Middle East FAQ thread
Replies: 54 - Last Post: Mar 28, 2013 6:21 AM Last Post By: Shuffaluff
Jan 23, 2004 10:32 AM
Middle East FAQ threadThe countries covered by this FAQ are: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel & the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.
Please read this thread first if this is your first visit to the Middle East. There is some travel information about the pages.
If you don't find the information you are looking for in the FAQs, please start a new thread outside the FAQ thread - don't add your question to this thread.
Visa information. There is currently a travel warning for certain parts of the Middle East, including: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia,affecting most Western travellers. Please check the latest updates from your Foreign Affairs Office, here's a quick list of links about visas and travel:
We do not endorse the use of any non-government service offering visa assistance. Any member who is perceived to be touting about a non-government visa service will receive a warning and could be banned.
Please read the Community Guidelines for more info on the rules of conduct.
All links updated as of March 2012
Edited by: katija
Jan 23, 2004 10:47 AM
1Is there a ferry between Greece and Turkey?;
During the high season-usually from May till October,there are 2 regular ferry services between these Greek Islands and Turkish towns,one Ferry company is Greek the other one is Turkish.Departure times change frequently but it is safe to say that ferries usually depart Turkish towns in the morning and Greek Islands in the afternoons...From the Turkish end-if you want to go to Greece with the ferry you are required to check with the company one day in advance(formalities).
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jan 23, 2004 11:10 AM
2Are there any other ferries to the Middle East on the Mediterranean side? :
None, except the above-mentioned Turkey-Greece links, and Turkey-Northern Cyprus.
There are no ferries to Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Southern Cyprus.
Added by anna22:
Cruise Cyprus is a great resource. Boats from Cyprus to some ME destinations.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jan 23, 2004 3:17 PM
3What do I need to know about money in Iran?
No foreign credit cards and no foreign traveller cheques are accepted anywhere in Iran. Your only option is to bring all the money you will need in cash (plus a safety margin).
There are iranian traveller cheques, but their use seems to be tedious; they can only be changed in the bank that emitted them. Sometimes you can find a carpet seller or someone like that who is willing to accept your credt card, because he has some connections abroad, but that's rare, don't count on it.
Black market doesn't have better rates than the banks, so play it safe.
You're worried about carrying a big amount of cash? Well, Iran is very safe, petty crimes are rare. Of course, this doesn't mean you don't have to follow the usual precautions: when you're moving, keep your money in separated places; use a money belt; keep one or two 100€ or 100$ notes in a very secret place in the clothes; leave your cash in the hotel safe, count with the clerk how much you leave, write the sum on the enveloppe and seal it, and count again when you take it back. Watch out for pickpockets and bags grabbers on motorcycles when walking in the streets of the big cities.
You can bring either euros or dollars, they are equally accepted. Pound sterling is reported to be accepted also.
The highest note is 50 000 rials (~ €4 / $5 at October 2009); Keep that in mind when you're deciding on how much money you want to change.
Be careful that even though the official currency is the rial, people usually talk in tomans (1 toman = 10 rials).
More practical information about money in Iran
Edited by: katija
Jan 24, 2004 2:48 AM
4Is the weather nice in XXX in the second week of XXX?
Weather in Turkey (or any where else in the Middle East).
Try http://www.wunderground.com/global/TU.html (that's the TK site, but you can start there.)
Along with Yahoo weather (another great site) it is possible to find out the historical temperature for any given date, at any location, over the past 6-10 years. There are also monthly/yearly averages, so you will never be embarrassed by asking questions like "Is Istanbul cold in January", or I'd like to visit Antalya in August, how warm does it get?", "Can I go swimming in Bodrum in October?", "Can I ride my bicycle in Cappadocia in February?"
You can also calculate the odds of finding perfect weather at a time and place, when others are saying "forget it!". Sometimes the gods do smile....
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jan 26, 2004 6:01 AM
5The Israeli Passport Stamp. What's the issue here?
Added by arjanv:
Some countries will deny you entry if you have a stamp of Israel in your passport. In the ME they are: Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. There are reports, according to the latest ME LP, that some people have had no problem after having visited Israel. But don't count on it. Oman denies entry to Israeli nationals.
Israeli border guards didn't stamped my passport can I now go to Syria overland?
No, because the Syrians will be able to tell that you have been in Israel by the entry stamp you got at the Jordanian border crossing.
Can I travel to Israel and Syria overland using two passports?
No, because then you'll have one passport with an entry stamp from Jordan and one with an exit stamp in your other passport?! Of course the Syrians will notice that and it is also the question of whether Jordan will stamp a passport (your second one) which hasn't got the Jordanian visa.
