Of all the road trips that Anh and I have taken together, it was our six days on the road in Turkey that I could easily say was the biggest screwup.
It would be easy to say that we were cursed on this trip, and had a string of bad luck. But I know that wasn’t the case.
Our lack of planning really bit us on the ass on this one and we have no one to blame for this but ourselves (except for the weather in Cappadocia, that sucked! – but we’ll get to that).
I am going to recount our trip in as much detail as I can so that you can learn from our stuff ups.
This is absolutely not a recommended itinerary for anyone, but there are plenty of stops that you will want to factor into your trip that were amazing!
But so many missed opportunities also…
Road Trip Itinerary Video
If you prefer to watch than read you can check out our full Turkey road trip below.
Turkey has so many beautiful places and we hope that the visuals inspire you when planning your itinerary.
Why We Were So Complacent
Firstly, we like not planning too much on our road trips. I love the idea of hitting the road and just seeing where we end up.
But there were a few very basic things that would have helped us on our way while preserving that sense of freedom.
Just two weeks earlier we had taken a road trip around Iceland.
We didn’t prepare much for that either but got by on free Internet, an uncomplicated road system, and an abundance of roadside tourist attractions that were easy to find.
Yes, there were frustrations, but we ventured into Turkey thinking we got this.
If you take nothing else away from this article let it be this:
Turkey is a very different place!
The cities are big, the roads complex, the traffic overwhelming, and English is not broadly spoken.
Yes, we knew most of this before we got there, but the realities of figuring it out as we went were just more difficult than we first imagined.
5 Tips for Planning Your Turkey Road Trip
Ok, now we have fessed up to our own stupidity we can cover off some essentials that you will need before you arrive.
We stayed mostly in hotels, and one hostel on our last night.
Given that we were traveling as a couple of the price difference between two hostel beds and a hotel room was nothing in most cases. So we chose the more comfortable option.
Hotel prices were relatively cheap everywhere we went and we booked nothing ahead of time.
We traveled in the middle of summer which we would expect to be peak time for tourism. This is important when planning your road trip because you want to stay as flexible as possible.
At least for now, you can be confident that there will be plenty of hotel options available at the last minute.
There is free internet available from all the usual places you would expect, but with one annoying caveat.
You need to be able to receive an SMS code to access and connect.
This was the case in every public place we visited. It was only in hotel accommodation that we could access networks without this.
This had us on the back foot from the moment we left the airport. We essentially picked a direction and drove until we found a fast food place where we could connect.
After two days of wrong turns and wasted time we just got a sim card – which Anh had been telling me to do since the second we stepped off the plane.
So two lessons here
- Get the damn sim card on arrival!
- Listen to your girlfriend!
3. Get a Map
Even if you have your internet sorted you should still buy a detailed map before your trip to plan out your route, and for backup if your internet drops out.
Turkey is a huge country and wrong turns can be costly. It is also developing fast so find the most up-to-date road map you can.
The Michelin Turkey Map was published in 2015, and is much more updated than others available.
4. Be Conservative with your Itinerary
Did we mention that Turkey is massive? If you are doing more driving than exploring then step back and review your priorities (I wish we sense checked our plans in this way).
The city sizes outside the capital were also much bigger than we expected.
Cities like Izmir and Antalya are big enough to spend a few days exploring if you are interested in doing so.
5. If you are Hot Air Balloon’ing
The best-laid plans here could be derailed by the weather. If it’s too windy, no balloons go up.
If this activity is important to you then factor some flexibility into your plans so you can hang around a few days if you need to.
- Also check out our Best Tips for Driving in Turkey
Turkey Road Trip Itinerary from Istanbul
- Istanbul Airport -> Eceabat (309kms)
- Total – 309kms
You may get tired of hearing about the issues caused by a lack of Internet, GPS or a proper map. But I promise this is fixed by day two.
But in those two days, I would estimate that we added at least 6-7 hours in extra driving time.
Stacked on to what should have been 4-5 hours of driving in total!!
How did this happen?
We figured that we could connect to the airport WIFI and take a few screenshots to at least get our initial set of directions.
But while getting the rental car arranged, getting some local currency, and a few other things we just forgot until we got in the car.
By this time we were at some lower level of the car park and had to move from our spot next to the rental office.
I asked the good people at Europcar if they had a map for us – but they didn’t speak a word of English.
After some fancy charades work, he got the idea and went to sifting through every draw in the office. He came back with a high-level map showing all the Europcar locations in the country.
By this time, I just thought good enough! We’re out of here!
Pro tip: If you don’t plan on getting your own mobile internet, learn the Turkish word for Map (Harita)!! Or just buy your own beforehand as any smart individual would.
