Asia

Asia

Beautiful Gwalior Fort on a Sunny Day

5 Things to do in Gwalior

India’s colorful history and vast geographical area have resulted in a multifaceted country with varying language, customs, and architecture. With its enormous size, comes undeniable responsibility. Knowing it’d be extremely difficult to capture all of India’s glory in a couple months’ time, I focused most of my energy exploring India’s northern hemisphere throughout my four-month stunt in Delhi.

Gwalior became my only central/southbound trip.

As noted in numerous budget-traveling posts, I tend to convert my friends to Couchsurfing enthusiasts on a regular basis. This was the situation with Joyti, an Agra native who worked with me in Delhi.

How to Couchsurf: Is Couchsurfing for You?

Joyti was similar to me in age, height, education background, and love for food. Yet, she was completely different from me in her perception of life. This isn’t much of a surprise. With its history and culture, women in India are often subjected to more societal restrictions than women from the Wild Wild West.

From a middle-class household, Joyti was incredibly hardworking and relatively sheltered. Her dedication to pursuing a career in journalism led her to the office where I interned- Women’s Feature Service, a news agency established by UNESCO in the late 1970s.

Despite her moving to Delhi and vast desire to explore the world, Joyti had never traveled outside the boundaries of her home. In fact, her perception of India is much more rigid than my naïve take on the country.

Hearing someone with similar ambitions, passion, and drive to that of mine, of course, I was keen on dragging her onto one of my typical, unplanned, stranger-travel experiences.

Located 300 kilometers away from Delhi in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior is home to a number of historical sites and monuments. While it is rich in art and literature,  the city remains relatively hidden when compared to metropolitans like Bombay and Delhi.

One day after work, we decided that the trip was postponed for way too long. Instead of going home, we headed to the train station to embark on the adventure.


The Train Ride

Like most around the world, the train compartments in India are separated by class. Unlike most, the difference between each class can be extreme. Having traveled on a budget for some time, Sleeper Class or, Second Class and Unreserved Class became the go-to options.

We arrived in a deserted Gwalior after 6 hours. Aside from a few tuk-tuks attempting to lure in our business, the streets were pretty much empty from any activity. Since it was too late to call our host, we decided to spend a night at a hostel by the railway station.

The next morning, our host picked us up to explore what Gwalior had to offer.


Sun Temple Gwalior

Our first stop was the Sun Temple in Gwalior.  With its magnificent red sandstone exterior and delicate carvings, the temple is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God. Inspired by the Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, this one was commissioned in 1988 by G.D. Birla. Sitting proudly mid a beautiful green space, the temple is definitely more than just a replica. It was a peaceful setting. The garden was free of chatter, as devotees navigate their way up the white marble steps with their bare feet.

After half an hour or so waiting for prayer time, we reluctantly got up and headed towards the next sight.


Tomb of Mohammad Ghaus

Luckily, all attractions in Gwalior are just miles apart. After a 20 minute drive, we arrived at the Tomb of Mohammad Ghaus. Mohammad Ghaus was a 16-century Sufi master of Shattari order and the author of Jawahir-i Khams. The tomb itself was largely different from that of the other architectural designs in the area, which further indicates India’s steady embrace of multiculturalism and its colorful history.

Despite never having taken a seat of power, Ghaus Muhammed is widely respected by numerous Mughal rulers, who eradicated this towering tomb in memory of him.

As with the Sun Temple, the tomb was a peaceful place mid a large garden. Despite the car horns immediate to the gates, the space within seems to have forgone the passing of time.

It was close to 2 pm when we left the tomb. Not having had the time to take lunch, our host recommended that we eat at the Gwalior Fort Gurdwara, where we are looking to stay two more nights.


Gwalior Fort

Its hand-crafted designs were detailed and rich in color. A distinguished sign signifying trade between China and India during the time of its construction, Chinese dragon was curved onto the pillars of the fort. After lunch, we headed over to the Gwalior Fort- Man Singh Palace. The Gwalior Fort was especially beautiful. In fact, it was a photo of its picturesque walls that drew me to this relatively unknown city.


Sas-Bahu Temple

Just 5 minutes down the road, sits Sas-Bahu temple, two temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, respectively.

For myself, these two temples truly embodied the core of Indian religion.  Sahastrabahu Temple was constructed in 1092 by King Mahipala for his wife, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. However, when his son’s wife, a devotee of Lord Chiva arrived, another temple was eradicated meters away. Together, these two temples were known as ‘Sas-Bahu temple’, or, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law’s temple.

Mother-in-law’s TempleSahastrabahu Temple

We walked around the compound and discovered that aside from a group of children, we were the only people in sight. After seeing me, many ran towards us and began pulling out their phones to take selfies.

While my Asian features are a common sight in Delhi, where many Northeastern Indians resides, they quickly gained #celebritystatus amongst the children in Gwalior.


Daughter-in-law’s Temple


Gwalior Fort Gurdwara

Sikh Gurdwaras offers a place of worship, a langar hall, and rooms for temporary stays. In line with what Sikhs practice, food, and stay are free of charge with donations welcomed. Most importantly, Gurdwaras opens its doors to people of all faith and religion.

