There are many reasons to pack your bags and escape to Bali. It seems to be the kind of island paradise that caters to an array of needs; to party, to isolate, to engross in culture, to seek spirituality, to do drugs, to surf, to hike, and to have a little wellness retreat. All reasons are valid, and Bali is big enough to be compartmentalized to meet these needs.
In my earlier visits to Bali I spent them wandering around, trying to figure out its charm. These days, I go to Bali for a very specific purpose only; and that is to do yoga and to eat vegan food. Ubud, the central area of the island is the mecca of veganism on this side of the world, and over the years it has grown to become the ultimate wellness hub. There are yoga studios, spiritual retreats and vegan restaurants everywhere in the area, dotted along the tiny streets and in between lush green paddy fields. Ubud is the epicenter of hippies, environmentally-conscious communities (and some borderline fanatics), and Yoga-loving, clean-eating, chakra-aligning enthusiasts.
Over the years I have enjoyed exploring vegan restaurants and cafes here, and this time around I'd love to share some reviews of places I've been to and eaten at, should you ever feel like indulging your inner vegan-self when you are in Ubud, Bali.
1.) Moksa Plant-Based Restaurant
Puskesmas Ubud II, Gg. Damai, Sayan, Kec. Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
In a nutshell, if you only have time to go to one vegan restaurant, then say no more. This is the place. Set in a higher elevation from the rest of the town which provides a beautiful breeze, Moksa is a farm-to-table concept restaurant – meaning that they have a farm just next to it, and pretty much everything you consume there is grown organically next door. The ambience is chill, the hospitality amazing, and I found myself sitting there for almost four hours eating non-stop while writing on my laptop, set in the beautiful green garden.
Now let’s talk about the food. Lead by Chef Made Runatha, the menu is enticing, imaginative and extensive – think lasagna made with cashew cheese, burger patties made from jackfruit (the ‘vegan’ meat, as they call it), eggplant rendang (if you’ve never had rendang, you’re missing out on life), and vegan ‘ribs’ and mash (made by juicy, flavourful tempeh). I started off my meal with a tall cold glass of coconut water, and had a plate of the vegan ‘ribs’. The tempeh was braised in home-made BBQ sauce, retaining its juicy interior and barbecue-y taste. They temped slices were served on a bed of creamy sweet potato mash and a side salad.
Another dish I'd highly recommend is the Mongolian BBQ crispy cauliflower. The texture of the crispy veg is perfect against the creamy sweet potato mash, and the marinade was tangy, sweet with a little bit of spice.
PS: They also have morning markets every Wednesday and Saturday, as well as yoga classes (you can check the schedule on their official website)
Tempeh 'ribs' - slathered with homemade BBQ sauce, with a side of sweet potato mash and salad
Mongolian BBQ Crispy Cauliflower, served with a sweet potato mash
There is a Farmer's Market next to Moksa Restaurant every Saturday morning, but note that there much cheaper options of produce if you go to the local morning market at the city center instead.
2.) The Seeds Of Life
Jalan Gautama No.2, Ubud, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
If you want to take it up a notch, why not try a vegan, raw restaurant? Yes, you read that right. Nothing is cooked over fire in this cozy little place (the concept is that raw food retains more nutrients), but despite that, the menu is exciting and extensive. They have a whole separate menu for jamu (health shots made from fresh herbs and spices) and drinks, and then a whole menu for meals. And let’s not forget the dessert counter with so many delicious, raw and vegan delicacies such as energy balls, carrot cakes and vegan cheese cakes.
But isn't raw food boring? Fret not, because the Seeds of Life are inventive. In fact, it’s so inventive that I came here 3 times just so that I could try a little bit of everything, from the breakfast menu, to brunch, and lunch. I had a dehydrated papaya crepe stuffed with ‘nutella’ which was such a treat, a vegan version of the classic breakfast made of scrambled corn ‘eggs’, stuffed mushrooms, marinated spinach, eggplant 'bacon‘ and live bread, a plate of raw lasagna made from cashew cheese, avocado, mango, tomato, beetroot and spinach, and cauliflower ‘buffalo wings’ which was served raw, slathered with spicy harissa and vegan cheese sauce.
The desserts and juices are also extensive, and the cafe even has a separate tonic bar with all sorts of health concoctions. This cafe is also located right in the center of town, so it’s not hard to find.
If you’ve never tried eating raw before, The Seeds Of Life is definitely a place to start.
Raw caulifower 'buffalo' - slathered with harissa, dipped in vegan cheese dip
Mushrooms stuffed with scrambled 'eggs' made from corn with black salt, topped with spinach, tomato salsa and eggplant 'bacon'. Served with raw bread.
A twist on the 'lasagna' - layers of beetroot, spinach, tomatoes, mango, cashew cheese, zucchini and avocado
Dehydrated papaya stuffed with raw cocoa and hazelnut cream - tastes like Nutella!
Jl. Nyuh Bulan No. 1, Banjar Nyuh Kuning, Ubud
Before we get to the food, let’s talk about the interior and setting. It’s away from town, in a small building painted white and sapphire blue. Kind of like something you’d see in Santorini. There are large windows which means it’s not stuffy inside, and the seating style is cozy, making full use of the nooks and crannies of the building.
Sage doesn’t necessarily boast a long list of menu like Moksa, but it certainly has a delicious line of vegan options to choose from. The ‘pulled pork’ jackfruit burrito seems to be a fairly popular choice from the blogs online, and so that was what I ordered. It was delicious. The jackfruit was somehow cured to give it a different, spicier taste, and the texture was sturdy, almost like very soft meat. The burrito was stuffed with rice, cashew cheese, tomatoes and cilantro, served with a refreshing homemade tomato salsa and nut cream dip.
I also had a small shot of a jamu (health shot made from ginger, turmeric and other fresh herbs). It was pretty intense in flavor, although there is a warm feeling in the stomach after, which I guess is a sign that the jamu is good for your digestion. After the meal I tried out a cold glass of coconut milk latte, and although I’m not really a coffee fan I’d say that it was a great pick-me-up especially in the hot midday Bali weather.
Sage also serves dessert, and although I didn’t order any because I was full, the girl who sat at the table next to me claimed that their coconut cake was the best she has ever had, and she has been eating them almost every day for 2 weeks (in hindsight, maybe it's just low self-control?)
Jamu - there are many variations, but this one is made with tumeric and ginger
Burrito stuffed with rice, herbs, tomatoes and pulled jackfuit 'meat'. Cashew cheese and salsa dip.
Jl. Penestanan Kelod No. 75, 80571, Ubud
If you’re looking for a great breakfast or brunch spot, look no further than Alchemy. What I like about this café is that it provides both a savoury and sweet spread for a build-your-own breakfast bowl. The sweet option comes in the form of a smoothie bowl, where you can pick your base and up to five selection of toppings, consisting of fruits, nuts and granola. For the savoury bowl, there is an array of raw salad, hot cakes and dipping sauce. I personally love the kale salad, fresh and appropriately massaged to ensure that the greens are tender and well marinated. Finish you breakfast or brunch feast with some good coffee and a delicious choices of vegan, raw cakes and dessert bars.
Build-your-own savoury breakfast platter; marinated kale, marinated raw mushrooms, coconut scrambled 'eggs', hotcakes, broccoli salad, hummus
Jl. Sukma Kesuma No.2, Peliatan, Ubud
If you’re thinking about when to go to Sayuri, here’s a tip – go there for lunch! There are not a lot of lunch spots in Ubud that has air-conditioning, and if there is one downside to Bali, it’s that the afternoons are hot and humid (you’ll sweat just by lifting your arm haha).
