I had a chance to visit East Turkey with my wife in June 2015 and I would like to share some of our experiences with other travelers. I hope you will find the report useful. I'd like to thank MarkW632 (tripadvisor.co.uk/…50453470) for his earlier report that was very useful in field. Our stay in Eastern Anatolia was planned for 5 days (1 – flight between Istanbul and Van, 2 – visiting lake Van area, 3 – going to Dogubeyazit, visiting palace, going to Kars, 4 – visiting Kars and Ani, 5 – going to Hopa and further to Batumi). It was a bit tight schedule with no room for being lost (or sick) but possible to execute especially after long research done on Internet. Our Eastern Turkey trip was a part of longer travel, to from Poland to Istanbul then Eastern Turkey and Georgia back to Poland. If anybody is interested in other parts please let me know.
I came with my wife from Istanbul (Sabiha Gokcen) by AnadoluJet in the evening. It was slightly cheaper than Pegasus and landed earlier what was important for us. I wanted to avoid searching hotel after dusk. I had pre-booked double room in Royal Berk Hotel nicely situated in the centre of Van (140TRY). The accommodation was very good, clean, safe, right size room with bathroom, very tasty and varied breakfast included. A young doctor sitting next to us in plane offered to lift us to the hotel. However even having map and with local person we lost about 20 minutes driving around. After checking-in we went to have some dinner in the centre. There were plenty of busy places serving food, and for as little as 16.5TRY we had the best dinner over entire trip. Walking in the crowded centre even late at night seemed to be very safe. I didn't want to visit the city itself which is not very historical thus for the next day we rent a car in Avis office in the Van city centre (115TRY rental fee with extra insurance + 84TRY for 20 liters of diesel). In Van and other places visited in Eastern Turkey people don't speak even a little English however you can you google translate to communicate. We went to Akdamar Island and visited church there (10TRY for ferry and 5TRY for ticket) definitely worth the effort, having the monument and views on lake and mountains. Ferries are departing more or less each 30 minutes so no need to waste time waiting. The other passengers were mostly families and school children from nearby Iran. On return we had some fish in the restaurant opposite the pier (30TRY) and went straight to Hosap castle to take some pictures, finally we returned to Van to see cats (1TRY) at university located in the north suburbs of Van. You can easily find the campus on the lakeshore however for cats' place it is better to ask someone for directions. Van snow-white cats are distinctive for having different colour of eyes and swimming skills. You can feed them after buying some cat food on spot. After returning the car to Avis we tried to get refund for the petrol unused, however after some discussion, this turned out to be impossible. The whole trip lasted about 6hrs. We went out in the evening for a dinner and stayed overnight in our hotel. (The original plan was to stay one night in Van and Dogu, and 2 nights in Kars however this turned out to be too tense).
Next morning after breakfast we ordered at reception taxi to minibus stop to go to Dogubeyazit. I wanted to avoid walking around Van in search of minibus stop, however it turned out to be very near centre. The taxi was a bit overpriced (13.5TRY) and I recommend not to order in hotel but just on the street and bargain. The minibus to Dogubeyazit cost 20TRY per person, departed at 9am and the scenic route took us 3 hrs (earlier bus departs at 7.30am and there are also services at: 12am, 2pm and 4pm). We had decided not to stay in Dogu overnight but reach Kars the same day to spare some time. Our aim was to visit Ishak Pasha Sarayi, take some pictures with the Ararat in the background and reach Igdir. After arrival to Dogu, I was informed that last bus from Igdir to Kars departs at 3 pm thus we had only 3hrs to execute this plan. There is no direct bus from Dogubeyazit to Kars and all travelers need to interchange in Igdir. In the centre of Dogubeyazit we have chosen taxi driver and managed to bargain few liras. Finally, the price was set at 120TRY for visiting the Palace and reaching Igdir by 3pm. We went to the palace and spent an hour visiting it (5TRY), nicely preserved and renovated, although very empty. After returning to Dogu it turned out that our driver had to prepare the car for 50 km journey to Igdir, refueling and checking tyre pressure. We stopped for 2 minutes to take some pictures on Mt Ararat on our way. All in all we left the city quite late and were very nervous that we will get stuck in Igdir. The fact that driver didn't know where the dolmus stop was, didn't improve our situation. We opposed to leave the taxi without finding minibus stop (he tried once in Igdir) and after nervous driving across the town we found right place literally a minute before departure of minibus to Kars (20TRY). It is just in the city centre on the main road, it is not distant Otogar station where our driver went at first. We were extremely happy and lucky to find the minibus stop on time as staying overnight in Igdir would severely disrupt our plans.
On arrival in Kars, we headed towards Kars Konak Hotel that had good reviews on Internet. After some bargaining the price was 120TRY for double room with breakfast. New and modernly refurbished hotel although not as good as the one we had in Van, our room was not cleaned after earlier guests. I was apologized at reception and the room had very basic cleaning. We found also our room with doors left opened by the cleaners next day, although nothing was stolen. I expected to meet Celil very soon and indeed 10 minutes after check-in he was already in the lobby to offer us Ani tour. His initial price for two of us was 150TRY. We didn't accept at once, as we wanted first to go out to ask any taxi driver for the price or find other travelers to share the cost. Indeed Celil speaks very good English and seems to be friendly although not to be disappointed you need to remember that he does it for the business so feel free to look also for other offers. Walking around Kars was pleasant, this is historical city with old Russian buildings, same of them nicely renovated and illuminated. We had dinner at fish restaurant (35 TRY) but we were unable to find any other backpackers walking around. Randomly asked taxi driver offered us 120TRY to visit Ani. On the next day we met Celil again when having a breakfast, he said that there is third person willing to go and offered us 100TRY what we accepted. It took us 4.5 hrs in total to go there and return. Entrance to the side is 8TRY. Three hours for visiting ruins seems a lot, however Ani is very vast and we were not able to see everything. I recommend also keeping water handy as there is no shade anywhere in the Ani. We were lucky to visit it in June and the heat was not overwhelming and the site was nicely green. Visiting Ani is unique experience and nature around is incredible as well. Turks build fence all around the border so you can visit the entire place, there are no forbidden zones any more. After returning to Kars we bought bus tickets to Hopa (45TRY) for the next day and spend one more evening in the city shopping, having dinner and visiting barber shop (strongly recommended experience). You can easily and comfortably buy Eastern Turkey souvenirs in Kars. There are many shops with local cheese and honey, as well as sweets spices, olives and so on. There are also two large Migros stores where you can buy everything needed without bargaining including alcohol. If for some reason you cannot eat Turkish food, there is even Burger King. Next morning (9.30am) we had direct bus to Hopa next to Georgian border where we headed. There is only one direct bus from Kars to Hopa and it is better to buy tickets at least a day before. It arrives to Hopa at 4pm and there are two stops for lunch on the way. From Hopa we took minibus to Sarp (5TRY) and left Turkey as planned.
All in all, it was great trip and for the next time I would like to spend more time in Eastern Turkey!