Starting the day literally in another country has been one of the best rewarding stimulants to my senses. Witnessing how the sun rises in a different place, strolling around to familiarise myself with the unknown, trying to figure out how to go about a day while getting lost in translation are a part of the adventures that I enjoy when traveling. The most recent unforgettable scenarios happened in Yerevan and other parts of Armenia.
My sincerest apologies to all Armenians in the world, as I honestly grew up in the far-flung beautiful archipelago in Southeast Asia called, the Philippines – absolutely clueless of where your country is. Thankfully, I relocated to Dubai, UAE and have been aware of the countries proximal to my new home.
And so, last April 6 – 9, 2017, I and a former colleague and a great friend, Ron, went to Armenia. The trip was supposed to be joined by our other fellows who share the same passion of traveling and photography, however they had to beg off for personal reasons. Nonetheless, I was happy to experience my 34th country with Ron, who was also with me and another friend when we explored Moscow and Saint Petersburg for 7 days in December of 2015.
I’ve always wanted to go to Yerevan, Armenia to experience what almost everybody in UAE has been raving about. If you must know, for some Filipinos living in the emirates, it’s one of the most convenient and affordable countries for their visa-run. Most Kabayans nowadays go to Armenia if not for holiday and leisure, simply to exit and wait for their new visa to make them eligible to enter UAE again. Why Armenia? It’s a short-haul-flight from Dubai or Sharjah, and everything’s easy on the pocket from the 7 USD visa-on-arrival, to less travel requirements. Other than that, Armenia is a Eurasian country that offers rich history, fascinating culture, opulent heritage, interesting cuisine and a warm hospitality of the Armenians.
Here are the pertinent details of our trip :
- Destination : Yerevan and other parts of Armenia
- Travel duration : 4 days and 3 nights
- Flight : via FlyDubai (this was not a sponsored trip).
- Flight duration : 3 hours to Yerevan from Dubai.
- Return ticket total cost : 1,127.85 AED inclusive of 7 kg carry-on-bag + 20 kg check-in luggage.
- Tourist Visa : Cost 7 USD, stamped upon arrival. Requirements? Passport valid for 6 months and a return ticket + address of accommodation (No bank statements, no No-Objection-Certificate from employer, etc.).
- Must-know about Armenia : Armenia is bordered by Georgia to the north, Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan and the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the east, and Iran to the south. The Republic of Armenia recognizes Armenian Apostolic Church, the world’s oldest national church. Their currency is Armenian Dram (1 USD is equivalent to 486 AMD or 3.67 AED). We brought minimal pocket money in USD and exchanged them in AMD at the airport before availing of visa-upon-arrival.
- Accommodation : Best Hostel in Leningradyan (near Armenian Genocide Museum; kindly note that there’s another branch of Best Hostel in Republic Square, which I think is better – location-wise), at 66 AED (18 USD) for total of 3 nights per pax, in a mixed dorm room, however, we were lucky as the staff wrongly placed us in a private room with 2 single beds, that made our stay better than expected (the only downside was the inconsiderate noise from the Kabayans in the next door room. Please be courteous and sensitive of others specially when you’re outside your own country).
- Advantages of Best Hostel in Leningradyan : Cheap rates, friendly and accommodating staff + the best view of Mount Ararat right across the street; located near a few mini-grocery and convenience stores.
- Disadvantages of Best Hostel in Leningradyan : Location is far from eateries and restaurants – the nearest is Tashir Pizza restaurant located across the bridge, which is about 15 to 20 minute-walk from the hostel. Two-way-pick up from the airport costs 6,000 Armenian dram per person (12.30 USD or 45.30 AED), which we found a bit expensive because 1 way to the airport costs only 3,000 for entire taxi cab and not per pax. Hence, we only paid one way during our arrival, and simply hailed taxi cab for our departure. And again, biggest disadvantage was the rude noise of utterly shameless fellow-Filipinos in the next door rooms. The authorities of the hostel must do something with lack of respect and courtesy to other guests who wish to stay in peace and solitude during holiday (If you’re a Kabayan reading this, have some decency to act like a respectable Filipino outside the Philippines. Maraming salamat po!).
