Planning your own Turkey trip? Or to them, Turkiye, the country at the junction between East and West, known for its history, art and culture.
But most importantly, Turkey is also one of the few travel destinations Malaysians can go to that is not recording 6-figure daily Covid cases, doesn’t require quarantine upon arrival, and pretty affordable due to the Lira crisis caused by President Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies.
I mean, look at the exchange rate. The Lira went down from MYR1.20 per Lira in January 2017 to MYR0.26 per Lira at its lowest in December 2021. I feel somewhat bad about taking advantage of this as a tourist, knowing that many everyday Turkish citizen is in dire financial distress.
Because of this, I decided to not be super budget-conscious during my Turkey trip and contribute to their tourism industry. I spent RM10k in this trip which is not high, but not low either – while I still looked for value for money, I didn’t skimp or look for the cheapest possible options.
Look out for savings tips throughout this article for options to lower your costs, but consider this a mid-range budget for your own Turkey trip and adjust to your liking and finances.
I’ve divided this article into:
- Section 1: Travel from Turkey to Malaysia – Preparations before your Turkey trip
- Section 2: Travel from Malaysia to Turkey – Preparations before coming back
- Section 3: Our itinerary for Turkey
- Section 4: Budget breakdown
- Section 5: Things that are noticibly cheap due to exchange rate
Please note that all information here is accurate as of writing time, but can change anytime, as it often does in the pandemic 🙂
Section 1: Travel from Turkey to Malaysia – Preparations before your Turkey trip
There are 5 things you need to do before going to Turkey:
- Buy flight ticket
- Book hotel room(s)
- Do Home quarantine application
- Do PCR test
- Exchange money to Lira
Let’s go over them one by one, in the order you should do them:
1) Buy flight ticket – >2 weeks before so you can get travel insurance
Of course you have to buy a flight ticket. I was told anything below RM2k for return trip is a good price, and we got ours for RM1.7k each.
How soon should you buy? Honestly, I don’t know. I bought 2 months before and was constantly worried if Turkey would impose travel restrictions, causing travel cancellation. I also worried about getting Covid and having to cancel.
I don’t know if anyone has successfully claimed, but one way to reduce your risk is to get travel insurance with flight cancellation and pandemic cover. I didn’t know any insurance with that coverage until @afiqtion shared about it, so thank you for the info!
You can get the quotation here: https://www.axa.com.my/travel-and-personal-accident. Please share in the comments if you know any other travel insurance options with pandemic cover!
P/s- based on what I know, you have to get travel insurance at least 2 weeks before your trip to be eligible for coverage. Someone correct me if I’m wrong/inaccurate here
Savings tip #1: Shoutout to Pemburu Tiket Murah for the cheap flight info! They also shared one KUL-IST flight going for RM1.3k!
2) Book hotel room(s) – before you do HES code (next one)
Book your hotel rooms before you do the HES code, because you need the information to submit the application.
As for accommodation, everyone has their preferred hotel requirement and budget. Mine is:
- free cancellation (non-negotiable! Just in case trip get cancelled right),
- free breakfast,
- rated 9/10 and above, and
- near public transport (in Istanbul) and in city center (Goreme in Cappadocia)
If you book early enough, there are lots of great hotels at RM200-400/night range (for 2 pax) that fit the above requirements. Price of course varies depending on low/peak season (we went during winter – low season. Summer is peak season).
Savings tip #2: Don’t forget to use Shopback when you book your flight and/or hotel rooms from Agoda or Booking.com! Can get cashback. I will get back approx RM237 from hotel booking 🙂
3) HES Code – do 72 hours before leaving
The HES Code looks something like this:
HES Code is like Turkey’s version of contact tracing – you need it to get the IstanbulKart (to use public transportation in Istanbul) and to enter certain places, like the mall.
Register at https://register.health.gov.tr/ within 72 hours before your trip. They’ll email you a letter with a code and QR code like the above. It’s a good idea to print it out, but having a copy on your phone will do.