Now I've got it! I'll get a new passport in Jordan!!
Don't you think the Syrians will find it strange that everybody loses his or her passport in Jordan? Don't forget that the Syrian border guards are allowed to search your bag, looking for proof (money, hotel bill, etc) to check if you have been in Israel.
If you want to do a grand tour through the ME (particularly with a single passport), the only route overland is from the North to the south, if you want to conclude Israel in it.
Added by alanR:
To ensure that you don't get turned back at the Lebanese/Syrian border, your passport must have the correct entry/exit stamps for the route you claim to have travelled. Any gaps in the passport might get you turned back. As an example on how to stay 'legal': You fly to Cairo, so your passport shows that you entered the ME at Cairo. In order for you to go to Jordan, you'll have to take the ferry between Nuweiba & Aqaba or fly to Amman, ensuring you get the correct set of exit/entry stamps on the way.
Added by sashisha:
There is a way to go from Jordan to Israel and then go to Lebanon, Syria, etc. afterwards. When coming from Jordan you have to leave Jordan over the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge. Jordanian officers won't stamp your passport because the West Bank is still officially disputed territory between the two nations. Then at the Israeli border you ask the Israeli officers not to stamp your passport. Same goes for the way back. This only works at the King Hussein Bridge! You can never be completely sure, sometimes Israeli officials will stamp your passport, but most of the time they won't.
Added by fordy40:
I can confirm that you don't get any evidence in your passport when entering and then leaving Israel by the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge. In fact one guy I was with wanted an exit stamp and the Jordanians wouldn't give it it to him.
Added by george5:
Kuwait may also deny entry to passport holders with Israeli stamps (contributed April 2009).
Thanks to the following posters for contributing on this topic: arjanv, alanR, sashisha, hlannah, dustyboots2, fordy40, george5.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jan 26, 2004 6:05 AM
6When is that train going to leave?
Firstly, have a look at Seat61:
Added by Joso:
For the Iranian train company Raja trains with local and international timetables and fares
For Tehran specifically.
Added by a1:
A new rail line has just been inaugurated between Ben Gurion International Airport and Tel Aviv (serving all other coastal cities as well).
Edited by: katija
Jan 26, 2004 8:56 AM
7What is there to do in the United Arab Emirates?
You´ll find lots of information about the UAE on Definitely Dubai
For questions about visas for the UAE check UAE interact
Ever wondered about the Palm Island Project in the UAE?
Read more about the tallest building in the world, the Burj Dubai.
Ever thought about giving yourself a treat? Check out the Burj Al Arab.
Interested in horse racing? Check Emirates Racing.
Check out some of the best golf clubs in the world on Dubai Golf.
What is there to do in Oman?
Public transportation in Oman
Thinking about diving in Oman? Check out Oman Dive Center. You can also get accommodation.
The Al Bustan is one of the best hotels in the Gulf and has a dramatic setting on the cost, just outside Muscat.
Edited by: katija
Jan 26, 2004 2:35 PM
8How do I get from Ataturk Airport (Istanbul) to the city?
1. Ataturk Airport to Sultanahmet between 6.00 and 24.00
Look for the Light Rail signs in the terminal, buy at least 2 tokens per traveller, get into the train to Aksaray, then get off at Zeytinburnu and transfer to the Tramway, direction Eminonu. Get off at the stop ''Sultanahmet/Blue Mosque''.
2. Ataturk Airport to anywhere after midnight (Sultanahmet)
Taxi, no other options.
3. Ataturk Airport to Taksim between 6.00 and 23.00
Take the Havasbus in front of the Terminal
4. Sabiha Gokcen to Taksim
Look for the Heas bus to Taksim, most flights should have a connecting bus to the city (or Kadikoy), from Taksim to Sultanahmet there is a bus T4. After about 19.00 that bus stops running and the only way to get to SA then is either a one hour walk or a taxi.
As for staying at the airports at night; Ataturk is quite decent and has relatively comfortable seats. Sabiha Gokcen is an airport that is much more basic and not really a place to dwell more than the absolute minimum. Prices at both are extortionist.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jan 27, 2004 2:34 AM
Jan 27, 2004 12:45 PM
10How much is the actual exchange rate in...?
The XE-Currency-Converter has all the currencies in the world.
Edited by: katija
Jan 29, 2004 3:23 PM
11Can I get a visa for Saudi Arabia?
