A Magical Bucket-List Experience in Turkey
Living in Hong Kong, we’re lucky to have so many beautiful destinations right on our doorstep. In fact, Hong Kong itself is one hell of a city, but every now and then I feel like stepping further afield, getting out there and discovering a country or a place that is not yet hit by tourism or selfie sticks (ed note: check out Sarah’s awe-inspiring travel blog here!). So last month I decided to go to a place unknown by many, a place saturated with hot air balloons every day of the year, a magical place in Turkey called Cappadocia. And it seemed I was the only one that knew about it!
I’ll admit, it’s no easy journey to get to Cappadocia, which actually made it even more attractive to me (I’m one of those ‘road less travelled’ kinda girls). The flight from Hong Kong to Istanbul is the breezy part (6 flights per week, 11h 10m duration) – it’s the flight from Istanbul to Kayseri that is the ‘exciting’ part of the journey. After missed flights, delays, airport hotels and A LOT of Turkish coffee, we arrived in Cappadocia to be greeted by a smiley hotel receptionist who stated “oh, you only arrived one day late, that’s early here”. After that sentence, all stress was dissolved and I opened my eyes to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Cappadocia is almost impossible to describe in words, but I’m going to give it my best shot!
Maybe you’ve seen those balloon photos before? Maybe you’ve seen the pictures of the hotels hidden in the caves? Maybe you’ve wondered what it’s actually like to be there? That was me, and it took me three years to get there from when I first found out about it and had it on top of my bucket list. When I eventually arrived, there was only one thing on my mind – getting up in the hot air balloon.
The balloons fly every day of the year (well, weather permitting) which, just like getting to Cappadocia, was very hit and miss. I was only there for three mornings (it was meant to be four but our flight was so delayed we missed a whole morning!) so my time was precious. It was still dark at 4am – our meeting time – and for a split second I considered not getting out of bed at all. However, armed with my GoPro, some coffee and a dream, I dragged myself into the van and got whisked away to the valleys.
Cappadocia is surrounded by ‘fairy chimneys’ – formation in the rocks caused millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions – these natural phenomenons look science fiction-like, creating a landscape that is continually described as ‘magical’ yet for me is something so much more than that. Take that landscape and add the rising morning sun, hundreds of balloons, the perfect breeze and what lies before you is a goosebump-making memory.
Through the window of the van, watching one balloon after another head up through the clouds, I anxiously waited for our turn to run to the balloon. Around 100 balloons go up every morning, in high season it can get up to 175, and when it comes to covering the sky with balloons, the more the better. The balloon company I chose (ButterFly Balloons) have smaller balloons, which equal fewer people inside, so I only had 8 other people to contend with for the perfect picture.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was so surprised to feel the wicker basket we were standing in slowing rise with the continual flow of hot air being thrown into the balloon. When we were hovering over the ground and slowing climbing up into the clouds over the fairy chimneys, a rush of pure ecstasy came over me. There really is no other feeling in the world than finally being a part of one of your dreams. We floated over scenes so spectacular, words would never do them justice… I remember trying to take in every single moment, praying it to stay in my memory forever.
We reached 3,000 feet, dizzy heights considering the only thing between us and the ground was a basket. Up there the world seemed like a different place. The sun was now below us and its rays beamed through the clouds, highlighting the 100 other balloons we also shared the sky with. It was a moment I never wanted to end, and I was so grateful I could catch it on camera.
Going down I wanted to stop time- those 40 minutes felt like 40 seconds and I wanted to remain in the hot air balloon all day! After the perfectly smooth landing, we were met with a surprise table full of champagne and strawberries. Having experienced something that amazing, we all deserved a glass of champagne (even though it was 7am!). Laughter and smiles filled the valleys of Cappadocia that morning, and I have no doubt that it does every morning.
With energy and emotions high, I suddenly felt the need to explore everything I had just seen from above on eye-level. So we grabbed some quad bikes and zoomed around the valleys all day. From Pigeon Valley – a valley full of chimneys that the pigeons now call home – to the Open Air Museum, a Unesco World Heritage Site full of painted cave-churches and hidden houses inside caves, there was just so much exploring to be done.
Throughout my five years of constant travel I have never been to such a beautiful place so protected from tourism. At points, my friend and I were the only tourists around. We reflected on how this probably wouldn’t be the case soon and enjoyed those moments that were only shared between us. I’ll have to admit though, one of the most enjoyable things to do in Cappadocia after exploring, was eating. Turkish cuisine is without a doubt my favourite in the world. A few years ago, I lived and worked in Turkey and had to leave purely just to stop myself from becoming obese… however, my return to Turkey this year brought back those fond feelings of eating feasts outside on balconies and there was no denying that I would pile on a few pounds again!
My last day had crept up on me, and there was just one last thing I had to do before I left. At 5am, just before the balloons were about to appear I ran up to a nearby hotel and climbed on to its rooftop. Perched on the edge was a Turkish rug, a spot with my name on it, and not another tourist in sight. I sat there and watched what was the most unbelievable sight my eyes have ever seen; hundreds of hot air balloons rose with the morning sun welcoming another day to the incredible land of Cappadocia. Quite frankly, the rest should only be described in pictures..
Flights: Turkish Airlines flies direct from Hong Kong to Istanbul six times a week. You will then need to get a connecting flight to Kayseri (there are 16 per day).
Where To Stay
I stayed in Aydınlı Cave House for 50 euros a night – this included a private room and an AMAZING Turkish breakfast buffet each morning.
Balloon rides cost 150 euros. There are many companies you can go with, but I recommend ButterFly Balloons as their balloons are smaller so you get a more private experience.
Turkey is one of my favourite countries in the world – for me, it can do no wrong – I have a crazy love affair with it. In my personal experience I have never felt unsafe or worried while spending time there. I have travelled there completely alone, as well as with friends over the years and fall for it more and more each time. While there have been recent bombing and terrorist attacks, I urge you not to let these unfortunate events (that happen worldwide) stop you from travelling to Turkey.
For more ideas on things to do in Turkey, check out Sarah’s ‘Top 10 Things to do in Cappadocia”.