But airconditioning aside, Sayuri has a lovely menu for lunch, consisting of raw meals and heated ones. Try the ‘smoked salmon’ sandwich, where the ‘salmon’ is actually dehydrated, smoked papaya – it’s divine. For a fresher take, indulge in some zuchhini pad thai where the noodles are made from raw zucchini and served with a mild sambal for that extra kick. A Korean BBQ jackfruit burger set is deeply satisfying with a meaty patty.
Sayuri also has some great dessert choices, and I highly recommend the banoffee pie if it’s available. Nothing quite like a cold fresh slice of it on a sunny day.
A refreshing raw spin of the pad thai, made with zuchini zoodles, served with Bali's sambal matah, shredded veg and coconut chips.
A cold and delicious banoffee pie, made with a granola dust crust, bananas and banana cream, and topped with coconut 'meringue'
Jl. Raya Penestanan No.8, Ubud
Zest perhaps has one of the most beautiful settings for a restaurant in Ubud. Set on top of a hill next to a gorgeous temple, it has an semi-outdoor setting, with fairy lights, large windows, plush cushions and quiet corners for a serene dining experience. The notable mention from the starts list would be the crispy roasted baby potatoes, fluffy on the inside with a crispy exterior. The mains vary from local delights to international palettes. In particular, I love the jackfruit steak and mama’s meatballs with crispy polenta. Seasonal delights are also available – I absolutely enjoyed their durian waffles.
Zest is great to go to for both lunch and dinner, either one giving you a different kind of dining experience.
Zest has delicious starters, such as the crispy roasted baby potatoes with spicy cashew cheese (left) and Thai-style stir fried broccoli with chilis and cashews (right)
Delicious cozy meatballs made with jackfruit, served with crispy polenta, crispy spinach and a refreshing coriander sauce
Jl. Raya Sanggingan No. 45 Ubud
Dharma is a wonderful, cheaper option for a smoothie bowl. Being cheaper than most breakfast bars, it doesn’t skimp on tastes at all, with a few delicious options to delight your taste buds. They also offer delicious refreshing drinks and juices, which are a balm for hot afternoons.
A value for money smoothie-bowl. This one is a peanut butter smoothie bowl, with granola, dragonfruits and banana.
8. Ubud Yoga Center
Jl. Raya Singakerta no. 108, Banjar Dangin Labak, Jembatan Nyuh Kuning 80571 Ubud
Mainly a yoga center located beautifully next to a river, Ubud Yoga Center also has a wonderful café located in the ground floor of the building. The interior is open and cozy, with large swings, plush chairs and wide wooden tables to sit around. It’s not a full vegan café (they also serve chicken and fish), but the vegan/vegetarian options are variable.
To start, get a glass of one of their refreshing smoothies to ease you up for your meal. Vegan options include both Western and local delights, and the pesto lasagna and zucchini pasta are both exceptional. The lasagna is a ‘deconstructed’ version of this Italian dish, with a green pesto sauce and large sheets of pasta weaved around spinach, peas and nuts. The zuchhini pesto is made using zucchini zoodles (processed through a spiralizer to look like noodles), tossed in pesto, mint, spinach, nuts and pickled vegetables.
Zucchini Pesto zoodles with a delicious basil and mint pesto, fresh peas, tomatoes, spinach, lime and pickled vegetables
Deconstructed lasagna with a nutty pesto sauce, spinach, peas and nuts
Other Notable Mentions:
There are many other vegetarian cafes/warungs/restaurants around Ubud that you would be spoiled for choice. I had a plate of local Indonesian mixed vegetarian platter at Café Wayan, which was amazing and cheap. Warung Semesta makes a delicious mixed rice platter too, but more importantly you should try its Urap, which is basically a type of Indonesian salad. I also had hotcakes with fruits at Watercress Café, and although it was fluffy and delicious, I thought it was a bit pricey. Meguna Ubud also has local-style vegetarian dishes, and interesting one is its coriander fried rice which uses no oil at all. Ubud Raw Chocolate Bar makes amazing raw hot cocoa, and I also had a bowl of raw chocolate smoothie with fruits and granola at Radiantly Alive Café – it was very good and filling.
From Van (where I was prior to Kars), there are no direct flights to get to Kars, a small town sat somewhere near the Turkey-Armenia land border. A bus is the next best option, and at Van’s bus terminal you could easily get yourself a bus ticket that travels the next day (there is only one bus from Van to Kars per day). The bus is modern, comfortable and heated, while the roads are well maintained so you could expect a pretty smooth ride. The entire drive from Van to Kars takes about 7 hours with very minimal stops, so pack yourself some snacks and a light lunch.
As I arrived in Kars, it was late and freezing cold with no taxis in sight, so I had to hitch a ride with a wonderful girl and her father to the hotel (it’s a very small town, everyone lives close to each other). At a first glance my thoughts on this town was this; freezing cold with traces of Soviet Union. The temperature was a cool -13 degC, and the buildings had a distinct architecture, none like what I’ve seen in other places in Turkey. There were statues of animals by the streets, and buildings made of bleak dark stones. Nights are extremely harsh with icy pavements and frozen trees, but the daylight will allow you to immerse yourself in this quaint place filled with history and wonderful people.
There are a few things not to miss out when you’re in Kars, and here are my recommendations.
1. Spend a day exploring Ani, an ancient Armenian city
If there is one thing you need to do when in Kars, it is certainly this. Ani is a large compound of what used to be an ancient city, a place that at its peak, was home to 100 000 people. It was eventually abandoned and what is now left are beautiful ruins set in the most enchanting, scenic landscape by the valleys of a river (this river is also the natural border between Turkey and Armenia, and you can easily see Armenia from Ani).
The city fortress is the majestic stone walls still intact for the most part, and as you go through them you’ll find yourself in a vast space with small lanes which would lead you to a variety of monuments, like cathedrals, churches, mosque and even remains of what used to be common houses. You’ll need at least half a day to explore this place, and since it is basically the outdoors, be prepared for a windy/rainy/cold day.
Ani is about an hour drive from Kars town. To get there, you’ll need either a car, a bus or a taxi. To get a taxi or a bus, easily ask your hotel to arrange one for you, as they know plenty of contacts.
2. Have lunch by Cildir lake, and maybe go on a horse-carriage ride across its frozen surface
Cildir lake is located almost an hour away from Kars town, and this place is especially recommended during the winter. When it’s really cold (and believe me, it gets extremely cold here in the winter), the lake freezes over, becoming a popular winter wonderland destination for locals. Imagine a beautiful vast white space lined with pine trees, and horse carriages available should you ever want to experience a ride across the flat ice surface of the lake.
There are also a few restaurants that serve lunch using fish from the lake, and you’d be missing out if you don’t sample some. I deeply enjoyed a beautifully prepared trout, simply fried with a some lemon wedges and served with pickles, a hot cup of tea, all while nestled against a heater inside the comforts and warmth of the restaurant, the glaring white landscape a sight to behold from the windows.
3. Escape the cold and eat a hot serving of kunefe
What on earth is a kunefe? It is a type of dessert popular in Turkey, made with layers of cheese, shredded filo, different kinds of nuts and a healthy dose of syrup, all served spanking hot with the cheese and oozing treat for your tastebuds. It is great anytime of the year, but it is especially good in winter, when all you need is a warm hug in a form of a comforting dessert such as this one.
Kunefes can normally be found anywhere in the country at any good bakeries, but in Kars there is a well established place called Kars My Kunefe that you just simply have to try. It’s a large café with efficient service, and they make nothing else but kunefes, with all kinds of varieties and sizes for you try. I tried at least 3 different types and they were all marvelous. Each order also comes with a large pot of tea, a perfect compliment for this sweet treat.
