15 Tips before you trip in Turkey

Turkey may confuse travellers in many aspects. Is it Asian or European? Islamic or Christian? Is the capital city Ankara or Istanbul?

Catal Huyuk is one of the first built towns in the world during Neolithic times. The most heard rulers of Turkey are the Ottomans. But it was part of the Greek empire, the Persian empire, and finally, it fell to Rome. When Rome made Christianity the official religion, Turkey (especially Istanbul ) was majorly Christian. Ottomans took over Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and spread Sunni Islam all over the nation. It doesn’t stop here – the Ottomans were defeated during World war, so it was part of multiple European countries like Germany, France, and Britain. Ultimately it became a Republic in the 1930s. The complexity and layers of its culture date back to historical times. So it is a kichdi of various ethnicities, heritage and cultures.

The confusion continues even today! Hagia Sophia BUILT IN 537 AD, which was a Christian holy site “Holy Wisdom” that was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman’s rule in 1453. After it became the Republic of Turkey in 1930, they turned it into a museum. But again, in 2020, Hagia Sophia was converted into a Mosque!

Hagia Sophia – Church – mosque- museum- mosque

So here is your complete travel guide to Turkey, one of the constantly changing and charming countries.

Two quick facts: Women need not put on Hijab in Turkey. To know more about what to pack and what to wear, read our post” What to wear in Turkey”. ANKARA IS THE CAPITAL CITY OF TURKEY, NOT ISTANBUL.

Index –

  1. Currency
  2. Using debit and Credit Card
  3. Cost of living for Tourists
  4. Cell Phone Network and Wifi
  5. Type of Power sockets
  6. Public Hygiene and Toilets
  7. Roads and Transport
  8. APPS to be downloaded
  9. Food and Beverages
  10. Alcohol and Smoking
  11. People and Language
  12. Safety & Scams in Turkey
  13. What to see in Turkey and when
  14. Tipping Culture.
  15. Bonus tip – why is it mandatory to haggle everywhere in Turkey?

Turkey Currency

Cappadocia

The Turkish Lira is the official currency. 1 Lira=17 INR, or 1 Euro=5Lira back in 2018. We got the Euros exchanged at the airport. Bringing Euros for currency exchange is best as many restaurants in big cities like Istanbul accept Euros as payment.

Using Credit Cards in Turkey

International bank Credit and debit cards work perfectly in hotels & restaurants. But carry plenty of cash while going to the countryside as you won’t find many ATMs, especially in Cappadocia. The shop keepers either deny cash payment or charge you extra for payment by card. Pamukkale and Denzil drivers demanded money over the card payment.

Cost of Living for tourists in Turkey

We had a misassumption about Turkey being cheaper than Greece because of their currency’s value difference. Work out your budget well in advance to avoid getting shocked like this. If you are a shopaholic or have a slight trait of it in your DNA, you must add extra to your budget. We didn’t know that Istanbul Grand Bazar was that tempting. So we entered it once, got mesmerised, came out, sat on the bench to calculate how much could we shop for and went inside.

For one person, it roughly cost us 70EUROS/DAY, including three times food at budget cafes and mostly Simit, Entry fees to monuments, transportation by local bus and trams. EXCLUDING international flights, Domestic flights, Airbnb accommodation AND SHOPPING. Though Turkish Lira’s value is lower than Euros, restaurant cost remains almost similar to Greece’s. But Public transport is cheaper than in Greece.

Buying SIM in Turkey

We bought two Vodafone SIM cards at the airport. The internet speed and coverage was good even at remote places of Cappadocia. The wifi speed was good in all the BnBs.

Types of Powe Sockets in Turkey

Type C (Like in Europe). So Indians need to carry Travel adapters.

Is Turkey Clean

Our host Ali in Istanbul told us Turks are obsessed with cleaning their houses. And Turks take a long time in the shower. Is that the reason why Turkish Hamams are famous? Coming back to the streets. Istanbul streets where tourists roam around are spotless. Side alleys were a bit shabby, with garbage bins spilling over. Cappadocia and Pamukkale were cleaner than Istanbul. When we went to remote areas in Cappadocia, it was a delight to see plastic-free sites. 