4) PCR Test – do 48/24 hours before leaving
Generally speaking, many airlines and destinations require a negative PCR test result within 2 days before you board the plane. Check with your flight company – we used Etihad and PCR test is a requirement (but I heard Qatar airlines no need – again, check latest update on their website).
If you have to do it, I suggest doing the test the day before, or on the travel day itself if you have a late flight. The reason I suggest that is because they might make changes on short notice. We met a guy at the airport who said the UK changed requirements suddenly and they need negative PCR test results 24 hours before, not 48 hours before. His group found out while they where checking in luggage and they had to re-do PCR test before allowed to board!
You can take the PCR test at KLIA airport before your flight. They have the 3-hour test and the 1-hour test options – more info at airport.doctor2u.my page. Yes, that’s the price. No, you don’t have any other choice (if you know of other options, let me know in the comments).
My recommendation is to go to the airport early. I don’t know how it’s usually like, but when I was there, they ran out of the 1-hour test so people had no choice but to take the 3-hour test. It also took us 1 hour just to be swabbed because they were short-staffed. We went to the airport 8 hours before flight time which was a bit of an overkill, but I don’t regret it.
5) Exchange money to Lira – do before you go
As you know, Turkey’s currency Lira isn’t doing too well. In October 2021, 1 Lira was MYR0.44, and by end of December 2021 it was around MYR0.30. Again, bad for them, but good for us.
After a traumatising BigPay incident during my Bali trip, I knew going traveling without local currencies is too risky for the Turkey trip. So I:
- Exchanged some MYR to Lira – you need some for airport taxi/shuttle, emergency etc
- Loaded up my BigPay card – for the great rates. Obligatory referral code: Get extra RM10 credit if you use my BigPay referral code – download the app here.
Combining both was a good decision – I get the assurance of having cash and also the advantage of better rates during our Turkey trip (the Lira went down even more when we were there).
Worth mentioning – in my experience, I had no problem using the BigPay card in Istanbul, but a few places in Cappadocia rejected the card (BigPay said it’s because those merchants didn’t accept prepaid card). So if you plan to go travel outside Istanbul, DEFINITELY bring cash just to be safe. You can also bring Euro because it’s widely accepted too and easy to exchange there.
The BigPay card was also very handy to buy food/drinks at Abu Dhabi airport, where we transited.
Savings tip #3: I’ve yet to find better rates than the money exchanger at Mid Valley, near Jaya Grocer. Change money from MYR to Lira there (or anywhere you like)
Savings tip #4: I don’t know if this was just my luck, but all the ATMs I tried to withdraw money from charged really high fees! It ranged from 6-9% in fees, ON TOP of BigPay’s RM10 ATM cash withdrawal fee. In the end I decided to not withdraw more cash and just use the BigPay card to make payments.
Savings tip #5: Abu Dhabi Airport closed all the water filter stations, so you have no choice but to buy water if you get thirsty. Get from the vending machines, not cafes. The former was AED2 while the latter marked it up to AED9! (You can pay with BigPay card)
Section 2: Travel from Turkey to Malaysia – Preparations before coming back
There are 2 things you need to do: Home quarantine application and PCR test. Let’s over them one by one, in the order you should do them:
1) Home quarantine application – do 4-10 days before coming home
Upon coming back, you have to self-isolate for 7 days. If you want to do home quarantine, then you have to submit the Home Quarantine application. Find the form at https://hso.moh.gov.my/outbreak-portal-hqa/index
Important: You have to submit the application 4-10 days before arrival. It takes some time to be approved, so remember to do this.
Savings tip #6: Unless you have to, do home quarantine instead of hotel quarantine. Hotel quarantine costs around RM250/night at your expense
2) PCR Test – do 48/24 hours before leaving
You also need a negative PCR test within 2 days before you board the plane to come home. For convenience, we booked the same-day PCR test in Istanbul from Klook (new users get RM15 off first booking through this link). It was affordable and straightforward, plus there’s an awesome grocery store right in front of the location too, I recommend it.