The next problem, we didn’t know where our starting point was and the map was far too high level to figure it out.
As you come out of the airport we were met with on-ramps to freeways running in all directions. All we could do was pick one and hope for the best.
Surely we will see somewhere we can stop nearby and figure this out.
Fifteen minutes later there was no sign of anything!! We knew we had to get off the freeway and into some suburbs.
We got lucky here and found a shopping complex that would have everything we need. There was more WIFI available that we could shake a stick at!
But as mentioned earlier, we couldn’t connect to any of it without being able to receive an SMS code.
- Buy a better road map… Nope!
- Find a sim card… Nope!
- Find an internet café… Nope!
- Attempt to ask a local which way we should go…. We start realizing our lack of Turkish vocabulary may be a big problem.
So we were left with a choice. Double back to the airport and start from scratch, or just keep going and try somewhere else.
We were about to get back on the freeway and as we approached the on-ramp there was another huge set of signs. I pulled up onto the shoulder of the road and got the trusty map out again.
Surely there is something here that will give me a direction!
That is to the northwest and has one main road heading that way. If we can follow this road and find the E80 then we might get out of this mess!
And this worked…. Kind of.
By this time (I think) we had traveled a long way east and would have been better off just going back the way we came and straight past the airport to find this Highway 80.
We didn’t and ended up doing a massive loop that may or may not have passed through Istanbul. Don’t ask me how we did this, but the result was an extra 90 minutes of sitting in gridlock on the Freeway.
This was an interesting experience in itself with this 12-16 lane having street hawkers selling all kinds of goods to weary commuters. Water, snacks, and a bunch of things I still wouldn’t know what they are.
But the thoughts running through my mind was that we are already two hours into this journey and are no closer to our destination for the night… and I still don’t really know where we are.
What was running through Anh’s head? Nothing… She was asleep.
As the traffic thinned out and we got moving again the E80 was easy to spot. Success!
Now all I needed to do was keep an eye out for a turnoff to the E84.
Hours went by and I realized that I had been driving for four hours under some fairly stressful conditions, and badly needed to give myself a break.
A sign came up saying there was a gas station and service center coming up. Of course, I pulled into the wrong turnoff and ended up on some other freeway… But it was heading west.
I pulled over and sat in the dark. My head slumped briefly on the steering wheel.
F&%k this! I thought to myself.
Anh woke up and I didn’t my best to explain where I thought we were. My strategy of trying to spot major towns and cities on this shitty map was all I could do for now.
If by some miracle we were facing the right direction, then the next stop should be Tekirdağ. There was nowhere for me to turn around or off the road anyway so onwards we went.
I could have cried when that first road sign came up… There it was, Tekirdağ! A glorious sight!
Pro tip: Some of these names were really hard to memorize while driving. Some word associations really helped so I didn’t have to keep refreshing my memory while driving
It was another 45-60 minutes away. But I had to press on.
Along this road was our first encounter with the cardboard cutout highway patrol. See our Tips for Driving in Turkey post for more information on that one.
As we pulled into a gas station I could finally rest my eyes and brain for a few minutes. By this time it was 11pm and I was struggling.
There was a nice lady running a restaurant out the back that was deserted, but she welcomed us in. After we didn’t some mindless pointing at the menu we ended up with a nice (something?) dish.
With lots of bread of course!
No maps were for sale at the gas station so off into the darkness we went.
There were fewer roads now, so less chance of error, but the cost of a wrong turn likely far greater!
We fumbled our way from road to road with that constant worry of whether we were lost and didn’t know it, and may have to spend our first night in Turkey sleeping in the car.
As we got closer the dark scenery looked more and more like an industrial area rather than somewhere frequented by tourists.
Driving along a major shipping lane I guess this made sense, but it wasn’t what I expected.
The rest of the drive was mostly uneventful and our only major fight being with fatigue. I was cooked!
I noticed a large war memorial out of the corner of my eye on the right hand side. It looked like a massive gate that was leading to somewhere important.
That must be the way to Anzac Cove I thought to myself.
This was an assumption that causes a whole new set of problems on day two. But for now I knew we were close.
We came around a bend and the darkness opened up to an amazing view of the Dardanelles. The sea glistened in the dark and was the nicest thing I had seen all day (aside from my beautiful passenger).
I knuckled down for the remaining ten minutes to get into the town of Eceabat.
Then one more thing hit me…. We don’t know where this hotel is!!
All of these little details that the internet was supposed to take care of, and that we take for granted each day were catching up with us.
I saw a hotel… Not ours… I’m going in anyway.
Despite being the middle of the night the hotel owner was happy to point me in the direction of our hotel. Luckily it was two minutes down the road and that little crisis was over.
