An old college friend was planning a trip and asked if anybody wanted to tag along. Having been through several continuous weeks of noises from the upstairs dwelling (school holidays, ya) I thought to myself: “Why not?” It was also a good opportunity to catch up with an old friend.

So we (me + wife + friend) booked a trip to Turkey — a place I never thought I would go. Now that I have returned, I’d say I have no regrets.

Singapore to Istanbul to Cappadocia

We flew direct from Singapore to Istanbul, then caught a domestic flight to Cappadocia immediately after. It was pretty late by the time we arrived so we did some light shopping around the town of Goreme and then retired to bed so we could be up before 5am the next day to catch our hot air balloon flight.

Sunrise with hot air balloons in the background. Taken from the Kelebek Cave Hotel in Goreme, Cappadocia.

Hot Air Balloon, Rose Valley and Kaymakli Underground City

Pick-up service was at 5am, followed by some paper work and a simple breakfast. The actual balloon flight started around 6am and lasted an hour. We returned to our hotel for the really awesome breakfast spread before joining our day tour to the Rose Valley (no roses in summer, unfortunately) and the Kaymakli Underground City.


Crawling through the narrow tunnels of Kaymakli Underground City. I’m 1.8m tall and ahead of me is a ~1.5m lady — imagine my agony.

Ihlara Valley and Selime Monastery

Day two was a full day (6-7 hour, ~14km) hike with a private tour guide along the Ihlara Valley. A picture speaks a thousand words.

View from the bottom of the Ihlara Valley in Central Anatolia, Turkey where much of the vegetation couldn’t shield us from the scorching summer heat (~38ºC).

At the end of the hike was the Selime Monastery, where some say it is where some Star Wars scenes were filmed. It certainly resembles Tatooine, but I could not find an exact resemblance after Googling. Maybe I’ll watch all three episodes again and take a screen grab if I see it.

The Selime Monastery lies above at the higher section of the rocks in this picture and is a surprisingly short 10-minute hike up, but what’s more important is how this resembles Tatooine in Star Wars.

At the top where the monastery lies.

At the top where the monastery lies.

By the end of day two our feet were sore. A Turkish bath and a nice dinner at the hotel fixed everything.

Goreme Open Air Museum and Love Valley

We spent day three touring the Goreme Open Air Museum. I must emphasize that the extra tickets to the Dark Church is definitely worth the money if you are planning to go. Unfortunately, no photo taking was allowed (so they can sell their postcards, etc.)

We also attempted hiking through the Love Valley but it was too hot to continue, so we chilled out at a small hut, bought some drinks, took a couple of photos and returned to the hotel.

The Love Valley, where rock formations looks, urm... erect.

The Love Valley, where rock formations looks, urm… erect. A lone sunflower stands in the blazing hot summer sun.

Cappadocia to Istanbul to Izmir, drive to Sirince

Day four was spent flying domestic from Cappadocia > Istanbul > Izmir, where we picked up our rental diesel Hyundai Accent from Erboy Car. Fuel is extremely expensive in Turkey (around TL 4.70 or US 2.20 for a litre of diesel) so a fuel economical diesel is a must.

It took me a while to get used to the left-hand-drive traffic. After a stressful drive through extremely narrow streets of a small village Sirince, we arrived at a small terrace house where we spent the night.

Ancient city of Ephesus, Basilica of St. John and House of Virgin Mary

The ancient city of Ephesus was a short 10-15 minute drive away from Sirince. It is a big city so if you are driving you’ll likely have to walk up and then walk the same distance back to your car.

I read about tourist traps offering “free” return bus rides, so we took the advice of the locals (from the village of Sirince) to park the car at the lower (south) gate, catch a horse carriage ride up to the upper (north) gate then walk back down towards our car.

Taking a horse carriage ride from the south gate to the north gate is a quick way to ensure you don't get caught in tourist traps offering "free" return bus rides.

Catching a horse carriage ride from the south gate to the north gate is a quick way to ensure you don’t get caught in tourist traps offering “free” return bus rides that may quickly turn into carpet purchases.

If there’s just one place to visit in Turkey, it’s got to be the ancient city of Ephesus. Some say it is better than Rome. Be there early — it can get very crowded in the afternoon.

By noon there was quite a crowd and I couldn’t get good pictures despite having my GoPro mounted on a long monopod. We left and drove to two other ancient sites nearby; The Basilica of St. John was nice, but nothing was left of the ruins of The Temple of Artemis except for one rebuilt pillar (I’d suggest not to waste your time).