Location: Kars My Kunefe, Yusufpaşa, Atatürk Cd. 58/A, 36000 Merkez/Kars, Turkey
4. Walk around the Old Quarter of Kars town
The Old Quarter of Kars is by no means as big as the ones you’d find in Antalya or other bigger cities, but it is charming in its own way. The central of the Old Quarter is a river called the Kars Stream, and surrounding this river are the Kar Castle, a park, a beautiful stone bridge, an old mosque and an Armenian church. It’s a beautiful place for a nice long walk, and this Old Quarter eventually connects to the rest of the town, where you can see Soviet-influenced old structures, large mansions used to be inhabited by privileged Armenians and local cheese shops selling Kars cheese.
The last stop in my coastal drive was Antalya, a large city located in the SouthWest of the coast. Driving from Kas, it took about two hours to reach this fifth-most-populated-city of Turkey. The drive was perhaps the most beautiful out of the entire trip, long winding roads wrapped along the coastline, with absolutely stunning views of the sea and cliffs. Along the way you’ll find even more small, secluded beaches, and some of them even have sunbeds arranged beautifully by the water. As you approach the city, you’ll realise that it’s much more vibrant and much more crowded that everything else you’ve driven into so far, and so begins your adventure in this seaside city.
There is plenty to do in Antalya, but these are some of the top things I did and would recommend.
1. Take a Walk Around The Old City
The Old City is much larger in Antalya and a lot more elaborate compared to other places along the coast. That being said, it’s a great idea to find hotels close or inside the Old Town if you’re staying in Antalya, as everything else is walkable within the area. You could see Hadrian’s gate, a large stone entrance extended by giant ancient walls that were built in honour of the Roman Emperor Hadrian during his visit here.
Antalya was once ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Selcuks, Ottomans and even Italians, so walking around the Old Town is a great opportunity to see the mix of all kinds of influences throughout these eras, through gorgeous old architectures and food. I easily spent almost an entire day exploring the cobbled streets, main square and old ruins in this area, and you should too.
2. Witness the majestic Duden waterfalls
It’s magnificent. Really. It’s a gigantic waterfall spewing freshwater from a high cliff right into the ocean. A sight to behold, Duden waterfalls is located at the edge of the city in a beautiful stretch of park. A short walk should lead you to a beautiful view of the waters gushing out of the cleavages of the rocks, into the dark sea below. There are plenty of corners for you to stand in to marvel at it, despite the consistent crowd. And once you’re done, get your appetite in order and walk towards…
3. Eat at Sirali Kebap
Sirali Kebap. I implore you to eat here if you’re in Antalya. Look, there are plenty of delicious cafes and restaurants around the city, sure. But Sirali Kebap was just a step above. Known for its meats, the place uses exclusively orange tree wood for grilling, giving off a beautiful fragrant smokiness to all your carnivorous endeavours here. The menu is long and extensive, the waiters are well informed about what’s being served in each dish, and everything I ordered was meticulous and delicious (and there was a lot of food!).
I’d recommend sampling a few different mezes (try the ones that you don’t usually see in other places), and go for the Chef’s Special Kebap. It was everything and more - charred meat with a medium rare interior, pickled vegetables on the side, and warm bread to wrap your meat with.
Sirali Kebap is slightly more expensive than average, but I assure you - worth it.
4. Hang out at Konyaalti Beach
Konyaalti Beach is a little outside the city and a bit of a drive, but it is Antalya’s most famous beach. Well, it’s more of a seafront playground that beach. Sure you can hang out by the water, but there are also plenty of cafes and bars lined up along this very long stretch of shingle beach. The view is also quite something, as at the edge of the beach is an impressive range of mountains that could be enjoyed fully from the viewpoint.
Konyaalti is a popular hangout spot for locals especially in the evenings, so expect some crowd.
5. Hike up Chimaera Mountain and see the natural fire vents
Now, this is not exactly within Antalya city, but I'd be remiss to not share my experience seeing the natural fire vents in the Chimaera mountain. Located about an hour from the city, these fire vents are the result of natural methane released from the subsurface, causing consistent fire vents scattered around the forest floor of the mountain. You'll need to hike up the well paved trail to see them, and they are best seen at night as the contrast between the darkness, the fires and the starry sky is a sight to behold.
The bonus would be the cats putting up a residence near these fires, acting like they own the place!
Now that I’ve wrapped up my Turkish coastal drive experience, it’s time to board the flight and head towards somewhere much, much cooler - East Turkey!
The regions of East Turkey are not very well-known among international travelers. But this is precisely what makes it a wonderful adventure if you’re looking for one. Unlike the other more popular places around Turkey, the Eastern region is much colder, and bares a different side of Turkey historically. Due to its location bordering Armenia, Georgia, Iran and Syria, all of these different influences can be seen integrated in the culture, architecture and history of this region.
East Turkey can be reached from Istanbul easily using the many direct flights available, and the same goes if you plan to come from the Turkish Riviera. I began my exploration of the Eastern area by taking a flight from Antalya to Van, a beautiful town located to the largest lake in Turkey, covered in snow.
1. Explore the beautiful Akdamar Island and marvel the old Armenia Cathedral
The first thing I’d recommend doing upon your arrival in Van is to visit the Akdamar Island. Good weather is extremely crucial to get the most of this experience, so I recommend going as soon as the weather allows you to. You can take a taxi or rent a car and drive to the xxx jetty, where boats are available to take you to this island located in the middle of Van Lake. The boats have no fixed schedule – they go when the occupants are full.
Akdamar Island used to be a retreat of the Armenian kings back in the day, and as you approach its shores you’ll see first and foremost a beautiful, ancient Armenian church located on top of the hill. I went on a snowy day, and it was the most beautiful place, covered knee-deep in fresh white powder. Seagulls fly freely over the skies, wild hares gallop from one large rock to another, and there is a small café with proper toilets for your vanity.
The Armenian church is a spectacular piece of architecture and very much different than other churches other parts of Turkey. You should take time to explore in and around the church grounds, as every angle is beautifully constructed, complimenting its surroundings. You’ll need at least half a day for this, and maybe even longer.
2. Calm your soul by the serene Van Lake
Van Lake is the biggest lake in Turkey and Armenian highlands, formed by tectonically-induced subsidence (sorry, but I’m a geologist and I can’t help but say nerdy things like this). There is only one type of fish that inhabits these waters, and it is actually a saline lake.
Especially beautiful during winter when the shores are covered in snow, be sure to bask in the serenity of the lake. There are plenty of small parks and stopovers available for you to do this. One day, it snowed early in the morning and it was just extremely beautiful to sit in the café of my hotel and watch the white flakes float about in the wind, with the cold, calm waters of Van Lake in view.
3. Feast on a proper Van breakfast
I’ve been to Turkey twice and to many places, and I have to say that a Van breakfast is one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had. More specifically, an all-day breakfast menu at a small restaurant called Matbah-i Van (instagram: @matbahivan). The place is lovely and cosy and warm from the cold outside, the service is friendly and helpful, and the food celebrates all the local produce Van has to offer. From local honey to home-made fruit preserves, white-as-snow goat’s cheese to a delightful liver omelet, different types of warm bread and fresh salads, everything on the table was a feast for the senses.
Although none of the staff speaks English, with the help of Google Translate it is possible to spell out an order, and I highly recommend ordering what the waiter suggests for you, according to their specialties and local supply.
4. Climb up Van Castle and enjoy the spectacular view
An early morning hike up the hill that houses Van Castle should definitely be on your list. If it’s snowing, ensure that your footwear is suitable, as the path up and down is extremely slippery. But all that trouble pays off when you get to the grounds of the castle, a beautiful, gothic-like structure encircled by flocks of crows in the chilly wind.
Built by the ancient Urartus (who were ancestors to modern-day Armenians), it overlooks the town plains and Van Lake, and on the beautiful snowy day I was there it really felt like I was at the top of the world. There is also an old ancient mosque perched within the castle walls, although it is now no longer used for prayers.
