If you have ever been to this amazing country, you would most probably have a soft spot for its unique transcontinental geographic. Situated in between the Balkans area in the South Eastern Europe and Middle East area of Asia. Unfortunately, this amazing country is plagued with a series of external and internal terrors from ISIL bombings and coup attempt recently. Many will have the question in mind “Is it safe to travel to Istanbul, Turkey now?”. I’m sure many are unclear about the current situation in Istanbul, Turkey. Wondering how are the people living in Turkey now? Is life back to normal or things have changed better over there?
It’s been two months since a failed attempt by a military coup on the 15 July 2016 that shocked the entire world. 200 over victims were killed and thousands of innocents were injured in that sad event. Another horrendous attack at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport on the 28 June 2016 with a series of gunfire and bombings in the airport that resulted in 300 casualties. The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the challenging task of restoring the country’s order, trust, security and also regaining confidence from the world. Which of course, Turkey receives support from countries around the world.
Is If Safe To Travel To Istanbul, Turkey Now?
Recently while I made my epic trip to Eastern Europe, I took a courageous attempt and did a stopover visit to Istanbul, Turkey. Many people were concerned and asked me “why would you want to go? Isn’t it dangerous”, and some even commented that I was making a suicidal trip. In general, people are concerned and curious whether is it safe to travel to Turkey now.
You probably have many reasons to think that it’s unsafe and why you shouldn’t visit Turkey, but what I am going to share here is to provide you an insight into my actual experience during my short stay in Istanbul from 4 to 8 September 2016, when the country is theoretically still under the 3 months state-of-emergency.
#1 Heighten Security
For everyone who wants/needs to travel to the Turkey for any reason, the main concern will always be security and safety. I have to admit, just like most of us, I was a little concerned about my safety prior the trip, but I was immediately at ease when I arrived at Ataturk airport. Obviously, airport security is heightened due to the recent terrorist attack on 28 June 2016. Well, the funny thing is, when the country’s situation is tensed up after an attack, the country’s security will be put on high-level alert which makes it probably a safer time to visit than before.
Not just in the airport, there are security screenings in all major attractions such as Blue Mosques, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Baazar, Spice Baazar and in the museums too.
On the other hand, this can be a double-edged sword. Although, I felt safe with the increased security level but this also lead to human traffic jams at the airport. Instead of the usual 2 hours in advance to check in for flights, now you will need at least 3 hours in advance due to the increased screening measures and delays. No complaints from me, especially when the trade-off is for safety. It is well worth for it.
However, we should always bear in mind the general travel 101 tip, just like anywhere else in the world, travel at ease but always stay alert and be vigilant of your surrounding. You are a visitor to the country, stay away from troubles such as protest or potential triggering areas.
#2 The Peace & Calmness
During my short visit in Istanbul, I saw no scrambling for life but only peace and calmness in the city. I was surprised by how fast the Turkish people have turned things around and moved on. There were magazines about 15 July 2016 coup attempt in the hotel, news and also Turkish Airlines’ flights. People are very friendly and upfront to tell you about their honest opinions and things that happened. Some wifi usernames or password were even set as ’15July’ to remind every one of the longest night in Turkey and a date to remember.
The river that split the two continents remained peaceful and calm. There are no signs of damage, rebuilds or struggles, and there is no sense of fear and panic in the city.
#3 Locals Leading A Normal Life
I always enjoy interactions with the locals. Many expressed they have confidence in the country and is optimistic that things are all in good hands now. They strongly believed and have faith in the government that the country will remain peaceful and prosperous.
The Turkish people are leading a perfectly normal life. Children are playing on the streets, locals are going to the mosque and markets as usual. Pedlars/vendors open their stalls and people commute to work by public transport, men went for fishing at the straits, policemen doing their routine rounds. Just like any major city. There weren’t any signs that the country just went through a turmoil recently.
#4 City Still As Charming & Beautiful
Today, Istanbul continues to stand tall and retains its charm and beauty to its visitors as ever! The monuments, mosque, museums and market are still as epic, amazing, and stunning! And these are an understatement to describe my phenomenal stay in Istanbul. There weren’t any sights of rebuilding, and the city stood tall as it was before.
#5 Lesser Tourist
The tourism industry in Turkey may be in a tricky situation now. Certainly, the Turkish government will have many challenges ahead in the short term. Especially in rebuilding confidence from international visitors.
