The holy month of Ramadan officially started last week! I always look forward to the culmination of this month (how ironic) because it always (almost) means long weekend for us. Hopefully, this year's Eid falls on a Saturday, at least, so we, in the private sector, get a 3-day holiday. *grin*
In the last five years, I have planned my trips around holidays, especially during Eid. That is, if I manage to submit my leave form before everyone else does (and of course, if the budget permits!) ;) My friends have been asking for recommendations where they can get to spend their holidays so I thought of coming up with a list of 3 to 5-day out-of-the-country destinations. With that limited time, I only included places that require a 4.5-hour flight at the maximum. Also, I considered the ones that are easy to get a tourist visa, if required (especially for Philippine passport holders).
Note: The cost of the trip really depends on your priorities/needs as a traveller. We always prefer to stay in decent hostels or 3-star hotels and most of our meals are local street food. We know a couple who spent 20K AED on a same trip that we only spent 8K AED. So at the end, it really depends on you.
1. Istanbul: Asia meets Europe
Numero uno in my list is our favorite city in the world! We've been to Turkey twice and in those two visits, we always see to it that we'd spend a couple of days in this lovely city. My fiancé and I strongly suggest Istanbul for the first time traveller. For one, the city is compact and very easy to navigate and two, it's cheap considering that you're hitting two continents in one go. :)
Cruise the Bosphorus Strait that divides Istanbul to Europe and Asia. Refresh your art history in Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Walk down the halls of Topkapi and marvel on its awesome Ottoman architecture. The pedestrianised Istiklal Cadessi is not to be missed, too.
Flying Hours: 4+ HoursDon't miss: The Turkish ice cream guys and their theatrical moves to serve you your cold, sticky delight. Check out the ice cream guys at the end of this video. (Refer to #5 for the other parts of the video :p)
- Airfares are cheaper if you'll land on Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, located on Istanbul's Asian side, about an hour drive to the heart of Istanbul.
- Make Sultanahment District your base. Interesting sites will be just a few steps away.
2. Cairo: Ancient Civilization
If you fancy soaking up in history and culture for your holiday, then, the capital of Egypt is a good choice! After admiring King Tutankhamun's treasures at the Egyptian Museum, get lost at the shoppers haven nearby, a.k.a. El Khalili Bazaar. Check out the Coptic Christian and side of Cairo. And last and definitely not the least, explore The Great Pyramids of Giza (won't be called great if they're not!) - the last standing ancient wonder of the world. Give the Sphinx a kiss, too, for a cliché souvenir shot. :p
Flying Hours: 4 HoursDon't miss: Abu Serga in Coptic Cairo might interest you, as it's one of the places where the Holy Family stayed during the Flight into Egypt.
- The King Tut Collection in the
- I don't recommend DIY-ing your trip to Cairo, because the touristy places are quite far from each other. But if you insist, they have a pretty efficient metro. The locals are quite friendly and helpful for lost tourists, too.
- If you prefer a book about Egypt as a souvenir from your trip, swing by the The American University in Cairo They have quite a huge and not to mention, exciting, collection.
3. Yerevan: Ideal Base in Armenia
The little city of Yerevan has an old world beauty that charms every visitor. The Cascades and the Sculpture Park are great destinations for the artsy. The churches of Etchmiadzin make a fruitful trip for the faithful. Yerevan is centrally located in the country, making it an ideal base for day trips. Head southeast to , northeast to or south to for churches/monasteries in unique and picturesque settings.
Flying Hours: 3 HoursDon't miss: Dine at Old Erivan near Freedom Square for a good meal and entertaining traditional show in one.
- Philippine passport holders are granted with entry through visa upon arrival, but it will be less of a hassle if you will apply for an e-visa online so you can breeze through the immigration counters.
- Very few people speak English in Armenia so if you're thinking of exploring the place on your own, plan/research accordingly.
- Or better yet, book a hotel/hostel with excellent concierge/front desk that can help you with understanding the place you wanted to visit. Ask them to write the name of the place (you want to go to) in their alphabet then bring it with you and show it when asking directions.
- We highly recommend the place we stayed - Envoy Hostel. Clean and simple rooms and excellent and helpful staff!
4. Georgia: Tbilisi and Beyond
Like Armenia, Georgia was once a part of the Soviet Union, thus the eclectic architecture in its capital, . Explore the time-worn buildings in Old Town. Take the cable car up to Narikala Fortress for a bird's eye view of the city. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site . Got extra days? Base yourself in Tbilisi and you're just 3 to 4 hours away from and Davit Gareja.
Flying Hours: 3.5 HoursDon't miss:
- I knew a couple of friends who went to Georgia but missed the magical Stepantsminda. I'd say, do not miss! It's a must!
- Georgian cuisine is quite interesting. Try local dishes like khinkhali and kachapuri.
