Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jordan and Syria Itinerary

15 Dec 2006 to 7 Jan 2007 (24 days)

One of my most memorable journeys till now. Not only because of getting a Syrian visa at the border, but also the hospitality of Syrian people and superb historic sites. Though the weather was cold and daytime was short (sunset was around 4:30 p.m.) and many sites were closed at 4:00 p.m., you rarely met another tourists even in some world heritages. You can fully spent whole day to travel and no need to hide from the sun during midday as in summer.

D1-2: Doha and Amman (Hotel Palace on D2)
Flied from HKG to Doha by Qatar at 6.30 p.m. 12 hours transit time. Slept at the airport and waited and short city sightseeing in Doha. Took flight at 12.30 p.m from Doha to Amman. Arrived Amman at 4.00 p.m. Resided at Hotel Palace (Recommended by LP as author's choice). But no hot water for bathing :<

D3: Amman (Hotel Palace)
Called a taxis to Syrian Embassy and tried to apply visa there. The embassy is located in high class residential area. Mission failed. We were turned away in less than 5 mins. Great! Took taxis to Wahadat bus station and took a bus at 11:00 a.m. to Mahada. We spent half day there and took our dinner at Haret Jdoudna in an old traditional house. We took bus back to Amman after dinner.

D4: Amman (Hotel Palace)
Joined a local tour to desert castles in eastern Jordan including a world heritage Qusayr Amra with superb frescoes. Returned to hotel at 5:00 p.m. My friend from Hong Kong joined us at the hotel.

D5: Damascus (Ai Diwan Hotel)
As told by hotel owner, it is easier for those w/o visa to get a visa on arrival at Dera/ Ramtha border rather than Jabir/Nasib. We took a bus to Ramtha and changed for a service taxis at Ramtha. We were asked for only a few questions and waited at the arrival hall of Syrian border for 0.5 hour. Our service taxi driver dropped at the border bus station. We took a bus to Damascus. We toured around old city in the afternoon. We watched Casino Royale (007) at Cham Cinema (next to Cham hotel) for 3 USD only!

D6: Damascus (Ai Diwan Hotel)
We went to Syrian Air to buy ticket to Aleppo but was full today. We bought the air ticket to Aleppo for around HK$170 only. 'Shopping' at general post office. Then we visited National Museum and Suleimaniyya (handicraft market). Old city again, we visited Chapel of Ananias.

D7: Aleppo (Hotel Hanadi)
Our flight was at 7:00 a.m. and our passport was 'detained' by airline staff when boarding (strange practice). Perhaps the reasons was the final destination of the flight was Paris. Hanadi Hotel as mentioned by LP was a Barbie hotel, pink in color. We visited the souq again and then Citadel. After sunset at 4:00 p.m., we returned to souq again and visited Great Mosque (Omiyaad). The atmosphere of souq was great, not touristic at all.

D8: Aleppo (Hotel Hanadi)
We joined a tour (actually a car with driver) through hotel. We visited Ebla, different dead cities: Jerada & Ruweiha, Serjilla, Al-bara. Returned to Aleppo at 5:00 p.m. Dined at Al Jdeida (Christian area).

D9: Hama (Hotel Cairo)
Rented a car (Benz) again thro' hotel, we visited Mushabbak, St. Simeon Basillica, Deir Samaan, Ain Dara. The driver dropped us at the bus station and helped us to buy the ticket to Hama. Our bus left at 4:00 p.m.. The boss of Hotel Cairo was a classic businessman with fluent English. Afterall, I think we got a fair deal with him.

D10: Hama (Hotel Cairo) 24/12
Rented a car thro' hotel. Visited Apamea in the morning and then Musyaf. In the afternoon, we visited Krak Des Chevaliers at 2:30 p.m. Only 1.5 hours left before closing. We left at 4.20 p.m. (if we didn't leave, we would be locked up there). Happy silent night at a nice restaurant in the traditional old house! Restaurant is also owned by the hotel boss. We bought some Hama favorite brand chocolate: LEE.

D11: Hama (Hotel Cairo)
Benz again and visited Beehive villages (Sarouj village). Then Qasr ibn Wardan and Rasafa (a very raw site under excavation). We passed thro' Euphrates River with military checkpoint. Today's our final destination was Qala'at Ja'abar. We left at 4:20 p.m. and returned to Hama at 7:00 p.m.

D12: Hama & Lattakia (Al Hayat Hotel)
We visited the norias in Hama. However, because of the rain, the view was so and so. We walked to the citadel and then lunch. We took a 3:30 p.m. departed bus to Lattakia. Lattakia is actually a container port. We had a full meal at a high restaurant near the port.

D13: Palmyra (Palace Hotel)
We rented a taxis thro' Lattakia Hotel. We visited Qala'at Saldin. A feeling of Great Wall because of the overgrown. We took a bus from Lattakia to Homs at 1:00 p.m. It was snowing at Homs. However, we were stuck at Homs new bus station at 3:30p.m. So many soldiers took bus. We could only get the bus ticket to Palmyra which bus departed at 12:00 a.m. With the help of a nice lawyer, we took a taxi to old bus station to get the bus to Palmyra. Not only the station was old, so did the bus. Interior of bus turned into a disco after departure with loud music and crazy lightings and naughty little passenger. Fainted! With 4-hr bumpy ride, we reached Palmyra at 7:00 p.m. We dined at Spring Restaurant and then chit chat with some French customers till midnight about political system in Hong Kong and French.

