The most visibly striking contrast between Syria and Jordan is the level of wealth. Whereas in Syria people live simply, the Jordanians (in Amman) sported around in their new cars. Within a few days, we discovered a much greater difference. 99 in 100 Syrians are genuinely friendly and helpful. In Jordan, 99 in 100 lie to disgusting extremes to swindle foreigners. Over the course of our week in Jordan, we learned to distrust hotel staff, bus drivers, and even the tourist police, supposedly employed to protect the tourists.
We reached Amman just before noon. Rejecting all offers for taxi service, we walked 40 minutes from the Amman JETT bus station to downtown where most of the budget accommodation is located. We had read recommendations against Cliff Hotel, Baghdad Grand Hotel, and Cairo Hotel written by other travelers in “Travel Tips” notebooks found in most hotels in Syria. The only hotel recommended by a few travelers was Venecia. We viewed the rooms and kitchen there. The stairwell, reception area, and bathrooms were appallingly filthy. My friend viewed the guest kitchen and would say no more than, “it’s more disgusting than the bathroom.” Walking further down the street, we found Basman Hotel which by no means was clean, but relative to Venecia, it was acceptable. The hotel manager at Basman was friendly, sometimes overly so. He’d knock and walk into our room puffing on a cigarette several times a day. We stayed 3 nights.
The city of Amman has little to offer. It’s basically a trash laden financial and governmental center of Jordan. The only ATM we could withdraw cash from was at HSBC. We used Amman as our base from which to see the Roman ruins of Jerash to the north and float in the Dead Sea to Jerash
Several travelers wrote about Jerash in “Travel Tips” books in Syria. Some said, “I liked Jerash more than Palmyra.” One said, “I liked Jerash even more than the Pyramids.” We, on the other hand, weren’t impressed and thought the JD 5 admission was unreasonably high. Having already visited a dozen Roman ruins over the past year, our enthusiasm for more has significantly diminished.
Jerash is 51km north of Amman and easy to reach by local bus from Amman’s Abdali bus station. The return bus is also easily found at the only bus station in the town of Jerash. There’s even a sign in English: “AMMAN”.
Within the area of excavation are 2 theaters, an oval courtyard, a colonnaded street, 2 tetrapylons, and several temples. The structural restoration of each is good. Food and beverage outside the entrance gate is expensive so it’s best to bring a snack and water from Amman.
We went to the Dead Sea on our second full day in Amman. Getting there took most of the day because neither our hotel receptionist nor Lonely Planet had accurate bus information. After hours of trial and error, we found that buses to the dead Sea leave from a parking lot that locals call “the new Mujihajireen bus station”. The bus departs Amman when it’s full and costs JD 0.350 per person. Leaving our hotel at 10:00, we finally reached the Dead Sea at 15:00. Most of our time was wasted trying to find the bus departure point in Amman. Actual drive time is about one hour.
The bus terminates at the Dead Sea Rest House which has showers (no additional charge), towels for hire (JD 1.500), and locker rental (JD 0.500). Admission into the Rest House area is JD 2.500.
Floating in the Dead Sea is a highlight of a visit to Jordan. 340 meters below sea level, it’s the lowest point on earth. The high salt content causes a buoyancy that makes bathers appear as if they are sitting in shallow water. Buoyancy of the legs makes swimming the crawl stroke impossible. Breaks in the skin are immediately felt when dipping into the water. Shaving beforehand should definitely be avoided.
An hour at the Dead Sea is plenty of time to enjoy the novelty of the water. After bathing, the quantity of salt residue on the skin necessitates a shower. Return buses are approximately hourly so don’t be fooled by the Rest House gate attendant and his taxi driver buddies who insist that the last bus already left.