- Itineraries and cost of tours:
- First day : We went on our city tour by ourselves via walking and taking taxi cab. We explored Cascade (Kaskad), the Opera, some restaurants and ice cream bar, the Republic Square and Yerevan Cathedral or Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church, the largest Apostolic Church in Armenia.
- Second day : We went on a day tour that we availed from the hostel for 7,000 Armenian dram per pax (14.30 USD or 53 AED) that included Garni Temple (entrance fee of 1200 AMD or 2.5USD or 9AED), Geghard Monastery (free admission), the Tsaghkadzor Ropeway – a chairlift-cable car (with entrance fee of 2200 AMD or 17 AED or 4.60 USD) and then monasteries and the peaceful lake in Sevan. It was a long drive and I think it’s worth it for the price. The only downside was it was not tour-guided; we only paid for the driver and the transportation nonetheless, the trip was fine as it was only Ron and I and the driver who went on.
- Third day : We enjoyed an entire day of guided tour from Hyur Services which we highly recommend! We contacted them a day before via phone call at +374 10 546040, and booked for a day tour of Southern Armenia that included a visit and wine tasting to Areni Winery, a visit to a waterfalls and to the Tatev Monastery via Wings of Tatev (a Guiness Book of Records for the longest 2-way aerial tramway) which served as the highlight of our trip. The cost inclusive of return tickets to Wings of Tatev, bottled water, a sweet local chocolate bread, and a very fun and informative tour guiding (by Nurik who deserves a raise for job well done!) was 18,000 Armenian dram per person (136 AED or 37 USD).
- Fourth day : We woke up early and went to Mother Armenia monument, a great vantage point to view the entire Yerevan skyline. After which, we hailed a taxi cab to Vernissage Market, a very interesting flea market where almost everything is sold from paintings, to usual souvenir items, and to pre-loved antiques.
- Recommended places to eat based on what we sampled :
- For Armenian food and some Georgian dishes, go to Tun Lahmajo in Teryan St., Yerevan, Armenia. A lot of my photos were corrupted included those taken from our dinner in Lahmajo however, I guarantee – it has the best rustic ambiance, quick and friendly service, however local food requires acquired taste.
- For casual dining and to satisfy craving for pasta and pizza that are cooked Armenian way (at least it’s different from those I sampled in Italy), order them from Tashir Pizza. Consider it a local version of their Pizza Hut that’s found at almost every corner, well not really but they’re many branches around Yerevan!
- For late night coffee or hot chocolate, Jazzve Cafe near Republic Square.
- And Old Beijing restaurant for Chinese food!
- There’s a lot of soft ice cream kiosks in the city, indulge for cheap treats!
- And never leave Yerevan without sampling their hot piping bread! Lots of them! Yummy!
- Total budget for 4 days and 3 nights, inclusive of airfare, tourist visa, accommodation, food, transportation, day tours, some souvenir items and basically everything : 2,500 AED (or 681 USD).
- Best one thing about Armenia : Seeing Mount Ararat, the snowcapped mountain located at Eastern Turkey, however the best view’s in Yerevan, which is traditionally perceived as the resting place of Noah’s Ark.
Here’s a chronological photoessay
of our entire trip in Armenia.
First day high : Lucky to witness Mount Ararat’s full glory sans clouds!
After quick check in, we walked & took a taxi cab to Cascade (Kaskad) in Yerevan Central.
We’re supposed to go first to Republic Square but lost in translation with taxi driver.
Ended up with a better introduction to Yerevan! Breathtaking views from Cascade!
If you go up to Cascade, you’ll end up crossing the street to Mother Armenia monument.
Definitely, one of the massive and peaceful public parks in the world that I’ve been to!
However, it physically challenged my lungs and leg powers. The view was all worth it!
Certainly, a nice place to meet pleasant people.
And some friendly and fluffy dogs!
I was honestly hesitant to ride the public buses and their tram. Have you tried?
Spent an hour in Cascade, then we crossed the road to the Opera. Greeted by Spring!
A glimpse to Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet.
First meal in Yerevan : Pizza!
Few more steps, and we reached the iconic, Republic Square in Yerevan!