The answer is almost certainly "No" unless:
- You are a Muslim who wants to perform pilgrimage (arrange this with your local mosque first)
- You are employed by a Saudi company, in which case it's their job to arrange the visa for you
- You are the first degree relative of someone who has residency in the Kingdom
- You are a professional person invited by a Saudi
- You are a male, a married woman, or a single woman over 40 who is willing to sign up for a very expensive and regimented tour
- You can somehow manage to convince the Saudis that you have no option oother than to transit the Kingdom (unlikely)
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule,and, very occasionally, you will hear of someone who gets a Saudi visa without fulfilling any of the above conditions. You can always try, and things in KSA are changing quite quickly but don't expect too much unless you fit into one of the above categories.
Feb 6, 2004 5:52 PM
12The MalibuStacy FAQ for Women Travellers in the Middle East!
Here is my humble - and very general - guide, based on my own experience of travel in the region, from Saudi Arabia to Syria to Turkey ... and elsewhere. Having been a solo woman traveller myself, I understand the anxieties expressed by many on this board. Fortunately, however, I also understand that most of these fears are unfounded.
Bear in mind that there is much of the ME that I have never been to, and that the advice below is based only on my personal experiences. Therefore, please feel free to add to, contradict, or debate anything I have said. All in the name of well-informed travel!
Will I be safe?
Nowhere is 100% safe. However, the ME in general is not a dangerous place for the traveller, and, while petty crime can be an issue, random violent crime against women seems to be very rare - probably much rarer than in most Western cities.
Will I get hassled?
Quite possibly. While you need have no particular worries about personal security, sexual harrassment can be a problem. Reports of hassle vary widely, but it seems to be at its worst in parts of Egypt and Turkey, much more low-key in Jordan. Everywhere you go, you can expect to be the object of great attention and curiosity, and may well have to deal with a few incidences of being followed or prepositioned. However, it should get no worse than that.
But what if it does?
As anywhere in the world, the best response to harrassment is no response. Remember that it is most certainly NOT acceptable for a man to harass a woman anywhere in the ME. Therefore, if you do feel that a situation is getting out of hand, by all means elicit the support of those around you (this is another area where modest dress will help you win friends and influence people!) No need to shout or scream - just calmly point out the offender to some bystanders, and it is very likely they will put him in his place. In societies where notions of 'shame' and 'honour' are paramount, public disgrace can be a potent weapon: use it!
How can I avoid hassle?
The first priority is to dress reasonably (see below). However, even if you're wearing a Saudi style abaya, it won't help much unless you also behave appropriately. On the street, do as local women do and try not to make any eye contact with men. Sunglasses can be a great help here. In your interactions with men (and most of the people you deal with will be men) be polite but reserved. Never volunteer the information that you are travelling alone: if asked, say you are with friends or a group, though you may not be believed.
Be especially careful not to smile or giggle too much - what seems to you to be an 'innocent' smile might well be misconstrued as a sexual invitation. Try to keep conversations 'business-like', and do NOT allow yourself to be steered towards matters of a more personal nature. Never EVER allow a man to touch you: while Arabs may be quite tactile with members of the same sex, it is absolutely not on for a man to touch an unrelated woman, even 'accidentally'. If a man touches you, however 'innocently', let him know in no uncertain terms that you consider his behaviour inappropriate, and extricate yourself from the situation asap.
This need for caution is a pity, because in countries where the public sphere tends to be male-dominated, men may be your only point of contact with the local culture. It needs to be pointed out, of course, that by no stretch of the imagination do all - or even most - local men have 'dishonourable intentions' towards you. Those dealing with tourists, should, in addition, be aware that just because a woman may be willing to chat to a man does not (neccessarily) mean she is also willing to sleep with him! Also, throughout the ME, people are naturally friendly and talkative, loving nothing better than to pass the time chatting with foreigners. In general, however, it pays for solo women to err on the side of caution.
What should I wear?
The No. 1 question from women travellers on this board! Unless you're going to Iran or Saudi Arabia, you are in fact free to wear whatever you wish - and many travellers do just that. In touristy parts of Egypt, the UAE, and Turkey, you will see plenty of foreign women dressed in skimpy shorts and sleevless tops, and, in many places you will also see some local ladies dressed less than 'modestly'. Outside of the above mentioned countries, nobody is going to arrest you for showing too much flesh, but you might like to consider the impression you are making. While modest dress will not in itself guarantee you won't be hassled, it will at least reduce the chances that you will be seen as a 'foreign floozy' by all and sundry.
So, what's a gal to wear? No need for the 'hippy look': you will notice how many Arab women manage to dress both modestly and stylishly at the same time. Local women pay a lot of attention to their appearance: often you will see women so fashionably dressed that it barely registers that they are in fact covered from head to toe! T-shirts or blouses which extend at least to the elbow are fine, as are loose skirts or trousers (preferably full-length but at least knee-length). If your trousers are a little on the tight side, take a tip from local women and wear a long blouse or jacket which covers the behind. High heels are acceptable, but not terribly practical!
