Let the journey begin! We’re off to Jordan for a week. For starter though, why again is the Gatwick Express closed during Easter weekend? Seriously! Its a long weekend. A holiday. People travel! And the Thameslink from West Hampstead doesn’t run in the middle of the night this weekend. Hence, we took a cab to London Bridge station to take the Southern train to the airport. But 3am it was annouced that the 3.10am train is cancelled. Had to uber to the airport. Ridiculous waste of time and money!
From Gatwick we flew to Amman via Athens, its a more affordable option when compared to the direct flight from Heathrow. We arrived at Queen Alia International airport in the evening, went through immigration to get a visa on arrival for 40JD in a timely manner. In the arrival hall, there’s two options for a sim card – Zain and Umniah. We chose the latter since we read that the coverage is better. And it is! It works in in the lost city of Petra and in parts of Wadi Rum. The sim card and 3GB data is 9JD.
We decided to rent a car online at Reliable Car. Its 228JD for one week with GPS, 2 drivers allowed, and full insurance. The company met us at the airport, collected cash payment, and handover an old Nissan Altera. They were nice enough to drive us to the nearest gas station and help us with refueling. One tank last around 600km. We ended up paying around 40JD for petrol in a week. If you have a high budget, try renting a fast car! The dead sea and desert highway are amazing track drive. You can easily speed 160km/hr. Watch out for bumps in the town areas and checkpoints though. Its highly recommended that you have your passport and driving license ready at all times. We get checked about twice a day.
We didn’t do much on the arrival day other than drive to Madaba, checkin at the Best Western, and grab dinner at Haret Jdoudna. Its deemed the best restaurant in town. We found it mediocre. But then the food standard here is different in general and price on the expensive side. Definitely not a cheap tourist destination.
Waking up well rested the next morning, we head to the Church of St. George to see the mosaic map. It was tiny! Might as well skip this and head to the Dead Sea early or sleep in a bit more.
The Dead Sea is a 1-1.5 hour drive via Mount Nebo. It really depends on how often you stop to take photos of the scenery and how long you spend at Mt. Nebo. Its the location where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. A beautiful panoramic stop. Once at the Dead Sea, we checked in at the Holiday Inn. The weather is unseasonally cold and windy for this time of the year. However, we floated on the Dead Sea anyway! The hotel got a secluded beach whilst the current was a bit choppy, it was an absolutely delightful experience. Be aware to keep your eyes and mouth shut, if you don’t want to be left in agony!
Next destination is Wadi Rum, a desert in the south of Jordan. Its almost a 4-hour drive from the Dead sea via a scenic highway along the shoreline and then through the mountains into the desert. The desert itself was a scene from space movies, especially, the Martian. Red mountains, rocks, and sand. We spent the afternoon touring Wadi Rum, climbing rocky slopes to a spring, jumping around on the sand dune, and overall taking in the breathtaking scene before heading to the Luxury Night Camp. The camp is a delightful sight! Without phone signal and wifi, its a hideaway. Instead of staying in a Bedouin style tent, we got the galactic white tent with clear dome roof. This way we can fall asleep star-gazing in the comfort of the warm bed. The sky at night is like someone has thrown glitters on dark canvas. It sparkles! Astrophotographers’ paradise.
Although it was a struggle as a pescatarian to eat well at this camp, the stars made up for it. Dinner was great for carnivore, especially, anyone who fancy lamb. When I told them that I’m vegetarian, I received rice, boiled carrots, and potatoes. It was filling, but I was something more thought through. Breakfast was better since they have omelettes.
Those who stay in the Bedouin tent does not have the luxury of ensuite bathroom and toilet. We did though! Theres a small separate room in the tent for this. Depending on your budget, you can spend as little or as much as you want in the desert. I heard there’s another camp that charge $700 per night. So thats at the extreme end of the spectrum. The other end would be self-sufficient camping and cooking. For us, the camp is perfect. We got to meet people and mingle with coincidentally expats from Thailand. Their kids went to ISB as well. Once a panther always a panther!