On the flip side, there weren’t any long queues to the attractions. I remember in comparison to my previous visit in 2011, Blue Mosque was filled with lines and today, my visit to the Blue Mosque was a breeze!
Those gloomy descriptions are backed up by the shreds of evidence shown in my photos. There weren’t that many visitors as compared to the past. This is the time when you would see a lower visitors rate in the city. More space for me to roam around freely, and easier for photography. No complaints from an individual visitor like me, but certainly ,this country deserves the chance to recover.
#6 Better Services
Have you ever wish you have priority service or be treated like a VIP in a country? Well, your wish may come true if you visit Turkey now. Obviously, there are lesser tourists, so you are like a precious gem coming from a foreign land. The good point for you will be the dedicated services, special treatment and extra attention from the service providers. There is almost an immediate attention from the locals eager to sell their services/products to you. Maybe I exaggerate a bit on this part, but in general, this is a demand and supply game. Lesser tourist, lesser demand, more supply, hence equate to better bargain and quality services.
#7 Better Bargains
Generally, I find most of the things are cheap in Turkey, even in Istanbul. One of the advantages of visiting Turkey now is that you have many options and choices. You do have a bargain in things, but please do it at the reasonable level and don’t be overboard. The rule of thumb is to pay for a service or product that you think it’s well-valued for. Do not bargain so hard for every single thing you see and ended up you realised you are merely bargaining for that few bucks, or for things you may not even need. Moreover, many livelihoods of the locals depend on tourism and when you patronise, so manage your bargains moderately.
#8 Receiving Lotsa Loves
Yes, unless you did not inform your loved ones that you are going to Turkey, otherwise, I’m sure the general concern and worry will be there. You will receive lots of loves from family and friends concerning about your well-being and safety. Maybe this is the time you will feel deeply loved.
This may also extend to people you meet in Turkey. When I travelled alone in Istanbul, met a few genuine locals and they were very kind towards me by sharing the tips to go around the city, places to avoid and telling me not to go to crowded clubs for time being. Though I already know the places to avoid in Istanbul during this period, but I really appreciate the care and concern I have been receiving from the Turkish people.
Current Situation In Istanbul, Turkey Is Recovering
Well, the situation in Turkey is obviously improving! With a strong will to restore law and order in the country, even with the support from Turkish opposition parties, to stand against the coup attempt. “The Turkish society went through a serious trauma. We need to return to normal urgently.’, said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Republican People’s Party in a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
This is also evident from my personal interaction with people who had already moved on and got back to normal life and routines. The short stay in Istanbul during this sensitive period was an amazing experience for me. I never once felt I was in danger in Istanbul. Unfortunately, there are some parts of Turkey, especially the South Eastern side near to the Syrian border which is still unsafe to travel. To travel the rest of the country, you just need the basic things to look out for, just like in any major cities around the world.
In this era, there are no absolute in the places we go. You can neither be more prepared nor complacent. If our fear and worries hinder us from travelling, we might have fallen to the ideology of the extremist, that is to live in fear, distress, distrust, separation, disharmony and opening up a path for them to disintegrate the unity of humankind.
With the power of social media and internet technology that connects the world, this inspired me to write this article. To share what I saw and experience in Turkey during their 3 months of the state of emergency through the first-hand experience and not through the media, which sometimes create a climate of unease. In my opinion, everyone deserves a second chance, and when a country meets their problems, we render our support or at least pray for the people and hope they find peace. Spreading negative rumours and making hurtful remarks against a recovering nation does not help ease the situation at all. You certainly do not want another Syria to happen, which of course they won’t because they have enough resource to avoid it.
What I truly respect about Turkey is that from the government level to the news and magazines on the streets, and to the locals, everyone is truthful and upfront about what has happened. The Turkish government and its citizens are committed to improving the situation. 15 July 2016 is a sad event, but the Turkish people fought hard and demonstrated their nationalism towards their country. With a clear mind of their goals and also challenges, with a determined and unified spirit from every individual, I believe Turkey will be able to regain its feet as before in the near future.
“Open your mind before you open your mouth” – Subroto Bagchi
Wanna find out more what are the things to do in Istanbul, Turkey? Click on my youtube channel to find out the fascinating ideas to do in this amazing city of EuroAsia! 🙂
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.