As we headed down the street we quickly got the feeling that this was somewhere we shouldn’t be. But it was also 2am, and nowhere unfamiliar will look very welcoming at that hour.
We shook that off and found our hotel.
Absolutely exhausted we checked into TJ’s Hotel and got into our room by about 2am. Eight hours after we set off on our four-hour drive.
But we made it!!
We stayed in this town because it was only 15 minutes from Anzac Cove. The effort tonight will take the pressure off us in the morning.
We were back on track… Or so we thought.
- Eceabat -> Anzac Cove – 14kms
- Anzac Cove -> Kilitbahir – 19kms
- Ferry to Çanakkale
- Çanakkale – > Izmir – 372kms
- Total – 405kms
After going to sleep in a room as hot as an oven, we woke up in a giant ice cube. This old air conditioner had kicked into overdrive somewhere between the hours of 4am and 6am.
I hadn’t noticed, but I rolled over to see Anh laying there with two more layers of clothes than when she went to sleep…
Despite being groggy from the long night, I was feeling happy that we only had an easy 15 minute drive to ANZAC Cove where we could take our time walking around taking in the experience of the Gallipoli Peninsula.
But first, we had a small problem. Fresh out of clean clothes! I was only getting by on a pair of undies that I scrubbed in the sink at 3am the night before.
We organized for the hotel to wash the lot for is while we headed out of the day and we could swing in the afternoon to collect. Perfect!
Narrator: “Everything was not perfect”
Journey to ANZAC Cove
We set off on our easy 15 minute drive. I had noticed those big gates the night before so I knew where to go.
This turned out to be a Turkish war memorial. ANZAC Cove must be right down this road next to it.
So down this dirt road, we went. Shortly we were in a small village where everyone seemed surprised to see us.
The dirt road became narrower, and eventually down to one lane…. Surely something was wrong. This doesn’t look like somewhere a tourist bus would even fit!
Lucky for us the GPs on the phone was working without the WIFI. When that little blue dot refreshed we were a long way from where we thought we were.
But, the roads looked to link up with the main road that loops around ANZAC Cove. So we doubled down and kept going. Should save us time rather than doubling back.
How wrong we were….
I could only describe the next hour as the most scenic of scenic routes through Turkish farmland that saw us drive through what must have been intergenerational farms full of sunflowers.
It would have been a funny and interesting detour were it not for one thing…. The main road that was to link up with ANZAC cove was under construction.
Nothing but steamrolled, perfectly flat, dirt.
By this time we were nearly an hour into the drive and were so deep into the backcountry that I didn’t even know if we could find our way back.
But with no choice, and feeling completely disheartened, we turned around and went back the way we came.
The only eventful thing that happened on this lifeless drive back full of very vocal self-abuse (well I didn’t feel like a F&%^ing idiot!), was a run in with a very long, very odd colored snake.
I had warned Anh against jumping out of the car to get a photo with the sunflower fields as this was definitely snake country.
She didn’t believe me, but this thing came out of the long grass across the road in front of us and disappeared into the other side in a flash.
This thing covered three quarters of the width of the road and would have been at least 6-7ft long.
All in all, we spent 90 minutes on this 15 minute drive. By the time we reached the beaches of Gallipoli it was already into the afternoon and I thought our plan for the day may have been ruined.
Any sense of frustration, or self-loathing, disappeared when we reached our destination.
Being an Australian, this was a place I had wanted to visit my whole life. Now that I was there the feeling was both surreal and deeply saddening.
I was overcome with emotion at every stop.
The significance of the difference in circumstances between myself and those who lay here was on my mind constantly.
Here I was, casually walking around taking in the beautiful surroundings at my own pace, with my loving girlfriend by my side.
Walking around the graves of men who came here under unimaginable circumstances, and never got to go home.
Young Australian men, just like me.
The feeling of intense gratitude for these men is something I have felt all of my adult life, but on this day it hit me like never before.
My good fortune that allows me to visit on this day being down to little more than being born at a different time.
It was very overwhelming.
I don’t want to talk about the site too much in this post. I have gone into more detail on our complete guide to ANZAC Cove, but I did want to summarize the emotion of the day.
You may have read this post so far thinking why we would go the direction we did on our road trip. It is impractical to do so (as you will read about in the rest of the post) and there is not that much to see.
But experiencing Gallipoli was the most important reason I came to Turkey. So we put it first.
Ferry from Kiltbahir to Çanakkale
On return to the hotel, the look on the faces of the Hotelier, when we asked for our laundry, was one of panic.
He headed into the back room without saying much and stayed there for much longer than you would expect it would take to pick up a bag. He came out and sheepishly said that it will be ready in an hour.
