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The Hughes in Syria & Jordan PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

Syria and Jordan

The Next 'Hot' Destination

A Report of Travels in our Chausson Flash 02 Motorhome

John and Sue Hughes
May 2010

The planning for taking our motorhome into Syria and Jordan started in 2009, when we had travelled to European Turkey and realised that insurance cover for our motorhome did not cover us for Asiatic Turkey.

On our reAmmarin_Camp,_Little_Petra,_Jordan.jpgturn home from that trip we arranged insurance cover for Asiatic Turkey ready for our next trip. It was then that we realised that perhaps we could perhaps go even further south into Syria and Jordan. We started to gather together all the information that we could (from a variety of sources) on vehicle entry requirements for these countries. Particular thanks are due to Don Madge and Barry & Margaret Williamson, who put us in touch with fellow motorhomers who were contemplating or who had already made a similar trip. Their advice, especially on where to stay the night, proved invaluable.

We arranged a Syrian visa (check if you need multiple entry) through their Embassy in London, and a Carnet de Passage for the motorhome through the RAC. We had been led to believe that this was only necessary for Jordan but we were asked if we had one when crossing the border into Syria. The Carnet de Passage cost us a fair amount, as twice the value of the base vehicle had to be lodged with the bank, which then provided the necessary security with the RAC. (Obviously this money is refunded at the end of the trip providing you have completed all necessary paperwork at each border and return home plus motorhome! So don't forget to have your Carnet de Passage stamped on exit of each country.) Apart from the cost, which includes commission to the bank, the dealings with the RAC proceeded without problems.

Full of hope and fingers crossed that all would go smoothly and that we had forgotten nothing that would prevent us entering Syria and Jordan, we headed off in mid-April 2010. The drive to the Turkish border at Edirne went smoothly apart from the appalling roads that still blight anyone travelling through Romania and especially Bulgaria. Over the years we have driven many routes through these two countries and, despite the evidence of a comprehensive road building programme, there are still routes that seem more pothole than road. The bridge at Ruse is the best way of crossing the Danube if you are crossing from Central Romania. The ferry from Calafat to Vidin, which we used on our way home, has doubled in price since the previous year - now 52 (42.50) for a small motorhome. To add injury to insult, we were also charged a Port tax and Municipal tax. So much for open borders in the EU.

Our journey through Turkey to the Syrian border was fascinating and totally hassle-free. The majority of Turkish roads were well surfaced, but some were still in the process of being upgraded. Then it was a different story. We really liked the areas in the east of the country that were off the normal tourist routes. We stocked up on essential supplies at a supermarket in Gaziantep, met our daughter off a flight there as she was joining us for our time in Syria and Jordan, then started to head south to the Syrian border crossing at Azaz. We purposely chose to use a less busy border as we had heard tales of long waits at the main border crossing with Turkey (Bab Al-Hawa on the E98.)

As Syria has no UK Tourist Office we had to rely on Guide Books (Lonely Planet and Bradt) to help us unravel the bureaucracy involved at the border.

When crossing into Syria you will need a lot of patience as there were various border offices you had to visit in order to purchase vehicle insurance (Third Party only), obtain an entry/exit card, pay a diesel charge (weekly), have your carnet de passage stamped and your passport/visa checked. Everyone was most helpful and directed us from one building to the next in the correct order. Bread and hot milk was offered to us at one stage! The whole entry process took approximately 90 minutes and cost $180 (116). It would have been possible to have a 'fixer' help us through the process but this was not necessary. Our return from Syria back into Turkey would be a different story but more about that later.

Once over the border the standard of roads altered dramatically for the worst. The Syrian authorities seemed to be very fond of speed humps, usually unmarked and often in the middle of a straight section of road where they appeared to serve no purpose at all other than to cause pain and misery to the motorist. In the main towns roads were better surfaced and there were a few signs, unlike in the more rural areas where it was often guess work as to which road to take. We saw some Traffic Police in the towns but they were not helpful when asked the way to a particular spot. Taxi and coach drivers were much more informative. Despite using up to date maps, these often proved to be inaccurate. Having had to pay a diesel tax at the border we frequently found that diesel was unavailable. When it was available the diesel was approximately 30p per litre. Payment was strictly cash only. Luckily we never actually ran out of fuel, although on exiting Syria at the end of our trip we left with a very empty tank and had to refill at Turkish prices as the filling stations in Syria, near to the border, had run out of diesel!

