There is always a first time for everything.
In fact, part of the fun of travelling, is the discovery of "many firsts". And on this trip, for the first time ever, we found ourselves in a situation we'd never experienced before.....
We had changed too much money.
If you've been following A Girl & A Bald Traveller, you'll know our travel style is the impromptu, whatever comes, comes, sort of travel. Research and prior preparation is not our strongest suit. This time though, I thought we should change more because;
a. Part of our 10 day trip to the Caucasus's encompassed oil rich Azerbaijan,
b. A similar 15 Day trip to the same 3 countries organized by Dynasty Travel cost almost $6,000 SGD!
With that in mind, $800 SGD should do it; hotels, tours, food, transport, everything in (except air tickets, which cost us around 1.2k).
I was wrong. $600 was all we needed.
And if we really wanted to go budget? We could probably do it under $400. But this wasn't our usual backpacking trip. This was a "luxury trip". Tours, restaurant dining, a hotel stay-cation maybe; and also, part of my proposal/engagement plan to "The Girl".
Mud Volcano's in Azerbaijan
Overlooking of Tbilisi, Georgia from the hill tops.
Visiting a monastery at Lake Sevan, Armenia
Emirates: SIN - DXB, Dubai (return) $743 SGD
FlyDubai, Multi City: DXB - Baku, Azerbaijan / Yerevan, Armenia - DXB $475 SGD
Average Taxi cost: $1 - 2 USD
Average Metro (MRT) cost: 0.20 - 0.30 USD.
Have you read: I Saved $100,000 In Just One Year To Travel The World. Here's How....
What! So many attractions for just the equivalent of 19 USD?!? Nett!!!???
Average Price of a Day Tour:
Azerbaijan: 19 USD/Day
Georgia: 25 USD/Day
Armenia: 21 USD/Day
Average Price of Accommodation:
Azerbaijan: 12 USD/Day
Georgia: From 5 USD/Day
Armenia: From 5 USD/Day
Getting to/Where is the Caucasus?:
The Caucasus? Where on earth's that?
Because this European region isn't Scandinavia or the United Kingdom, most Singaporeans (even those who claim to "travel frequently") would hard pressed to point it out on a world map. The Caucasus, (in as simple an explanation as possible) is the region that separates Europe from Asia.
Getting to the Caucasus from Singapore can be quite costly. The cheapest way is to get a cheap ticket to Dubai. This should cost you roughly around $700 SGD for a direct flight, or as low as $450 SGD if you don't mind transits. From Dubai, simply catch a flight on FlyDubai (the budget version of Emirates); a multi city or return ticket should cost around $500 SGD.
Of course, the other way, if you're as wealthy how some Singaporeans portray themselves to be, is to simply book a 15 Day package tour from Dynasty Travel for slightly under $6000 SGD.
Local Tours & Attractions ($108 SGD)
Kazbegi, Georgia. This picture doesn't give it enough credit. It's way more beautiful than this, Just run a google search!
Now, the Caucasus aren't exactly what I would call a "Typical Singaporean" destination (that would be Scandinavia). Georgia however, could be somewhat "acceptable" even for a Singaporean. Tbilisi, its capital, ranks way up on my list of "favorite European capitals"; and trust me, I've visited more European capitals than most.
It sort of reminded me of Budapest (another typical Singaporean destination) but with a more raw, romantic old world charm about it. And if you thought Budapest was cheap, wait till you get to Tbilisi. In Georgia, entrance fees to most attractions are pretty much non-existent. (Either that or they cost $1 USD)
Enjoying the view of Tbilisi from a cafe up on the hills.
If you're wondering, how much of the country can you really experience in 4 days? (the amount of time we spent in Georgia) In the case of Georgia? Plenty!