An hour we didn’t really have… So we asked for our half wet clothes (all of our clothes!) and figured we could spread them around the car or hang out at our destination on arrival – and hope they were still ok.
Frustrating, but meh… What can you do?
We did get a good tip to drive down the coast away from Eceabat to Kiltbahir to catch the ferry as the trip was much shorter.
After checking the map it looked like a solid 10-15 minute drive, and with only one road headed down the coast how could we miss it?
Well, we did! Surprise, surprise!
So for the second time that day I took us way off course and drove us way down the coast as far as Alcitepe.
As pleasant as the drive was, I was done with wrong turns costing us time!
We had a long way to drive and again it was looking like a late night on the road caused by my own stupidity.
But we were still smiling…
As we pulled the car off the ferry we knew that enough was enough!
We were not leaving Çanakkale until we had a SIM card and some way to direct ourselves!
Our Turkey experiment had failed miserably – if only I listened to the Mrs in the first place!
Luckily we had this epiphany in the middle of the day, in the middle of a city, so we found a SIM in no time and were on our way within 20 minutes with full navigation.
While we had wasted all our possible time to wander around Çanakkale on wrong turns we were heading with newfound confidence that the stupidity was behind us….
Only 500kms of Turkish Highway left before our next stop.
And it all went like clockwork until we arrived in the city of Izmir. This is when we first learned that navigation apps don’t really understand Turkish cities very well.
Most of the roads were one way, and the apps didn’t know this.
We came within 100 metres of our hotel. It was late, and we were exhausted.
But a round-a-bout with eight different exits (half of them one way) spat us out on a road that turns into a freeway with no way off!
This added another 20 minutes to our journey with the only highlight being the coolest modern traffic light I have ever seen anywhere in the world!
It was approaching midnight when we arrived at the Marlight Boutique Hotel. I could have killed for a beer, but it was too late to get one anywhere nearby.
The concierge volunteered to send his guy to get us some drinks. What followed was the most vague and bizarre conversation I have ever had regarding alcohol, which came down to:
“He knows a guy, and he can get anything. How much do you want?”
I decided to let this go and just go to bed….
- Izmir -> Ephesus (79kms)
- Ephesus -> Pumakkale (222kms)
- Total – 301kms
Not realizing just how big of a city Izmir was we had not planned to spend much time here. This was a mistake because the half day we spent walking around was very enjoyable.
We headed to the Izmir waterfront area and found a long row of bars and restaurants to scout somewhere for breakfast. We just headed to the one that looked the most crowded and really hit the jackpot with this place.
The food was amazing and moderately priced. Anh went to town with the menu, so at least we had some food to take on the road.
I usually hate shopping, but even I enjoyed walking around the surrounding mall. But probably best that Anh takes the lead in giving an overview for Izmir shopping options:
We didn’t see any high-end stores and everything we did find was moderately priced which allowed us to splurge a little.
The style of clothing on offer was not too different from back home in Australia. Shoes made out of rope seemed to be trending at the time, but aside from that I couldn’t spot the difference.
The central mall was closed to traffic and had a long stretch of shops in an open-air setting. But the shops spread out down most surrounding streets so you could really get lost here over multiple days if that’s your thing.
It was surprisingly clean in this area too. Barely any rubbish around (which was unusual compared to what we had seen so far) and the streets without clutter.
With the exception of the odd street kebab stand.
I couldn’t put my finger on why, but the shops seemed unusually compatible with our tastes. Even James bought two pairs of sunglasses here! Something that would usually take weeks to get him to buy one!
I am also quite picky with my dresses and shoes, but I know that if we stayed here longer I would have ended up broke.
But we had to cut our exploring time short and hit the road again. A much less daunting one hour drive to the ruins at Ephesus awaited.
We couldn’t leave Izmir without another getting lost story, but this time it wasn’t our fault!
To get back to our hotel we jumped in a taxi. This guy was obviously new on the job and just didn’t know his way around too well.
I showed him our phone with maps and directions. It didn’t help him at all.
He stopped to ask other taxi drivers where our hotel was multiple times and every time they pointed him in the wrong direction.
Unfortunately led to us getting further and further from our hotel.
We cut our losses and just got out, paid the guy and moved on.
Ephesus Archeological Museum
If you want to get the full experience here I would recommend just walking the grounds with a tour guide.
All landmarks are well signposted with plenty of opportunities to read up on everything along the way, but a guide will have additional insight that can bring things to life a bit more.
The first stop is the Grand Theatre. This was an impressive sight!
Anything resembling mass entertainment before electronics were invented really fascinates me.
We climbed as high as we could before hitting the fences and we were not that far from the front of the theatre due to the steepness of the seating incline.