Syria still has a long way to go as far as tourism is concerned. Campsites or safe night halts were few and far between, so careful route planning was essential. We stayed at only two designated campsites: Restaurant Round Table, Krak des Chevaliers and Al-Baider camp site, Palmyra. We stayed on the car parks by the ruins at Apamea, St Simeon's Monastery and Bosra.

Although we had been given co-ordinates for other night halts we had been unable to download a map of Syria or Jordan onto our TomTom, so having the co-ordinates was no use. In Damascus we went round in circles looking for the camp site and the same happened at Aleppo. We found neither.

Below are listed the places we used plus others that we had details of. The asterisk * indicates where we stayed. Information for other night halts is from various sources.

Places to Overnight in Syria 

Place

Details
Location
Co-ordinates
Comment
Aleppo
Camping Salaam,
Kafr Ame
36 08.1115′ N
36 52.237′ E
We failed to find this camp site
Apamea*
On Car Park at ruins
By cafeteria
Belgium motorhome group meant no space for us
Bosra *
By restaurant
On main square by amphitheatre
32 31.09′ N
36 28.974′ E
Noisy and over priced
Facilities & electrics available in restaurant
Damascus
We failed to find where this site is located
Krak des Chevaliers *
Hotel Round Table
Next to the castle
34 45.265′ N
36 17.688 E
Designated site on gravel
Facilities in hotel cabins
Electrics
Restaurant
Friendly welcome
Palmyra *
Al-Baider Camp
Behind Sanctuary of Bel
Small & difficult access
Expensive
Electrics, WCs, Shower, Pool, Restaurant
Palmyra
Zenobia Hotel
Beside the ruins on main road
Car park
Use of hotel facilities
St Simeon's Monastery *
Car Park
By entrance to ruins
Small and sloping

We managed to find only one actual supermarket (Carrefour on the road from Bosra_Amphitheatre.jpgAleppo heading to the border at Azaz) and a smaller version of a supermarket on the road leading out to Bosra from Dar'a. There were others in the larger towns but these inevitably always seemed to be on the other side of the road where it was impossible to turn round. We were very glad to have a stock of tins and packets in the motorhome. Smaller shops sold basic provisions but our lack of Arabic meant that we had to guess at the contents of most items on sale. Chicken burgers and chicken pieces became our staple food.

Syria is a fascinating country with the most wonderful ruins that you can wander Krak_des_Chevaliers.jpgaround at will. Distances out to the desert sites are long but well worth the journey. The scenery is fascinating. We saw the world's best preserved Crusader castle at Krak des Chevaliers, the perfectly preserved Roman amphitheatre at Bosra, the deserted Roman caravan city at Palmyra, waterwheels at Hama, the deserted 'dead' city of Serjilla and the remains of the Basilica of St Simeon. Syria has still to be discovered by most tourists, so it was a pleasure to visit before it becomes a firm fixture on the tour group calendar. As we were unable to find anywhere to park the motorhome in Damascus that is a city we will have to explore at a later date.

We had to pay a departure tax for the privilege of exiting Syria. (500 Syrian pounds per person approx. 8). We also had to make sure that our Carnet de Passage was correctly stamped. Entry into Jordan was very similar to that we had experienced on entering Syria except that it was less expensive. We had to purchase a visa, ensure our Carnet de Passage was stamped and buy insurance (Third Party only) for the motorhome. There was no diesel tax, which was the reason why the price of entry into Syria had been so high.

It was immediately apparent that Jordan was much more geared up to tourists and therefore more expensive. Road signs were usually given in Arabic and English, towns looked prosperous, tourist sites were well signed, ATMs were readily available and roads were better surfaced. Unfortunately for the co-driver there was still the hazard of 'sleeping policemen' to watch out for before the driver had bumped the motorhome over them.

There are threeTreasury,_Petra.jpg main routes north to south: the Desert Highway, the road along the Dead Sea and the King's Highway. Which one you use is a matter of preference although the ancient King's Highway, which runs from Madaba in the north, south to Aqaba passing close to the city of Petra, is winding and passes through small settlements where the road is often narrow. Scenically though this road is the best of them all, even if it is not the smoothest surfaced. Interestingly the road radically improves from Petra southwards but on this stretch of the King's Highway beware of the never ending convoy of coaches with their cruise ship passengers heading for a day at Petra.

