I’ve just done my solo DIY backpacking trip to Turkey (Istanbul, Antalya, Cappadocia & Rize) from October 1 to 15, 2021. It was a trip like no other for two different reasons. First is the fact the Turkey is another world, second reason is because it was my first backpacking trip during Covid-19 pandemic.
For Filipinos in Dubai who want to travel to Turkey, you need to secure a visa and you can apply through VFS Global. Procedure and list of requirements can be found here. You need to book an appointment and the whole process will take minimum of five working days. In my case, it took exactly five days.
However, if you have a valid Schengen or US visa, you can gen an E-Visa through this link. Make sure you meet all the requirements so you won’t end up getting offloaded.
Make sure you are fully vaccinated and you have the certificate printed out. If you haven’t received two doses of vaccine yet, you need to have negative PCR test result that’s within 72 hours.
Flew through Fly Dubai and landed at Istanbul Airport (IST) at around 3:40PM. Bought my local SIM card from the airport which cost me 390 TRY and that’s about 150 AED for 50 GB of data. It was quite expensive but I had to buy from the airport since I needed data to find my way to the city.
After stepping out of the airport, you can take Havaist bus to the city center. It is located at the basement part of the airport. You need to take the lift just outside the airport exit door, just press -1 on the lift.
You will find different platforms there. Since my Hostel is in Kadikoy, I took the bus that’s on platform 14. It’s a bus taken mainly by locals since you won’t really find it being suggested by Google maps. It only cost me 38 TRY. If you will take a taxi it will cost you around 150 to 200 TRY.
Checked in at Hush Hostel Lounge. Booked from October 1 to 5 and cost me 261 AED. Very nice Hostel. If you want quiet nights after tiring days of exploring, this is a must book.
Kadikoy is in the ASIAN part of Turkey. This has more of the youth vibe and a bit cheaper than the very touristic EUROPE part. I also loved the place because a vessel/boat ride will be part of your daily commute. A 10-minute boat ride from ASIA to EUROPE will cost you 8 TRY (about 3 AED).
Time to explore Taksim Square and the ever crowded Istiqlal Street. From Kadikoy, I took a vessel/boat and got off Karakoy. Took the tram from Karakoy to Kabatas station then took the Funicular to Taksim square. Total cost was 12 TRY. Card can be bought from the station itself.
Taksim Square and Istiqlal Street are packed with plenty of people. Everything looked pretty normal in Turkey in general. Mask is kind of optional outside public transport.
The area around the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) is probably one of the most touristy parts of Istanbul. To get there, after getting off the boat at Karakoy, you can take the tram and get off at Sultanahmet station. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are just next to each other.
There is no entrance fee to get in but you have to be in proper clothing. Female visitors have to wear a headscarf to visit the sixth-century site. Entering it with shorts or “revealing” clothes is banned.
The cafes just around the area and other nearby mosques are worth checking out, too.
I explored Galata Tower neighborhood and also had the mandatory rooftop photo for everyone visiting Istanbul. If you want to see a 360 view of Istanbul, Galata Tower got you covered. I didn’t try it since there was a long queue. What I did try though is having my photo taken from one of many rooftop cafes overlooking the amazing view of Istanbul.
I chose Nova Santiye Cafe since I saw some good reviews online. I’m not the person who actually will pay for someone to take my photo but I had to pay 150 TRY (50 AED) for this one since that was the only option for me. I was supposed to go to a rooftop inside an almost-abandoned building but unfortunately it’s already been closed. I think the photos came out worth the 150, though.
DAY 5 to 7
The fifth day was when I flew to Antalya. My flight was departing from Sabiha Gokcen (SAW). To get there from Kadikoy, you need to take the Havaist bus from the bus station. The bus station is just 1 minute walk from Hush Hostel.
I left Istanbul at 2:30PM and landed in Antalya at around 3:40PM. It was a 1-hour flight with Turkish Airlines and cost me 395 TRY (150 AED).
There is a metro train from Antalya airport to the city center. Getting a card was a bit tricky based on my experience. You need to have the proper Turkey card and you can take one from a machine at the station. It was about 15 TRY. You need to connect it to your HES code. HES code is a mandatory application by the Ministry of Health under coronavirus measures for you to travel safely domestically. To get one, as a tourist, you need to send a short message (SMS) to 2023 including the text HES following by the Country of Origin (PH), passport number, year of birth (only the year), last name and the number of how many days you need to use the HES code.