Section 3: Our Itinerary for Turkey
Aside from preparations in Sections 1 and 2, everything else is more or less the same as normal travel planning 🙂 All in all, we spent 8 days 7 nights in Turkey, divided into:
- 2 nights in Cappadocia (booked our Istanbul to Cappadocia (look for Kayseri) flight from Turkish Airlines), and
- 5 nights in Istanbul
Here are some pictures from our Turkey trip 🙂
We did KUL-IST-KAY-IST-KUL in that order, which was practical but admittedly exhausting. We also decided to save other locations (Antalya, Ephesus, Bursa, etc) for another Turkey trip in the future.
Our time was limited, but we managed to fit in a lot of activities in both places, including:
- Hot air balloon (usually 65-80 Euros per pax but we got for 108 Euro/RM513 for 2 pax)
- Red tour in Cappadocia (usually 40 Euros per pax but we got for 50 Euro/RM236 for 2 pax)
- Camel safari tour (usually 25 Euros per pax but we got for 32 Euro/RM153.90 for 2 pax)
- Sunset View Point (3 Lira entrance fee per person) (Sunrise View Point is nearby; same price)
What we’d do next time: Green tour, ATV ride
Savings tip #7: How to get cheaper tours and hot air balloon in Cappadocia – book from Airbnb Experiences and set price in MYR. For some reason, it is cheaper in MYR. I don’t know why it’s like that, but take advantage of it, why not.
- Free walking tour Istanbul (excellent tour. It’s a pay-what-you-want concept so be sure to give your guide a tip if you enjoyed)
- Bosphorus cruise tour (15 Euro, booked from guide)
- Visit the Asia side by Metro and ferry (use Istanbulkart)
- Visited one museum (Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum)
- A lot of exploring on our own in both the Historical Peninsula, European side and Asian side. It’s a very walkable city and very easy to navigate around, if a bit steep and hilly at some parts
What we’d do next time: Explore more museums and cisterns, Turkish dinner/dance, and eat more kumpir aka baked potatoes with toppings (must try!)
Savings tip #8: Having an Istanbulkart is very useful. It’s like Touch n Go and you can use it for the tram, ferry, metro and busses in Istanbul. The price is 13 Lira and you can top up at the blue/yellow machines (cash and card accepted). Remember to link it with HES Code first at https://kisisellestirme.istanbulkart.istanbul/ before using.
Even locals told me to avoid taxis due to horrible traffic and increased price (we avoided except to go to airport), so get your Istanbulkart as soon as possible – it’s sold at the airport (ask information counter) as well as the blue/yellow machines and kiosks around town. We were lucky that our hotel had exceptional customer service and helped us to both get the card at a nearby kiosk and registered it for us.
This video (and the whole channel) was quite useful:
Savings tip #9: Galata Tower is one of the main attractions in Istanbul. Instead of spending 100 Lira per person going up the Galata tower for the view, I suggest you find one of the rooftop cafes near the area and spend your money on coffee and cake. Even our guide recommended the same thing. We went to a place called Galata Konak Cafe and the view from there was great!
Section #4 – Budget breakdown
We spent under RM10k for 2 people for this 8 days 7 nights trip to Turkey, which I’m told is cheap 🙂 We got a good price for the flight and tours, and didn’t skimp too much on other categories (in fact we did a lot of shopping).