Read: Budget Accommodations for the Bargain Soul

Mr. Singh, pictured below, became our host during our stay at the gurudwara. He was such a generous man, showing us the temple space and the seamless preparation process for meals in the langar hall. When I caught a cold mid Sunday, he came in with tea and biscuits wishing me well.

budget accommodation


Final Thoughts

There are too many places to visit near Gwalior. Madhya Pradesh. Due to our relatively tight schedule, we were unable to fit the rest of the city in a two day weekend. With some more time in hand, I would have loved to wander around Jai Vilas Palace Museum or Gujari Mahal Archaeological Museum. Nonetheless, I thought Gwalior one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited so far- more importantly, it added to my immense desire to take on a cultural escapade in South India.

Finally, Joyti loved the weekend away. As an avid solo traveler, nothing beats getting my friends to join me in these rather unconventional ventures and convincing them that all will be well.

At least for me, it has been.

 

Hawa Mahal, Pink City Jaipur

5 Things to do in Jaipur

In Delhi, I attempted to find weekend escapes that brought me away from the craziness cause by city-living. Despite my usual escape into the Himalayas, Jaipur quickly became one of my favorite weekend getaways.

Although the ‘pink city’ was more or less, similar to that of Delhi’s urban setting, I quickly realized that it was much more harmonious.

To give Delhi some credit, it does house ~20 million people within 16.5 sq mi. Jaipur, on the other hand, has a mere 3 million in a much larger geographic area.

With its vast land, comes various things to do.  Luckily for us, my roommate had a long-time friend who resided in this bustling city. Within a weekend, we were able to see the main attractions.


5. The Pink City

True to its name, Jaipur’s old city is painted in various shades of pink- from pale baby pinks to deep purple burgundies. The architecture within the 7 Darwazas/gates seem to take on a life of its own. Inline with Rajasthan’s lavish history, buildings within the walled city, no matter how imperfect, all have a special flavor to it. The streets of the old city were crowded-vendors, merchants and little food stops lined the roads. Women wore the traditional Rajasthan saree, with bright greens and pinks as opposed to the more conservative tones seen elsewhere.


4. Jal Mahal – India’s Floating Palace

The floating palace is just a couple minutes’ drive from Pink City. After leaving the confines of the city walls, we parked the car at a little parking spot opposite of a beautiful lake. It wasn’t until we walked across the platform that I realized that there was a magnificent palace atop the Man Sagar lake.


3. Visit the Fort

There are three famous forts within the city of Jaipur.

  • Amber Palace
  • Jaigarh Fort
  • Nahargarh Fort

Since they were all relatively similar, we decided upon the most accessible one for our trip. The entrance fee for Amer Fort was 20 rupees or so, with camera equipment at an additional 5 rupees.

The drive up the mountain was filled with monkey encounters. With cars attempting to come in and out of the entrance, we decided to line our car on the side of the mountain and walk up the hill towards the palace fort.

With ‘artistic Hindu style elements’, the fort was built with red sandstone and marble. Having weathered 5 centuries of rain and sun,  the palace remains formidable. It overlooks the Maota Lake and offers a  great view of the green space under.


2. Heritage Resorts

Special to Jaipur and few other cities, these were traditional Rajasthani-inspired villages inclusive of various local activities and cuisine. It was a resort of sorts- with corners showcasing dance, music, puppet acts, and other talents. There were also grounds for theme park-like rides.

All of the attendants wore traditional attire. During dinner time, we were brought to a massive dining hall with servers placing mouth-watering delicacies on our plates.

Although the entrance fee is quite hefty-400 rupees and upwards depending on the inclusion of a meal, it was quite the experience. Some famous heritage resorts include Chokhi Dhani and the Heritage Village.


1.The Export and Tradeshow

Despite Delhi having some beautiful and cheap markets, the export market in Jaipur seems to offer cheaper products. It would be a shame if I didn’t load my luggage with beautiful Indian attire after visiting the country. The marketplace wasn’t too big- so it was a great way to spend a couple hours without being overwhelmed as in Delhi. Vendors from across the country sit at their respective booth offering a glimpse into their regional take on Indian wear. Kurtis were generally 300 rupees/ piece, similar to that in Delhi. Earrings and cheap jewelry were 50-100 rupees while sarees ranged between 200-500 rupees. I found a merchant selling sarees for 300 rupees/ a piece.

It was a steal!


Final Thoughts

When visiting Rajasthan, it is easy to get sidetracked by Udaipur or Jodhpur. While these cities are beyond beautiful, Jaipur will surprise you just as much, if not more 🙂

Get up beyond my border

A Week in the Himalayas: A Photo Journey

From green hills to rocky cliffs, the Himalayas is one of the few experiences that have stayed with me throughout my peculiar ventures abroad. The eminent mountain ranges extend across five countries: Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, and Pakistan. Having lived in Delhi for four months, Uttarakhand became my go-to get away from the craziness of city living.

Despite what people generally associate with the mountains, my two expeditions were anything but peaceful. Aside from a motorcycle accident, getting lost in the wild, losing our phones (and having it returned) among various other incidents, I lost (and found) my passport in one of the many villages up the hills. Yet, these episodes embedded within me a strange trust for the Himalayas- this naive, optimistic feeling that everything will be alright.

The road to the mountains was in itself a journey. After hopping onto a 9-hour night bus from Delhi to my friend’s village near Nainital, we began a day-long trip into the Himalayas. Dunagiri was our first stop. Originally a 4-hour ride, we got lost after a couple wrong turns and arrived after a 9-hour venture.

