In my last blog, I discussed the process on how to obtain a Turkish Visa for Filipinos in Qatar as well as the fees involved. Now, I’ll inform you how we planned our trip (tour packages vs DIY) and the expenses.
As I have mentioned before in one of my previous blogs, we are now accustomed to planning our trip at least six months ahead. It gives us enough time to discuss our options for accommodation, routes/flight duration to take and if we will have private or DIY (do-it-yourself) tours. We think that if we plan our trips carefully, it makes our trip enjoyable and stress-free since everything has been taken cared of aside from our meals and other personal expenses.
Travelling doesn’t have to be luxurious and expensive. We don’t need a 5-star hotel to stay in as we would only be sleeping in there at night and on the streets during the day. It also goes the same with airline tickets – no need to purchase a ticket from an expensive airline if all you have to do is sleep on a 5-hour journey. For our Turkey vacation, we had several options which include Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines or Pegasus Air. For the latter two, the fare was around QAR 2,300 – 2,500 (Php 32,600 – 35,500) while Pegasus was only QAR 1,200 (Php 17,000) which was a lot of savings already! Though the airport Sabiha Gokcen is on the Asian side of Istanbul and around 1-1.5 hours away from our hotel (still a big chop off from the price).
We had our vacation in December 2017 so as early as July we were already checking out travel agencies to assist us in our tours. We decided to spend 5N/6D in Istanbul in which 2 whole days were for tours – 1 private and 1 group tour. After checking out travel agencies here in Doha and in Istanbul, we decided to go with IstanbulTours.org which is also known as Evre Tours in Tripadvisor. They offered us an all-inclusive rate of $366 per person (QAR 1,336 or Php 18,970) which includes accommodation, 2-day tour and airport transfers.
For our accommodation, we chose a Bed & Breakfast at the heart of Old Istanbul near to almost all tourist attractions like Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace – Darussaade Istanbul – which is a very nice 19th-century mansion where rooms have this elegant Ottoman design (similar to Victorian). The current rate is $75 per night (QAR 274 or Php 3,888) for a Double/Twin Room with Buffet Breakfast on their rooftop restaurant.
We arrived at around 730AM at Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in Asian-side Istanbul and reached our hotel at around 10AM (we were the last ones to be dropped). The area is full of old buildings and a friendly neighboorhood with lots of restaurants, stores and souvenir shops. The place is so safe that even at the middle of the night if you got hungry, you can just go outside and you’d find a 24/7 restaurant.
On our 2nd day here, we went to Uludag Snow Mountain in Bursa Province as an invitation from our friend who lives in Turkey. We met him on the previous day we arrived and we were invited to join them the next day at the ski resort. It was never our plan to ski or play in the snow nor even brought winter clothing so we hurriedly bought our gears at Zara (which was 30-50% cheaper than Doha prices!). It was just the first week of December, so they informed us the snow wasn’t that thick yet but good enough to enjoy for first-timers like us.
We bought our roundtrip economy tickets online beforehand through IDO Ferry for TLR 60 (QAR 51/$ 14/Php 724). The station is from Yenikapi to Mudanya in Bursa Province. We took the 805AM trip and reached our destination at 950AM (roughly an hour and 45 mins journey). From Mudanya, we hired a taxi for TLR 100 to take us to Bursa Teleferik (cable car) station and took the almost one-hour ride to Sarialan (campsite) and another 30 mins to Kurbaga (Oteller) where hotels are located. You can view 📷 the whole city from the cable car. The roundtrip ticket costs TLR 38 (QAR 32/$ 9/Php 539) and you have to keep it since it is scanned before entering the cable car going up the mountain and back to the station below in Bursa.
For our tours, which was included in the IstanbulTours.org package of $336, we had a private tour with our guide Mehmet within the Old City. We went to Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern (underground water chamber), Topkapi Palace and had lunch on an authentic Turkish restaurant. Though it was raining hard at -1°C, Turkish people love the rain and we felt we are out of place by having our umbrellas – we decided to not use it even if we only had our ponchos and dripping wet.
The next day is with a group for our Bosphorus (River Cruise) and Two Continents Tour. We were picked up from our hotel and joined a group of around 15-20 people in the bus. We went around European Istanbul including Spice Bazaar (one shop is must-visit there), then off to the Asian-side – Beylerbeyi Sarayi Museum and Camlica Tepesi which is the highest peak in Istanbul.
Our last day was spent going around again the old city but this time, leisurely. We ate Turkish street food, took photos we weren’t able to do in the previous days and bought souvenirs (the usual ref magnets, key chains etc.). We again went to Taksim Square which is a very long stretch of shops (like an open mall), where you can buy from famous brands at low prices, this is where we bought our winter gears from Zara.
All in all, it was a very unexpected and enjoyable adventure. When we were planning where to go on our next trip, Turkey wasn’t on our list (we were considering Armenia, Georgia or somewhere in Europe). Little did we know that we would enjoy the place so much and travelling there was so cheap compared to other destinations. It was even cheaper than our Moroccan vacation!