Backpacking in Moldova: Visiting Orheiul Vechi Monastery in Remote Countryside

Backpacking in Moldova: Visiting Orheiul Vechi Monastery

Backpacking in Moldova: Visiting Orheiul Vechi Monastery

So if you’ve followed DSL the last 7 years or so you might be aware of some of the completely ridiculous untouristy places I’ve ended up in. I’m talking about this ten for starters:
1. Bruny Island – remote island off south east Tasmania
2. Shahr e Kord – unknown mountain village in Iran
3. Portbraddon – Atlantic coast hamlet in Northern Ireland
4. Santa Ana Alta – pure rural Colombia
5. Jin Ji Cun – remote village near equally remote Luoping, China

living a lifestyle of travel

All alone in Jin Ji Cun, China

6. Joya de Ceren – very remote UNESCO site in El Salvador
7. Amadiya – amazing mountain town in Iraq
8. Xinying – crazy city in Taiwan
9. Barrientos Island – the day I arrived in Antarctica
10. Osterweddingen – rural east Germany

Orheiul Vechi Monastery in Moldova

Orheiul Vechi Monastery in Moldova

Well those were all great and often I was the only tourist but I kind of made those places out to be more “off the beaten track” (forgive the overuse of the phrase please) than they were. The truth is there were 130 of us at Barrientos in Antarctica in 2010 and at least 3 others at Portbraddon. This time in deepest Moldova it was really just me…

Yes it's just me here in rural Moldova.

Yes it’s just me here in rural Moldova.

A lonely Northern Irishman out in the middle of nowhere on a mission to tour Orheiul Vechi a backpacking in Moldova adventure to say the least. And I’m not doing this for me. I don’t travel for myself anymore. I travel 1/3 for myself, 1/3 for travelling Hong Kong girl Panny Yu and perhaps more emphatically I now travel 1/3 for YOU. At least a third. I go to places I want my readers, fellow travellers and other bloggers/ writers to see too. I do my best to do the hard work to make travelling easier for others and write about it so you can get to these places too.

A morning goat in deepest Moldova.

A morning goat in deepest Moldova.

So on a drab dreary dark lonely Wednesday morning in a Moldovan November I awoke in the Tapok Hostel in Chisinau on a mission to visit Orheiul Vechi Monastery. To backpack it, to explore it and to write about it. I follow a few other travel blogs, but only the real ones, genuine travellers (none of your “2 weeks in Thailand and Laos and I’m a hardcore backpacker bollocks”) and I read that two of my favourite other travel writers had also been to Moldova and covered their visit here to Orheiul Vechi. Katie Aune has an amazing site and story and is a proper hard working traveller who visited Moldova on her ex-USSR country hopping mission a few years back.

Moldovan wilderness at Orheiul Vechi.

Moldovan wilderness at Orheiul Vechi.

It was now my turn to write about Orheiul Vechi, here goes, it was an incredible journey.

On the road to Orheiul Vechi.

On the road to Orheiul Vechi.

Getting to Orheiul Vechi from Chisinau
OK so this will change all the time so rather than tell you bus times etc. I’ll tell you my journey. The buses I took that day were different to Johnny, Katie and that old backpackers bible the Lonely Planet. I headed to the main bus station in Chisinau at 9.30am.

Mayhemic and confusing - central bus station in Chisinau.

Mayhemic and confusing – central bus station in Chisinau.

It’s all a bit crazy and disorganised, mayhemic and confusing and reminded me a bit of bus stations in Azerbaijan and China. Signs on the front of buses yes but no real order to them (apart from the set platforms inside and in front of the station itself).

One of many buses in Chisinau main bus station, Moldova.

One of many buses in Chisinau main bus station, Moldova.

The buses to and from Orheiul Vechi do not leave from inside the station so don’t go inside. Enjoy the madness outside and keep asking people for a bus to Orheiul Vechi.

Crawling my way through the bus station searching for the Orheiul Vechi bus.

Crawling my way through the bus station searching for the Orheiul Vechi bus.

It turns out there are 2 or 3 each day and they leave when the driver wants to. I found my bus which said on it Orheiul Vechi.

The correct bus - says Orheiul Vechi on it.

The correct bus – says Orheiul Vechi on it.

I double checked with the driver if this bus took me straight to the monastery and he confirmed that it did and I trusted him. I also got the price which was 26 Lei (about £1.10). The bus wasn’t yet full so I went to grab a takeaway coffee to bring on board.

The mini-bus/marshrutka to Orheiul Vechi.

The mini-bus/marshrutka to Orheiul Vechi.

Please note that you need a bus direct to the monastery. There is no point getting a bus to somewhere nearby then having to walk, hitch hike or pray that you find another bus there. Don’t get on a bus to Orhei either – the name seems and sounds similar but it’s a different town.

Place to grab a coffee or a 10am beer in Chisinau Moldova.