A historical region in Uttarakhand, Dunagiri is composed of several villages under the District of Almora. Despite it being well known for the temple of Shakti,  my friend insisted on a hidden gem that overlooked the peaks of the Himalayas.

By the time we reached the foot of the hill, the sun has begun to set. With our tent and sleeping bags in hand, we began climbing a mountain that led to Pandukholi, an ashram sitting quietly by the cliffs.

The sky was completely dark when we reached the halfway point. Since we’ve already lost our phones on the road here, there was barely any light sources guiding our footsteps away from the cliff under.

It was horrifying.

3 hours and loads of whining later, we were finally greeted by a beaming form from afar.

It was the long-awaited spiritual haven.

A puppy that lived in at the ashram, Dwarahat

Unlike cinematic ashrams, as portrayed by Hollywood favorites, this place was tucked away in the middle of nowhere. The guru greeted our arrival and immediately asked someone to get us water and cook up some chapatis. There were barely any people on the property-three students, a visitor and his guru, the guru of the ashram and his aid.

That night, we sat by a fire and chatted for some time. After showing us around the property, the guru let us to a field outside the gates to set up a tent.

We spent the next three days meditating, eating homemade meals, and waiting for the fog to clear.

It never did.

Without a question, the second leg of our trip was spent chasing snow peaks- further north up the Himalayas.

Chopta is a small region in the Uttarakhand state. Its scenic view is nothing like that offered by Delhi. From vast green spaces and bright blue skies, the district was absolutely breathtaking.

Due to the distance, we spent a couple nights at guest houses along the way. Those in the area clearly don’t see many foreigners. Even myself, a North-Indian looking Asian, got tons of stares from the local people.

On the fourth day of our trip into Chopta, we arrived at a village leading to the Chandrashila Peak. After dropping our bike off at a nearby shop, we took on an exhausting, yet breathtaking hike towards the peak.

4,000 meters above sea-level, the trek offered a panoramic view of the Himalaya ranges. It lasted about 3-4 hours, passing camping grounds, donkeys, paved roads, and rocky hills.

After the sunset, we retreated into a beautiful guest house on the mountain. Since the night was still quite foggy, we crossed our fingers and hoped for a clear morning.

travel inspiration

Guest House on the Chandrashila Peak

Tungnath Temple, the highest Shiva temple

At 4 am the next day, we began another hike towards the peak.

To be honest, my Cappadocia experience is the only one that can rival this view.

We felt the sun before seeing its pink hues. There was an utter calmness that extended across the entire Himalayan ranges. No birds, no wind- complete silence.

Then, the sky began brightening up. With it, the snow-covered peaks became increasingly visible.

Beams of sun rays started reflecting off the summit, projecting an expanding warm orange tone an arm’s reach away.

We sat on the ice-cold earth, unable to move from such a sight.

After the sun came out, we ventured around the alp, where a little prayer temple sat overlooking the cliffs.


Total Cost

Since I took one of those cheap local buses from Delhi, it was no more than 250 rupees per ride. Mind you, it wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel as the decade-old bus had no A.C, broken windows, and unadjustable seats.

Otherwise, we spent around 6000 rupees ($93) on gas, food, accommodation, and other activities. Included within this, was a 500 rupee donation to the ashram.

  • The accommodation was around 300 rupees/night/room. Guest houses may ask for more once they realize you are a foreigner, but I got away with identifying as a North Indian.
  • We ate at cheap local shops or cooked vegetables on a home-brought mini gas stove. These places won’t cost more than a couple dollars per meal.



survival blog

Surviving in New Delhi on $3 a Day | India

Note: I did end up loving Delhi! (A little)


New Delhi

If you’ve ever lived in India, you would have noticed murmurs of Mumbai’s unrest and Delhi’s seeming ease, Mumbai’s hot winters and Delhi’s dramatic monsoon, Mumbai’s friendly crowds, and Delhi’s hidden competition.

Yet, India’s theatrical contrasts are not just between its most well-known cities. Within each urban hub, there exists the greatest dissimilarity to which reflects India’s social structure – its socioeconomic difference.

For many foreigners, Delhi is hard to grow accustomed to. Rid the streets of vibrant traditional attire and fancy cars, the nice neighborhoods with beautiful apartments and perfectly trimmed plants, the carts of fresh fruits and vegetables and high-end pubs and bars and restaurants, Delhi is sweat and tears and inequality.

Of course, this is a condition in many developing countries. But Delhi hit me hard. The smell, the dust, the pollution that gave my ‘fragile’ Canadian lungs episodes of asthma attack. The bugs, the temperature, the viruses that gave me Chikungunya. The landlord, the fraud, the confrontations that made me question confidence. But what hit me most, was facing poverty head on – looking at 3-year-olds in the eye when they begged for money, not because they thought it necessary for survival, but nonetheless conditioned to believe it part of their livelihood.

It is in this Delhi that I lived for four months.

Before I left for India, I confidently told my family that I made the right choice. Great internship, great research project, great people I’ll be working with and great fun.