D14: Damascus (Ai Diwan Hotel)
We left hotel at 6:20 p.m. I believed it was below 0 degree outside. We were just able to see sunrise at the site. Having breakfast at hotel after sunrise. Return to the site and visited some tombs also. We took bus at 2:00 p.m. back to Damascus and arrived at 5:15 p.m. Of course, we stayed at Ai Diwan hotel again. Ai Diwan was not targetted for backpackers, so they did not offer any local tour/ car rental. We looked for a car to visit Seidnayya,Maalula and Mar Musa. We finally found a car with driver at one of the budget hotels. However, whether we could go still depended on the road conditions (coz snowed a few days before). It was below 2degree at night in Damascus.

D15:Damascus (Ai Diwan Hotel)
Our nice driver with his new car was waiting us at 8:00 a.m outside the hotel. We visited Seidnayya and Maalula and Mar Musa. We were invited for having free lunch at the Mar Musa monastery, on the road back to Damascus, our car hitted a dog suddenly run out of the highway. We were safe except the bumper broken. The dog ... sorry. Back to hotel at 5:00 p.m., tomorrow was the start of Islamic holiday(Eid al-Adha). Though Friday, the souq would open till midnight, just like our CNY's eve. We also tried the highly recommended ice-cream shop in town Bekdach. Yummy, though temperature might be below zero. Very crowded souq.

D16: Damascus (Ai Diwan Hotel)
Today was Eid al-Adha. We took bus to Bosra. The Roman theatre was really huge and with good acoustic design. Great basalt rock and fine carving. We met 4 Chinese in Bosra. They were working in a glass factory in Aleppo and travelled around Syria during holidays. Returned to Damascus and enjoyed a great meal at a Chinese restaurant in Christian quarter (recommended by those Chinese guys). You rarely encountered a person at the souq. Great contrast with last nite.

D17: Amman (Hotel Amman Palace)
Wandered along the Straight Street. Most of the shops were closed because of new year. Visited Azem Palace and Omayad Mosque. It rained heavily :< After mosque, we visited some old house i.e. Aqqad House (now Danish Institute in Damascus). Final stop was St. Paul's chapel where Paul was hung out in a basket when he fled from Damascus. Time to say goodbye to Syria this hospitable country. We had a little farewell with staff of Ai Diwan Hotel (they treated us a nice lunch after stayed in their hotel for 5 days). We went to take bus to Amman. They Duty Free shop at the border looked no difference with any one in developed countries. So many cheap alcohlic drinks to buy. Great temptation. However, we encountered some problem at Jordan immigration office. They required us to buy visa for HKSAR passport which supposed to be visa free. Because of our insistence and with the help of the nice bus staff, we 'succeded'. No visa required! Jackie Chan's movie was shown on board. wow even in Syria/ Jordan.

D18: Amman (Hotel Amman Palace)
Took a bus to Jerash and spent 5 hours in the site. The weather was nice and we left when the site closed. As no bus returned to Amman coz it was too late, hitchhiked a van back to Amman (of course we needed to pay).

D19: Petra (Rose City Hotel)
One of my friends left for Hong Kong today. I and the other friends went to Qatar office to reconfirm our ticket and took a bus to Petra in the afternoon. Today was mainly occupied by logistics and transportation stuff. The hotel we resided just provided accommodation. We looked for travel agent around the town and finally got what we wanted in a backpacker hotel Valentine Inn. We booked a tour to Wadi Rum there.

D20: Wadi Rum (sleeping under the stars and moon in a Bedouin camp (5-star hotel in Wadi Rum - romantic!)
We took a jeep to the desert with the big boss of the camp, Zidane, a very tall guy and two drivers. Our group had 9 ppl in total mainly Asians, koreans, japanese. Wadi Rum view was fantastic, superb. I liked the rock bridge most! Zidane's camp was superb comparing to my previous stay in desert (Egypt, Morocco, India). Not only beds but pillow ... what can i say? But it was very cold at night. I saw nice sunset and sky with many many stars and moon there.

D21: Petra (Valentine Inn)
Picked our stuff and returned to Petra after breakfast. Went to Petra by ourselves and bought a 2-day pass. The weather was very bad with rain and strong wind and mist. The first day, we just walked till theatre and did not go further. We bought tickets for Petra by night. We walked through the siq four times in a day. Tired and boring show.

D22: Amman (Nansy Hotel)
Petra again and no improvement on the weather. Walked up hill to monastery and high place sacrifice. supposed to have a nice view there, however, the dust storm and mist hm.... Returned to Valentine Inn, we booked Nansy hotel thro' Valentine Inn already. The boss of Nansy hotel just there and offered a free ride to Amman. Not only free ride but free beer. He said he had taken 12 beers since this drive from Aqaba. The speed of the car is over 100 km and also the road surface was with snow. Nevertheless, I safely arrived Amman in 3 hours' time. God bless me. The boss and his brother were very hospitable, not only free beer, free vodka in the hotel with all guests, but also free second hand smoking. anyway they prepared dinner for us also (need to pay this time) yummy meal. His brother learnt cooking in Beirut for a couple of years.

D23 & 24: Plane
Rained again. We went to Roman theatre and Citadel in Amman for a half day sightseeing. We went to the airport in the afternoon. Long long queue outside counter, we feared we could not check in on-time. but all the ppl in the queue were having same flight as us. I didn't understand why I needed not pay JD5 departure tax. Save a new banknote then (which is HKD60 almost). Journey was over. Flied from Amman to Doha and Doha to HK.

I really missed Syria and wanted to revisit sometimes in future. I missed the people, their chocolate and biscuits, and meals everything. I missed everything there.

My travel photos of Jordan and Syria (Yet to be finished)

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