East Turkey Adventures On The Road – 10 Driving Tips For A Road Trip

“Have you brought your driving license?”
“Yeah, why?”
“Good. We’re going on a road trip. You’re driving.”

We’d just got off the bus from Erzurum, which was immediately preceded by 20 hours or so on the Doğu Express train from Ankara. Time delays meant we’d decided to stay with our friend for just a couple of days…and now, here we were in the middle of a situation; a planned overnight road trip that was starting in a couple of days. Our east Turkey experience was obviously going to be something we would need to play by ear. A return to Fethiye could wait for now…

Patnos Dam, Ağrı, Turkey

Introduction to car hire

Lesson 1 – Car Hire The East Turkey Way
You take things as they are around here. Car hire involved sitting down to drink çay, smoke cigarettes in the hire office (we don’t smoke so our friend did that bit for us), having a chat – for quite some time – and insistence in taking the foreign guests (us) to the local dam. The car was expertly delivered to the front of the office by a not very tall 11 year old – and off we all went to the dam. Three of us in a car with a stranger, heading to a remote spot. Everything you’re brought up not to do in the UK. He even stopped to buy us sweets!

We stood on the shores of the dam for a while, munching on goodies, listening to our ‘guide’ tell us about the area; how it’s farmed, how there’s a village submerged under the water of the dam, how the livestock are kept and fed through the harsh winter – and then it was back to the office to sign a piece of paper and that was it; the car was ours. “Bring it back when you’re ready.”

Lesson 2 – The Car
Your car might not be what you expect. They take a bit of a beating in these parts. A very cracked windscreen, no rear view mirror (later found in the glove compartment), a dodgy noise whenever we turned right, one and a half headlights – vehicles are servants rather than posing machines in east Turkey.

East Turkey Travel By Car

Typical road scene in East Turkey

Lesson 3 – The Main Roads In East Turkey
I love driving and, if you’re the same, the roads around this part of Turkey are a driver’s dream. The only jam you’re likely to hit is having to stop, sometimes quite suddenly, to let a few hundred sheep wander across the road. Don’t worry about the multitude of potholes; you soon become a master of the giant slalom – and because the roads are so empty, you can drive on the opposite side of the road when the potholes become space craters. Even with the potholes, we were able to keep a speed of between 90-120 kph – you can cover a lot of ground and the scenery is blissful.

Lesson 4 – Be Careful Where You Do Your Overnight Parking
Remember our visit to Anıtkabir? That visit had happened a couple of days before, and the place was packed because of the build up to Gençlik Bayramı (Festival of the Youth). Our friends are teachers and had a long weekend because of the festival, hence the road trip. We parked in the centre of a town and decided to leave the car there overnight…except in this town, the car park is also the town square, scene of the Gençlik Bayramı activities planned for the day after. Car towed away!

The following morning was spent at the local police station – all very chatty and friendly, what with us being foreign guests and all. “Oh, if you’re heading that way, don’t miss…” Travel tips from the policeman, papers signed, handshakes, monies paid, off to the pound to get the car and we were back on the road again.

Spring Flowers, East Turkey

Spring flowers in East Turkey

Lesson 5 – Do Stop To Take Photos Of The Scenery
We were driving in convoy with another car. We were happy and relieved to have the car returned and be back on the road again – and even more happy when this was the sight that greeted us on the way out of town.

Van Gölü - Lake Van, East Turkey

Road trip sunset – Van Gölü

Lesson 6 – Do Stop To Take Photos Of The Scenery
Yes, you can keep up a good speed but really, the journey from A to B is just as beautiful (if not more so) than A and B. This is the sunset looking back over Tatvan and Lake Van as we headed back towards Erciş and Patnos. We just had to pull over to take photos again. So that’s why both Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 are the same…to remind you how important it is to take lots of photos on a road trip in East Turkey!

Lesson 7 – Prepare Yourself For A Silly Fixed Grin
Well, if you do love to drive and if you have an ambition to see Van Gölü (Lake Van) one day…and then all of a sudden, here you are, driving for miles alongside it. Yeah, that’s a personal one for me, but you get the drift. We all have our little dreams in life.

Horses In East Turkey

Livestock is everywhere in East Turkey

Lesson 8 – Livestock Rules
Yes, you might be in a vehicle, but you are by no means king of the road. It can be a few horses, hundreds of sheep, cows – and quite often, just a small child (and a rather large dog) herding them along the roadside. Give them a wide berth (they do tend to wander into your path) and if you see them in the distance beforehand, slow down – because when they decide they’re crossing the road, they’re crossing the road. The fact you’re cruising towards them at 100 kph is irrelevant!

Lesson 9 – Shortcuts Don’t Exist!
Really, we laugh about this now, and it was an adventure we’ll never forget, and we’ll write more about it in another post…but stick to the main highways. One road in, one road out. The mountains around here are not for foreign amateurs like us and when a local tells you your intended shortcut road is still in the process of being built…but it is passable…it’s just a bit rough…well, you know, they grew up in these mountains. ‘Just a bit rough’ means even a 4-wheel drive would struggle, there are no barriers between you and a few thousand feet drop, you won’t get out of first gear…and, after a few hours, you end up going back to the town you just left and spending another night there, thankful to be still taking part in life on planet earth. You live and learn!

