Planning a trip to Turkey? Good choice! Here are some tips I’d like to share with you from my experiences in Turkey:
Turkey in general:
- Don’t exchange money at the bank counters. Instead use the ATMs with exchange facilities. No commission is charged at the ATMs and you will also find non-ATM exchangers without commission on Istikal street in Istanbul. Why pay a commission, when there are places happy not to ask you for it!
- Don’t expect not to be cheated. There are numerous possibilities of getting fleeced. Don’t be afraid to haggle or bargain, even at the places where you think there should be standard prices. You never know! Unlike India, there is no MRP (Maximum Retail Price) quoted on any product. The 2TL small water bottle you buy costs 0.25TL at a grocery store.
- Don’t expect to get proper directions. Google Maps and logical thinking got me better routes out than any local could tell. Even hotel/hostel staff misrouted me plenty times!
- Get a data only SIM card. It was the best thing I did. lots of hotels and restaurants have wifi, but having internet on the go everytime and everywhere saved me from so much stress and hassle. Using google translate helped out with places/shops where people did not speak English and having google maps to navigate my way was so much better than asking directions! I got a 4GB data only Turkcell SIM card for 95TL with one month validity at the airport (I ended up getting an extra 1GB on it somehow!). The SIM of 1 GB was for 85TL, I figured if I got 3GB extra for 10TL more, it was worth it. Retrospectively, 1 GB might have been enough. I was in Turkey for 2 weeks and still had 2 GB left even after trying to finish it with unnecessary app updates. The 3G network on my iPhone 4S worked very well, never giving me any issue and the SIM data speed was quite fast and efficient. Voice calling on whatsapp with the network worked perfectly. I knew that battery on my iPhone runs out fast on 3G, so I had an extra external battery.
- Sunscreen, folding fan, umbrella, water and loose clothes are a must if you visit in the summer time. I went in September, and you cannot imagine the sunburn I have despite all these precautions! (I know umbrellas could look ridiculous, but when you are at the historical sites with the sun on top of you draining all your fluids and energy like it is sucking it up from a straw that goes through you, you will know what I mean!)
- Get the IstanbulKart from the first kiosk you find selling it. I went to the one at the airport in front of the Airport metro station entrance, just below the Tourist Information Center. I had to stand in a line, but it was worth the wait. If you don’t get the IstanbulKart and you want to use the public transport network, please know you are screwed. Buses will have no other way to get a token/ticket and you may not always find a staff member to get you a ticket at ferry points or trams stops. The vending machines that should have the cards are all out of it, only refilling money works on them. Therefore, get an IstanbulKart. Not only you get discounts, but travelling is hassle-free. make sure you have enough cash on it though, I probably used around 40TL for the 8 days I was there. (By the way, I was taking ferries a lot since I stayed on the Asian side for a few days.)
- Though small, the Museum of Innocence is an unforgettable place if you love Orhan Pamuk’s book (The Museum of Innocence), museums, objects, nostalgia of objects, or butterfly ornaments.
- A trip to Kadikoy is worth it. The energy and life of that district is unparallel to any other in Istanbul. For one you will find less tourists and more locals. The nostalgia tram is so cute. There are loads of interesting shops, restaurants and hidden art galleries here. And being on a ferry around sunset means you will get fantastic shots of the silhouettes of Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia with the sun setting at the back.
- If you love art and modern art in particular, Istanbul Modern is unmissable. I loved the art displayed there and the Biennial – “Saltwater” is going on. While the regular gallery has a ticket, Saltwater was free entrance. Don’t forget to enter the feather curtain in the regular “Artists in their Times” display!!
- The Museum Pass for Istanbul costs 85TL and is valid for 5 days. It does help in avoiding lines. and it is cheaper if you manage to go to all the sites it is valid for. I found it useful especially because it was a bit of a motivator to head out of the Sultanahmet area. But, going to Chora church was disappointing since a lot of it was closed off due to restorations.
- Do take a 2-hour short trip to Karahayit. It was one of the best part of my trip. I went in the morning, took a dolmus from Pamukkale town for 2TL (I think). It was not very crowded and It was very pleasant to just sit with my feet dipped in the lukewarm water. There are cooler and warmer places in the pools there, so choose your water! Some people were dancing about waiting for the healing mud they had coated on their bodies to dry. The sulphuric smell of the mud reminded me of a time when I was small and had gone to Shehestra Dhara where there are sulphur waters.
- Instead of walking up the travertines and the down again, a less strenuous way of seeing the site is by taking a dolmus to the Northern entrance and walking through the Necropolis, and the seeing the sites of Hierapolis and down the travertines to the town.
- There is a lot of water control at Pamukkale and when I went there was hardly any water in the main travertines. Only some had some water. It did not make for a very photogenic scene, and I have yet to discover how to find out the best days to see them. If you know, please tell me!
- There were some travertines near the necropolis which had very few people and lots of water. Going to them was also nicer because I sat in the shade of the palm trees, avoiding the terrible heat. (See Tip 5 in General tips for turkey above)
- Take a pair of socks (ideally the kind with a good grip) that you could discard or wash later and not feel bad about spoiling. Wear them at the travertines where shoes are not allowed. My feet were quite sensitive especially because I managed to cut my sole. Socks came in very handy to avoid more hurt!
- Be VERY careful not to slip at the travertines. They are very slippery.
- Do not go to Turkey without a stop at Cappadocia. This place is a MUST for any trip to Turkey.
- Definitely go to Goreme Open Air Museum! And you should pay extra and see the churches that have an additional ticket there. They are marvelous treasures of the world! Not to mention, it’s a small price you pay that goes a long way in conservation of the art within. There are so many churches in Cappadocia that desperately need restoration and conservation, but we must be thankful for the ones that have been cleaned up for us to see the exceptional skill of those human beings who lived in troubled times, yet kept their faith intact.
- Stay at Kelebek Special Cave Hotel. I have not received any money to say this, (don’t mind if I do get some :)! ), but I have never stayed at a nicer place than this! The breakfasts – both normal and organic – were divine and so were all the other meals I had there. The fairy chimney room I stayed in was the cutest! The pool could have been warmer, but it was very relaxing nonetheless. (I did not take the hammam there – I wish it wasn’t so expensive, or that I was rich! If the hammam was affordable, I would have tried it out, even though I’m not sure I want to be scrubbed down by another person… I do still like the Japanese onsen system better though. ) It was a truly special place and the staff were very sweet to me.
- If a balloon ride is not for you, watching them from the sunrise/sunset point is equally rewarding.
- Do have a bite at the Cappadocia Traditional Pancake shop run by these two matronly women. I assure you, you want to try out these sweet treats(the pancakes, not the ladies)!!