|Hot air balloons floats high above the sky over Cappadocia, Turkey on July, 24. Korea Times photo by Kim Hyun-bin|
By Kim Hyun-bin
ISTANBUL, Turkey ― Some people prefer planning their own trips abroad starting from booking their plane ticket and hotels and setting up detailed timetables on which destinations to explore.
But for people who don't want to bother dealing with all the hassle and want everything planned out, a package tour might be the best option, especially for a large country like Turkey, where key cities and attractions are hundreds of kilometers apart.
The package tour officially begins after landing at the newly built Istanbul Airport, which opened in April. Several tour guides are on standby at the arrival gate to pick up their parties, holding signs of their affiliated tour agency.
In a package tour for Turkey as well as most European destinations, a Korean and local guide as well as a local driver accompanies the tour for the duration of the trip, which starts and finishes at the airport.
"Istanbul Airport is only 25 percent complete, but once it is, it will become the world's fifth largest airport and four times the size of Incheon International Airport," Kim Ki-taek, a veteran Turkey tour guide said.
Many travelers make their first mistake at the airport by changing currency, which experts advise strongly to avoid.
"The exchange rate is much higher than other currency exchange booths scattered around the city and on top of that, what travelers are not aware of is that they take out a 4 percent transaction fee without mentioning it," Kim said.
A Turkey package tour covers a vast amount of land during the excursions and it is not too much to say that most of the travel is spent inside a bus.
"Everyone should become very comfortable on the bus, if not it will become a miserable journey. Sometimes we will be on the bus for nine hours a day as we have to cover 3,800 kilometers of land within the eight days," Kim said.
Travelers should bring a pillow, download movies, dramas and music on their smart phone as well as wearing comfortable clothing, and take along snacks and drinks for the long ride ahead.
The package includes sightseeing numerous attractions in cities around the country including Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus, Antalya and Pamukkale.
Turkey is a strong ally of Korea and has shared a long friendship dating back to the 1950 Korean War, when the country sent over 22,000 troops, the fourth largest deployment behind the U.S., Britain and Canada.
Korea and Turkey call each other "brother countries" due to this strong bond, and even to this day ordinary people out on the streets often call Koreans "Kardes" which means brother in Turkish.
From land, people can witness Cappadocia's surreal landscape, eroded from volcanic ash, and ancient civilizations that carved out a network of subterranean architecture beneath.
But the true beauty can be witnessed from above in a hot air balloon, which is one of the most popular options provided on a package tour not just in Turkey, but around the world.
The option cost 210 euros ($232) on a package, which is around 20 to 25 percent more expensive when booking at a local vendor, but it is worth every penny. Being able to float above the Gaudi-esque landscape, watching the sun rise which illuminates the volcanic spires and hills, while being surrounded by hundreds of other hot air balloons, which creates a scenery no one could dare mimic.
"The balloons on average are launched at most three to four times a week as they are heavily affected by weather. There were many package travelers that were not fortunate enough to ride the hot air balloon so people should ride it when available," Kim said.
The only bad part of the hot air balloon journey is that all participants need to wake up before 5 a.m. as the balloons are launched before sunrise.
UNESCO heritage Pamukkale
Pure white travertine stretching out to the horizon makes Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) a wonder, along with the unreal landscape, petrified waterfalls and terraced basins. Its beauty reels in hundreds of thousands of tourists each year from all over the globe.
The world-renowned Pamukkale is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its mineral rich thermal waters and white travertine terraces.
Since ancient Roman times, Pamukkale has been known for its thermal springs and it is especially known for its white limestone travertine, shaped by the calcium-rich hot springs.
People can also visit the Hierapolis nearby an ancient spa that was established in the 2nd century B.C.
"A little over a decade ago, the terraced basins of Pamukkale were filled with thermal waters that came close to a grown adult's shoulders and people used to swim, but it is all gone as Pamukkale became a hot tourists attraction and scores of hotels settled in using up most of the area's water," Kim said.
Search for local cuisines
Turkey is known for its rich culture and history, but what gets the most attention is its flavorful cuisine, which has become well-known to tingle one's taste buds no matter one's background.
Unfortunately, package tours are also known to offer one of the worst meals in town, due to their tight budget. However, there are several free time periods given from 30 minutes to two hours when arriving at a handful of destinations, where travelers can sightsee and search for restaurants to taste the true local flavors.
Most dinners are provided by the hotel, but in rural locations including Pamukkale and Cappadocia it is close to downtown, an average 20 minutes by foot, where travelers can take advantage of local restaurants and their excellent meals for an affordable price.