Street cats are everywhere. Turks love cats, and dogs are rare! While Ali talked to us about navigating in older Istanbul, he said, “Don’t pet stray Cats to avoid allergies and infection caused by them.”

Toilets

Thanks to the jet sprays. We felt clean after using the Jet spray to wash off my butt instead of wiping. BnBs provide both tissue paper and jet sprays. Few public toilets may have bidet too. The bus journey between Cappadocia to Pamukkale had multiple loo breaks on the way. It was spotless, and one of them was a squat toilet.

Public transport in Turkey

CAPPADOCIA – LAND OF BEAUTIFUL HORSES. ( NOT THE DAILY MODE OF TRANSPORT, THOUGH )

Out of all the countries we have visited by 2020, Turkey’s public transport was the easiest to access. Taking shuttle buses from the airports to the town was super convenient and saved a lot of money instead of a private taxi. Instant Booking for trains and night buses during the non-tourist season is effortless. So use Public transport as much as possible. Whether a tram in Istanbul or a night bus between two cities, it is an excellent, easy way of commuting to save money.

  • Airports – Istanbul alone got three international airports! Izmir and Antalya are the other busy international airports. Turkish Airlines flights connect significant tourist towns and cities. 
  • Cruising – Most famous among Luxury travellers. The famous ones are Greece -Turkey Cruises and expensive. You can consider Ferries to travel from Istanbul/ Izmir or other beach towns. In Istanbul, you can take a Bosphorous cruise and other cruises to visit nearby islands.
  • Public Buses- We Traveled by night bus from Cappadocia-Pamukkale. Prebooking is not usually necessary during non-tourist season . Click here to book your tickets in advance. With well-maintained roads and clean buses, the journey was very comfortable. The buses give multiple breaks to use washrooms. At the breaks, the bus manager comes pushing a trolley of snacks and coffee. This was the first and last time I ever saw such a thing in the bus!
  • Trams and Metro – Istanbul is well connected with trams. Make sure to buy the Tram card prior. These cards are not available at all stations. Unaware of this, we were at the tram station near Galata tower. Fortunately, a local Turk helped us get to Sultan Ahmet square from Galata tower with his card.
  • Hiring bikes and Cars– Best way to explore 
    • Istanbul is by bicycle. 
    • Cappadocia by motorbike ( you will drive in hilly areas more than the flatlands) 

Carry your Original Driving licence along with two or three copies of it to rent the vehicles. 

FANCY DRIVING A VINTAGE CAR IN CAPPADOCIA?

Apps needed for Turkey

You will need Google maps more than you ever need anywhere else in Cappadocia when you go by yourself on the motorbike. None of the social media apps was banned in 2018. So we used WhatsApp for making calls quickly. But keep an eye on this; Turkey is famous for banning apps and websites. You can book hotels through Booking.com from a foreign country, but you can’t access either the app or the website of Booking.com when you are in Turkey, but Air BnB works perfectly. Uber was not working in Istanbul in 2018. In case you need a VPN, we always use  Express VPN.

Food and Beverages in Turkey

Food – Other than in India, Turkey is the next best country to get variety in both – Non-veg and Veg. Eating tomatoes and Feta cheese in Greece for a week, Sahana was delighted to enjoy such elaborate veg food in Turkey. The best Non-veg dish is, of course, Kebabs. The best veg snacks are -Kumpir. While I hogged on Donner Kebab, Sahana had a pot of Veg Kebab.

Turks are fond of sweets. They prefer their sweets “over sweet.” Read our post “A guide to Authentic Turkish food “to know more.”

Beverages

Turkish tea and the cups in which they serve are beautiful. They offer tea almost at every shop outside Grand Bazar when you go shopping. They are not obsessed with tea-like Egyptians, but you can find tea vendors with a metal kettle and plastic cups in significant tourist spots. I found the Tea Mania less in Cappadocia and Pamukkale, though.
While many travellers recommend Turkish coffee, we both did not like it! It was too thick and sweet. It is similar to the Cardamom coffee we had in Jordan, but the coffee’s sweetness and texture were not made for us. Turkey oranges are super fresh. You get carts squeezing oranges for fresh juice at many places.

