Gaziantep & Sanliurfa – Exploring Eastern Turkey

The further East we headed in Turkey, the more like travelling it became. Cars were replaced with donkeys, western tourists replaced by Kurdish people, bars and restaurants replaced by side of the road eateries, the English language was dropped and only Turkish and Kurdish spoken and the whole atmosphere went from a tourist trap to a traveller’s paradise.

Everything over in this half of the country is completely different from the west side. This is the perfect place for an eager, independent backpacker.  We had been looking forward to coming to the east for a long time, it was going to be the highlight of Turkey for us, and it sure hasn’t disappointed!

backpacking eastern turkey
Local boys in Eastern Turkey

Travelling along the Mediterranean coast and the western half of the country was great as well, but a different kind of great. It was more like a relaxing beach holiday. Once we hit Cappadocia everything began to change and the real travelling started. The further east we went from Cappadocia things got even better.

We spent one night in the town of Gaizentep, known for its pistachios and the best baklava in the world. As soon as we stepped off our bus in Gaizentep, everyone was willing to help. We had our map out and a guy actually pulled over his car and walked up the street to help us, he spoke minimal English but enough to understand what we wanted.

He led us to the right dolmus (minibus) into town. As we were looking for our hotel, we had 3 different people stop and ask if they could help us, again, in very broken English. By using our map and some hand signals we were able to find our hotel. Along the way, Nick got pooped on by a pigeon! I was cracking up, couldn’t stop laughing. He hates birds as it is, so being publicly pooped on by one was extra funny.

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Nick’s enemy strikes! Gaziantep, Turkey

The 10 or so men working at our hotel spoke no English whatsoever. We were wondering what time dinner was served and what time check-out was. You can imagine how that conversation went! However, by using some moves from charades and our cell phones to show the numbers we were able to figure it out.

The next day we roamed the streets to find the best spot to try out the baklava. The place we stopped at was great! All the workers wanted to help us out and give us the best baklavas they had on offer. One guy actually spoke some English and was eager to practice with Nick. Oh, and the pistachio baklavas were an ooey gooey delight.

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Delicious baklavas in Gaziantep, Turkey

After just one night in Gaizentep we were on the move again further into Eastern Turkey, to a town called Sanliurfa. While we waited, we sipped on a tea offered to us by the bus company. We drink so much tea in a day it’s unreal. The Turkish love their tea and always offer it to us for free, even after a meal. It’s rude to decline, so we sip back the tea in the 35 degree weather and try not to sweat too much!

We boarded the small minibus and set off in the blazing heat with windows that wouldn’t roll down and a bus driver that didn’t put on the air conditioning. Somehow the locals were perfectly fine with the temperature. We were pointing on the map and trying to tell the driver and the other guys in the bus where we wanted to be dropped off.

He decided the side of the road looked good and pulled over, we figured we were close so we got out. Curious people came over to see what we were all about and to try to help us figure out where to go. A group of younger Kurdish guys (16 years old) came over and one of them spoke English!

We were about a 1/2 hour walk from where we needed to be and the group of them offered to walk with us and show us to our hotel. It was out of their way but they walked with us anyways. The hospitality of the people in Turkey is amazing.  At one point I looked up to see a digital sign showing the temperature…36 degrees…the backpack was feeling a bit heavy at that point! We arrived at the hotel, said our goodbyes to the boys and cranked the a/c in our room.

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Fantastic food in Turkey

The following day in Sanliurfa we walked to the Bazaar and did some browsing around. There were so many sections to this market: woodworking, blacksmiths, metalwork, food stalls, clothing, produce, carpets, etc. We watched some guys making metal decorative bowls, spoons, plates and cups from scratch.

Heating up the metal, banging it out into the shape they wanted and then putting in the decorative touches with a chizzle. Pretty neat. Of course, we were offered tea and sat with a man for awhile. We asked the few questions we knew in Turkish and he showed us some pictures of his family on his cell phone.

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Sitting with one of the tradesmen in the Bazaar. Sanliurfa, Turkey

We just cannot get over how friendly, hospitable and generous the people of Turkey are – and especially the people in Eastern Turkey.  It’s amazing.  We carried on past a bread making place and were offered a massive piece of bread fresh out of the wood burning oven. We walked home after our day at the bazaar and waited out the heat in the comfort of our a/c room until later that night.

In the evening we went out to see another part of town that has a group of mosques, a castle on the mountainside and a massive park with a river stocked with fish running through it. It was a beautiful area. Families having picnics on the cool grass in the shade, young couples strolling hand in hand (which was hard to believe) and older men playing backgammon and having tea. We enjoyed the area for awhile before having dinner in one of Urfa’s many 19th century stone mansions that have been converted into restaurants and hotels. It was a beautiful restaurant and we ate on the terrace while the sun set in the distance.

backpacking eastern turkey
Bread making factory. Sanliurfa, Turkey
budget backpacking turkey
A very focused man.  Metalwork in Sanliurfa, Turkey
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Happy boys in the Bazaar. Sanliurfa, Turkey

That night there was a lunar eclipse and we were lucky enough to be in a part of the world that actually saw the full eclipse! North America didn’t get to see it at all. It was pretty amazing.  We sat on the rooftop of our hotel and enjoyed watching the moon before calling it a night.

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Watching the Lunar Eclipse in Sanliurfa, Turkey
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Almost a full Lunar Eclipse! Sanliurfa, Turkey

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Gaziantep & Sanliurfa - Exploring Eastern Turkey

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Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 10 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel. Her advice about long-term travel, remote work, and location independence has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider and Forbes. Learn more about Dariece Swift on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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