So you’ve gotten the flight in and checked out Bodrum/Ismir/Antalya/Your Local Tourist Town. You’ve seen the ruins, dismissed the coffee and embraced the raki. And you’re thinking like Betty Friedan, is this it?
Restless vagabond, you are in luck. Turkey is a country once and a half the size of France, or larger than Texas, with of the most efficient public transport systems in the Near East. So let me help you make the best of your attempts at getting around in this wonderful country. At the lowest tier of the system is the humble dolmuş. This is a publicly-run network of minibuses that covers most of the coastal area of Turkey, and some of the populated inland areas. As the routes often circle peninsulas it can be a cheap way to take in some of the most beautiful scenery Turkey has to offer. The routes in the Turquoise Coast especially are too spectacular to be missed.
The dolmuş itself can be a daunting experience if you don’t know how the system works, so let me give you the insider’s low-down. First off, there are no bus stops. Your best bet is to stand by a shop or restaurant along its route and hold your hand out as if hailing a taxi. You’ll also be thankful of the shelter if the bus is running behind schedule. Expect one to come every 10 minutes or so on popular routes. When the bus stops double check with the driver that he’s going where you want to be: Bodruma gidiyorsun?(Are you going to Bodrum?).
Now take a seat and work out how much you have to pay from the price list, usually stuck above the windscreen. Now for the fun part! Hand the money to the person in the seat in front of you. It gets passed hand-to-hand, man to child to donkey, all the way up to the driver. He will make out the change when he gets a clear stretch of road with, if you’re lucky, one hand on the wheel and hand it back as before, person to person. Imagine that working in London! When you want to stop, shout something appropriate and say good evening (Yakşamlar!) as you go.
For longer distances Turkey has a well-run private coach network serving the larger towns and cities. At the station the various drivers will shout out their destinations as if selling fruit. You can buy a ticket in the station or from the drivers .They are very reasonably priced and shopping around is possible, though haggling is not likely to get you anywhere and will not be appreciated. As coaches are by law required to give regular rest breaks, trips are always relaxed and easy. On the more expensive coaches an attendant (usually a local teenager working for his holidays) will give out complimentary soft drinks, minerals, cologne and cool face towels. Very long trips, for example the route from Bodrum to Istanbul, are usually run at night. Through the smaller coastal roads can leave something to be desired, the major roads and inter-city routes of Western Turkey are of as high quality as any you’ll find in Europe or America.
That leaves air transport. Disappointingly domestic flights in Turkey are still prohibitively expensive for anything but tight-schedule business trips. The budget airline craze has not yet taken a foothold in Turkey so you could pay as much for a short internal flight as you paid to get to the country.
As the Turkish saying goes, Epey acele, epey artık: great haste makes great waste. Above all, take the time to enjoy the beautiful Turkish landscape as you travel and I promise you will not be disappointed.