Smoking and Alcohol in Turkey

Smoking in public was not at all a problem, irrespective of gender. Recently I read the news about Turkey banning smoking in public to avoid the spread of COVID. It is surprising to see women smoking in public in an Islamic country. Alcohol is not forbidden but not served in street cafes like in Greece. The majority of Turkish Muslims do not consume because of religious reasons. So drinking alcohol in the sidewalk cafes is not a scene in Turkish cities. Nobody sits by the bridge side and sip their beer. So better to keep drinking indoors and at the designated places. Hookah is common, but not in open streets. It was hard to find women in Hookah bars, though; women aren’t restricted to doing it.

Turkish language and people

Many German descendant Turks speak German fluently, like our BnB host Ali in Istanbul

98% of Turkish are Muslims, but don’t be surprised to see them having Jesus statue in their homes. Smiling at strangers saying hello, hi, “good morning” might put you in an awkward situation because you probably won’t get a smile back! I don’t say they are rude, but they are less friendly than many other Middle Eastern countries we have been to. I can’t label Turks as racists, but we browns aren’t their favourite for sure. We were welcomed wholeheartedly at a few places. And treated like an unwanted guest by others. 

  • The hotel owner at Cappadocia was very rude and taunted us that we should not have booked his hotel room.
  • But, Ali at Istanbul BnB served me a hot cup of tea and dinner after I fell sick. He even insisted on taking us to his family doctor. 
  • The Green tour bus organiser tried to make us tip them forcefully. When we offered less, he was annoyed and uttered something in Turkish.
  • A Shopkeeper at Cappadocia from whom we bought 3 Euro worth souvenir came running to us to return the Euros we had given, mistaking it for Liras. 
  • A Shoe Polisher scammed us in Istanbul when we tried to help him, but another Turk helped us get to the tram with his Tram Card a few minutes later.

There is always all kinds of people everywhere. With its mesmerising landscape and beautiful architecture, these things are too little to not like Turkey but must be aware of.

YOU CAN READ BUT CAN’T PRONOUNCE

Language – The national language is Turkish. The alphabets are Latin alphabet, similar to English with different syllables. It is like you can read it but can’t pronounce it.The pronunciation of the Turkish language is tricky. They use “t” in place of “d” For example –

  • Ahmed – Ahmet
  • Hagia Sophia – Aya Sofya
  • Kebab – Kebap
  • Cappadocia – Kapadokya

The Turkish language is nowhere similar to Arabic or Urdu. You can talk to shopkeepers at Grand Bazaar in English, but not everywhere. Cappadocia and Pamukkale understood what we said and replied in Turkish mixed with a few English words. It is neither too challenging nor too easy to converse in English. More than English, you can find German and French-speaking Turks in Istanbul. 

Is Turkey safe for travellers?

If you are following the media regularly, Turkey is infamous after 2019. The recent outbreak of war with Armenia, converting Hagia Sophia from a museum into a Mosque, and converting multiple Armenian churches to the mosques are the latest infamous truths about Turkey as of 2020. The Global Peace Index stands in 150TH position. Back in 2018, when we went, Turkey was not this infamous. I feel things were better in terms of its political and religious conflicts with other nations. So keep a close eye on what is happening before you book tickets. Avoid border areas of Syria, Iraq and Armenia. I don’t mean to label Turkey as unsafe as we didn’t face any threats.

We have walked in the remote streets of Istanbul while we missed the route going to Galata tower. The lane was filled with Hardware and sanitary shops. We saw no women, no tourists in that dingy area. We were totally in the “out of context” situation. The local shopowners there clearly understood that we were lost. One of them approached and helped us to get to the Galata tower.

We drove through the empty roads of Cappadocia with a paper map and poor data searching for fairy chimneys and caves. Few of the streets are explored by tourists often, while the roads we travelled were super empty. At Pamukkale, we walked back from the restaurant to our BnB late in the night. To save money on a night stay, we slept for six hours in Sabya Gochen airport while going to Amsterdam from Pamukkale. It was all safe and comfortable.

NO MAN’S LAND IN CAPPADOCIA. WE DIDN’T COME ACROSS ANY HUMANS FOR AT LEAST 3KM!

