We could have done it at the embassy in Bangkok but it is only open 3 days a week and 2h/day. And apparently, it is not very easy to get the visa. We went through Stantours who sent us a letter of invitation in 15 days via email. We got our one-month visa at the airport. Fixed entry and exit dates.
Cost of the LOI: 50 euros or 65$.
Cost of the visa: 45$.
1 euro = 200 tenge
There are ATMs everywhere in Almaty. You can withdraw dollars directly at the ATM of the RBS bank on 92 ulitsa Abilay Khan.
Road and sleeping
Almaty - khirghize border via Kegen (335 km)
The road is relatively flat until SHarin canyon (230 km from Almaty). There are a lot of villages on the road until Sharin canyon so it is easy to find food and water. For lunch, you can stop in small cafés on the way.
Between kokpek and Kegen (110 km), there is only one village, 30 km before Kegen. Take enough water for the journey as the water of the Sharin river is very muddy. The guard who lives at the bottom of the canyon sometimes has water to sell. 10 km track between the junction with the main road (not very well signed when coming from Kegen) and the top of the canyon. Then it is 3 km down to reach the bottom of the canyon and the river.
Qarqara, the last village before the border, is 15 km after Kegen. Then, the road turns into a dirt road.
Uphills: 3-4 km when arriving into Kokpek; 3-4 kmjust after leaving Sharin canyon; 4 km just after crossing Sharin river (about 15 km after the junction with the dirt road leading to the canyon); 13 km followed by a 10-km downhill arriving into Kegen.
Almaty : Hotel Saulet (Lonely Planet, same street as the french embassy, a few blocks south). 2,000 tenge/person. Rooms with 2, 3 or 4 beds. Toilets and sink in the room, shower on the same floor. They put our bikes in an unused shower room closed with a big padlock. The rooms are clean and the staff is friendly.
Bayseit: for rich travelers! Ayurvedic centre, magnificent double rooms for 4,000 tenge/person. We only visited it...
Kegen: when coming from Sharin canyon, the hotel is at the end of the village, in the street just before the road to Qarqara, on the left when you face the post office. There is no reception, you have to go and get the owners in their house behind the blue fence. Double rooms, 1,000 tenge/person. Toilets outside in the yard. No shower but a banya (sauna) in the village (300 tenge/person). The rooms are clean and the staff is friendly.
Apart from these places, we would ask people or cafés if we could pitch our tent in their yard.