Bring snacks or a hot flask of drink if you wish, and you’ll need a few hours to really enjoy the splendors of the castle and its surrounding areas.
5. Check out the exclusive Van cats
I’ll be honest. This is a weird one, and not even something I thought of doing prior to my arrival in Van.
However, a very prominent thing you’ll realize about Van is how much the people love their cars. They. Love. Their. Cats. You’ll see pictures of their cats in frames hung in restaurants and shops, embodied in fridge magnets and souvenirs, and imageries of Van citizen doing daily routines with – yes, you guessed it – their cats in the background.
You see, Van cats are a very special breed. A type of long-haired sub-species, they are as white as snow, with most of them having either blue eyes or mismatched coloured-eyes. They are also notable for loving water, known to have swam around in Van Lake.
Over the years their numbers have diminished, and a large research center has been dedicated in learning and breeding them again. You can in fact visit this research center, and for a very small entrance fee you can play with them and visit the many cat gardens and cat facilities in the area. They’re extremely cute and fluffy, and strangely enough, I think this is definitely a place you should visit for an hour or two if you’re in Van.
There is something extremely liberating about long drives along a beautiful coast. You roll the windows down, the ocean breeze hits your face, with the sea open and wide that it makes you envision a freedom. It gets even better if there are small coastal towns and villages for you to stop along the way to sample their slow-paced lifestyles, taste their local delights and watch sunsets in the quiet of the waves lapping onto the shores.
If you like all these things, then a drive along the coasts of South Turkey, otherwise known as the Turkish riviera, is definitely something you should do.
In general, the Turkish coast drive spans as long as Izmir to Antalya, but if you have limited time and would like to not rush through it, you can always compress it down to a drive from Fethiye to Antalya instead. In fact, you’ll find that most people would agree that this part of the coast is more beautiful. I took a flight from Istanbul to Dalaman airport, which is the closest available airport to Fethiye. It’s called a ‘coastal drive’ after all, so you’ll do well to rent yourself a car and pick it up at the airport which will buy you more freedom.
1. Take A Long Walk By The Pier
My first stop, Fethiye, is a large port town with a relaxed atmosphere. I'd say that staying here for at least 2 days would give you ample time to see its main sights, although of course you can stay even longer if you wish to relax even more. The first order of business is to take a nice long walk around the neighbourhood, and so I recommend finding places to stay by the water because that’s where the livelihood of the town is. Even in winter, which was the season I was visiting in, you’ll see people hanging out by the pier, youths cycling down the blue-paved roads and children gleefully enjoying themselves at the playground. The air is crisp, and the sea water is a calm dark blue, with beautiful snow-capped mountains in the background. Yachts bob by the shore, and if you walk along the pier, it will naturally lead you towards the Old Town.
2. Visit The Old Town
In the Old Town, you’ll find a fish market, a popular place to go and sample Fethiye’s fresh seafood. If you’re a foreigner, expect the price to be marked up a little. Outside the fish market, you’ll find lots of small cafes dotted along the small streets – why not try out a bowl of lentil soup, or eat a spread of home-style dishes in a mom-and-pop lokanta? Tea shops are also available, which are small shops serving hot tea with some bread. I have recommendations on what you should definitely eat here.
In these coastal towns, Fethiye included, you’ll see a seamless blend of the ancient and new. Right smack in the middle of the modern town with modern architecture, you’ll find a sacorphagi. A sarcophagi, simply put, is an ancient tomb, and you’ll see plenty of these as you drive along. The ancient Lycians (who inhabited these coastlines centuries ago) believed that the living and dead should co-exist together, and so you’ll find these sarcophagis in the middle of a bustling town or village. Take a good half day to just walk around and explore the area, while sampling some local cafes.
3. See the Amintas Rock Tombs
Another great exhibition of Lycians are the Amintas Rock Tombs. These are virtually impressive, located in the cliffs of the hills in the back of the town. At a first glance, they actually resemble Petra in Jordan, although at a much smaller scale. It’s awe-inspiring to think about the amount of work it takes to carve monuments straight out of the face of a granitic hill. The tombs require a small entrance fee, although I must say it is definitely worth it, because not only do you get to admire some ancient history, but you’ll also get a sprawling view of Fethiye from a lookout point. It’s located at the edge of the city, and a few hours is more than enough for this.
4. Oludeniz Beach
You’ll be spoilt with beaches everywhere you drive along the Turkish coast, but around Fethiye, one of the most beautiful would be the Oludeniz beach. It’s a long stretch of sand capped at the edge by a range of mountains, and in the summer this place would be crowded. In winter, it’s best if viewed from its lookout point – you’ll get to enjoy the dark and mysterious Aegean sea as it splashes against the pale-coloured rugged coasts of the region.
To get the most out of Fethiye, I’d recommend staying there for at least 2-3 days, although I opted for a much shorter duration and it still was quite adequate to see key things in surrounding the town. My next stop driving out of Fethiye was Kas, a small charming village town a couple of hours from Fethiye, and you can read about that in the next article, which you can read here!
Where To Eat: Go here for recommendations for what I think you should eat in Turkey, in general.
If you ask me, I’d tell you that my personal highlight of the entire coastal drive was Kas. I suppose I’ve always enjoyed small villages more than bustling towns, so if you’re like me, I think you’ll find Kas a complete gem. Located at the corner of an extended peninsula of the Turkish coast, it’s a small hilly village with small streets lined with tiny cafes, charming shops and so, so, so many lemon trees. Kas is also a great center point to other places worth seeing around the area – I’ll tell you more about this.
1. Marvel The Old Quarter
In almost every town in the coast, you’ll find that each of them has an Old Town, or Old Quarter. After all, Turkey has had a long history of civilization over centuries, so it’s only natural to find these old remnants in every new population, embedded as part of the modern-day habitat. Kas is no exception, and walking around the Old Quarter, you’ll find yourself going through narrow cobbled streets with old houses now turned into cafes, pubs, shops and bakery. Take your time exploring the corners of this area, and if you fancy, drop by a café or two to sample local coffee and baked goods.I’d recommend Gado café, and although the cakes weren’t that amazing to me, its high point is a guy who sits and play the piano for hours, and it’s lovely to sit with a hot cup and listen to. There are also seriously adorable cats roaming roaming around.
2. See The Most Beautiful Beach In Turkey (Allegedly)
Beauty is subjective, I know, but there’s something to be said if almost everyone is consistently saying it. Such is the reputation of Kaputas beach, a narrow little beach between two high coastal cliffs. It’s a pebbly beach, and I think what makes it beautiful is the aqua green waters of the Aegean Sea against the pale beige outcrops that makes for a very mesmerizing view. In the summer this beach would be crowded, but in the winter it is almost empty, so you’d do well to make your way down the cliffs and sit for a while on the pebbles watching the sun go by. You can also see Greece from the beach, which is always a treat.
3. Explore The Kayakoy Ghost Town
There’s a long list of things you can do in and around Kars, but if you’re stripped down for time and can only choose very few, then please, let this be one of those things.
The Kayakoy Ghost Town is a basically and abandoned town that dates back to the 14th century. In the beginning, it was a harmonious town consisting of Anatolian Muslims and Greek Orthodox Christians. However, during the Greco-Turkish war, a population exchange occurred, and people were forced to gradually abandoned this town that had been home to them for centuries.
Today, walking around this abandoned town really does have an eerie feeling to it. The stone walls and homes are empty, the large churches echo with voids and you can see the old schools and chapels, eaten by time. I took almost half a day walking around the area as it is very large, but you could easily spend longer here if you’d like.