Lesson 10 – If You Go To The East Of Turkey, Hire A Car And Do A Road Trip!

Because we had the time of our lives! We covered so much ground; fulfilled a few ambitions in seeing sights we’ve wanted to visit for many years; saw amazing sights we never knew existed; for lovers of driving, it’s driving heaven; you’ll bump and thud along in parts and realise why the windscreen is cracked and why the rear view mirror has fallen from the windscreen and why the steering’s a bit dodgy…and you’ll love every minute of it.

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  1. Fabulous post guys! And a trip down the memorylane for me; my dad was a lawyer with Transport Ministry and he helped building the roads at that part of the world when we lived in Elazig; I agree, the roads are great to drive and scenery is just wonderful 🙂 Hope you enjoyed the breakfast in Van!:) ozlem

  2. Hope you had some good “road music” to accompany you. I love it when a song gets associated with a trip and even if you hear it 30 years later, it will take you straight back to that road trip.

    • Ha ha, great comment, thanks. Well, as this was the car we were in, the CD player didn’t work and the radio was on and off…but we’ve got loads of UK road trip music memories. You’ve got us talking about them now. 🙂

  3. Love, love, love your road tips! We “almost” ran into herds of sheep on the way to Bozcaada and outside of the ruins of Aprhodisias as well as cattle when we drove around the area of Mt. Nemrut. I loved each and every single road trip we did in Turkey bc you NEVER knew what to expect! 🙂

    Tomorrow, we’re heading out for another road trip here in Poland! You can bet I’ll be posting pics soon too. The roads also are still in the “interesting” category.

    • In that case, really looking forward to your Poland road trip post/s. Was very flat from what we saw but there are some mountainous areas, aren’t there? I just love to drive in Turkey. Would like to drive back to the UK from Turkey, one day/s. 🙂

  4. Hi! Well done on your trips and on this post 🙂
    I’m planning to rent a car to do a small road trip from Izmir to Fethiye.
    I hope you can help me with 3 questions.
    First is about road tools…Any tips or advice?
    Second is about driving during night time. Is it safe?
    Last and most important is the time I will do it… during Kurban Bayrami holiday (23-26 Sep)
    I reckon roads will be busier than normal… Should I be worried?
    Many thanks. Cheers!

    Miguel Ribeiro

    • Hi Miguel, thanks a lot for your comment. 🙂
      Re road tools, if you hire a car, check the correct equipment is in the car before you set off (spare tire, jack and warning triangle).
      From Izmir to Fethiye, driving at night will be fine. You’ll be sharing the road with the odd intercity bus (they do lots of overnighters because of less traffic).
      Hmm, and then you said Kurban Bayram. The roads will be much busier with people travelling to be with family so you need to drive with care – but night time should be better.
      Driving in Turkey is very relaxing (for me) and, unlike East Turkey, you shouldn’t be dodging too many craters. Lots of the roads are new so you should be fine.
      Just one tip. Not sure of your planned route but the main Izmir exit route towards Fethiye is a toll road. You need to pay at the PTT (post office) before you set off. Other than that, smaller coastal roads should be much prettier, but it’ll take you longer.

      Hope that helps a little. 🙂

      • Hi there!
        Thank you very much for your reply. Much appreciated 🙂
        Well Izmir to Fethiye is just part of my road trip actually.

        I will land In Izmir from Istanbul on 22th Sep late at night (11pm), get the car from airport and drive straight away to Cesme (just 90kms away) where I will stay for the night.
        This is the only night drive I’m planning so far. But because I heard its a bit dangerous driving night time (animals and so) and I don’t know the roads, that’s way I asked your opinion 🙂

        Next morning then I will drive to Kusadasi (via D550 and D515), stay overnight and next day go to Fethiye (via D550 and D400) stay overnight and finally last day go to Bodrum (via D400 to Datça
        and take the ferryboat to Bodrum). Then enjoy some days at beachside 🙂

        Thanks on your advise on the road toll. I actually meant to ask you that but misspell it and wrote tools, which u also gave good advice. So double thanks for that 😉
        I will contact the rental company as well to inform about the route and see what they recommend. I arrive late at night so PTT might be closed. I believe they should have some arrangements anyway.

        Ok thanks again for your help and please fell free to say anything u like! hehe 🙂

        Cheers and best regards,

        • Ha ha, re the tools and tolls, Miguel! 🙂 At least all was answered. I’m not completely sure where Izmir airport is but would guess you’re okay driving to Çeşme, toll-free. Yeah, ask your car hire company, though. The D400 road is beautiful and the stretch you’ll drive along is all newly resurfaced with safety barriers, too.

          Enjoy your road trip! 🙂

  5. Thanks!!
    I contacted the car company and they said all cars have HGS automatic pass system.
    So I will be charged on my credit card later after they checked their system.
    Actually I don’t have a credit card. I like to pay for things with my own money and without taxes/ interests 🙂
    Don’t really understand why all companies required it though. I’m not gonna steal the car!! haha
    But well if there’s no choice I’ll just do a credit card then :p
    Anyway thanks again. I will let u know later how it all went ok.
    Best regards,

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