And psssssh what do you mean culture shock. I’ve never experienced culture shock. Besides, India is one of those mystical places you hear about, where people convert to Buddhism and live in the mountains to understand the meaning of life. Where’s the harm to that? Of course, I wasn’t keen to become a yogi by any means, but breathing in some spirituality on holy land wouldn’t hurt.

Boy was I wrong.

I set foot outside the Gandhi airport on a hot summer July noon. Right away, I noticed the welcoming/curious/aggressive stares I received from men crowded by the airport door. Pulling my cardigan a little tighter, I waited for my friend to pick me up.

We rented a small two-bedroom apartment in Lajpat Nagar, a sweet place that cost around $120 a month. To save money on electricity, we opt to share one bedroom so we can lessen the workload on our 1990s’ AC. The initial days were hot. We’d roam around in our underwear and cook on a knee-high stove, making sure our sweat won’t drip into the pots.

On the fourth day, monsoon got the best of me. While on a rickshaw home from work, it started pouring cats and dogs. My phone went to waste after losing a hard-fought battle with the depth of a pond formed inside my bag. I do seem to have real bad luck with phones.

Two weeks later, it became apparent that our landlord was overcharging us. Each with a considerable amount of student loans on our back, my friend and I decided to move to a more affordable location.

Initially, our landlord and her family had a crying fit. We had to stay for six months. She said. We must pay all the rent.  She said. We will never get our deposit back. She said. While sorting out the legality of this whole fiesta, we asked our friends to secretly help us transfer our luggage into the new place.

This second place cost $74 a month.

It was here that I truly understood what budget living meant.

home

The whole ‘apartment’

home2

Kitchen

home3

My bed

I mean, it wasn’t all too bad. Disregarding the broken window, the door that didn’t lock and our outdoor kitchen, we had a pretty nice backyard in a great expat neighborhood. Though, when it rained, it would pretty much flood our entire kitchen/balcony. Our western toilet leaked like a summer’s day garden hose and our India squat toilet was in this tiny 2×2 walled room. I’m being completely discreet when I say that I could have died in there on multiple occasions from the lack of ventilation. :'(

There was no AC. On the hottest nights, we’d blast the fan and the air cooling machine to drown out the street dog/cat fights, a regular occurrence in the neighborhood.

Photo of a bug in a jar we caught at home

Photo of a bug in a jar we caught at home

The most interesting part were the bugs. Because of the lack of window/ viable door, we’d have hundreds of friendly black flies drawn towards the light every. single. night. Their lifeless bodies lay across our covers, atop the table, on the walls.

Once in a while, we’d have something a bit bigger. Sometimes a grasshopper, other times, unknown, six-legged beasts.

We would run around screaming our heads off while these lost souls fly around dazed and confused. Over time, my roommate developed the ultimate skill of insect entrapment. We even had a dedicated water jar just for this whole new sport. *For my insect lovers: no harm was done/all released afterward.


Then I caught Chikungunya.

When I caught Chicken Guinea in New Delhi from an infected mosquito

When I caught Chicken Guinea in New Delhi from an infected mosquito

Chikungunya is this virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Polka dots decorated my whole body and I could barely walk with all the joint pain. Thankfully I survived the episode with only some spiritual fatigue. *For the love of god, please get your shots as recommended by a doctor before venturing South East Asia. I thought it wise to wing it without any prior medication. I’m clearly stupid. 


Other Expenses

Coming back to the rest of my expenses. During my time in India, I rarely ate out except for the occasional fresh fruit shakes. Every day, I’d stop a vegetable cart and give the vendors 30 rupees, which was roughly 40 cents, and ask them to fill a bag for me. Since we didn’t have a fridge, this was the only way to attain fresh veggies. True, I lost some 10 pounds within weeks, true, sometimes I’d go to bed a bit hungry and true, I began losing hair and getting crappy skin problems. But this ended up being more of an experiment if a bit unhealthy.

home5

Bag of veg for 40 cents, some lentils and a bag of powder for 5 cents

My roommate and I would wash our clothes and bed sheets by hand in buckets (:real fun during the sweaty summer months)

feet washed clothes

We also used our buckets as speakers.

new speakers

Honest to god, if you can get onto a bus in Delhi with ease, you can probably do anything in life. 

home8.jpg

I’d take the bus with the locals and spend around 20 rupees a day on transportation. Once in a while, when I’m feeling extra fancy, I’d grab a rickshaw for 40 rupees.

Definitely not lying when I say getting on the bus in India is rough. However, after a few times, I really got the hang of running, grabbing onto complete strangers and jumping onto moving buses.

Not to mention that buses were super entertaining. Men would generally give women seats and when they fail to, others would scold them.  Whenever there was an argument, the entire bus becomes involved.


Total Cost

In total:

  1. My share of the apartment, which was $34/month was around $1 a day.
  2. Including food and transportation, it came to about $2 a day.
  3. After a friend lent me a phone, my bill came up to $5/month through Airtel.
  4. I also took two trips during this month that amounted to another $30 (yay budget travel)

Cheap? Yes. Worth it? I don’t know. I don’t think I will ever be able to live through the constant hustle of this again.

A few days after the first month, I met a friend who was generous enough to invite me to stay with his modeling agency. So, I spent the rest of my two months in India with a bunch of international models, met producers, actresses and a ton of people in the entertainment industry. But that’s a story for another day.

Happy traveling! xx

P.s: And don’t forget, no matter what, we are a privileged lot.