Jordan is full of superlatives: the rose red city of Petra; the dramatic scenery of Wadi Rum; the Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land at Madaba; the extensive remains of a large Roman town at Jerash; Mount Nebo where Moses looked out over the Promised  Land and with its views of the Dead Ruins_of_Jerash.jpgSea; the ruins at Umm Qais with views across to the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights; the Baptism site at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, where Jesus was baptised and where Israel is within touching distance across the river; and swimming in the Dead Sea, an unforgettable experience. The town of Aqaba on the gulf of the same name (a branch of the Red Sea) is extremely modern. The town centre car park is ideal for parking to use the public beach for a swim. Be warned though women must enter the water fully clothed although the rules seemed more relaxed for the men. It seemed very strange to see women wearing the burka in the sea.

Food shopping was much easier in Jordan with a number of western style supermarkets on offer, including a Safeway in Aqaba and a Carrefour in Amman.

We found we were able to use a few more campsites and rely less on car parks in Jordan.

A useful website for information on camp sites in both Syria and Jordan is: www.wohnmobil-stellplatze.net

Below are listed the places we used plus others that we had details of. The asterisk * indicates where we stayed. Information for other night halts is from various sources.

Places to Overnight in Jordan

 

Place
Details
Location
Co-ordinates
Comment
Amman
Theodore Schneller School
Aqaba
Bedouin Garden Village
www.bedouin-hotels.com
12km south of Aqaba
29 25.5473′ N
34 58.5042′ E
100m from beach
Dana *
Nature Reserve
www.rscn.org.jo
Outside Visitors Centre
Use of centre's facilities
Dead Sea
Amman Beach Resort Hotel
On Car Park
31 42.0623′ N
33 35.0177′ E
Water & elecs available
Jerash *
Olive Branch Hotel
www.olivebranch.com.jo
8km north-west of Jerash on road to Suf
Sloping. Use of shower and WC by pool
Jerash
Car Park
By Visitors centre
32 16.5149′ N
35 53.4788′ E
The centre was surrounded by road works so staying there was impossible
Jerash
Car Park
Craft Centre
Tourist police would not allow overnight parking
Petra *
Ammarin Camp
www.bedouincamp.net
Near Little Petra, 10km north of Petra main site
32 22.880′ N
35 26.954′ E
Full facilities in a Bedouin style camp in the desert
Petra
Car Park
Opposite Movenpick Hotel by Tourist Police
30 19.5312′ N
35 28.0751′ E
Sloping site
Petra
Al-Anbat Hotel
www.alanbat.com
Above Wadi Musa town
Use of hotel facilities
Mount Nemo *
Car Park
By Mount Nebo
Tourist Police insist you park close to them.
Wadi Rum *
Car Park
Rum Village
Visitors centre
7km south of main Visitors Centre
Toilets by Visitors Centre (closed when we were there)
Wadi Rum
Car Park
www.wadirum.jo
By Visitors centre
29 38.5974′ N
35 26.0796′ E
Facilities at Visitors centre when it is open

As we were not heading further south into Egypt we returned to Turkey via Syria. It was a most successful trip: one which we hope other intrepid motorhomers will make for themselves. There is so much more to discover in both countries than we had time to see. We experienced very little hassle, in fact people, such as the English teacher we met at a nature reserve on our first night in Syria, went out of their way to help us. We would never have found our way to Apamea or the short route back from Serjilla without the help of friendly locals. It is just a shame that we met no such person when going round in circles in Damascus and Aleppo, for we missed out on two of the highlights of any visit to Syria.

A note to finish with. Exit from Syria back into Turkey could have developed into a nightmare unless a 'fixer' had attached himself to us. The gentleman who needed to sign our Carnet de Passage was in his underwear in his bedroom, to which we were escorted through a maze of passages! Without his signature we could have had a very expensive holiday indeed, as the RAC would not have released our money held on deposit as security for the motorhome.

As holidays go this was one of the best. Syria and Jordan are both perfectly safe for independent motorhomers as long as they have a sense of the pioneering spirit and are prepared to be challenged when it comes to finding overnight halts.

We would be pleased to share our experiences with anyone considering a similar trip but be warned: we are away in our motorhome for at least 6 months of the year and we do not take a laptop with us. So replies might be subject to delay.

John and Sue Hughes
Email:

Ammarin Camp, Little Petra, Jordan

Ammarin_Camp,_Little_Petra,_Jordan.jpg

Bosra Ampitheatre

Bosra_Amphitheatre.jpg

Krak des Chevaliers

Krak_des_Chevaliers.jpg

Ruins at Apamea

Ruins_at_Apamea.jpg

Ruins of Jerash

Ruins_of_Jerash.jpg

Treasury, Petra

Treasury,_Petra.jpg

Wadi Rum

Wadi_Rum.jpg