warnings for women, Istanbul
Before I went to Istanbul, I read all the warnings and tips I could possibly found online. Some tips or warnings were a bit "scary" to me. In March of 2009, I traveled alone and stayed in Istanbul 4 nights. I really loved the city. I stayed somewhere close to the Tulip Mosque. I basically walked in old town, took the tram, and visited palaces, mosques, bazaar, shops, etc. I generally was outside until 9pm. Sometimes I walked outside after 11pm (e.g. checking out the bus stop where I would take to the airport).
It is a lively city with so many people on the streets until midnight. I grew up in Beijing. While I was in Istanbul, I felt like I was in Beijing, very comfortable with surroundings. I walked around at night and there were people all over the places. Later in the evening street vendors set up their "carpet" with small crafts just like those in downtown Beijing. I never felt unsafe at all. While shopping or dining, sales or waiters were very friendly. They were saying hello and were very polite. They chatted with me asking me where I was from, what I was doing there, how I liked Istanbul, etc. During the entire time when I was in Istanbul, I did not see any Asian woman walking alone like myself, but no one bothered me.
I am writing here is to tell women who are like myself enjoying travel alone that as long as you stay in major attraction areas with a lot of people and are aware of surroundings, you are generally safe in Istanbul.
Please do not stop going to a place when you read or hear something negative. Bad things can happen in any place. I now live in the US, I feel like that the city closing to my home is more dangerous than Istanbul. I would never want to walk downtown there myself even during the day. Some US cities are terrible! There are so many "scum bags" hanging out on the streets in some cities in the US. I got most hassles when I was visiting places in the US. The worst I got was some crazy teenager was coming to me screaming right off my ear and left laughing loud. On the contrary, these cities in the foreign countries with world famous attractions and tourists are much safer than the cities or towns I live close by. I traveled by myself to several cities in Europe and Istanbul, no one ever has getting that close to me and doing these type of silly things like the kids or adults did to me in the US.
I agree that the area around the Blue Mosque is crawling with pushy romeos and rug salesmen but once you head off to the Eastern part of the country the men are courteous and chivalrous as opposed to crude and sleazy. I found the hassle much less in places like Kars, Van and Ezurum.
To all travelers, you can never be too careful in big cities. I'm not necessarily singling out Istanbul as a crime ridden place but I have been traveling there back and forth for nearly 10 years and for the first time last summer, I became a victim of robbery in the apartment I was staying in in what locals consider a safe area, Ortakoy. As a female foreigner, I believe I was targeted by a group of thieves perhaps in collaboration with taxi drivers, etc. I don't really know how I got singled out but one day I came home to my friend's apartment and my room was ransacked! All of my valuables incuding my Mac Book, premium designer handbag and all its contents including my passport and my jewelry were all stolen! It looked like it was a well-planned operation as access from outside to the upper floor wasn't easy but they did it and they also devised a method of cutting and bending iron bars without being seen nor heard by neighbors! Please lock your belongings or better yet, don't bring valuables with you on your travels abroad. I have been doing so since I consider Istanbul my second home and I learned my lesson the hard way last summer. The policemen didn' t come up with prints and wasn't really able to do anything else but file the report.
Now, I'm not a girl who falls easily for a guy's line. I've heard a lot of them before but I have to say that one very sweet and boyish looking Turk had me feeling very guilty about rebuffing him. I mean, the guy was really clean cut and my travelling companion agreed that he did not seem the least bit sleezy.
It was only after returning from Istanbul and hearing stories from a friend of a friend that I see how common it is for Turkish men 'fall in love'. Yes, my would-be Romeo invited me to dinner saying I was a beautiful girl. He was good looking, but I'm just not into holiday romances which was probably what saved me from making a silly mistake. He was our guide while in Istanbul and when we met up again after our tour of Cappadocia, he appeared hurt because I had not replied to his sms invitation to dinner. I felt bad and composed a polite rebuff which only encouraged him. Good thing it was the end of the trip otherwise the pursuit might have gotten more intense.
My advice would be to go in with your eyes open. If you want a fling, they seem to be willing partners and power to you for that but don't give them your personal contact details. If you mean to rebuff them, don't bother being polite. Be totally blunt about your disinterest. Politeness seems to encourage them. Don't ever feel bad if they appear heartbroken. It's all part of the game. Proof? Once I left the country, his pledges of affection dried up immediately.