Do I need to cover my head?
All women are expected to cover their heads when entering mosques. However, with the exception (again!) of Iran and Saudi Arabia, foreign women - and local women, for that matter - are under no obligation whatsoever to wear a headscarf. In fact, unless you are a Muslim and are used to the headscarf, covering your head is likely to make you the object of more, not less, attention. While some people might appreciate your desire to 'show respect for local customs' the majority are more likely to see the gesture as rather eccentric, particularly as many local Muslim women have never worn a headscarf in their lives!
I've got long blonde hair. Should I dye it/ cover it/ chop it off?
Another TTME classic! In parts of the ME - such as Syria or Turkey - it's not unusual to come across locals with fair hair and blue eyes. Also, many Middle Eastern women dye their hair all shades of blonde or red. While it's true that blondes stand out from a crowd, your hair colour is not likely to be an issue in itself: foeign women (such as myself!) who have dark hair and dress modestly are still instantly recognised as foreigners. Whatever your hair colour or style of dress, as a solo woman traveller you are sure to attract a certain amount of attention.
I plan to travel alone. What will people think of this?
In ultra-conservative countries like Saudi Arabia, no respectable woman would make even the most routine trip without an escort. Things are not so extreme in the rest of the ME, but it is still unusual for women to undertake even short journeys unaccompanied. Arabs tend to be very sociable people who find it hard to understand why anyone - particularly a woman - would actually choose to travel alone. It's not that they disapprove of what you're doing, it's just that they find it distinctly odd! Rather than tut-tut at you, they are much more likely to pity you, alone in the big bad world without a man to protect you! Which brings us on to...
If people ask if I'm married (I'm not) what should I say?
"Are you married?" is invariably the first question any woman over the age of 18 gets asked in the Middle East! Although things are changing, in most parts of the Arab world, all but the most sophisticated women marry early - usually in their early 20s, but often in their late teens. While many Middle Easterners know that social norms are different in the West, they still find it very strange to meet a woman over the age of 25 or so who seems happy to remain single. Once again, it's not that they disapprove of you, more that they pity you!
Rather than deal with all this bafflement and unwanted pity, many women invent a hubby who is "resting back at the hotel"! Which, of course, will lead onto the inevitable follow-up questions: "Do you have children? No? Why not?" (try responding to their concern with "Insh'allah" "God willing") Some women go so far as to get a cheap gold band or even produce photos of their 'husband' to add credence to their claims of being lawfully wed.
To lie or not to lie? It all comes down to a personal choice. As well as fobbing off unwanted pity, some women say that a fictitious hubby scares off would-be suitors, though others say that men in more touristy areas are 'wise' to the scam and will not take your 'married' claims seriously.
I'm travelling with a male friend. Should I lie and say he's my husband or brother?
Again, entirely up to you. Many more traditional Middle Easterners aren't familiar with the concept of 'platonic friendships' between men and women, nor do they have 'boyfriends' or 'girlfriends' in anything approaching the Western sense. If you are dealing with people like this, you might find it more diplomatic to lie about your relationship with your travelling companion: it's not that the truth will get you into trouble, just that a little white lie might make things less complicated. However, younger, more sophisticated Middle Easterners will have no problem with the idea of your travelling with an unrelated man, and there is no need to invent any 'wedding bells' in this company!
Added by camelicious (December 2008):
Re: I'm travelling with a male friend. Should I lie and say he's my husband or brother?
If you are travelling with a non-Western male friend, you have to tread extremely carefully - you will be turned away from hotels who tell you they are full, when they are actually half-empty and you will quite possibly be treated as if you are a prostitute. Sometimes you can take 2 rooms and if the hotel is a bit more liberal they will turn a blind eye; other times, you will have what is almost an armed guard on your door who will prevent you even talking to each other. Just be careful!
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 10, 2004 7:51 AM
13How do I get from Cairo to Aqaba overland?
Take a taxi from anywhere in Cairo (make sure to bargain well) to El-Torgoman bus station (between Ramses & Tahrir square) take the midnight bus to Nuweiba; no need for pre-booking unless it is national vacation.
You will reach Nuweiba around 06:00, next to the bus station you will find a traditional café where you can have your breakfast and a good cup of Turkish coffee.
Cross the street and buy yourself a ticket for the ferry, make sure to go for the speedy one, costs 90 EGP (for Egyptians, don't know the price for tourists, but you can assume the double), it should leave at noon and they will tell you that it takes one and half hour, in reality it would leave at around 13:00 and it reaches Aqaba at around 18:00.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 11, 2004 12:35 AM
(4 star Hotel)
From US$232.32 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$64.90 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$123.03 per night