4. Bask In The Sunset At Hallenistic Theatre
A walking distance from Kas center, this amphitheatre won’t be the best you had ever seen, but it does boast a beautiful sunset facing the sea. Back in its days of glory, it could house 4000 spectators, but now it’s a beautifully aged monument. People come to hang out with friends and dates, and it’s generally quiet as the sun begin to set and you can watch it all while sitting on the ancient seats, with Meis Island (Greece) in view.
5. Enjoy A day trip to the village of Kalkan
Kalkan is a small village a short drive away from Kas, and I love the chill of it. Fishermen’s boats are anchored by the jetty, and you see locals hanging out by the water, smoking and fishing the day away. Walking down the quiet lanes, you’ll see almost a glimpse of Greek-influenced structures – mosques that look like they were inspired by Santorini, their domes and walls whitewashed against the clear blue sky. The restaurants are beautiful and honours the local specialty of the place.
6. Visit Demre to See The Ancient Town of Myra, But Also To Eat A Lot Of Oranges
What?? Another ancient town?? I know, I know, but seriously, they’re beautiful to explore and there are plenty of them along your coastal drive, it’s almost a crime if you don’t keep visiting them until you’re head starts spinning.
Myra is an ancient Lycian town located in Demre, and you can spend a few hours roaming around this large space admiring its rock tombs and large ampitheatre. I love how the ruins are well maintained, and if you come during the winter it’s almost empty, so you’ll feel like Indiana Jones sans the villains chasing after you.
But wait. I haven’t even told you the best part yet. Myra is located in the current-day orange agricultural area. What this means is when the season is right, you’ll drive through miles and miles of orange trees, their ripened fruits a beautiful color against the dark green leaves. The locals don’t mind if you pluck a few, and there are orange juice stalls here and there where you can enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice for as low as 10 liras.
7. Try Local Produce
This should actually be in the to-do list of any place you ever visit! Trying local produce straight from the fresh food market is great way to get acquainted with the local way of life. You’ll learn about what they grow locally, what’s in season and when, how they eat and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to chat with everyday people doing their everyday chores.
In Kars, I had the pleasure of enjoying strawberries, oranges and lemon which were in season in winter. I bought some to eat at home with local yoghurt, and even cooked a proper breakfast using all the produce from the market. It’s quite fun trying out produce, but preparing them in my own personal way.
Where To Eat: You can find all my recommendations on what to eat here, but specifically in Kas, Zula Meyhane for a wonderful dinner with a view, Smiley’s for delicious fresh seafood, the small fruit juice stall in front of Myra ruins, Good cafe for some coffee and music.
Before I ever visited Turkey, I have always had an impression that Turkish food is mainly just kebabs. I blame this on the stigma that was set on me by Turkish restaurants in the city I live in, Kuala Lumpur. Often, Turkish food is bundled up as middle eastern, when of course this is far from true. For starters, Turkey is located in Europe and Asia, different continents altogether. This broad area means that there are amalgamations of all sorts when it comes to their cuisine – some influences from Greece, some from Middle East, and some from Eastern Europe. So when you dine in Turkey, expect a variation of things that would tantalize your tastebuds (and yes, not limited to kebabs!). Here are some delicacies that I think you should at least try when visiting.
1. A proper Turkish breakfast
A Turkish breakfast is a feast. They come in a set platter, with small servings of a little bit of everything – think different kinds of cheeses, local honey, fresh selection of salads, breads, fruit preserves, and eggs prepared in your choice. The classic Turkish breakfast allows you to start the day by sampling local produce, and different regions often have different highlights, like a specialty cheese or a specific way of making eggs. Warm cups of Turkish tea will be accompanying your breakfast feast.
2. Lentil Soup
It doesn’t sound very exciting, but truly, if there are only a few things you get to try and eat in Turkey, one has to be their lentil soups. The two generally popular types of lentil soup are the mild yellow and mercimek corbasi, the former a mild warming soup and the latter its slightly spicier sibling (my favourite!). Lentil soup is a popular choice for breakfast, as an entre before a meal and as a warming bowl during the cold winter months. The best part is that they are cheap and accessible pretty much anywhere around the country, especially in a local lokanta.
Kunefe is a popular dessert found in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE and Bahrain (did I leave anyone out??). In general it is mainly made by from shredded phyllo, cheese, nuts and syrup, although there are actually variations of this anatomy, using different kinds of cheese, nuts, layering and ratio. Kunefe is very decadent, and the best way to enjoy it is at the café or restaurant itself, where they are prepared fresh and served piping hot for you.
In Turkey, you’ll find that kunefe is a beloved delicacy. Every town, every village will have a kunefe place, and you’ll often see these places with crowds of locals taking their time to share this dessert with their loved ones. A larger kunefe place will even have a kunefe menu, where you can choose your own variation you’d like to try, or even the house special. I succumbed to having one (or two!) almost every night, and let me tell you, they were worth all the calories.
With long coast lines, a metropolitan revolving around the Bosphorus river and beautiful lakes, it’s no surprise that the Turks know their seafood. Sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, the variations of fish and shellfish are a sight to behold, and an influence from the Mediterranean means that these are often prepared simply, relying on the freshness of the produce.
If you’re wanting to give them a try, a good way is to always ask the restaurant what their specialties are – sometimes it’s their seafood mezes, sometimes it’s their trout, sometimes there are specific kinds of crabs available in the season. Honestly, I’ve never had a bad seafood dish in all my days in Turkey.
5. Local fruits
Turkey is blessed with so many agricultural produce throughout its seasons. It is abundant with fruits and vegetables, thanks to the weather and fertile volcanic soils. You get to sample these of course when you eat at restaurants, but others, such as fruits, deserve no other special treatment other than you buying them fresh off the market to enjoy.
If you can, pop into a local market and see what’s fresh and in season. Enjoy oranges straight off the trees. Buy a pack of strawberries and dip them in some local yoghurt. In a way, you are also supporting local farmers and small businesses too.
6. Lahmacun and Pide
Lahmacun and pide are two siblings of the pizza family. The base is bread, where lahmacun is a thin crust and pide is a thicker choice made with a moat-shaped dough, and the toppings are meat, a mix of meat and vegetables, or cheese. Both can be easily found in their joints almost everywhere, kind of like how you would find pizza joints. The best kinds are always prepared in a woodfire oven, and although I have love for both of them, lahmacun is easily my favourite.
Lahamacun and pide are what you would call street food – cheap, easily accessible and generally pleasing. In fact, it is a rite of passage for anyone visiting Turkey.
7. Jacket potato
I mean, a baked jacket potato is good anywhere, right? Turkey is no exception! Locally known as ‘kumpir’, jacket potatoes are beloved within the culture, and you’ll find jacket potato stalls especially in Istanbul with an array of toppings, from pickled vegetables, chili-style gravy, meat, cheese and others. Relatively cheap, they are amazing for quick meals or even a snack. Be sure to try a kumpir at least once when you’re in Turkey.
Now we’re in the realm of something that is considered an ‘acquired taste’ (which translates to: some people like it, others absolutely can’t brain it). Kokorec is basically grilled chopped innards – this includes hearts, lungs, kidneys of cows or goats – cooked over an open fire with spices, chopped and mixed with some vegetables and stuffed into a toasted baguette. This sandwich is enjoyed by locals, and I find it quite nice albeit a little strong sometimes.
It’s one of those traditional delicacies that I feel worth trying if you’re in the Turkey, especially f you’re a fan of innards/tripes.
Mezes are basically tapas. They’re small platters of appetizers commonly offered by restaurants, and you enjoy them with some bread before your main plates arrive. There are literally so many mezes to choose from all over the country, some seafood-based, some vegetarian-based and some showcasing local delights of the area. Ask the restaurants for their specials and give them a try!
Whichever you choose, be sure to sample a little of each for the experience. My favourites are often the vegetarian ones, like a freshly made eggplant dip, hummus, and artichokes. However, the seafood ones are also often a delight, like a cured mackerel or anchovies in olive oil. Honestly, I don’t think you can ever go wrong with mezes.