Unfortunatelly it is not an isolated case. Street harassment is very often in Turkey. I have been to 24 countries including very undeveloped, poor and nontouristy ones and never got any street discomfort, even any aggressive look. But in Istanbul it is almost impossible not to have any hassles neither from sellers or horny ignorant vagrants, especially for females, like you saw.
We have millions of people living in cities but don't know how to behave. Lots of uneducated men think that western tourists are easygoing and they can sleep with them whenever they want.
I am really angry with that case especially in Sultanahmet, Taksim, etc because there must be a kind of tourism police to save the tourists from street hassles, but they prefer not to deal with it.
Your post does not have anything blaming all the country or nation, no worries.
My German friend who lives in Istanbul for 5 years has just back from travelling Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Kongo, Burundi, and never has as much street hassles as in Istanbul.
I hope this does not prevent you from visiting our beautiful country again.
I was just in Istanbul this past summer with my family-my mother, my father, my 11 year-old brother, and I, 15, but only 14 at the time. But I look older, womanly. While my friend lives in Turkey, I forgot to ask her about the men there. You get the stares, you get the noises. Hissing (european men make this noise in 'approval' sometimes), tongue-clicking, etc. Nothing new to me. But these men were by and far more overt then I have ever witnessed in my life. For example, I was walking down the street with my 11-YEAR-OLD BROTHER and some man in a storefront says right to me, my sugar-pop, my sweetie, things along that line. I honestly dont care that much, but I was really shocked and felt bad for my brother having to hear that. Also, I was walking down one of the streets in the Grand Bazaar and some man yelled you are beatutiful, please come into my shop, I will give very good price. I was not shocked at the comment so much as I was at his overtness (if thats a word). I also was walking down the street and some man said to me "Did you escape from heaven my darling" which i found quite sweet and nice actually, but some of the stuff I could have done without. Like the skeezy noises and the overt stares. I guess it helps that after hearing some things I was not happy with I stayed right next to my father. But all in all, as to what I saw myself, men are harmless. It wasnt like anyone tried to ask me for sex or anything, or tried to take me into a dark alley or whatever. Again, I was with my family, but still. Just use good common sense, but also, dont doubt everyone. There was a boy about my age who was talking to me, practicing his English as he said. Not everyone is out to corner you. Also, be sensible about your dress and be respectful.
Haha, and one more thing. When my mom was taking a picture of a storefront I was standing in, you can see the store clerk staring right at my chest. I find it frather funny actually. It helps if you laught it off.
Unfortunately there is not a chance you can't run into these modern time romantics unless you are heavier than 150 kgs and older than 95 years old. They are concentrated around the Sultanahmet square area ussualy active between Sultanahmet and Haghia Sophia mosques. I guess they take the divine power to chat up over 100 ladies in 5 languages in a day from these two marvellous temples. They ussually come from the low class,conservative neighbourhoods. Most of them are after one night stand,some after western visa and a few others after the opportunuties rich western women can give them. My humble advice is ignore them and don't even reply to their greetings.
What makes me sad is these people leave a bad impression for all the Turkish society. Well most of the society is not like them and see these guys as low life forms.
Yes, I know it's clear by now that there are many pushy or sexually agressive men in the Sultanahmet area. While I was rarely frightened of them, I WAS unnerved when a car followed me slowly and occasionally honking. But if I were in a dark street, I probably would have been more freaked out. I can say with certainty, that I've never met as many men with sleazy smiles on their faces than anywhere else. (p.s. I wasn't wearing anything "provocative", just jeans and chunky sweater). I even got harassed by little boys. They were probably 7-12 years old and calling out stuff like, "Hey sexy japanese lady". While they were mostly likely imitating what they've seen, this kind of tipped me over the edge. Never mind the fact that I'm NOT Japanese!
Despite all the arguable annoyances, there really are many very kind and helpful Turks. i.e. When I was nearby Topkapi Sarayi, a twenty-something guy asked me if I needed help (I must have looked confused). I was already wary, due to my other encounters, but he didn't hound me for a date or try to sell me something. Perfect gentleman. Some cops warned me that Taksim Square wasn't such a great place for a foreign woman travelling alone and got me a cab. And a older woman on a bus to Istanbul made me sit next to her, so the weird guy who was giving us looks wouldn't have a chance. She was so cool.