World Health Organization:
  • According to the most recent estimates, in 2013, 10.7 percent of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4 percent in 2012. That’s down from 35 percent in 1990. 
  • This means that, in 2013, 767 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day, down from 881 million in 2012 and 1.85 billion in 1990. 
  • A vast majority of the global poor live in rural areas and are poorly educated, mostly employed in the agricultural sector, and over half are under 18 years of age. 

The work to end extreme poverty is far from over, and a number of challenges remain. It is becoming even more difficult to reach those remaining in extreme poverty, who often live in fragile contexts and remote areas. Access to good schools, healthcare, electricity, safe water and other critical services remains elusive for many people, often determined by socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, and geography. Moreover, for those who have been able to move out of poverty, progress is often temporary: economic shocks, food insecurity and climate change threaten to rob them of their hard-won gains and force them back into poverty. It will be critical to find ways to tackle these issues as we make progress toward 2030.

travel to turkey

Pocket Guide to Turkey

Travel to Turkey and do it like a (semi)-pro.

Traveling within the City

Buses and Subway

There are a few different types of buses in the city. The two most distinct ones are minivan-buses and city shuttles.

Minibuses are in a range of colors, which usually differs based on the city they are in. They are not the easiest to spot but generally appear in the form of a large van.To stop a minibus, stand on the sidewalk where the buses have a clear view of you. If they don’t stop, you can wave it down. There are virtually no bus stops for minibusses, so nonverbal communication in a 10-second framework between the driver and you is key.

Unlike minibusses, city shuttles are your average-Joe buses that operate in larger cities. While these buses stop at standard stops in a metropolitan like Istanbul and Izmir, it was harder to spot them in areas with fewer tourists. As such, tactics used to stop minibusses shall be pulled out here. If you stand on a sidewalk that can be easily seen by the driver, they will most likely stop. NOTE!!: City buses don’t usually operate in remote areas. Familiarize yourself with minibusses if you want to include more deserted travel destinations in your itinerary.

Don’t mind me repeating ‘bus’ two dozens times. These are the only viable means of public transportation since only 5 cities in Turkey (Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Adana, and Bursa) have subway systems.

Taxi/Uber/Hitchhiking

There are virtually no taxis in smaller cities. Taxis in bigger cities, like other tourist prone destinations in the world, sometimes are set out to profit from tourist ineptitude. Beware of taxis taking a long, unnecessary detour, and generally, have an estimate of the trip cost by asking locals.

Uber works in a similar fashion. They operate in larger cities but often forgo the less touristy ones.

As such, I often opt for buses or hitchhiking. It’s really easy to hitch a ride in Turkey since people are all around nice, nice and nice. There are definitely safety concerns as with hitchhiking elsewhere, but I found all my rides to be incredibly friendly.


Traveling between Cities

Buses

The biggest bus companies in Turkey are Metro, Pammukale, Kamil Koc, Ulusoy. Not all buses will go to your destination, make sure to check online, or at the office! (Offices are located at the city’s central bus station. Most speak English)

Buses are significantly cheaper than other means of transportation. They generally range between 30 and 65 lira (US $8-16). NOTE!!: Bus prices don’t change, so if you don’t have a set travel plan, feel free to buy tickets a day beforehand. But make sure that they don’t sell out!

Other Methods of Transportation and Blabla Car

Planes are generally twice or thrice more expensive than buses so I am not a big fan. As noted, I thought hitch hiking to be quite safe as well. I’ve only hitched rides around Alanya but hear a lot of backpackers do it with little difficulty.

My favorite form of transportation around Europe and Turkey was Blabla Car. I used the app four times in Turkey, and two out of the four times, the drivers wouldn’t let me pay because I was a foreigner! In one of the cases, We ended up becoming good friends and I stayed at their beach house in Izmir for a night, but that’s another story.


Clothing for Women

This varied between cities. Turkey is a lot more open minded than I expected. However, definitely dress more formal if you don’t want to invite stares. I wore skirts and shorts throughout my trip and felt pretty safe. But then again, I was usually with friends. Short shorts and tank tops can be seen in major cities, especially tourist zones such as Alanya, where a bulk of the tourists walked around the streets in their bikinis 😀


Clubs and Bars

Turkish clubs are very interesting, especially down south. They are dominated by main stream music with occasional Turkish songs. The dance floor is pretty small, usually with hired girls on a stage in the middle. Tables and chairs surround the dance floor, with well-dressed clubbers standing around them. Drinks are very expensive, ranging from 15-20 lira for a beer

Clubs in Istanbul (Taksim district) are completed like those in Europe, deep-house, small, chills.


Safety

I felt very safe in Turkey despite recent events (Asians being attacked in Istanbul and the conflict at the Syrian-Turkish border). Since I was there before the bombing of both Istanbul and Ankara, I didn’t have a sense of distress or urgency. To be fair, I didn’t travel too far east so I definitely wouldn’t know or recommend anyone to visit the borders. In terms of the 9 cities I visited, I loved all and felt really safe!

Remember to always ASK ASK ASK

Although a lot of Turkish people aren’t fluent in English, especially down south. They are very friendly, and will do all they can to help!

Happy Travels xx

Pins later read!

