Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Surviving Istanbul, Turkey! : 10 Things to Know about the city.

Assalamualaikum. İyi akşamlar!

Alhamdulillah, It has been two weeks now living in Turkey and I have experienced a lot of new stuffs. Which were really interesting and I thought it might be useful to share what I have experienced here with you guys! 

So... if any of you are planning to come here, have a look at 10 things you should know when planning your trip to Istanbul, Turkey.


So in Turkey, the currency is calley Turkish Lira (or they usually call it TL. read: teh-LEY). If you'd like to change in Malaysia, most money changer do not have TL (I'm not sure if there is anywhere but you could try look around). Anyway, before I came here, I was adviced to change my money into USD or EURO in Malaysia and later in Turkey, I can change them to TL here. Yep. However using this option would have you losing some money to the money changer. 

A better and easier option is to activate your VISA PLUS overseas from your local bank debit card and withdraw your money here. This is quite risky because we cannot make sure if it worked (it has to be tested first to be proven ok) but usually it worked. Most of my Malaysian friends here withdrew their money that way and some even pay using their Malaysian debit card. No charge applied according to them. But paying using card is a bit expensive here as compared to paying cash. Well, it's your choice. You can also bring some money in USD and change it here before finding a bank to withdraw. Having cash with you will also be helpful especially in times of emergency.

Oh yes, some money changer here also accepts MYR but it will be much expensive. (not really worth it but useful tips in emergency cases)

If you'd like to change to dollar, better go change ASAP because MYR is depreciating each and every minute now T_T
Last week 1 TL is 1.41 MYR, and last time I checked today it's 1.48. 
Fuhhh.. We just have to bear it. Experience cannot be compared to money I guess. But living here as a student, I have to save a lot to survive. Nevermind, that's the beauty of living abroad. Hahaha #positivethinking


Before coming to Turkey, it will be very very very very very useful if you learn some basic Turkish. Basics like how to ask directions, numbers and words that would help in case you get lost. Seriously, don't expect people to speak English. Not a lot of people here can speak English. Some yes, but having some language preparation would be helpful. When I first arrived here, if not because of my friend who picked me up from the airport, I would have experienced a minor breakdown. I asked around but nobody seems to understand, and even if some do speak English, it's quite basic. (Based on my two weeks experience so far). I am still struggling here to understand Turkish.

Here is some basic Turkish for you to know.

For those who loves going around:

Ne rede? (Neh-REYde?) - Where?

So to ask direction.. just say the place in front of the question. Example

Metrobus nerede? - Where is metrobus?
Hagia Sofia nerede? - Where is Hagia Sofia?
Tuvalet nerede? - Where is the toilet?

For those who loves to shop:

Ne kadar? (Neh-KAdar?) - How much?

Bu ne kadar? - How much is this?

Learn the numbers as well. Here's a link to learning basic turkish CLICK CLICK

You can bring with you a dictionary if you find it convenient for you. (I don't) 
Or worse come to worst, use google translate. Yayy! But you need an internet connection yeah?

Here's how you can get yourself a simcard for a personal mobile data connection.


Turkey offers you variety of sim card companies, just like Malaysia. Over here, we have VODAFONE, TURKCELL, AVEA.... the rest I don't remember. But most of my friends suggested me to use AVEA, cheapest for students I guess, and the line coverage is better according to them. A lot of students also used this line so I chose AVEA as my telco line. I still don't understand how the line works here, but when you want to reload, you don't buy prepaid credit, you buy a package. For example 500sms, 500min calls and 1GB internet which costs 22TL, or 1000sms, 1000min calls and 2GB which costs 30TL. Or you can buy them separately, I bought once just 1GB internet data for 15TL because I still have my calls and sms. So yeah, that's how it works. 

If you're planning to stay in Turkey more than 2 months, you need to pay a cellphone tax but the procedure is quite detail (ask me more) because the phone number will be blocked if you do not pay your tax. Unless you plan to buy and use the local cellphone meaning, you buy one here. The electronic items in Turkey is much more expensive as compared to Malaysia. Seriously.

Anyway, if you decided to come for a short visit here, then there should be no problem when you want to use the local sim card. So hooray! But you still need to speak turkish when you buy the sim card. If you're lucky you may have people speaking in English. Don't worry too much.


So I'll just tell my experience at the airport. FYI, Malaysian can enter Turkey without the need of visa for 3 months. So you don't have to worry much about the visa. But Turkish government always changes their policies. Last time when I called the Turkish Embassy in Malaysia, they said I need to have a student visa. So they asked me to bring certain documents, and after two weeks, I finally managed to settle all documents needed, I went to the Embassy and the person in charge there told me. "No you don't need any visa. The policy just changed last week."