It’s Europe after all, so expect a lot of cheese. And a lot of good cheese. As mentioned previously, a good way to sample local cheese would be through ordering a Turkish breakfast which would include some samples of cheese, but otherwise, all your dairy needs can be easily met in the widely available cheese chops, supermarkets and morning markets. Moreover, each region has their own specialty cheese for you to try.
If I have to recommend, I’d say go for the goat cheese, which are white as snow, melts like butter and is not too salty. Kars cheese from the region of Kars is also beautifully made. For snacks, try the string cheese, as they are easy to pack, tasty on their own with simple flavours.
11. Kofte & Kebabs
Of course it has to be in the list, it’s too obvious! Turkey has had a long history over centuries, and some parts of it involved ‘acquaintances’ with Arabia, through the spread of Islam and culture. As such, you could only expect the food would be involved in this evolution too, and the love of grilled meats in the form of wrapped goodness is no exception. In your life you’ve probably had many koftes and kebabs in various places, and Turkey should be added in that list. Another street food staple, the appeal of koftes and kebabs lie in its simplicity, accessibility and comfort. You can’t go wrong with a meat and bread combo, usually.
12. Sample Dishes at a Lokanta
A Lokanta is basically a mixed rice place. There are dishes on display, sometimes as little as five and as much as thirty different ones, and you can order a portion of whatever you’d like and eat them together. Lokantas are great for the low prices, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to try out different local dishes in one place. In the more outer skirts of the city or small villages, lokantas are usually family run places, and food are cooked home-style, and you know how good mom and pop places usually are….
Dishes usually vary from vegetable-based, meat-based and warming stews, with simple staples like bean soups, delicious rice and local desserts. Most of my adventures in a lokanta involves just randomly pointing at dishes and trying things out. Which is, in my opinion, the best way to eat at a lokanta.
Langkawi is an island I’ve been to many times in my life, but have seemed to fail to narrate about here in this blog. Perhaps it’s because it was only recently that I have re-discovered this beautiful island as something other than just any old beach vacation. Recent times have seen it flourish to offer more than just commercial hotels and overcrowded tourist spots, with a more robust café culture, precious experiences and underrated beautiful hidden nooks to explore. In this particular post, I intend to share some of these less popular yet equally intriguing places to see in Langkawi, and if you’re like me, I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.
Enjoy A Hot Afternoon Chilling at the Temple Tree Café
In the peak of midday, there are few things to do in Langkawi. The combination of high humidity and harsh sun means that the only activities you’ll want to do must require a lot of shade and minimal movement. Although there are many cafes scattered around Langkawi for you to spend the afternoon in while enjoying the balmy weather with a cold drink, I’m especially recommending the Temple Tree Café for a few reasons.
One, it is not crowded. The café is relatively quiet, manned by friendly servers and located in a large colonial building with excellent ventilation. Two, it is beautiful. There are large shady trees, a dreamy pool and beautifully preserved old Malaysian constructions around the café for you to walk around and wonder. Three, the menu is delightful, spanning from meat to vegetarian options, with cold glasses of whatever you may fancy to soothe you from the heat. Bonus? It’s also a pet-friendly hotel, so if you adore animals like me, you’ll enjoy making friends with some cats and dogs while lazing around large wooden tables under a speedy fan as you finish reading that book you’ve always wanted to finish.
Take A Day Tour to Tuba Island
Did you know Langkawi is an island of an archipelago of 104 islands? Yeah, me neither. What this means is that there are more to see than just merely the main island. There are local boats going to almost all of the habitable islands, and most of the boats can be taken from the main Kuah port. No pre-bookings are necessary as the boats a frequent, to cater the locals who move around for work (basically the boats serve like a water bus, if you will). Take note that safety isn’t necessarily that paramount, so expect to see no one donning life jackets and locals perched at the edge and top of these small boats, unencumbered.
Pulau Tuba is a lovely, small island about 20 mins boat ride away from the Kuah main port of Langkawi. You don’t need more than a day to explore it, and upon arrival you’ll see plenty of motorbikes to rent for the day. Cars are rare on the island, so the roads are safe to ride in, boasting beautiful views of the sea, local villages, vast paddy fields and limestone hills. Suffice to say that you’ll need to know how to ride a motorbike to roam the island.
There is a beautiful bridge that takes you across the sea to another island, Dayang Bunting Island. Crossing this bridge in the evening will allow you a beautiful view when the sun is low. There isn’t necessarily that much to see in Dayang Bunting Island itself, so a couple of hours there should be more than enough.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to sample Tuba Island’s famous mee udang, or prawn noodles. It’s a brothy concoction of shrimp and noodles in a savoury tangy soup, and there are a couple of different places for you try them, the more famous ones being at Mee Udang Ombak Rindu, and the Lubuk Cempedak area. I ate at both, and thought they were equally good (I mean let’s be honest, if you travel all the way here you might as well try them all).
Sample Vegan Delicacies in Langkawi’s Blooming Vegan Scenes
I love plant-based meals, and so whenever I stumble upon a great vegan scene I feel compelled to share them with my fellow vegetarian-loving friends! In the past few years Langkawi has begun to grow its own vegan community, and now there are plenty of amazing vegan and vegan-friendly cafes for you to try. Melior Café (ig: @meliorlangkawi) in Kuah makes pretty amazing vegan burgers, even better than most of the ones you find in KL. Membawang Café (ig: @membawang_corner) is a quaint little place that makes amazing vegan tacos and pastas. The Fat Frog (ig: thefatfroglangkawi) is a deliriously hot café located next to a golf course, but makes up for it by having amazing salads, vegan hot meals (I especially loved the tempeh and cauliflower spring rolls) and scrumptious dessert .
A notable place I’d also recommend is S’ekar Penang Café (ig: @sekarpinang), a small glasshouse café located in the lush greens of a local kampong. The Nasi Ulam is exquisite, made by herbs grown from its own garden. Its juice of the day is also bright and beautiful, made from delicious greens and fruity notes of whatever the chef feels like that day. And oh, before I forget! The kuih keria? Aptly named the 'Unforgettable Kuih Keria'. it's probably the best I've ever had (it's not on the menu, so ask for it).
Visit Furry Friends at the Bon Ton Animal Shelter
Why on earth would you visit an animal shelter while on vacation? That’s because this animal shelter is located at Bon Ton café (ig: @bontonresort), a beautiful hidden gem surrounding a small pond, with a menu that boasts delicious desserts and drinks. Bon Ton shares the same owner as the China House in Penang, and if you know China House then you know that you’re up for some good eatin’ where desserts are concerned. The animal shelter was lovingly built next to the café by the owner to cater for the strays and abandoned pets in the island, and you can stroll down the area to meet some loving, friendly furry friends who would love your attention.
As of present, Bon Ton is in the middle of constructing an arts center, and so there could only be even more reasons to visit this place in the future.
Join Yoga Classes and Sound Bath Experiences
Reminiscent to Bali, Langkawi is slowly embracing the appeals of the wellness vibe, offering many yoga classes and sound bathing experiences to try. My favourite ones are the yoga classes at Ambong-Ambong Villas, with an open air yoga studio perched on a high platform overlooking the beautiful blue sea. Most classes are held in the mornings and evenings, and if yoga isn’t your thang, why not try a sound bath? Despite what the name may suggest, no one will be bathing you in public, but it is a session where the instructor will be playing a lot of sound bowls as you lie down on the floor, as the soothing sounds of these Tibetan bowls are said to aid relaxation and a meditative state of mind (don’t scratch it if you haven’t tried it, it really is a unique and interesting experience).