An hour drive away from Wadi Rum is the port city of Aqaba. A tax free zone along the Red Sea bordering Israel and Saudi Arabia. Plus, opposite Egypt, there’s a ferry across. Although it’s unseasonably cold, we decided to scuba dive anyway. Luckily, the dive center at Tala bay was able to immediately accommodate us. We rented all the gear, suit up, and dove in. The guide was extremely friendly and helpful. Unlike diving in Thailand, divers have to do everything themselves here. He helped us with everything though which was awesome! We even borrowed his red filter for the GoPro camera. The dive was right on the shoreline along the house reef. Even though the coral and sea life weren’t impressive, it was fun to dive anyway!
We stayed at the Radisson Blu Tala Bay hotel which was a 15 minutes drive from the city center. The room was nice and clean. Breakfast mediocre, but service hospitable. The beach area was quite crowded and loud. We had lunch at the beach cafe/bar. The salmon burger didn’t taste like salmon, but we were assured that its fish. The dinner at Romero in the Royal Yacht Club was probably one of the best meal we had this trip. Sadly, I think I left my favorite white sun hat here. And its forever gone.
The following day we did a 2-hr drive to the “lost city” of Petra. We refuel along the highway before cutting through the desert into the mountain. Make sure you’re always aware of how much fuel you have left. Its easy to find petrol station, but sometimes it is very far apart. Anyhow, after we checked in at the Marriott hotel, we drove another 5km to the visitor center. There’s plenty of restaurants around there. Food cost around 15JD per meal here, which is relatively cheaper than the cities.
Make sure you’re full before heading into marvel at the beauty of the Red Rose City. There’s a 50JD entrance fee and you will need at least half a day to explore its many caves and tombs. We started by walking through the Siq, a mile long walk through the gorge with sandstone walls. This then leads to the magnificent Treasury which stood guarding the ancient Nabatean city. If you have time, we didn’t, you can go be astound by the famous temple of Indiana Jonea – the Khazneh. Since we were lacking time and didn’t want to pay for the “desert limousine/taxi” that comes in the form of horses, camels, and donkeys, we only viewed some of the stops from a far. From the area with the restrooms and cafes, its another 1.5-2 hours walk to the Deir aka the Monastery. This is Petra’s largest carved facade. The hike involves going up 800 rocky steps, avoiding donkey’s feces, taking in the scenery, and trying to catch your breath. We think that the Treasury is so much prettier though. But reaching the Monastery gives a sense of accomplishment. We then retraced our steps and went back out to grab a drink at the Cave bar before dinner.
After dinner at the Three Steps restaurant, we went back into Lost City at 830pm for the “Petra by Night” event. Its organized three times a week, highly recommended, so plan accordingly! Candles were lidup on both sides of the trail to lead the way to the Treasury. Hundreds of candles were placed in front of the facade to create a mystical experience. If you want a central position in front, make sure to go line up early, door opens at 8.15pm. There was no good location left in front, so we decided to stand on the side. Photos should be taken before the show ends since then people are allowed to walk in between the candles and you won’t be able to take a human-free photo! We absolutely loved this event, the stars definitely helped make the night more magical. A truly Arabian night experience!
Our final stop is Amman. The capital is located in the Jordan valley and is only a 30 – 45 minutes drive from the airport. This makes it convenient to either stop here on the first or last day depending on the route of your trip. For us, there’s not much to see of the city. Our priority is to find good food before visiting the citadel. Obviously, we found a Thai restaurant for lunch to satisfy our spicy food cravings. The citadel, entry cost 3JD, is on top of a hill and have a panoramic view of the whole city. There you can visit the Temple of Hercules, a palace, and a museum. Also, there’s a bird-eyes view of the Roman Theater. Since we had an hour or so to spare before dinner we opt to chill at a cafe instead of touring the souk (a market). Dinner was at a fine-dining Middle Eastern restaurant called “Fakhr El Din”. Its an excellent place offering delicious food, good service, and is popular with both travelers and locals.
On the day of departure, make sure to reach the airport 2.5-3 hours in advanced. The line is long and it takes forever to queue for check-in. Don’t checkin online because immigration will send you to print a boarding pass anyway. And you can’t print from the self-checkin kiosks once you have downloaded an e-boarding pass. Other than that going through the airport is standard procedure. The lines weren’t long at immigration and security. There’s a small duty free area and an overpriced souveneir selection. So make sure to buy your collectible from outside!
For more photos: IG @traveldouble