Republic Square’s a must-visit when you’re in town; lovely in the day, prettier at night!
Morning walk led us to interesting sights from colorful public parks to Apostolic churches.
St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, currently the largest Armenian Apostolic Church.
Day 2 in Armenia : Day Tour availed from hostel. First stop : Garni Temple.
Garni is an ancient pagan temple; the best symbol of pre-Christian Armenia.
Temple of Garni is the only remaining Greco-Roman colonnaded building in Armenia.
UNESCO awarded Temple of Garni for being well preserved heritage site.
Having such historic relevance, making it as backdrop for self-portrait is inevitable. Ha!
Day 2 second stop : Geghard Monastery. Too bad, I lost my photos from here.
Take note of the Armenian crosses, doors and sweet nuts found outside Geghard. Of course, that adorable teddy bear is my ever loyal travel buddy, @gelothebear. Follow his adventures in IG!
We had lunch in Sevan and then we’re brought to this amazing place.
Our last stop for the day : Lake Sevan!
Day 3 – Tatev Day Tour availed from Hyur Services. Call time at 8:30AM.
Long but fun drive. Our first stop : Areni Winery. Free fruit-wine tasting! Yehey!
I, Ron and Ate Ema, our new Dubai-based Filipina friend whom we met in the tour.
Spent more time in wine tasting which was good! But outside scenes were also interesting.
Enjoyed tasting wines from berries, peaches, apricots which are grown in the region.
I didn’t expect our road trip to Southern Armenia will show us snow!
I became a happy kiddo when our tour guide, Nurik allowed us photo-op by the road!
It’s like Gudauri and Kazbegi in Georgia. Beautiful, immaculate, snowcapped mountains!
Our van had mechanical issues so we needed to join the Russian group of tourists.
We hiked a bit to this waterfalls; too little flow as it’s used to produce electricity.
Then, issues with our van was repaired so we joined our tour mates in time for lunch!
Ate Ems had this Armenian vegetarian dish made of mushrooms and Sorrel.
While Ron and I ordered same plate of beef meatballs and rice. Cost 5,000AMD per pax.
Finally, Wings of Tatev! The longest aerial ropeway in Guiness Book of Records!
Good thing, return ticket to the tram was included in our Day Tour package with Hyur.
Seated on my right is the best tour guide ever, Nurik; here with our bunch of tour mates!
Spotted small and humble village in the middle of nowhere.
The flight on board Wings of Tatev took about more or less 15 minutes with such views.
Ahhhh! Tatev Monastery!
What an experience going to this ancient monastery via cable car!
The weather at less than 15 degrees was just perfect!
The 9th century, Tatev Monastery in Syunik province is a must-see when you’re in Armenia.
The ceiling under the dome of Tatev Monastery (Yes, photography is allowed).
Some interesting religious relics within the compound.
And a souvenir-I-was-here-shot in Tatev to end the day.
We return via Wings of Tatev, then a long drive back to Yerevan.
Day 4 : Woke up early, took a taxi cab to Mother Armenia monument.
Mother Armenia is in Victory Park with incredibly gorgeous view of downtown Yerevan.
The monument symbolises peace through strength.
Behind the monument is an irresistibly photogenic stairs.
Last glimpse of Yerevan from Victory Park.
Then, off we went to Vernissage Market, a fascinating cheap flea market in Yerevan.
Anything from pre-loved porcelain, oil paintings, souvenirs, handicrafts are there!
My eyes popped out when I saw familiar instruments that I used to hold in theatres!
If only I’ve extra pocket money, I could’ve bought more than 1 from this set.
Old is gold!!!
There’s really something for everyone at Vernissage Market in Yerevan!
Do you fancy these art tools and whatnot?
Or a magic carpet ride?
A whole new world!
A new horizon to pursue…! Hahaha! That’s a song for another story.
Imagine, even kidney basins are sold there in Vernissage Market! Amazing!
But I’m happy for my friend who got this Noah’s Ark painting plus 2 more masterpieces!
While I brought home Mount Ararat with me for only 5,000 AMD (38 AED or 10.20 USD).
Thanks for the memories, Armenia!
Have you been to Armenia? How was your experience?