The Touristy Sultanahmet

This will be my last blog post while I’m on the move. The next time you see me post again will be in the comforts of home. I’m leaving Istanbul in about 6 hours from now…


Before we start… has anyone of you watched/read Narnia? What I’d like to know is whether Aslan is purely a movie/book character, or if there is a real religious or mythical Aslan out there? Because…

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If you have not watched/read Narnia, please ignore my question. Okay, let’s begin…

Super Expensive Lunch

Yesterday’s agenda was mainly to catch up on the places to visit within the Sultanahmet area: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Basilica Cistern. Took me 7 hours to cover these four places, so you can forgive me for having no choice but to have yet another expensive meal in this giant tourist trap.

This time I went into a self service “zhap fan” restaurant that looked somewhat similar to what I had in Taksim last week. Even the dishes I took were somewhat similar. I paid 23 TL last week for 3 dishes and a pilaf rice. So I expected below to be anywhere between 30-35 TL.

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Spinach, Lamb goulash, Mashed potato with thin meat patty

Guess how far off the mark I was? Bear in mind these are all small dishes, the same size as what I had last week.

I had to pay 56 TL for these and a small bottle of limonata (lemonade)! And the best part is the food were very tasty. By “very tasty” I mean “overloaded with MSG”. I can totally understand if this restaurant is somehow rated on TripAdvisor as one of the best restaurant in the area. Unfortunately I was too pissed to even take note of the restaurant’s name to do a cross check.

Less Expensive Dinner

I got those tourist attractions covered, then hopped onto the tram to get back to Taksim, to Istiklal to get some shopping done (okay, just to buy a couple more pair of Mavi jeans because I love them so much now). Then I rushed back to my hotel and managed to successfully evade the danger zone and make it back by 6 PM.

So for dinner, I went back to the same place where I had dinner when I arrived a couple days ago. It was just 50 yards from the hotel and did not require me to head back to danger zone. Also, the price there was less expensive compared those restaurants closer to the main stretch, and the food was acceptably decent.

The owner recognized me and went “Hey! My friend! You are back! You love my food? Come come!”.

I told him it was my last night in Istanbul and ordered a plate of mixed kebab. After a little wait, my food was served.

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Mixed kebab

I don’t know if this is normal, but the picture in the menu did not look this impressive and overflowing with food. I guess telling him of my last night in Istanbul actually worked in my favor. Just beneath the pita bread pieces was an overflowing pile of onion salad and purple cabbage salad. This plate of mixed kebab, plus a cup of apple tea on the house costs 30 TL.

Actually the owner isn’t even the cook. An old woman (I presume his mother) was helming the kitchen. The owner mainly sits around chatting people up and goes outside to lure potential customers in. And while eating, I even saw workers from neighboring shops come in to place bets with him on Fenerbahce match and Valencia match. I’m not sure which one’s his side business, the restaurant or the betting. But heck, the food is pretty decent, so…

Now, I’d like to tell you what this restaurant is called, or where it is exactly located in, but I can’t. This restaurant has no names, and because I was just walking without Google Map’s aid, I did not know exactly which corner this was. All I know is that this restaurant is on a corner lot of one of those rows of shops/buildings just opposite the Arasta Bazaar.

Danger Zone

Okay, I probably exaggerated by calling this place danger zone. You won’t die here, probably. It’s probably more like, pesky zone or nuisance zone.

First, let me show you a crudely edited snippet from Google Map.

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Those blue words indicate the places of interest which you will most likely want to visit in the Sultanahmet area, and the tram station. The area within the green box, is where most of the cheap/budget hotels and AirBnb properties are located in. The area within the red box, that’s the danger zone I’m talking about.

You see, because most solo travelers and some gullible couple travelers would stay in one of those hotels in the green area, you will have to cut across the red area one way or another to get back to your hotels, either by getting off the tram at the 2 tram station, or by walking across the public park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Now in the day, when the museums and mosque are open, there would be police patrolling the area, so you are relatively safe.

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But… these tourist attractions close their doors for the public by 5 or 6 PM. And the police would leave by then. This is when a lot of those people which I would call 蛇仔明 (Snakey Ming) would suddenly pop up and loiter around the area.

What they would do is identify their targets, like I mentioned usually solo travelers or gullible couple travelers, and then they would walk up to you and start to chat you up. They dress up just like tourists do, so sometimes it is hard for you to tell them apart from the real tourists. In fact, there’s one bugger who hangs around the Sultanahmet tram station wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase and having a name tag going around telling people he is an Information Manager.

So far, the standard mode of operation that I’ve encountered is: they ask where you’re from, then ask you for help to take a picture of them, then wants to buy you a beer as thanks. I don’t know what happens next because the few times I’ve been tricked to help them, I backed off the moment “Come I buy you a beer” is uttered and bailed at the speed of light. I suspect they will probably bring you to a pub and make you order expensive wine and then let you pay or something like that.

That Information Manager though, he will target those lugging around their big luggages. He will give you directions, then ask if you have booked any tours, then try to lead you to his travel agency to book 100€ tours (which you can get elsewhere for 60 TL). I was led all the way into his shop before I realized what type of Information Manager he actually was, but I was able to get out by claiming I have already done all those tours and was just meeting my friend.

Usually it is easy to shrug them off and keep walking. But some of them are aggressive. They would grab onto you and go “Hey! Why are you so rude? I just want to make friends!“, and when you try to fabricate a lie by saying you are going back to your wife/friend, they would follow up by asking “Where? Where’s your friend/wife? Come, come drink with me!