I can only assume that the acoustics created by the half-bowl shape that is formed by the design is what allowed people to hear whatever was going on.
How lucky we are to have microphones and speakers!
We continued on down the marble street towards the Celsus Library. This was the most impressive structure that remains in the series of ruins.
It looked like plenty of other people agreed with selfies being taken everywhere you looked!
Only the façade remains. Which stands alongside the entry gate to the old commercial Agora area – an old town marketplace much like a giant square flea market.
There was a viewing platform that sat atop what I thought looked to be a church of some kind that looked back at the library. The maps of the area I have found online since show that this was actually a brothel.
Just as popular as the surrounding temples no doubt… One of which was right next door – the Temple of Hadrian.
From there we headed up a long uphill path and took a right at the Temple of Domitian. A building that was very impressive in it’s day but now very little remains.
I would encourage you to take the time to read the signboards and absorb the drawings of what was here at this point in particular.
As we headed up the Street of Curettes I just had flashbacks to the many movies I have watched over the years set in a similar era, where there was a main street bustling with people and horses.
It was a street just like this and you could picture it as you moved past the remaining structures.
There was a covered exhibit that housed old terraces. You had to pay an additional entry for this section. We did not go in there as we were running short on time before the museum was to close.
From the top of the hill, we had a well earned ice cream while we checked out a model version of the city and surrounding areas that sat under a glass display.
This provided great context for where we were standing.
A small city with access to a shipping lane at the harbor, and a giant wall the whole way around that is so far off in the distance that it housed what was a vast, self-contained, kingdom all those years ago.
We started our way back, past the Odeion – which looked like a mini version of the Theater.
This time we headed through the gates to the Agora and took in the quiet surroundings. For some reason very few people came into this space.
There is a long path that heads down towards the old harbor. You are unable to access the whole road and must head down a detour towards the Church of the Virgin Mary.
I was blown away by how big the footprint of this building was! It must have been two football fields at least. Which for something built in the 6th century was very impressive.
You have full access to every area of the old church there is enough that remains to picture how the main floor would have looked in its prime.
I was excited to move on to the amphitheater that held the chariot races back in the day. But this was not part of the walkable area, much to my disappointment.
This is tucked away behind the car park and overgrown with foliage.
As we left I noticed the most honest, dishonest vendor I think I have ever come across:
Now for a solid drive through the mountains to get to Pamukkale.
All went to plan and we were on a roll, until we arrived at the Sinter Terasse House Hotel.
On check in the receptionist looked shocked to see us. She then walked off, jump on a motorcycle, and drove off into the darkness… WTF?
After standing there for 15 minutes she came back and said they don’t have a room for us and that because we didn’t check in by 7pm they gave our room to someone else.
Our options were to go to another hotel or upgrade to the only room they had left.
By this time I was tired, frustrated, and surprised! I had never come across this at any hotel before.
After some stern words that toed the line between solutions and being thrown out we agreed to pay the extra to get the upgraded room and be done with the hassle.
My advice is DO NOT STAY at the Sinter Terasse House Hotel
As we settled in for the night we had some decisions to make about where to next.
I wanted to head to Fethiye and do the coastal drive to Antalya. But the more we looked at this the less doable it sounded in the time we had.
Given how much unnecessary driving time we had racked up to this point I had to swallow hard and skip all of it and head straight to Antalya.
- Butterfly Valley
Ok, as I write this I can see how ambitious this was to start with in the time we had.
The fatigue was just becoming a factor and we still had a lot of ground to cover.
There was one highlight that I thought we could squeeze in that I found on a Things to do in Antalya blog post I found (that I won’t link to because it was slightly misleading) – Mount Tahtalia.
This looked amazing, and I am a sucker for incredible views.
If we could go up to the lookout then I think I could live with skipping over the coastal drive.
- Pummakale -> Antalya – 239kms
- Total – 239kms
Pamukkale Thermal Baths
We set the alarm early so we could get into the baths early and beat the crowds.
We thought we were two minutes from the entrance but Maps said it was a 10-minute drive. This took us towards the top of the mountain.
This was our first experience running into a boom gate for what looks like a secure area where we are not supposed to go.
Rather than actually pull up to the gate we turned around and continued the tradition of wrong turns (or so we thought).
We would later find out that security gates are pretty standard in Turkey and that we were in the right place.
Anyway, we ended up back at the lower entrance and at a gate where the ticket sales didn’t open up until 8am.
Given we had got out of bed early to get in there on what we thought was the opening time of 7am this was another annoyance.
Pro Tip: It is only the ticket booth that opens later. You can purchase from a ticket machine with your Credit Card and walk straight in.
Once we figured this out we still had a window of time before the crowds came in.