Antalya, Turkey

Days Trips: Antalya | Turkey

It was between Greece and Turkey. The office in Greece took a million years to reply, so I went forward with an internship to teach English in Antalya, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

After staying there for a month, I fell in love with the town. From the weather to the food, Antalya was everything a beach city could ask for. It’s definitely the works of all that sunshine, but those who live by the sea are always super friendly.


Antalya

Clock Tower in Antalya, Turkey

Clock Tower in Antalya, Turkey

Antalya is the capital city of Antalya province, a beautiful sphere encompassing party town Kemer, bungalow-filled Olympos, historical Side and beautiful Alayna.

A tourist hot spot, Antalya has a beautiful beach and a busy bazaar running through Keleici (Old Town) leading to a beaming harbor. As a historical site, Old Town has infrastructures dating back to the Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman Empires. For those looking for a great night out, Keleici has some small, but great bars and clubs.

Antalya, Turkey during sunset

Antalya, Turkey during sunset

The marina is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, with Gluets (old wooden boats) looking to draw people in for a rocky ride. As a large group, we were able to bargain a boat ride for 5 lire. It lasted an hour into the dark sea, with Turkish music and dancing throughout the whole trip.

Later, a few of us spent some time near a seating area by the beach. There were numerous vendors walking around offering ice-creams and plates of fresh mussels stuffed with rice – a must have. There is also a free elevator around the harbor that will definitely save some leg work, and do not miss the view from the observation deck when you leave the lift!


Kemer

kemer1

Kemer has two of the best clubs in Antalya–Inferno and Aura. The entry is around 30 lira including a free drink. The clubs are fancy, with a large number of tables surrounding a small dance floor. Unlike Istanbul’s deep house, clubs in Antalya often blast your typical top-40. As a large go-to city for tourists, there were a lot of all-inclusive hotels and resorts in the area. However, prices for alcohol and other items are relatively higher than Antalya. You can either take a bus from Antalya, which costs 10 lire, or a taxi, which is around 50 lira.


Olympos

Olympos Antalya

Olympos, Antalya

Olympos is a beach paradise! This is where most locals go for vacation as the sea is visibly clearer than ones in Antalya. It is famous for its tree houses and bungalows, as well as its Greek ruins. The small town consists of numerous guesthouses that lead toward the beach/ruins.

The beach has a 5 lira entrance fee but is free when late at night or early in the morning. The ruins are off a beaten path and usually deserted.

There are buses to Olympos leaving Antalya every half an hour. It is around a two hours ride, costing 8-10 lira. Make sure to take public buses such as Bati Antalya, Kumluca Seyhat, Bati Antalya or Antalya tur from the main Antalya bus station and TELL THE DRIVER that you want to get off at the Cirali Olympos junction! If not sure, ALWAYS ask!!

I ended up Couchsurfing in Olympos in a bungalow. The place was beautiful, as the bungalow was located a few kilometers away from the touristy spots. However, the stay wasn’t the greatest and I ended up spending a night in a treehouse after the first night.


Side

Water reservoir in Side, Turkey

Water reservoir in Side, Turkey

I decided to start my travels right after my internship. Side was the first on my list. Famous for its ruins and long beaches, it is 14 lire and an hour and a half away by bus from Antalya.

Side is a small, ancient town inside the larger city of Manavgat. If you are traveling by bus from another town, take it to Manavgat and ask around for a shuttle!

Convincing two of my teaching friends to come along and couch surf for the first time, we were lucky to have one of the best hosts I’ve encountered!

Founder of a school for disabled children, my host was extremely passionate about his city. He tirelessly drove us throughout Manavgat, showing us Oymapinar Dam, the city of Side, took us on ATV tours, jet skiing and go karting.


Water reservoir in Side, Turkey

Water reservoir in Side, Turkey

The Oymapinar Dam is a must see if you are able to find a car or hitch hike. The Dam is huge and the water reflects a deep turquoise. There aren’t many tourists due to the 30-minute drive up a mountain, so it is truly nature at its finest.

In comparison, Side is much busier. While the ruins were not as crowded during the evening, the enclosing streets were full of packed restaurants, bars, clubs and a colorful bazaar.


Following Side, I continued on my 9-city Turkey venture by tapping into the beautiful landscape of Alanya. Although Alanya is also a city within the province of Antalya, its beauty deserves a post of its own.


Final Thoughts

Although Istanbul remains the most known Turkish city among tourists alike, I’d recommend anyone to dabble the beauty of Antalya, even just for a few days. From beautiful beaches to mesmerizing ruins, Antalya provides tons to see and more to do. These mini trips around the Antalya province are definitely worth the time

Total Cost

Traveling in Turkey is extremely cheap. Since I couchsurfed in all of the cities, I spent no money on accommodation. Otherwise, there were a few lire here and there for food and tourist sights. I didn’t end up buying anything in Antalya since Izmir and Istanbul are known spots for shopping ;). I believe I spent less than US $100 during my month in the province.

  • The buses between different cities in Antalya vary between 10-20 lira (US $3-6).

Happy Travels xx

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Biker friend in Denizli, Turkey

Living with Bikers in Denizli | Turkey

Not everyone likes to spend nights in a stranger’s house, and I completely get that. But I love the excitement of meeting someone unknown, when embracing their culture and lifestyle without hesitation, when having hour-long conversations without the awkwardness of small talk and long pauses.