Making the budget was hard, because Lira was (is?) volatile and prices changed all the time. You’d think that EVERYTHING is cheap (and many things are, see Section 5), but the lot of tourists-targeted shops circumvented this by:
- (1) pegging their prices to Euro/USD (so you pay whatever is the equivalent to 10 Euro in Lira, for example) and/or
- (2) update their prices often (you’ll see stickers with new price on menus etc)
Here’s the budget breakdown for our Turkey trip. Prices are for 2 pax
|Flight KUL-IST-KUL||Under RM2000 each||RM3481 (both)|
|Flight IST-KAY-IST (to go Kayseri Airport)||RM300 each||RM589.72 (both)|
|Accommodation – Cappadocia (2 nights) 2-star hotel||RM600||RM547|
|Accommodation – Istanbul (5 nights) 3-star hotel||RM2000||RM2085|
|PCR Test – KLIA||RM250 each||RM600 (both)|
|PCR Test – Istanbul||RM200 each||RM213.38 (both)|
|Hot air balloon||65 Euro/ RM310 each||RM513.04 (both)|
|Red tour||40 Euro/ RM190 each||RM236 (both)|
|Camel safari||25 Euro/ RM120 each||RM153.90 (both)|
|Food* (22 meals each) + public transport + shopping + fun (we spent around RM500 on shopping and the rest on food + transport)||100 Lira per meal/ 2200 lira each||Used up all cash|
|Airport transfers – Cappadocia||70 Lira each per way||280 Lira|
|Airport transfers* – Istanbul (originally planned to use the Havaist bus but ended up using taxi)||35 Lira each per way||628 Lira (200 + 428)|
|Travel Insurance (should have gotten the Covid cover actually. That’s why cheap)||RM150 each||RM108.59 for both|
|Roaming (SIM card would be cheaper but I wanted convenience)||RM50||RM120|
|Cashback from Shopback||-RM237|
|TOTAL||up to RM12000||RM9880.02|
Savings tip #10: You can save money on airport transfer by taking the Havaist bus. Only 35 Lira per person from Airport to Sultahnamet (Historical peninsula), but it does take 90-120 minutes instead of 60~ minutes via taxi.
Savings tip #11: We ended up using taxi to/from airport as it was rainy season. You can get a taxi from the airport, Klook (new users get RM15 off first booking through this link) or hotel (compare the price, some worth it some not). Otherwise you can also download a taxi app and book from there (don’t book from the street, might get scammed), but we were too lazy to do that.
Section 5: Things that are noticeably cheap due to exchange rate
The final section is about spending, the most fun part! I’m just going to brain dump things that I noticed were cheap due to the exchange rate.
- Turkish food at touristy locations can range from 50-100+ Liras per person (RM15-30), which is very affordable. At normal restaurants that locals go to, you can get a decent meal for around 30-60 Liras per person (RM9-18). To save even more, there’s Simit (their version of bagel) from the bread carts – just 3.5 Liras (RM1) and very filling!
- International food chains like McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, etc. A set meal is around RM9 and a Grande drink costs the equivalent of RM5.
- Clothes from fast fashion brands like LC Waikiki, De Facto, Colins – the equivalent to RM20 for tops to RM50 for jeans and dresses
- Items from grocery stores like Migros, BIM and Carrefour. I bought a lot of teas and soup mixes 🙂
- Typical souveniers like keychains, pouches etc – from 5 Liras (RM1.50)
Note: I’m using 1 Lira = MYR0.30. The exchange will probably change again by the time you go – maybe it’ll be in your favour, maybe not, who knows.
One more thing – expect prices in Lira to increase because inflation is VERY high in Turkey – in December 2021, The Turkish Statistical Institute announced 36% annual inflation (!!! normal inflation is around 2%!).
Regardless, it’s still a value for money destination for tourists, and I totally recommend Turkey as a destination. Plus, the dogs and cats are delightful – it was fun spotting them on the streets and in the unlikeliest places 🙂
With that, I’m wrapping up my Turkey travel breakdown, which includes travel planning, budget and my Turkey travel itinerary. Hopefully this helps you plan your own Turkey trip 🙂 If this article helps, please share it among friends and family and social media, I would appreciate that a lot, thanks!