Tourist Scams in Turkey

Sadly Turkey is the country where we faced many scams and escaped from most of them. The scam we were subjected to was from the Shoe Polishers! 

Beware of shoe Polisher Scam.

Turks, especially in Istanbul, we observed that men prefer the old school way of getting the shoe polished on the streets. We saw the polish brush falling off a shoe polisher’s bag near Galata tower while he was walking in front of us. He picked it up after we called and told him. His friend, who joined him later on the way, dropped the brush. Unaware of the trap we were getting into, we again called them. This time they picked the brush, came running to us to say thank you. Immediately they bent down and began polishing my loafers and Sahana’s flipflops! We kept asking them to leave us. We had to move aside forcibly to lose their grip on our foot at one point. They asked for 10 Liars (which is 170 INR back then) for their unwanted service. We ended up giving them 5 Lira and escaped!

You see that Flipflops? They polished it forcibly!

The next scam is by shop owners pretending to be tourists or friendly locals.

 At 8 am, we were one of the very few visitors in front of Hagia Sophia. While we were trying to click a selfie, a gentleman who was sitting beside the fountain voluntarily came up to us smilingly and said, “I will take your photo.” Later, talking gently, he managed to convince us to visit his Carpet shop. He was gentle yet firm on not leaving us without a visit to his shop even after telling him that we don’t own that kind of money to buy expensive Carpets. Inevitably we had to go to his shop and lost 45 minutes there. So when a stranger approaches you, it may not be just the help they offer. It is because they want something from you.

The picture was taken by that Stubborn shopkeeper.

The other scams you should be cautious about are -the old women asking for money to go to the hospital who will use your money to grab a kebab or cigarettes later. Selling fake Sultanete gems at Grand Bazar, fake carpets, overpriced lamps, fake belly dancer show, taxi and bike rentals scam in Cappadocia. If you trust your host, ask him to book the cab instead of you catching a random taxi driver.

The other scams you should be cautious about are -the old women asking for money to go to the hospital who will use your money to grab a kebab or cigarettes later. Selling fake Sultanete gems at Grand Bazar, fake carpets, overpriced lamps, fake belly dancer show, taxi and bike rentals scam in Cappadocia. If you trust your host, ask him to book the cab instead of you catching a random taxi driver.

What to see in Turkey

Do you remember the song “Tu Jaane Na” and wonder where it was filmed? – It is Pamukkale!

When to see– April to May, September to October are the best time to visit Turkey with a very balanced temperature. June to September gets super hot, making it very uncomfortable to stroll in the cities. Pamukkale remains hot most of the year, while Cappadocia is cold even in the summer. 

What to see – Ofcourse Istanbul! It is a melting pot of culture and history, plus it caters to the modern-day successfully with its old-world charm. Our host Ali says you need a week to explore Istanbul. So it is one touristy city which I love to visit again to have more of it.

Turkey is home to many Roman ruins like Ephesus, Pergamon and Xanthos. This one is at Hierapolis.

But Turkey is definitely more than Istanbul. Cappadocia is amazingly unique with its weird rock formations and underground cities. Pamukkale is the place of the white travertines. Many ancient pre-historic village settlements like Catal Huyuk in Konya province, Izmir and Oludeniz for beach vacations, Ephesus for Roman ruins, Mardan near Syria border for cliffside village, Anatolia for cotton fields and many more. I was shocked to know that there are 41 Ski resorts in Turkey, but not too famous among tourists. And don’t make it to the postcard pictures usually. So plan wisely depending on the season. I really wish we travelled to Turkey for 15 days at least so that we could see some off beaten places too.

Tipping culture in Turkey

Not expected in restaurants, hotels and taxis. But some may force you. Don’t hesitate to take the loose change after paying the bills.

BONUS TIP- HAGGLING AT THE MARKETS

Bargaining is a part of Turk’s daily life. Haggle for your price everywhere possible. THESE LAMPS ARE THE MOST ATTRACTIVE THING IN GRAND BAZAARS. YOU MUST BARGAIN TO HALF OF THE PRICE SELLER ASKS FOR

Which of these tips did you find useful? Let us know in the comment section below.

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