Read: Is Couchsurfing for you?

That is why I was extremely excited when offered to be hosted by a biker in Denizli, Turkey.

Denizli is a province in southwest Turkey and the base to Pamukkale- a famous tourist spot with mineral-rich thermal waters housed by snow-white terraces. The hot springs sit beside Hierapolis, a Roman ‘spa city’ with a well-preserved theater and other architectural wonders.


Pamukkale

pamukkale

Pamukkale is a natural site in Denizli. The city had beautiful hot springs surrounded by white walls as formed by carbonate minerals, often known as the “cotton castle”.  While the pools are usually overfilled with warm, baby blue water, my visit only saw to several filled ponds.

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Nonetheless, the hot spring is absolutely beautiful during the sunset. It is naturally warm, which provides a great spot to sit and relax. Though it was considerably crowded during an August day, the other sites surrounding the hot springs were at complete peace.


Hierapolis

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Hierapolis, an ancient Greco-Roman city, was built atop the hot springs. The theater was phenomenal. Despite it being a few thousand years old, it stood tall against the city of Denizli. Both Turkey and Greece are known for their grand, ancient theaters and magnificent architecture. Can’t imagine what these places held under the reign of the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empire.


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The next night, my host and his friend brought me to a Turkish Bikers’ Club. They drank Turkish tea and beer, and we just chatted. A few even took out guitars and had a jam session.

Honestly, I think I’ve found my calling. Waiting for the days when I can retire and ride around the highways of Canada :J

 

 


Akyaka

On the third day, my host and his friend took a few days off work to take me on a spontaneous bike trip to Akyaka, a 2-hour motorbike ride away from Denizli.

akyaka beachside

Muğla is a popular province for tourists. It houses some of the most beautiful beaches and sights in Turkey. Akyaka, being a smaller city, is less tourist-prone. it is quiet and mesmerizing, a camping hot-spot for locals and bikers.

The next day, I took a bus towards Fethiye, the most popular city in Muğla, while my host turned friends returned home to Denizli.


Total Cost

My host wouldn’t let me pay for a dime. The only cost I incurred was the bus from Cappadocia to Denizli, which was another 10-hour bus for about 60 lire (US $16). These buses vary between companies despite similar prices. For more information, visit a local bus terminal. They usually have people there to answer questions. Or, read up on my Turkish travel tips.

If you have other questions, feel free to shoot me a message!

Happy Travels xx

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Cappadocia Escapade: How I saw the Hot Air Balloons for Free | Turkey

Hot air balloon Cappadocia.

Nevşehir, a province located in central Turkey, is famous for its sightseeing activities. From valleys with strange looking stone formations to cave hotels and open air museums, the region of Cappadocia houses some of the most interesting geological phenomena.

Cappadocia geoformation

Look close and keep ya mind outta the gutter

Going to Cappadocia was a rather spontaneous choice on my part.

While in Antalya, Turkey, my friend came up with a list of famous cities I should visit. I wrote the suggestions down on a piece of napkin and set to travel without any prior knowledge of these places.

Research is so important y’all! It wasn’t until I arrived in Nevşehir that I realized Cappadocia, as a region, was not a city. In fact, there are no buses that go directly to Cappadocia! 

I was left stranded in the Nevşehir bus terminal for a good hour while trying to hand-signal a conversation with locals who spoke no English. It wasn’t until a businessman came over to help that I understood I had to take a shuttle towards Göreme, where my Couchsurfing host was waiting.

My host lived in Ürgüp, a small town around 15 minutes away by car from the tourist district of Göreme. He drove myself and several other surfers around during my 4-day stay and showed me the best of what Cappadocia had to offer.

Despite the beauty of the different valleys in the region, my #1 priority was to see the hot air balloons that occupied the Cappadocian sky. In fact, this was the sole reason that pushed me to come to Nevşehir, which was way out of my other destinations along the Mediterranean coast.

Nevertheless, prices of hot air balloons, for a budget traveler like me, was quite high. Instead of looking for coupons and discount codes online, I decided to ask my Couchsurfing host to help me find a way to see the balloons for free.


5 am

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At 4 am the next morning, my host woke me up and told me that a shuttle was here to pick me up for the balloon ride.

Disoriented and barely awake, I grabbed my iPad and dragged myself towards the van. (Note: Please, for the love of god, wear a few sweaters. Even the mid-August sun was no match against the temperature drop in the mountain ranges).

Tip: If you want to catch a free view of the balloons, go to a hotel that has already organized a trip for other tourists and ask for a ride on the tour bus! 

Two hours later, we arrived alongside a few other loaded shuttles as the pumping of balloons started. With a cup of tea in hand, I headed up a hill to get a better view.

It is impossible to describe this in words.


5:30 am

Amid the sunrise, a hundred or so balloons started rising up around me. Rays of newly emerged sunshine bounced off all these different, magnificent colors, projecting a layer of orange on miles and miles of endless hills.

cappadocia sunrise

(I wanna add more pictures, but my shitty phone quality really doesn’t do this justice) 

I met some people who thought the rides were over hyped due to the crowded balloons. I can understand, as each balloon was flooded with dozens of tourists hoping to squeeze into a spot along the side of the basket to get a view of the mountains.

But I was by myself, drunk in awe. Surrounded by the floating objects amid the rising sun, I felt incredibly small,

yet, at peace.