Another yoga class to try would be the sunset yoga sessions at the Westin Hotel, where the class is held by the beach as the sun sets in the horizon. Non-residents of the Westin Hotel are allowed to join this class too, so be sure to book a session in advance with the hotel to secure your spot. There is really nothing quite like winding down with some awesome stretches while watching the beautiful sun go down on the quiet beach.
Try a Hand at Batik Canting at Mawart Café
Remember those times when you had a small voice in your head saying “hey, I should try painting at some point in my life”? Well, here’s an opportunity. Batik Canting is a form of painting, mainly done using liquid hot wax as an outline, and beautiful dyes to paint your fabric. Sounds difficult, but it’s actually a fun activity to attempt. For as cheap as RM60, Mawart Café (ig: @rumahmawart) provides private batik canting sessions where you can create whatever you like and bring them home as your own personal art piece, under a watchful eye of a friendly, professional artist/teacher.
It’s fun for kids, and it’s therapeutic for adults – picture a lazy evening of mindless batik canting accompanied by cups of coffee and treats (the studio is attached to a cute café). Best of all, you get to pack your piece and bring them home, perhaps as a new piece of art to commemorate your creativity.
Take a Sunset Dip At Tanjung Rhu
I know, I know. Tanjung Rhu isn’t exactly a hidden gem. But I do want to let you in on a little secret. As you approach Tanjung Rhu, keep on driving on the main road until you reach the edge of the road where it meets a beach. Park wherever you will, and then walk on along this beach towards the East, and you will come to a beautiful stretch of almost-empty sandy space with a beautiful view and gorgeous waters. There are shady spots where locals sometimes camp, but most of the time when I’m there (and I’ve been there plenty of times) it is almost empty.
A recommended time would be nearing sunset, where the sea turns a glimmering surface of orange as you watch the sun set in between the tall peaks of limestone hills emerging from the water. Unlike the main beaches in the West of the island, the water here is a lot more calm and serene, making it perfect for a late evening dip. Bring drinks, a book and some sunblock – this beach is also perfect for quiet isolation and relaxation.
Climb the Many Peaks of Langkawi
The ancient, rugged topography of Langkawi means that there plenty of trails for you to hike in and enjoy breathtaking views of the island from an elevation. The more famous trails are the Machincang, Gunung Raya and Kilim trails, with a range of fairly easy to slightly harder difficulty levels. For an easy, quick climb that takes no more than a couple of hours, try the Kilim trails. For a slightly harder but rewarding peak, Machincang mountain is the way to go. Start very early in the morning and you should be able to reach the top by early noon, and feast your eyes on a 360 view of the island and seas.
Don’t forget to bring snacks and adequate water, and for the best experience, wear proper hiking shoes as some of the rock formations can be sharp and slippery at times. If you love a good hike, you won’t be disappointed with what Langkawi has to offer.
Jordan? Oh, you mean, Petra? That was about all I knew of Jordan before I ever went to see it for myself. My initial intent was to use it as a gateway to access Israel and Palestine, but due to some visa issues (Malaysian passport is not allowed to pass through to Israel, and everything was planned at the last minute so I didn’t have enough time to apply for a temporary entry permission), that idea had to be scratched, and so there was a whole load of time and an entire country of Jordan to explore. And I am so glad I did! Here are some of the things I think you should NOT miss seeing/doing if your ever get the chance to visit this beautiful, historic country. This list is arranged in sequential order, which is great if you wish to turn this into an entire itinerary, moving from North Jordan all the way down South, and then back to Amman to catch your flight back home. Renting a car is imperative to make the most out of the country, as the public transportation system isn’t the most efficient here.
1. See The Roman Monuments in Jerash
Located about an hour away from the capital Amman, Jerash has the second-most well-preserved Roman ruins after Italy. It’s a great place to start your exploration, as it is located North of the country, and it lets you dive into an amazing Roman complex that paints a picture on what life was like back in the day. You can cover the complex in a day, but I went there twice, and arriving there as early as it opens gives you an advantage because it would be mostly empty. The complex consists of the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, 2 amphitheatres, beautiful ancient roads with tall pillars, an old bath and a beautiful fountain, to name a few. As you climb up the hills to the temples you might ponder on how it is that your fitness resolutions never materialised, but the views would be worth it.
2. Visit the old Ajloun Castle for a Beautiful View
The fact that Jordan is literally next to Palestine and Israel means that it is deeply affiliated with the history of the wars of the Holy Land. One of such is the War of the Crusaders, and the monuments and remains are everywhere around the country. Ajloun Castle is definitely one of the best preserved ones, propped right in top of a hill that can be seen from miles away. Built by Sultan Saladdin of the Ayyubis (you might remember him from the movie Kingdom of Heaven), it served as a strategic military fort against the Crusaders in the 12th Century. Take your time to check out the artillery rooms to the rooftop views, where on a clear day, you would be able to see Jerusalem in the distance. The drive is a beautiful one, going uphill across acres of olive trees, so be sure to spend at least half a day here.
3. Take a Dip in the Dead Sea
First of all, the Dead Sea isn’t even a sea. It’s a lake. A very salty lake. In fact, the salt content is 10 times higher than normal sea water. Swimming in the Dead Sea is certainly an experience I would never forget. You really do float, just as what they raved about all over the internet! You can even read a book quite comfortably in it. However, if you do have an external wound, it would sting like a bitch. The Dead Sea waters and minerals are medicinal, and you can relax by the sea while slathering yourself with the mud, while hoping that after the wash-off you’d look like Meghan Fox. The West Bank is in full view, and although some parts of the beach is sandy, a lot of them are made of salt hydrates, which means they are sharp and will split your feet open if you’re not careful. I would recommend spending a couple of days here at least, so that you could really enjoy the waters and view.
4. Tread Where The Dinosaurs Walked at Wadi Mujib
You gotta take time to drive along the Dead Sea coast, not only for the sweeping views, but also because there are a lot of things to see. Take the Wadi Mujib, for example. Mentioned in the Bible, it is a beautiful canyon that cuts through high sandstone walls, with a lovely creek passing right through. During the warmer months the entire trek is open so that your could explore the gorge, the cool waters a relief against the Arabian sunshine. This canyon is also pre-historic - traces of dinosaurs using this place as a walkway had been found!
Aside from Wadi Mujib, keep your eyes open to other beautiful attractions around the coastline, like view points, hidden waterfalls and public beaches.
6. Pretend You’re Indiana Jones at Petra
I’ll put up a different post on Petra because there is so much to share, but here I’ll tell you these things; you need at least 2 days to fully appreciate it, you should be at least moderately fit to climb up the sandstone hills, you should really do the night tour, and bring a sandwich.
7. Take a Jeep to Explore the Valley of the Moon
Wadi Rum, the desert South of Jordan, is also dubbed the ‘Valley of the Moon’ due to its landscape that looks other-wordly. You might have actually seen it before, you know. Star Wars? The Martian? Aladdin? They were all filmed in this desert. This magnificent place is just a vast orange land, with jagged rock formations creating small valleys with wild camels galloping around. It is especially beautiful at sunset, when the light turns the entire place bright orange. Driving across the desert requires a specific jeep, which you can rent online or at the reception desk of any nearby campsite. You should note that Wadi Rum is extremely cold during winter, and the temperature will plummet after sundown. An extra treat? Spend a night or two with the Arab Bedouins in a nomadic-style desert tent, and appreciate how these amazing people live out here for generations.
8. Watch the Desert Sunrise in Bed, in a See-Through Glamping Tent
Speaking of tents. What most camp sites also provide is an experience of ‘glamping’ in a see-through tent. It’s a Mars-like round tent with a transparent side of the wall, and what this means is that you can watch the sunset/sunrise in the comforts of your own room, and let’s not forget the stargazing! This is especially important during winter, because who wants to die of hypothermia from watching the night sky? It’s certainly more pricey than the regular tents, but boy oh boy is it worth it. I stayed at a camp called Hasan Zawaideh Camp, and I loved it. They even have a fancy nomadic tea room for you to hang out in, with a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling carpets and sisha. The breakfast and dinner spread is also pretty good.