Like many European capitals, Tbilisi is made up of the "old" part, and the modern part. There's nothing much of note in the modern part of the city; and if you get about by taxi like we did (it costs just $1 - 2 USD per person) , you'll find yourself in the "old part of town" (basically the beautiful and interesting part) by lunch. From there, half a day is more than enough to wander about and enjoy the wonders Tbilisi has to offer.
For our evening program, all we had to do was take a cable car (the cheapest cable car ever at $2 USD each way) right up to the Narikala Fortress overlooking the entire city to savour the one of the most beautiful sunsets we'd ever seen before heading down for a dip in a traditional Georgian Sulfur Bath.
Georgia is really beautiful. We just happened to stop for a toilet break, I looked up and realized; "Wow. What a great view!"
Tbilisi, being the capital, also happens to be the launchpad for most tours around Georgia. From Tbilisi. we took a day tour all the way up to the magnificent Kazebegi, (a must see attraction of Georgia's) just kilometers away from the Russian border.
Because we had just 4 days in Georgia, we wanted as diversified as possible an experience. In Tbilisi, we embraced the old world charm of Georgia. At Kazebegi, we witnessed part of the beauty of the Georgian mountains. And in Kakheti, "Georgia's desert region" of the David Gareja Monastery, touring winery's and castles.
Having lunch up in the Georgian mountains. A perfect place for a picnic.
If I could turn back the clock and change the way I planned this trip, I would have factored in a day or two to visit Svaneti, the high mountainous region of Georgia where the ENTIRE region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Leave is a precious commodity in Singapore. Employers can be stingy with it, and sometimes we're so busy with work we just can't consume it. Still, if you're reading this, have a week of leave to spare and hope to enjoy a vacation in Europe without breaking the bank, there's no European country i'd recommend more than Georgia for a one week visit.
The Flame Towers of Baku is arguably the most iconic landmark in the city. Here's how it looks in the evening.
Azerbaijan is home to some of the worlds quirkiest "travel attractions". And if you were to run a google search, you'll find very little information on its "attractions", probably because they only really started having a more welcoming visa policy this year. From what we could google though, descriptions like "expensive, oil rich" popped up rather frequently, which also explains why we changed more money than what we usually would.
Have you read: 27 Days In Europe "COMFORTABLY" Under 2.8k SGD or 1.8k Euros! (Including Airtickets)
And here's how the Flame Towers look at night.
So imagine our surprise when we found that costs in Azerbaijan were at the worst, around the same price point as in Singapore; on most occasions though, even cheaper. A FULL day tour cost us just the equivalent of USD 19 - 20!! And yes, that day tour includes almost all of the main attractions one would visit while traveling in Azerbaijan.
Obviously, there's more to Azerbaijan besides the attractions listed in the picture above under "Cost Breakdown". The point i'm getting at here is, Do You Actually Realize How Cheap Azerbaijan Is For An OIL RICH Nation!!??
Sometimes, I really wonder who even signs up for the Dynasty Travel version of this. Almost $6,000 to Visit the Caucasus? Seriously, just hand me $4k SGD. I'll plan a 5 Star Trip for you; be sure to let me keep whatever is left though.
Summoning fire at the "Ateshgah of Baku" (Fire Temple of Baku)
Probably one of the weirdest attractions we've come across in our years of traveling; Mud Volcanos!
Mini volcanos which when they erupt (yes they do!), spew COLD mud all over the nearby villages.
Exploring shipyards, oil rigs and oil fields are part of the attractions of this country.
Did you know that the oil fields in the James Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough" starring Pierce Brosnan was filmed in Azerbaijan? Since then, the "oil fields" have been renamed "The James Bond Oil Fields".
The city of Baku reminds me of a Dubai in the making. Weird modern structures popping up in the midst of ancient buildings. In the same way James Bond has a license to kill, the architects seem to posses a license to build. Restrictions? Regulatory bodies? Nah, just build whatever, wherever; as long as they "outbuild Dubai".
Have you read: How To Plan A 6 Day 5 Night Tokyo Vacation Under $1,000 SGD (Airfare Included)