Errr.. Okay. Haha that's what students here had been experiencing for years. Even the procedures to do the resident permit changes frequently. So... better make sure before you come here. Just in case. (I seemed like a paranoid traveler. Omoooo) Hahahaha tak rugi pun double check kan? ;)

Oh yes, arriving at the airport. 
Here's my experience. I arrived in Turkey around 10 pm and the line at the border stamping area... is so long.. and what annoys me more is when people cut queues -.- A group of ladies shamelessly cut queue in front of me and probably 20 other people behind me. GROUP, not individual. -.- not just 1 group, few groups. Urghh need to be patient. After 15 hours of long flight, that really annoys me. But I'm too tired to think about it. After passing the immigration border, we (me and a friend of mine) took our bags, and to our surprise, we need to have a Turkish coin to use the trolley, it's not free! Omooo.. I was thinking 'how am I suppose to have a TL coin?'. So we carried our bags and luckily we found one with a coin inserted and we used the trolley. Alhamdulillah.

Wifi? Hmmm.. We thought there would be at least a free wifi at the airport. To our surprise, again.. No wifi service is provided by the airport. Luckily my Malaysian number is still active, and I still have RM8 credit at that time. So I texted my friend's number to tell that we have already arrived. It cost RM2/message. Yeah.. but I'm glad I still have my credit. So we waited in peace.. and finally met our friend. Probably our situation is different, because we are on our own and we do not have any tour companies helping us. So we relied a lot on friends who studied here in Turkey. We were really grateful they were there to help us around. 

So.. If you're on your own.. having contact with local friends would assure you some safety especially in a place you are not familiar with. Unless you're brave, and cool enough, then exploring on your own, dealing with the difficulties would surely be a meaningful and fun experience. Heee. As a girl, I still need to feel secure. So I felt blessed having friends who helped me when I first arrived in Turkey.


Public transport is abundance here in Istanbul. There's trams, trains, underwater train (Marmaray), Busses, taxi, minibus and so much more. Go explore them. Download this apps called TRAFI and it will help you to tell which public transport you should use to get to one place. I use it all the time. It will also tell you the ETA and the fare you're gonna use. Anyway, to get around easier.. Go and buy the istanbulkart, you can buy them at any supermarket and any kiosk near the jetty. Ask them "istanbulkart" they will know. Here is how it looks like..

All the public transport here have the same fare and uses the same card. So this is like touch n go. You can reload them at the reload machine near to the ferry or at any shops that sells istanbulkart. Usually mini market would have them. 

Reload machine
So go get your card...  and explore!!


I've walked around Istanbul alone in the daylight, but not during night. I don't really feel safe. and a lot of friend suggested to stay inside too during night. Walking in groups should be safe. Walking alone... err.. in the daylight, I felt secured, but I am still on alert during night time. Travelling during the day in Istanbul should be no problem. I sometimes went shopping and food hunting on my own, but usually it's with friends. Going alone is still a bit boring for extroverts like me. Hehe.

Yeni Mosque, near to Spice Bazaar

Topkapi park


Anyway, when going to places that are crowded, do be careful. This happened to a friend of mine when she was walking around busy streets. She wasn't aware of her bag and walked around the street and later realized that the bag was already opened, and her purse is gone. Money, IC, bank cards - all gone. Luckily her passport is with her. So alhamdulillah. It didn't happened to me but it is also a lesson for me. Another friend also experienced this - but luckily he doesn't have anything important in the bag, so nothing was taken but he realized that the zip was already opened. 

So for me, usually when I walked around in crowd, I would carry my bag pack in front of me and hug it. I won't wear it on my bag. I would also put my purse in the deepest compartment (hardest to reach), and have some money in my pocket enough for me to use throughout the day. I don't need to reach my purse. Another travelling tip: Have your money scattered around. Don't put in one place. Put some in your right pocket, in your left pocket, in one compartment in the bag, etc.. So in case anything happens to you - someone picked your money - you still have some money left. (My dad taught me this)

As for the passport, make sure it’s always with you. Don’t put it in a place where there is a chance of losing it. My dad bought me a waist pouch for me to put my passport and important documents that is important (bank card, IC etc) and I can’t afford to lose when travelling overseas. So when I go out, I have my passport sticking around me. Not in my bag or anywhere else. J Trust me; you wouldn’t want to lose your passport when you travel. Too much hassle if it does. So prevention is better than cure yeah? Again, paranoid traveller here, but useful tip insyaAllah.

All in all, it’s quite safe here. I felt more secured here if I compare to KL, or Bangkok.

Oh yes, what about the people here in Istanbul?


To me, I’ve been to places around Asia so I’m quite used to the Asian culture – much more collectivist and very friendly. Here, it’s a bit different. The aura is different. When I first came here, I don’t feel much welcomed (the warmness was not felt), I was totally lost at first and people don't seem to bother, and having language as a barrier, it's even harder to communicate. T_T

When walking around the streets, I do feel lonely, most of the times. But I am glad at the same time because I need my time alone. But surely, if people suddenly come to me and ask me random questions I would not feel happy too. Haha. Only that I miss the warmness in Malaysia. I just can't explain how. But I won't generalize. People have different personalities. When going around, I ask local people as well where or how to get to this place and they still entertain me. :)

And I remember giving an auntie a seat in the bus and she really insisted me to sit on her lap. I have to refuse 3 times because she insisted me. But she has a very beautiful smile on her face for me - and I love that.