In any case, I don't think it hurts to know how to yell for "Help" in different languages. Just yell "IMDAT!"
Istanbul is a fantastic place and everyone I met was polite, courteous and friendly but, as a single women traveller, you may find you gain some attention.
In my experience most of it was the usual kind of approaches i.e. invitations to visit shops, asking if you wanted a guide to sites and attractions. Only on a couple of occasions did I feel that there may have been an ulterior motive. However, even then I never felt threatened. My response most times was a polite "No thank you" or a "Sorry but I'm on my way to meet friends". Just use your common sense. Dress appropriately and respect the customs and conventions of the country you are in. What might not stand out on Oxford Street may stand out in Sultanahmet. Walk purposefully and if you are out at night stick to main, well-lit roads (I ate out every evening in and around Sultanahmet and had no problems walking back to my hotel at night) Don't 'advertise' your valuables i.e. camera, phone etc.. or money, make sure they are in a well zipped up bag or pocket. All advice that pertains to a lot of places not just Istanbul.
You will probably get stared at but just ignore it. If things do go further and you do find the attention becomes a bit too much (I did get somone trying surreptitously to slide there hands down to my bottom while they were selling me a bag!) then a loud and firm "No" or "Don't do that please" usually has the desired effect. Again I have suffered much the same on the London Underground and, again, a sharp no (though usually preceded by an expletive) works well!
Be careful, be aware but don't let it stop you from having a good time
Single women traveling alone will likely get a lot of male attention. It's usually quite harmless--I never felt harassed by it--but it can be a nuisance.
One way to limit this is to buy or borrow a wedding ring, which will cut down on the requests for dinner or a drink or a walk in the park.
If anybody asks, you can say that you're out looking at museums (or shopping for a gift for him, or whatever) while your husband has to check his email (is shopping for a gift for you, is having a Turkish bath in a men-only hamman, or whatever).
Be careful if someone is telling you "i know better places,let me show you" tell you to follow him.
Especially people with eastern Turkey accent.(You can find out their accent's sounds like arabic or speaking from the throat while they are speaking)
They can threat you with a gun ! or something else.!
If you don't know this person/people,if you think they are following you just ask for help .
You can even enter to a restaurant to ask for a help if you can not see any cops around.
These people can speak English (w/ very bad accent or grammar).As I said before, do not follow anyone you don't know!
To find a closer Police Offices in the area you are,just click on the name of place,you will see addresses and phone numbers.
ATTENTION PLS :Since this article misunderstood by some people (and they are right,i should add something to fix) This kind of situations are very rarely happening.I just wanted write in case if this rare situation finds you.In General its safe the city but like all many metropolitan cities,you have more risk compare to little towns.
Istanbul is an extremely safe city for women. Turkish men are very polite, even taxi drivers, gypsies with bears, and carpet salesmen deferring to women ... with exceptions! This is a secular city in a secularized nation, but women who appear in a few tiny scraps of provocative clothing will hear comments. New Yorkers just sigh in tired revulsion when hillbilly tourists show up in obscene t-shirts & minimal halters over exposed underwear and micro-mini-shorts or -skirts. Only a drunken tourist in a red light district wants to see even thin thighs and over-exposed breasts. Turks are less all-enduring than New Yorkers, and will not allow nearly naked tourists into religious buildings. Why should they? Dress like any ordinary urban woman in summer, and enjoy the cheerful civility of people who appreciate your courtesy!
There is a guy in istanbul who sent this email to a VT lady about meeting for paid sex!!
his nick is: dargeb
before they met - he didnt mention it, but after she decided not to meet him, he is now sending her abusive messages.
please be aware of him.
If you are a woman walking in Istanbul alone, be careful about overly nice men inviting you for a tea. You accept, supposing you'll drink it in front of the store they invited you at, but they might take you to a small narrow street with their store and make offers. This might get unconfortable. There is nothing wrong with accepting and invitation for a tea, but assess the situation before you do it.
Ladies, it's best to travel with a companion. Some guys can get overly touchy-feely, like the owner of a bag store just outside the Grand Bazaar who decided to whisk me into his store. A lot of them call your attention solely for the purpose of making a sale, of course, but *some* of them can get overly familiar.