9. Eat Slow Cooked Goat Cooked in Sand in the Middle of the Desert
I have a strange bucket list. One of the things in the bucket list was eating a goat that is cooked in the sand in the middle of the desert by desert nomads. Where did I get this idea, you asked? From an Anthony Bourdain TV show. As a young girl, that image of Anthony huddled with a group of nomads under the starry night sky in the middle of a vast desert while gnawing on the bones of a well-cooked goat became the epitome of my visualisation of an adventure. And guess what? I finally ticked this one off the list in Wadi Rum, Jordan. You can ask your host if this is possible (it usually is, although you’ll have to pay), and before dinner time be sure to show up early and ask the cook if you can see the unveiling of the meat from the ground (you usually can).
Was the goat as good as I had imagined it all these years? Yes, my friend, yes. The animal is cooked low and slow in the heat of the charcoal and sand for almost an entire day, mildly spiced and served with roasted vegetables, onions and garlic. Perfect for a cold night in the desert. Thank you, Anthony Bourdain, for the inspiration.
10. Chill in Cafes by the Red Sea in Aqaba
One of the southmost cities of Jordan, Aqaba, is well worth a visit, if only for just a half-day. It’s where the country meets the Red Sea, a sea mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran, and you’re probably most familiar with it through the story of how Moses parted the Red Sea in order to flee with the rest of the Israelis from the hands of Pharoah. From the coastline of the sea, you can see 3 different nations - Jordan, Egypt and Israel. Aqaba itself is a very laid-back seaside town, with a beautiful waterfront boasting with cafes and restaurants, and bustling roads lined with small shops worth a visit. Things are generally cheaper here than the rest of the country thanks to its tax-free appeal, so it’s a good place to get some local souvenirs or splurge a little. Otherwise, take time to sit by the pier and enjoy a cuppa with a view in one of the pretty cafes.
11. Immerse Yourself in History at Madaba
As you make your way up to the North of Jordan again, re-route yourself through the highway that will pass through Madaba. It’s a small city in the middle of Jordan, but mighty when it comes to its history. The Greek Orthodox church in the city currently preserves the biggest known early map of the Holy Land, made completely from tiny mosaics. It’s amazing to observe the details of this map, and how life was depicted like back in the day. Madaba is also well-known in the Islamic history as the location for the Battle of Mu’tah, where the Islamic army led by the Prophet Muhammad battled the Romans, with 3 of his closest companions perished. Their tombs are located in the city. Madaba is also close to Mount Nebo, where biblical accounts claim Prophet Moses climbed and saw the Promised Land for the first time. Of course, you can see it too from the top of the mountain. On a clear day, you’ll be able to view as far as Jerusalem and Ramallah, and it’s amazing to put it all into perspective - so many stories of remarkable people in the holy books took place around this area, as well as centuries of wars and political turmoil. It is worth to spend at least a day or so in and around the city.
12. Watch a City Sunset In Amman
Amman, the capital city of Jordan, is certainly a place of its own. There’s the citadel for you to see, perched on top of the hill overlooking the entire population, and also the place where Coldplay launched their album last year via a live streaming performance from that very same citadel. Amman has the vibe of a middle eastern city, quiet, low-key, and beige-coloured, but at the same time some parts of it, like Jafra and Sweifieh Village, exhibits a lot of globalisation, in terms of food, fashion and even culture.
A nice thing to do would be to find a rooftop cafe (there are plenty in the city, such as the ones near the as-Shams cafe area), and watch the sunset with a drink or a plate of falafels/hummus. The way the dark washes over the brown buildings and the blue skies is a nice way to wrap up your entire Jordanian adventure.
It’s definitely worth renting a car for your travels in Jordan, as public transport isn’t the most efficient here. On the other hand, local Jordanians are warm, friendly and so helpful. I’ve had people give me free food, invite me to their homes for tea and gave wonderful recommendations over what to do and where to go.
ProTip: Get the Jordan pass, which you can buy online and gives you access to most historical sites around the country. It’s much more value for money than buying tickets per-entry to everything.
It was freezing cold while we stood in the dark in what seemed like was the middle of nowhere, and it was hard to be still in the freezing temperatures while waiting for the hot air balloon to be set up. The guy who drove us there took out a foldable table and set up a small snacking center with hot drinks, and the steam coming out of the cups was like a little piece of heavenly relief - it was -1 degrees at 6.30 am, and this was Cappadocia, Turkey.
In the summer this place would be swarming with tourists. I’ve never witnessed it, but the number of shops and restaurants crammed in the little village of Goreme where I was staying at definitely indicated an anticipation of a massive pilgrimage – they have more Asian restaurants than Istanbul did, for example. But in winter, it becomes the complete opposite. I walked down the street for a few blocks and only bumped into 3 other people. There were hardly anyone at the restaurants. There were no queues at the museum. The hot air balloon was 65 euros less than the usual price. The Whirling Dervish tickets for 25 euros? I got it for free.
Cappadocia is an amazing place to be at any time of the year, but in winter, it gives off a different kind of charm. It’s relatively arid, with volcanic tuffs forming strange-looking peaks and formations that look like fairytale chimneys, but these are amplified when you’ve got snowfall. The entire place begins to look like a scene right out of Disney, and if there is ever a time when you get a sudden urge to sing out a little musical, this is the time and place to do so. The small houses and buildings are covered in white, the rocky brown peaks are sprinkled with white dust, the snow on the ground are tinted purple from the falling berries off the trees, and the horse ranches were just something else – picture these beautiful creatures prancing around with the playful dogs in snowy fields as far as your eyes can see. It’s the postcard-picture ideal of serenity. During low seasons the horseback rides are only 30 euros for 2 hours, whereas in the summer, it only gets you an hour.
The only downside to being here in winter is that the weather is more unpredictable. Sometimes, the hot air balloons are cancelled due to the strong winds or heavy snowfall. I was lucky that my scheduled ride went on as planned. There was no snow that day, and as we escalated above the hills I saw the horizon light up with the emergence of the sun as the day began – to say it was heavenly is an understatement. There is a specific effect, perhaps only found in this part of the world where the sunshine bathes the arid landscape with an orange tint, and you’re high up enough to see everything, but low enough to spot a dog yapping happily at your large balloon, its tail wagging.
But of course natural beauty isn’t the only thing that’s magical around here in the winter. It’s also the people. The absence of touristy crowds also means that the locals are more in their natural element. The elderly walks to and from the mosques, having laughing conversations on the benches by the roadside, the kids walk to school in groups, and the weekly market only has local attendees, where everyone finds you as interesting as the new oranges that are in season. Local cheeses are sold in large barrels cheaply, and you can try olives and fresh fruits and no one would harass you buy anything. Honey and nuts are a local specialty here if you’re thinking of getting some home. Otherwise, sit at the quiet cafes and enjoy some hot chocolate while watching the snow fall quietly on the pavements – a meal or two wouldn’t be totally inappropriate. In which case, I’d suggest the Old Cappadocia Restaurant for its stone oven bread and pide (a type of Turkish pizza). Or maybe some roasted eggplants topped with stewed tomatoes, with some testi kebabi cooked in small clay potteries. And why not some homemade baklavas for dessert?
Winter in Cappadocia is a definitely a dreamy affair. I’d do it all over again.
Note: You can get to Cappodocia via bus or an airplane. The latter is more time-efficient, and internal flights are pretty cheap (around rm200 return). The flights land in either Keyseri or Nevsehir, and from there you can take a shuttle bus that will cost 7 euros each way to your hotel in the town center of Gerome.