This allowed us to get some nice photos and enjoy the views before we got overrun with people competing for a spot.
I found these baths to be an unusual experience. The pools are shallow, rocky and definitely not something you can swim in. More like ankle-deep paddling.
You can give the impression that you are swimming by taking pictures from the right angle.
The biggest surprise was the water is cold!! Very different from any thermal baths we had previously experienced which are hot AF!
This place looks amazing in photos, but in real life is a little dull. Perhaps if we went in the middle of the day the water would at least have been refreshing.
For me, the best part about the experience was the mountain views.
Given the baths are perched up the top of the mountain you overlook the small town towards vast open plains that lead to some beautiful mountains off in the hazy distance.
As for the baths themselves, I would describe it as popularized by Instagram trickery and generally not worth going out of your way for.
So we left within an hour and for the first time in Turkey we were ahead of schedule!!
So we grabbed our stuff from the hotel and took off – much to the surprise of the owner who couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to stay for breakfast.
The upside of our choice for the day was a nice and easy three-hour drive to Antalya.
On the approach to the city you get your first glimpse at the top of a mountain that overlooks the whole region all the way to the coast.
There is a roadside lookout that offers spectacular views that is a worthwhile stop. Given how high we were I figured that Mount Tahtali couldn’t be far away.
We pushed on to the old town where our hotel was. This was our second encounter with a ton of one way streets that navigation apps struggled with, and seemingly dead ends with boom gates.
Not yet learning our lesson we thought we had taken a wrong turn again.
After trying to manually find our way to another road into the old town – the apps were trying to send us the wrong way down one way streets – we eventually found another boom gate at the other end.
This is when the penny dropped as to why these were here.
They are not dead ends or secured areas – they are there to control who goes in and out of busy tourist areas… Duh!
Now we were inside, but on the opposite side of the old town.
What followed was a series of WTF moments!
Cars are allowed in, but there are no roads. Only the usual walkways covered in tourists and flanked by markets and bars.
We crept forward at a snail’s pace so that anyone coming out of a store could see us without getting run over.
The corners were tight, the people everywhere, and the twists and turns neverending.
It was both hilarious, and puzzling… all I was thinking was where the f%^ are we supposed to park?
Eventually, we found our hotel. The Ozmen Pension – right in the middle of the action!
One block from the main strip of bars, and two blocks from the old harbor.
It was our first glimpse of the Mediterranean and instantly I knew why Sailing Turkey holidays had exploded in popularity over the last few years.
It had a very similar feel to the major towns on the Croatian coast.
Before we went exploring I wanted to get our tickets for Mount Tahtali locked in for the next morning.
Again my stupidity and carelessness led to a moment of disappointment.
My heart sank as Google Maps pointed to the site in the opposite direction to Cappadoccia (our next stop) and 70 minutes away.
Given this was already a 7 hour drive it was not something I wanted to extend by a further 2-3 hours.
I could have beaten my head against a wall at this stage. I promise I am not usually this dumb!!
Angry, upset and frustrated yet again we headed out in search of a cold beer to have to relax and enjoy the sunny coast.
The waterfront area was beautiful and we did a full lap to end up on the other side of the old town where we first drove in. We moved away from the touristy areas and quickly say a big sign – Cocktail Bar!
Perfect! Time to chill out and refresh.
The mood in the bar was jovial with plenty of locals. Just as you would expect at any old bar. I didn’t see any beer though which I thought was odd.
The menu looked like a normal cocktail menu. Not much English but lots of pictures. So we ordered what we thought looked like a nice normal drink.
On that first sip though I knew why things looked odd… This cocktail bar was missing one key ingredient.
It was full of locals because most locals don’t drink!
We were on fire today!
Needless to say, we didn’t order a second and rushed off to find the closest real bar we could!
This was the start of what became a pretty heavy night of drinking. The old town really comes to life at night with restaurants and bars around every corner.
As the sun goes down the music starts to echo out of the venues with a mix of everything from live singers and bands, to traditional Turkish music and dancers.
Seafood features heavily outside of the many restaurants. With many having selections displayed outside so you can select your meal and take a seat as they whip it into the kitchen to prepare it for you.
We started off at an Irish Pub for a much needed beer to start off with, and then followed the music into the crowd stopping for multiple cocktails and three or four different venues until we hit the waterfront again.
Along the way Anh was starting to get a bit wobbly. We were sitting in a hostel bar that was actually very nice, but also a bit quieter.
The conversation turned a little risqué and as we laughed about a potential over share we looked to our left where a loan man sat there drinking a beer.
As we whispered to each other trying to figure out if he overheard us we heard a loud thud. The guy had fallen asleep and knocked his beer over…. He didn’t hear shit.