While the basilica looked grand from the outside, the interior is only partially excavated. A large part is still covered in earth.

We also drove up the mountains to the House of Virgin Mary. Unfortunately no photography was allowed and we left empty-handed and started our long journey to Pamukkale where we stopped mid-way for grocery shopping and … McDonalds!

After checking in to the Tripolis Hotel at Pamukkale we couldn’t resist the pool after five days under the hot sun. The view of the Travertines from the pool was amazing.

Taken from the pool at the Tripolis Hotel in Pamukkale.

Taken from the pool at the Tripolis Hotel in Pamukkale. Service was lacking, but the pool was worth the money.

After a refreshing swim we proceeded to gobble down our complimentary dinner — which not very fantastic but had a fancy belly dance which was somewhat entertaining.

Travertines, Hierapolis and Paragliding

We set off a little later than usual on day six and made our way to the Travertines. We spent maybe an hour soaking in the limestone spring waters before we hiked to the Theater of the Hierapolis. The entire Hierapolis is massive and it was too hot out, so we did not continue.

Theater of the Hierapolis in Pamukkale.

Theater of the Hierapolis in Pamukkale.

We did, however, see people paragliding and went hunting for a paragliding company, joined them, and paraglided past the Hierapolis and Travertines.


Travertines and Hierapolis from up above. Can you see the Hierapolis Theater?

We probably spent too much time paragliding so we skipped two archeological/ruins and drove straight to Bodrum.

Our rental Hyundai Accent 1.6 CRDi Automatic by the beach at Bodrum.

Our rental Hyundai Accent 1.6 CRDi Automatic by the beach at Bodrum.

We spent the evening enjoying a nice seafood meal (we haven’t had proper seafood yet) and watched the finals of the World Cup (Germany won) at a bar. Yes. Seafood, beer, world cup in Turkey by the beach. What could be better?

Yatches in the sunset at Bodrum.

Yatches against the sunset at Bodrum.

Istanbul, Mosque, Mosque and more Mosques

We took a flight from Bodrum back to Istanbul where we remained for the rest of our stay in Turkey. The first thing we did in the morning was to visit the Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul opened in 1616.

We also visited the Ayasofya, the Basilica of St. John, then wandered to the Grand Bazaar where our friend found the Suleymaniye mosque, which in my opinion, was a nicer mosque to visit. The Suleymaniye Mosque is not only bigger, it is about 50 years older than the Blue Mosque. What’s interesting is that the Suleymaniye Mosque’s architect Mimar Sinan was the teacher of the Blue Mosque’s architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha, and because the teacher probably knew better, he designed the mosque with ventilation ducts which prevented the interior walls from turning black from candle smog in the old days before electric bulbs.

Interior of the Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul.

Interior of the Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul opened in 1558.

We took a tram, then switched to a bus to get to the Chora Museum. Apart from the Dark Church in the Goreme Open Air Museum, this is one of the most beautifully preserved churches we’ve seen.

The Chora Museum is a must-visit place in Istanbul. Getting there can be confusing, though.

The Chora Museum is a must-visit place in Istanbul. Getting there can be confusing, though.

The last few days were spent — well — shopping! No Singaporean goes overseas without shopping! There are many touristy shopping districts in Old Istanbul (European Continent). The popular ones are the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. I’d recommend not buying anything at the Grand Bazaar, and maybe some spices and coffee grounds from the popular store Mehmet Efendi at the Spice Bazaar. These two tourist districts are filled with unmarked prices and  touting shopkeepers. Once you’ve seen those two places and had photos taken, take a tram and head straight across the bridge to New Istanbul. There’s a big shopping district/street starting from Taksim Square headed towards the south(west).

The Spice Bazaar is filled with touting shopkeepers, but ranks better than the Grand Bazaar in our opinion. But hold on to your money and shop along Taksim Square instead.

The Spice Bazaar is filled with touting shopkeepers, but ranks better than the Grand Bazaar in our opinion. But hold on to your money and travel across the bridge to shop along the shopping district near Taksim Square at New Istanbul (European continent) instead.

July 7-20, 2014

Caveat: July is probably during the worst time of the year to visit with the combination of hot summer and Ramadan (fasting month for Muslims). If you think hot and long summer days weren’t tiring enough, imagine being constantly awoken at 2am by drums for Muslims to have their pre-dawn meal.