Example: HES PH P123456B 1987 RAMIREZ 30
After linking the metro card number to your HES code (Instruction on how to link those two can be found at the station), you can now go ahead and use the card for public transport.
I stayed in Flaneur Hostel. It was a very social Hostel which I highly recommend. You will meet a lot of good people and it’s literally 20 steps away from the main street.
I’d say Antalya was my favorite part of my trip to Turkey. It’s laidback and fairly cheap compared to Istanbul. It’s also where I met new friends who were kind enough to let me jump into their car for a whole day of road tripping and water rafting. That was honestly the highlight of my trip to Turkey. Water rafting was 100 TRY (35 AED) per person.
The Lower Duden Waterfalls is also worth visiting. It’s a waterfall that goes straight to the ocean. Something you won’t see anywhere else.
DAY 8 to 9
Left Antalya on the 8th day. Took a taxi since the metro train doesn’t start until around 8AM and my flight was 7:50AM and had to be at the airport at least 1 hour before that. Taxi cost 100 TRY (35 AED).
My flight was from Antalya to Kayseri through Pegasus Airlines for 395 TRY (150 AED). Then from Kayseri airport I took a shuttle to Cappadocia. It was my Hostel who arranged the shuttle for me.
I reached Homestay Cave Hostel in Goreme at around11AM. The bed wasn’t ready when I arrived so I left my bag at the reception and hit the mountains. I went straight to exploring Cappadocia and went for a 4-hour hike to see the sunset at the Red Valley.
The next day I explored most of Goreme/Cappadocia by foot and also checked out Uchisar Castle from a distance. I didn’t take any public transport the whole time I was in Goreme/Cappadocia. I just don’t like spending money when I travel.
This is also where you can experience the hot air balloon ride which I didn’t take because it costs a fortune. I am a budget traveller and I know when to spend my money. And besides, witnessing from the ground was unreal enough.
DAY 10 to 11
On day 10, I flew to Rize via Trabzon airport. Rize is apparently the Switzerland of Turkey. Ticket through Turkish Airlines cost me 1,033 TRY (390 AED) and that already includes the return flight to Istanbul.
I reached Trabzon airport at 2:15PM. From outside the aiport, there is Havas shuttle bus that will take you to Rize city center. Bus fare is 27 TRY and will take about 1 hour and 20 minutes. The driver would shout Rize when you’re there. To be honest I wasn’t sure if I was taking the correct shuttles and buses the whole time but luckily I always end up to places where I need to be.
From Rize bus stop, Rhisos Otel is just 2 minutes walk. The hotel is very modern and has really good breakfast.
I hit the street after checking in and had dinner at the restaurant in front of the black sea.
Since I arrived a bit late, I noticed that tour agencies are already closed. And since you won’t reach Rize mountains by foot or public transport, I asked the Hotel staff if they know a group of people that are having tour the next day and if they can squeeze me in. Luckily I was told that there is a group of Turkish people and there’s one vacant seat. I grabbed the chance and explored with them the next day. I was the only non-Turkish but never felt like an outcast at all. They are kind and fun people. They were singing and dancing during the whole trip.
DAY 12 to 14
TIPS AND REMINDERS
- I highly suggest withdrawing Turkish Lira (TRY) from Turkey itself. What I did was changed AED to TRY at the airport and I got a really bad rate. I lost almost 300 AED in conversion. When withdrawing cash though, use either HSBC or AKBANK to avoid charges.
- Stay away from the touristy places to get your meals. You will save loads of money. Turkey is not that cheap. There are days when I only eat corn and Simit which only costs 5 TRY. That’s some hack right there.
- Take advantage of Hostels that serve free breakfast so you have full stomach in the morning before you hit the street.
- You can reach all you destination mainly by bus, tram and funicular.
- When entering mosques, female visitors have to wear a headscarf to visit the sixth-century site. Entering it with shorts or “revealing” clothes is banned.
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
I’ll be perfectly honest. When I was planning to go on a trip to Turkey, I did some research and read a lot of stories about travellers being scammed. So I was pretty nervous and skeptical whether Turkey is really a good idea. What I experienced though was exactly the opposite of what I read. I will never forget these:
- When I was having breakfast in a family owned cafeteria, I was served with tea by the owner and didn’t want me to pay.
- When I was in Cappadocia, it was very dark and I was about to walk for four hours from Red Valley to Goreme when a local man pulled over and offered me and two more people a free ride to the city center.
- When I was in Istanbul, got on a bus and tapped my card but it was already out of credit. A lady just came out from nowhere and offered me her card and tapped it.