To rejuvenate Anh decided to go full tourist and buy a coconut. It was actually very refreshing. We sat on the wall overlooking the harbor while we sucked this thing down and took in the view.
It was right on the edge of the action, but a very quiet place to take some time out.
From there it was a few more cocktails in the street where we recorded a very drunk and nonsensical video.
As we sat there, we saw a car attempting to drive through this mess just sitting there trying to decide which way he was supposed to go.
We just sat back and watched him turn and reverse three times before picking a direction and thought “ahhh yes, we’ve been there…. Good luck buddy!”
But we had fun, and then stumbled all of two blocks to get home.
- Antalya -> Konya – 302kms
- Konya -> Capadoccia – 239kms
- Total – 541kms
Yes, this week had not gone exactly to plan.
But the biggest highlight was now right in front of us and none of the problems we tackled so far would matter once we got there.
This was very much a driving day. Seven hours and 540kms to cover before nightfall.
The mild headache I had to deal with wasn’t ideal, but worth it.
Now that we knew to go to the nearest exit to the hotel we were out of the old town in about two minutes after leaving the hotel.
This stretch of Turkish desert was about as eventful as it sounds.
There was a stretch of road in the middle of our journey that lasted an hour or two where we drove through some amazing mountain countryside.
I loved the scenery here, but it then flattened out to hours of dusty nothingness.
To break up the drive we stopped over in the city of Konya.
As far as any recommendations for interested road trippers this is not a must see. The road into the city was empty and felt very eerie.
At first, it just seemed like a place we really shouldn’t be. The fringes of the city were run down and you could tell that religion was serious business around here.
We briefly discussed just getting back on the freeway. But there was a McDonalds in the middle of town so we took this as a sign that it was ok to push on – don’t ask me why but it made sense at the time.
The streets became more crowded and it started to look like a normal city. But still, an isolated one with not many outsiders who would come to visit.
We parked the car at a shopping mall and went in search of coffee and some lunch. I doubt that anyone we saw that day will have seen a couple consisting of a Vietnamese girl and an Australian man.
We never felt threatened or uncomfortable walking around, just out of place and that everyone noticed.
It was an odd feeling… Or maybe Anh was just showing too much skin for the locals liking.
Back on the road to Cappadocia and the excitement built as we counted down to our Hot Air Ballooon experience the next day.
The road into Cappadoccia feels like you are driving into a Star Wars movie. I have never seen anything like it!
It is hard to describe what a town looks like where there are buildings spread amongst strangely shaped mounds of rock that pop up out of the ground like thick spikes, that have been modified to be someone’s house.
Then on the edges of the valley you notice more cave like housing that is built into the earth with windows, balconies, and even swimming pools sitting on tiered ledges.
I know that the region is famous for its Hot Air Balloons, but I would recommend visiting the town even without this just to see its unique landscape.
It is both fascinating and bizarre!
Given how much we spent on the hot air balloons we decided to stay in the Shoestring Cave Hostel to keep costs down a bit.
They didn’t look much different from the cave hotels we had looked at online and this one had a cool looking pool and bar area with great views over the valley.
When visiting Cappadocia there are two hallmark experiences. Being on the hot air balloon, and then watching the hot air balloons from the ground. This was the perfect home base for both.
Our hostel room has a small cave nook up a ladder with two beds in it. We snapped this up thinking it was close to a private room anyway.
What I didn’t anticipate was how hot it would be in there at night time!!
No ventilation and a higher spot meant it would be a very sweaty sleep for me. But no choice.
Given the 4am wake up call for the next morning we headed out for dinner to a Turkish restaurant and sampled a couple of glasses of the local wine. Neither blew us away, but it was still ok.
A relatively early night was needed so we retired after the second glass.
This was to be the climax of our Turkish road trip! The big day had finally arrived!
We bounced out of bed at 4am and being what will be a photo heavy morning Anh was up first (never happens) to give herself enough time to shower and get herself dolled up.
I was ready in a few minutes and sat outside watching the other guests get picked up one at a time.
Then just before our guy was due to arrive a girl staying in our room who had left 15 minutes earlier re-appeared. Apparently her balloon had been canceled due to weather.
We hadn’t heard from our guy so we hoped that this wasn’t a blanket thing and we were still good to go…. The weather seemed pretty calm from where we were standing.
Half an hour passed…. Nothing.
We ended up having to call the operator for them to tell us that our trip had in fact been canceled.
This was a setback, but we still had tomorrow right?
Well to cut a long story short, no we didn’t. I don’t want to dwell on it in this post but the short version is that the weather for the next day was 50/50 and there were no guarantees we could get a booking anyway.
