electro therapy whereby you’re in a bath of water and they send electrical currents through the water. The amazing thing is that almost all treatments cost around 100som ($1.20) or less, the massages are slightly more costing 400som to 700som, but are well worth the extra. One of our favourite treatments is the ‘mud bath’, unlike those sexy images of beautiful people slipping into a gluggy but ultimately comfortable bath of mud with cucumbers on their eyes, here they heat up large heavy solid slabs of mud and wrap them around your body, covering you in towels. It’d really hot and the redness doesn’t go away for a while after you’re finished.
For those game enough you can stay in the Sanatorium for the night, for roughly $10 a night, however getting a room can be surprisingly difficult in the high season as most slots are booked up in advance by locals. As with every sanatorium they have a cafeteria offering 3 meals a day also at ridiculously low prices. The meals are simple but hearty, a soup, a main – usually a traditional local meal such as beef cutlets (more like hamburgers) with rice or pasta, and a dessert. Washed down with a local milk beverage or kompot, a type of fruit juice.
Getting here by yourself isn’t easy but it is possible, with share taxis leaving from Karakol, the nearest major town, but the biggest hurdle is that of linguistics. No one working at the centre speaks a word of English, or any other foreign language as far as we’ve ever been able to tell, so unless you can speak Russia or Kyrgyz, trying to explain what treatments you wish to try will be a very fun event. Be prepared to play some charades.
If you’d like to visit this charming little gem of Soviet history for yourself, why not join us in Kyrgyzstan next year.