The straw that broke my camel’s back was when I encountered one such fucker who grabbed onto me, then after I glared at him and twisted him off, followed me all the way back to my hotel before he fucked off. That was when I decided that I will NEVER stay in this area again if I ever visit Istanbul again. I’ll stick to Taksim and the Beyoglu area, where I was able to walk in the most crowded street for 2 consecutive nights without anyone harassing me…

I’m not telling you to boycott this area like me, because there are some pros too, mainly how close it is to most of the famous palaces and museums. Just… Practice rigid precautions at all times, especially night time..

28 Comments

  1. Your plate of mixed kebab was so huge, enough to feed 3 persons and you ate all. Walau eh!

    I always bumped into these nasty people in the remote areas of China who would harass me non stop to take their sight seeing packages too. Some male touts even followed me into the men’s toilets and continued haggling. There was no escape for me! Wakakaka

  2. That plate of Kebab looks so delicious and I need swallow my own saliva by looking at the plate. If I go Istanbul, I will follow tour better, not so dangerous exploring the place, right?

    • Yeah but tour is really expensive. I think a better way to do it is to book into your own hotel (so you can find a really suitable location for yourself), then book the local tours when you get there. Probably cheaper than booking the whole tour package from Malaysia. Also, if you book a tour from here, you will probably get Chinese meals included in the package. Unless that’s what you want.

      I’m (still) young and I want to go at my own pace leisurely, so I went solo wanderer mode. 🙄

      • LOL… I am not so young but would prefer to travel on my own and take risks! Tours are never good for me when they force me to spend hours at the souvenir factories!

        • Have you tried taking tours in non-China places? I think only tours to China, or Chinese people operated tours will bring you to souvenir factories. Usually other tour guides will not be so unethical to take your money and still aim for commission from the shops…

  3. That is really a big plate for dinner. Like a local already in the area after a short time 🙄

    Not exactly a happy ending to this post. And it makes me not want to stay in that area if I do solo travels to Istanbul. Well, unless someone can be my temporary husband who tags along then I will reconsider 🙄

    It sounded like you thought the Information Manager was very genuine. People must be watching when the other guy latched on to you. The nerve and good that you shook him off like a boss.

    • LOL! I’m actually not too looking forward to going back there, so if you are really interested, it will have to be someone else. Actually, now that I’ve done UK/Europe, US, Japan, and I’m actually not interested with Africa, my next target is probably the Oz. And somewhere in South America (presumably Brazil). Who knows how many more years it will take for me to get my sorry ass over to both places. 🙄

      I really thought that manager dude was for real, all the way till when I set foot inside his tour agency. Lucky that I was cheap and knew immediately 100€ half day cruises are somewhat fraud…

      I doubt many people would be looking at us. It is probably normal to see those touts in action in that area… 🙄

      • In all honesty, Istanbul has never piqued my interest. But I could always use a temporary husband on trips because I really have lots of problem carrying my own luggage 🙄

        Come, come to Oz. But I would have no clue why you’d come. I’m sure we’ll chat about that in due time 😀

        You are so gullible, CL. Not that that is a bad thing. Thankfully the manager was a one-man show and didn’t have anyone else with him staring you down.

        • What? I’d go because I want to see the place for myself! That’s why we travel! When I go, I’m counting on a free tour guide if I pick Melbourne.. 😀

          Well, I’d like to think I’m not that gullible. At least I was able to get out without spending a dime. 🙄

          • Do not count on me to be a food tour guide if you come to Melbourne. Food and me, no… 🙄

            A lot of the time it is an achievement if you walk out of a shop without spending anything 🙄

  4. Since no one comment on the name Aslan, I looked it up and found out that “Aslan” is turkish word for Lion lah. Narnia just uses it. Like I am going to use the name “Shizi” as the name for my Lion King character in the book that I am going to write in my dream.

    No name restaurants just mean no english name, right? Their turkish names are there but you don’t know how to read them, is it?

    • Hahaha I didn’t know that. Good to know that Aslan really means Lion! 😀

      No, really no name. There was no signage or anything on the shop. Even the menu poster placed outside did not carry any restaurant name.

  5. Your “last night meal” in Istanbul is so huge.. can finish all on the plate? Looks appealing to me though, the chunks of meat and some greens will do for me.. hahahaha… About the danger zone, that sounds kind of scary, if they can disturb as a guy, we ladies will be more vulnerable, right… hmmmm….

    • So far I don’t think they are malicious in the sense that they might mug or hurt you. I guess most of them just wants to lure you to their shop to spend. If you move in a group, they will probably be deterred to make a move on you all..

  6. Thanks for the warning but I don’t think I will go to visit istanbul as there are other places I prefer to visit and my travel funds are finite.

    I wonder what that guy hope to achieve by following you all the way back to your hotel?

  7. Thanks for alerting about the danger zone…A tourist wouldn’t know about such place unless being alerted by locals. I guess that area is tout’s heaven by evening or so.

    • The Snakey Mings here quite sophisticated I would say. They really dress up like tourists, and carry iPhones or Samsung Notes. If you are not careful, will really talk to them a lot and get led away…

  8. probably that mixed kebab platter was a 加料 one specially for you, i remember the one you had before look a lot more skimpy, now this one looks good and very stuffing!! hahaha.. and thank you so much for the heads-up on the danger zone, i guess this is rather common and we should always be extra careful..

    • I wonder if KL is also like that with all those Snakey Ming… Maybe because I’m a local in KL, I never kena…

      • Kl I don’t know but I know beijing the touts are also quite aggressive but still didn’t lay hands on me when I was alone. Klia taxi touts are not that aggressive, they just ask only.

        • The taxi in KLIA and Istanbul airport are pretty much the same then. In fact Istanbul taxis are generally aggresive regardless of area. They will just toot their horns and sometimes stop in the middle of the road to call out to you >.< ...

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