So we had some thinking to do.
We had made the effort to get out of bed so we thought we may as well watch the sunrise.
The hostel had a big viewing platform which was a perfect place to watch the balloons – not that there were any. All the way up and down the valley you could see people congregating to see the spectacle that was not coming.
I am not sure I have ever seen such a big gathering people who have got out of bed at stupid o’clock for what turns out to be no reason at all.
Given our track record for the week we were not that surprised that things hadn’t gone our way so we just sighed, and went back to bed.
There was still plenty of to see around town so after rising for the second time we headed out.
After getting up at 4am, only to get f^^cked, what better place to visit than a valley full of dicks?
Only a short drive out of town is the second most famous activity in Cappadocia… Take inappropriate photos with rocks shaped like penises.
We thought that this would be a little more common than it was. We seemed to be the only ones acting inappropriately.
But I think most people honestly didn’t know what we were doing.
Aside from our childish brains laughing our asses off at the obvious, the valley is actually a very impressive and unique site. With plenty of hiking trails to go exploring.
Only small variations in the rock formations earned a nearby site a more child friendly name of Fairy Chimneys.
We thought they looked like the same thing, just with more girth.
The major difference here is that some of the chimneys have been hollowed out and used as housing at some stage in their history.
You can crawl up and inside these rocky structures where inside the layout seems almost like a small apartment, with windows and everything.
Throw a couch in there to keep you off the rock it actually wouldn’t be that bad of a home.
The various formations had an almost village type feel to it. Even when there were tourists crawling in and out of the rocky shelters.
That was the end of our sightseeing for the day. The other activities just didn’t really grab us.
Late in the day, we drove past one of the horse riding groups heading out. The idea of getting lugged around slowly by a fairly small horse around the desert sand didn’t really sound fun to us.
Galloping horses in cooler weather in a grassy field or beach maybe….
The underground city at Kaymakli would have been next on our list for the next day if we were to stick around.
We had been trying to get a spot on another hot air balloon the next day and the responses were non-committal on both the weather, and if we could get a spot at all.
We were not due to fly out until the next night, but if we needed to we could stay one more day to give us a chance of getting our chance.
I could happily gamble on the weather. But there were no guarantees we could get a spot and my feeling was that we would need two good days for them to have room for us.
If we didn’t get our chance we would compound the disappointment by also missing out on our time in Istanbul.
As heartbreaking as it was, we decided to cut our losses and leave that night.
This way we could salvage an extra day in Istanbul and finish our week on a high note.
We moved our flight and drove to the airport within a couple of hours. And just like that, our Turkish road trip was over.
Reflecting on our Choices
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially when looking back on travel plans that may not have worked out.
We decided to come to Turkey for two reasons. Experience the hot air balloons and to go to Gallipoli.
Anything else could fall around that.
Unfortunately, each destination was at opposite ends of the country, and we of course don’t control the weather.
If we reversed our itinerary and gone to Cappadocia first we could have stayed there for as long as it took to go on our balloon tour.
We could have then determined our itinerary from there based on the remaining time we had left.
Sounds simple now, but it just wasn’t part of our thought process all those months ago.
Maybe we would have got lucky and made it out on day one. This would have given us the chance to see Mount Tahtali, and go on to do that coastal drive to Fethiye.
Or maybe we would have just got lost in another part of the country instead… Who knows if it was good luck or bad luck in the long run.
On the bright side, we know what to do when we come back. Anh and I have both promised each other that we will try again.
Maybe as soon as next year.
When we do, we will let you know. Hopefully, you can cheer us on as we finally get to float over that wonderfully rugged desert valley.
I have mixed feelings about Turkey as a country. It is definitely a worthwhile experience and when you venture outside of Istanbul it will be a culture shock for any westerner.
The cities are all very large and are very hit and miss with how welcoming they are to tourists.
While normally I would recommend for people to get lost and end up in a place they didn’t expect, I don’t think I would say the same for Turkey.
I also wouldn’t road trip it again for that very reason… Well, maybe to do that coastal drive. But would happily just do this on a day tour.
There was no real benefit to having the additional freedom to go wherever we wanted, because outside of the places that are well serviced by air and bus there wasn’t really anywhere that tempted us to take an unexpected turn (not on purpose anyway, just lots of wrong turns).
Perhaps some of these feelings come from our own lack of preparedness, and some poor decisions along the way.
These are on us, but we can only judge our experience on how we feel about it with the benefit of hindsight.
I hope that our story has not come across as negative because we did have fun along the way.
And I also really hope that it has helped prepare you so you make better decisions and have a smoother experience on your Turkey road trip.
Oh, and we did have an amazing time back in Istanbul. The extra day was worth it!