When I announced to friends and family that I was going to Jordan for one week, the reactions were varied.
Some were glad; they knew about Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea, and were excited for me.
Others, however, were worried about me. It’s dangerous there, they warned. You can get kidnapped, or worse. Why go there? others asked. Didn’t you know how dangerous it is? (No, they haven’t been to Jordan.)
I just shook my head at the warnings. True, Jordan is bordered by Israel, Syria, and Iraq, but it has always been “an oasis of calm in a violent region,” as the Jordan government keeps on assuring visitors.
Indeed, even while they are not directly involved, the political instability in the region has affected tourism in Jordan. People read or watch the news and get scared off. It is unfortunate; Jordan, with its numerous historical, religious, and natural tourist attractions, is truly a must-visit.
When I arrived at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman at 5am, I was greeted by a representative of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) right before the immigration counters. It seems that the JTB booth at the arrival area is always manned by someone, 24/7. Tourists arriving in Amman can just go there and seek assistance from the JTB staff with regards to their stay in Jordan, no matter what time of the day they arrive.
How nice, I thought, that they have the visitors’ welfare in mind.
I was to learn that in Jordan, even in the capital of Amman, this friendliness and eagerness to help is the norm and not an exception.
With over 4 million residents, more than half of Jordan’s population, modern-day Amman seems to be just like any capital city; traffic jams are bad during rush hour, there are crowded and overpopulated districts, and of course, one can get lost in the cacophony of sights, colors, and sounds in the city’s streets.
Amman is the country’s hub for business, too, with a number of first-class hotels, restaurants, and other commercial establishments in the area.
However, there are several things that make this Jordanian capital different for me. Here are my first impressions of Amman.
1. Amman is a study in monochrome.
Most of the buildings I had seen in Amman were the color of limestone. Yellowish buildings dot the hills, making for a very picturesque sight. Our driver explained that it’s a law; people are required to use local materials in building their homes, and limestone is aplenty in Jordan.
Some of the newer buildings, however, are made of glass. While I’m all for modern structures, seeing these buildings stand out against the limestone-studded streets is a bit jarring. I wish they had stuck to the existing motif.
2. Security is tight.
Another thing that struck me was how tight security was in Amman. Marriott Hotel, where we were billeted, had a security barrier at the gate. Every vehicle has to be checked by a guard before the barrier is lowered. I’ve only seen it previously in embassies.
When you enter the hotel (or any hotel or shopping mall in Amman), you would have to subject all your belongings to an X-ray machine, too, and walk through a metal detector. They really take security seriously here, and based on what others have said, it makes people feel more secure.
In general, Jordan is safe even for solo travelers.
3. People are generally honest.
Two other bloggers and I decided to check out downtown Amman after dinner that first day. We were informed that if we were to take the small bus, we would have to pay 1-2 JD (Jordanian Dinar) each.
Given that there were three of us, we decided to take a cab and just split the fare. The driver didn’t know English, so we spent quite a bit of time trying to tell him where we wanted to go. When I said souk, he perked up, repeated it with the correct pronunciation, and on we went. He also understood mosque.
We had been in the cab for a few minutes already when I realized that the driver hadn’t turned on the meter. I had a sinking feeling that we were about to be scammed. In a lot of cities in Asia, for example, not agreeing about the fare beforehand is an invitation to be charged an arm and a leg when you reach your destination.
However, given the challenge in communication, my friends and I decided to just let it be. We hoped it wouldn’t be much, even if the driver did overcharge us.
When we arrived at the King Hussein Mosque, I asked the driver how much, and he said 2 JD. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t overcharge us! In fact, it was even cheaper than if we had taken the bus!
This kindness to strangers didn’t stop there. While we were walking around downtown, I wanted some Turkish coffee and left my friends by a shop selling textiles. When I came back, I saw one young shopkeeper engage Fabio in conversation. I hope he’s ready to be hassled, I thought. Again, in other cities in Asia, a friendly shopkeeper only means one thing: he wants you to buy something.
However, this young Jordanian just wanted to talk to Fabio about Italy. He even gave him a cup of Turkish coffee, free of charge!
4. Amman is full of history.
Established in 13th century BC, Amman is quite old. It had gone through several names and were conquered several times, first by the Assyrians, then the Persians, the Greek Macedonians, and later on, by the Romans.
And yet, Amman has managed to preserve its historical structures. The Roman Theater–the largest in Jordan which can accommodate up to 6,000 people–was built in 138 AD and is still being used for cultural and other events. How cool is that?
5. Amman’s Eastern and Western parts
Amman is roughly divided in two parts: East and West. It is more than just geographic location though. When you see pictures of Amman with limestone-colored buildings close together, that’s the Eastern part. It’s the old Amman, which also holds the capital’s historic and cultural sites.
According to our driver, when the Eastern part became too crowded, Western Amman was developed. It is the city’s richer district, with bigger houses and more vacant land. It is also Amman’s economic hub, with most of the shopping malls, high-end hotels, and international restaurants located there.
I wish I had an extra day to walk around Eastern Amman. It is a rich area for exploration, and the hour that we spent walking around the souks was definitely not enough. There is just so much to see.
However, I’m glad I did have a bit of time to go around the city independently. Most visitors just see it as a jump-off point to Petra and the Dead Sea, which is a pity because Amman has its own charms. Next time, when I go back to Jordan, I will definitely give this old capital all the time it deserves.
Disclaimer: My one week trip in Jordan last March 2015 was sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board. However, all opinions are my own. The JTB has had no say in my posts about their beautiful country.