- If you are looking for taxis you can hire for a day, check the ones at the bus terminal, just outside Didube Metro Station. Don't forget to negotiate for a good price!
- Based on our experience (and a friend's), the hostels and low star hotels in Old Town (particularly the ones near Liberty Square) are of poor quality. Should we have known better, we'd rather not scrimp on accommodations.
5. Beautiful Towns Along the Aegean Sea
From Istanbul, take a bus ride to the battlefields of . Swing by the ancient Troy before making it to Greek city, . Visit Virgin Mary's house in and admire the ruins in the nearby archaeological site. End your trip with a dip from the travertine terraces of .
Flying Hours: 4+ HoursDon't miss: The Trojan Horse used in the epic film Troy can be found along the esplanade in Çanakkale.
- When visiting during Eid, make sure not to put a destination you don't want to miss on the first day of Eid. Or else, you'll end up like us, missing our morning trip to Troy because of a government celebration on the site.
- If you can, get a private guide (you might be hurried if you're in a group) to tour you around the Ephesus archaeological site. It is so worth it!
Muscat is an easy to reach holiday destination from the UAE. You can either take an hour flight or travel by bus. The capital of Oman has a way to charm every visitor with its picturesque mountain ranges giving a pretty background to the city's traditional architecture. See the blue and gold Al Alam Palace. Wander Muttrah Souq's labyrinthine paths or get awed by the all-white Royal Opera House.
Flying Hours: 1 HourDon't miss: The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque complex features a beautiful mosque with equally gorgeous interiors, decked with the second largest carpet and chandelier. It has nicely designed gardens, too.Bait al Zubair Museum gives an interesting overview of the country's culture and history.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is quite strict about dress code. The last time we went, they don't provide abayas like other mosques so see to it to dress appropriately.
- If you are short in time, Big Bus Tours offer a convenient way to see the city.
7. An Introduction to Jordan
Our trip to Jordan is one for the books because of the variety of experiences we had. We explored, hiked, camped, floated, and felt blessed. We recommend it to couples like us or to a group of friends who's in for a lot of adventure!
Let the King's Highway satisfy your inner historian. Walk through the siq and marvel at the beauty of the Treasury in . Ride with the locals and explore the Valley of the Moon. Float on the Dead Sea with your entire body covered in mud. Lastly, wave hello to the guys getting baptized on the other side of the Jordan River ... that's actually a different country!
Flying Hours: 3+ Hours
Budget: $$Don't miss:
- Petra! Need I say more?
- The well-preserved Roman city of Jerash is spectacular in any way you look at it. Take a guide or at least bring a guidebook to better understand it.
- Invest on a sturdy pair of shoes if you are planning to walk your way through the siq to the Treasury.
- A tour guide can be very helpful if you want to see the High Place of Sacrifice in Petra.
- Petra by Night is a unique experience to visit the Rose Red City.
- Live like a Bedouin even for a night by. But if you can stay longer, stay longer! There's so much more to see and a 3 hour jeep tour will NEVER be enough.
8. India's Golden Triangle
If you only have one chance to see India, we highly recommend doing the Golden Triangle route, making stops at three major cities in India. Explore both old and new Delhi, touching base with its historic and cultural sites. Go south to pay homage to the world-class and end your trip with the pink city of in Rajasthan.
Flying Hours: 3.5 HoursDon't miss: The elephant ride from the foot to the top of Amber Fort offers a unique experience and a good vantage point to see the city below.
- The UNESCO World Heritage site
- Travelling the Golden Triangle circuit by road means sitting in car for 4 to 5 hours everyday. If possible, try not to cramp your itinerary so the long drive will be so much worth it.
- The Hindi word "Nahi" means no. It works wonders to shy away from touts.
- Always prepare to be asked for tips.
The sight of Kathmandu in the past few months has left everyone emotional as a couple of its heritage sites were now in rubbles. But that should not put you off from visiting this wonderful city. There are still a lot of sites that are kept intact.
Discover the old merchant route at . Make rounds like the Buddhists on the Boudhanath Stupa. Watch the world go by from one of the Durbar Squares. A trip to Nepal won't be complete if you won't get a glimpse of .
Flying Hours: 4+ HoursDon't miss:
- The skillfully crafted peacock window in one of the alleys in Bhaktapur is a nice feature to look out for.
- Witness a Hindu "ritual" in Pashupatinath Temple
- Got no time to hike and see the Everest? Take a mountain flight c/o Buddha Air and explore the Annapurna from your window seat.
- Watch out for sadhus. While they may be interesting subject for your photos, you can be asked for something in return.
- Be prepared to encounter monkeys and cows running wild especially in the temples.
I hope this short list will spark a desire to wander our neighbouring countries. :) Whichever date the holiday comes, I hope the above can somehow help you in planning the next long weekend we're going to have. Ramadan Kareem to everyone!