However it's a different story when it comes to my local friends here. They are so friendly and so helpful. We knew each other for few days but they treat me as if we've known each other for years. Some people can be really friendly. Sometimes they even offer themselves to help me even if I didn't ask for it. So I couldn't really generalize the people here. We'll encounter different types of people and each of them is different. So everybody's experience will be different. What I tell here is only the ones I've experienced so far.

And take note of this as well, there are lots of Syrian refugees here in Istanbul. So the sight of mother and children sleeping on the street, children selling tissues, or playing a musical instrument to raise money for themselves is normal. If you have extra money with you, you could give to them, or better if you have food with you - give it to them. Allahualam. May Allah accept your deed. 


Yeahhh. Who doesn't love food hunting? Hehe
This is Manti - Dumplings and yogurt. I like it :D

Turkish Pizza!! Lahmacun. (Lahmajun)
So what to expect when you want to hunt for food here? In istanbul, you can find lots and lots and lots of diners selling kebabs. Hehe it's so basic here. People sell them everywhere. And there's no chili sauce here. If you are a fan of spicy food, and cannot tolerate eating food without the hotness bring small packets of chili sauce from Malaysia. Hehe

You can also have a taste of the local sweet delicacies - Turkish delights and Baklava. They're perfect for someone with a sweet tooth. :)

Simit is also a must-try here. It's the signature bread, you can buy on the street for 1 TL. :)
It's a bread with sesame seeds on it, or you can have one without the sesame seed. I tried once, with Nutella inside. Yummy! Cost me 2TL but I like it. ;)

There are lots of other local foods you can hunt. Since I am living with a tight budget. I haven't tried other local foods since they're quite luxurious. Will do.. from time to time. Hehe. I'm still hunting for Gozleme. A local food here just like Martabak in Malaysia, but the ingredient used is different. See picture hehe. I still haven't found one yet. Or maybe I came across but I didn't notice it. I still got plenty of time to search for them. Hehe. 

Well, go hunt for these fooooooodddd.. 

And yes, chocolates... Umm.. The chocolates here in Istanbul is cheap. For chocolate lovers like me, it's such a huge temptation to not buy all! Haha if only I am not on diet, I would've tried one every day. Haha still, I'm buying them every week. One each week. Ok lah tu.. :D You can buy them at any supermarket. 


If you come to Istanbul. Go and pray in the mosque, jamaah if you have the time and opportunity. The mosque here in Istanbul is soooooo nice and peaceful. You can really feel the calmness and peacefulness when you enter the mosque here. The feeling is so nice. You don't have to worry about finding one too. There are lots of mosque here. In shopping malls too you can find musolla and they are very comfortable.

Oh yes, in Istanbul, mosque is called Camii (read: Ja-MIiy) and musolla is called Mescid (read: Mes-JID). So if you want to ask around if there is any mosque or musolla you can ask Mescid/Camii nerede?

Experience too praying in the famous blue mosque. You will love it there. Subhanallah. One thing I love about this city is the mosque. :)

Yeni Camii (The new mosque) located near the coast of Eminonu. 

Blue Mosque at the back! :D


I believe one of the reasons people visit Istanbul for the richness of their history. The famous Hagia Sofia, Blue mosque and other buildings which were significant for their historical values. There are lots of museums here in Istanbul. If you are really interested in learning the histories here, I suggest you to purchase the Muze Kart. In the website it cost 85TL and it's valid for 5 days. You can enter many museums with that card. So spend your whole 5 days in the museums! Make it worth. Hehe. :)

Public transport are mostly accessible to these places so you don't need to worry too much.

Me and Hagia Sofia <3

Acah2 posing belakang statue tu. According to history, that statue was stolen from Egypt, brought all the way here to Turkey. And it's actually big!!

Where should you go? You can browse around the internet. It'll be fun!

Oh yes. I also went to a place called the Princes Islands. Islands. Yes. Because the Princes Islands comprises of 4 or 5 Islands if I am not mistaken. I've been to two. And what's so special about these Island is that no motorized vehicle is allowed on the Island. So when you go there, it's very peaceful and the architecture of the buildings and houses are very beautiful. So pwettyyyyy. Here! Take a look! ;)

To get to the Island, I took a ferry from Kadikoy jetty to ADALAR. There are ferries going to Eminonu and Karakoy. So make sure you find the right terminal. Find the terminal going to Princes Islands/Adalar.

I've swam in the straits of Bosphorus. Hoyeahh

Such a peaceful and a quiet Island, seriously!

Except if you have a friend trying to annoy you by throwing stones into the sea infront of you -.-

Last thing to do? ENJOY YOUR TIME HERE!

So that sums up the 10 things you should know about Istanbul. I have been here for two weeks, and my writings are based on my personal observations and experience. My perception might be different from yours but I hope you find this post useful. I'm happy to share.

For any further questions, feel free to email me at izzatzaid1015@gmail.com.
I'd be happy to share whatever I can share. :)

Let me know if you're coming to Istanbul!
Izzat Zaid

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