So I ran around the hills like a madman, with my shitty Samsung 3 in hand, for the first time regretting not investing in a decent camera.

hot air balloon cappadocia

But since traveling with me is never a smooth process, I completely forgot about the shuttle that brought me to this place. After the balloons slowly glided away, I headed down the hill.

Long and behold, the buses were gone. I was stranded in the middle of nowhere.


7:00 am

 

Since it was hard to find a ride back to town, I had to hitch a ride to Zelve Open Air Museum. Then, I waited at the gates until someone came along for their morning shift. A minibus was nice enough to ship me back to the city.

bike ride around cappadocia

The rest of the days in Cappadocia were the usual unexpected. My friend owned a bike tour company. These four-wheeler bikes are best taken around the mountains, especially for sunsets at Rose Valley.

For my lady friends out there, remember to hide yo face hide yo hair. Combined with speed and the natural sandy environment, my hair was crazier than a mucky lion mane. I ended up chopping my locks after some months cause I could barely brush my fingers through my non-dread dreads.

 


Total Cost

I stayed in Göreme / Ürgüp for three days. Since my host provided transportation, I spent nothing on accommodation and public transit.

  • My bus from Alanya to Nevşehir was a 9-hour long nightmare around 65 lire (US $17).
  • The rest of the cost was food and entrance fees. This amounted to around 30 lire (US $8) for fees to the various museums and 50 lire for outings to different restaurants (US $13).

All in all, it was around US $50 for my 4-day stay here.

Happy Travels xx

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Alanya Beach

Away in Alanya | Turkey

Alanya is a laid back city along the coast of the Mediterranean. I was pleasantly surprised by how open-minded the city was.

To be honest, my entire trip around Turkey had been incredibly eye-opening.

Before coming to this country, many warned me. Online articles highlighted women’s safety issues and blogs stressed the need to cover up, especially for solo female travelers. Whether it be the people or the culture, my parents and friends all shared similar views on the conservative nature of a near East state. Obviously, I’m not saying that one should forgo all forms of safety measures while traveling, but the Turkey I experienced was just not that dangerous. In Alanya, many won’t even bat an eye to tourists wandering the streets in their two pieced bikinis.

The Alanya beach had it all–breezy sea breeze, bikini tops, bars, clubs and happy, often sometimes drunk, crowds. Although the city has a grand party reputation, I opted for night swims in the sea as opposed to nights out at clubs. Sounds of the city are muffled by the Mediterranean waves while a clear view of the golden Alayna castle is visible just above the cliffs.

Clearly, Alanya is a city of contrast. Rows and rows of red bricked houses sat ashore the crystal clear sea, forming a contrast in colors and mood. Its harbor is full of nightclubs and bars, the loud and vivid atmosphere contrasts the serenity of adhan, the Islamic call for prayers by residing mosques.

Alanya Castle

Away in Alanya

Alanya Castle

On the first day, we went up the Alanya castle. As one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the castle has a long history. Parts of the fortification on which the castle is built dates back to the Byzantine Empire. After being occupied by the Ottoman Empire, the castle was built atop the rocking peninsula as a defense post against three sides, especially that facing the Mediterranean Sea. As such, it offers a great view of both the town and the sea.

Since it was a rather hot day, we chose to hitch hike up the mountain. Just a bit down the road from the actual castle gates, we found the most beautiful, secluded place by the walls. It overlooked the cliffs into the sunset.

Kale Panorama Restaurant

Away in Alanya

Alanya Beach

After wandering around the castle for a few hours, we decided to have dinner at Kale Panorama Restaurant. The restaurant is definitely one of the best in Alanya. Half way down the hill, it is a place most locals go for a night out. The price is very fair, with the chicken burger costing a mere 8 lire. For US $2 we were feeding ourselves AND getting a view! I ended up going back three more times, for both the sunset and its night views.

I doubt many know of the place since it was rather quiet for a restaurant with such a sight.

We spent the next few days hitch hiking around Alanya, visiting places such as the Damlatas Caves (which I loved) and the Dim Cave. Hitchhiking in the area was really easy. People gladly picked us up, even in secluded areas up in the mountains. Not everyone spoke English, but my friend spoke some Turkish so we didn’t have a hard time getting to places we needed to go 🙂

Damlatas Caves

My friend began belting in the caves and the sound effects, with all the echoes and whatnot was mesmerizing. We did get the security’s attention, but he was nice enough to just warn us against it. (Apparently, the vibration is bad for the walls).

Total Cost

We stayed in Alanya for 3 days. The accommodation was free since we couchsurfed. However, I believe hotels and hostels are generally pretty cheap in Turkey.

Since we hitch hiked almost everywhere, we spent little to nothing on transportation. I would assume around 20 lire (US $6) were spent on buses around town. We opted for groceries and home cooking as opposed to eating out every day. In addition to the nights spent at Kale Panorama Restaurant, I spent around 40 lire (US $11) on food and wine.

My host from Side, being the amazing person that he is, drove us to Antalya. In total, I spent no more than US $20 during my 3-day stay in Alanya. After this trip, my friend and I went separate ways. I began my solo trip in Turkey, with the first stop in Cappadocia to see the famous hot air balloons (for free).

If you have other questions, feel free to shoot me a message!

Happy Travels xx

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