Place to grab a coffee or a 10am beer in Chisinau Moldova.

I got my coffee, boarded my bus and it became almost full and left at 10.20am.

Coffee on board waiting for bus to fill.

Coffee on board waiting for bus to fill.

Bus to Orheiul Vechi.

Bus to Orheiul Vechi.

On the way out of Chisinau we picked up more passengers at random stops. About an hour and 10 mins later I was dropped off at Orheiul Vechi. I was the only tourist on the bus and the only tourist at Orheiul Vechi and you will be too probably.

The drive to Orheiul Vechi.

The drive to Orheiul Vechi.

Leaving wet Chisinau

Leaving wet Chisinau

On the way off the bus you pay the driver the 26 Lei. He also told me and wrote down the times of the buses back to Chisinau. You’re in the middle of nowhere so you don’t want to get stranded. The buses back were 12.05 and 16.00. Great – that means after seeing the monastery there is nothing else I can do until 4 pm I thought!!

Where the bus dropped me off.

Where the bus dropped me off.

It was now 11.30 and I knew touring the cave monastery and walking back for the 12.05 bus was a no goer and a stupid idea so I was “stuck here” until 4 pm.

All alone in this deserted countryside near Orheiul Vechi.

All alone in this deserted countryside near Orheiul Vechi.

As things worked out out in the end this was a pretty incredible day of travel and I’ll write about my other experience in Butuceni on its own. First up, it was the walk to the monastery. As I see it there are 4 things to check out at Orheiul Vechi monastery before heading down the hill into the village of Butuceni.

The lonely walk to Orheiul Vechi.

The lonely walk to Orheiul Vechi.

1. Church (Ascension of St. Mary)
At the very top of the hill you will see the church which is dedicated to the Ascension of St. Mary. The church was predictably shut down by the Soviets in 1944 and remained abandoned throughout the communist regime. Services resumed in 1996, though it still looks abandoned. Archaeologists have uncovered remnants of a defence wall surrounding the monastery complex dating back to the 15th century.

Church in Orheiul Vechi.

Church in Orheiul Vechi.

There are some staff working in the church – just knock on the door and they will let you in. No charge but you can leave a donation. It’s a pretty church in a nice surrounding at the top of the lonely hill.

church

Outside the gate for the main church.

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Church on the lonely hill

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

I went inside the church and there are some cool murals on the walls, something quite similar to the monasteries in Bucovina Romania.

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2. Cave Monastery
The highlight is the cave monastery. Basically head to the Bell Tower and go in the lower door. It should be open, unless it’s a Monday (I have heard that it is closed on a Monday).

This door is the entrance to Orheiul Vechi Cave Monastery.

This door is the entrance to Orheiul Vechi Cave Monastery.

The steps down to the cave monastery.

The steps down to the cave monastery.

orheiul cave monastery

Inside the cave monastery.

In this cave I met Vasil who is a cool guy but also a bit of a crazy God worshipper and this is his lifestyle here in Orheiul Vechi – he lives in this place. Vasil and I spoke in German as he speaks zero English and me zero Moldovan. He spent some time living in Germany so that was cool. I learned that the cave monastery looks like a man’s face in the rock side when viewed from afar.

With Vasil inside the cave monastery

With Vasil inside the cave monastery

The nose and face shape of the monastery.

The nose and face shape of the monastery.

One of the rooms out the back has bats in it. It wasn’t clear to me what the room was originally used for, presumably shelters or sleeping quarters for religious people who came here.

The room with bats in it.

The room with bats in it.

In the room with bats.

In the room with bats.

Vasil admiring the views.

Vasil admiring the views.

3. Admire the Views
The views of the countryside here are remote, inspiring and sublime. Photo time 😉

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Moldovan wilderness at Orheiul Vechi.

Moldovan wilderness at Orheiul Vechi.

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4. Grave on the Hill
There is a curious stone cross tombstone – a grave on the hill. It makes for an eerie feeling seeing the world behind it and a breeze blowing by.

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After checking out those four things I headed down into the village of Butuceni. The cave monastery reminded me of Kandovan in Iran, Goreme in Turkey and Davit Gareja/ Uplistsikhe in Georgia. I had an incredible day out in the end with some truly inspirational spontaneous travel memories and the follow up story appears in my Butuceni post.

Here are my videos from touring Orheiul Vechi:

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8 thoughts on “Backpacking in Moldova: Visiting Orheiul Vechi Monastery in Remote Countryside

  • Thanks for the shout out and great to read about your trip there – makes me wish I had gone when it wasn’t all covered in 2 feet of snow! 🙂

  • Hi Katie – no worries I always love following your stories especially the recent Africa adventure and it’s cool that we both went to the same place in Moldova too. It hasn’t really changed much at all – I was still the only tourist there, but Butuceni has a spa complex now which I will write about separately. I think you get it better with the snow! It rained and rained and rained every second of every hour of my time in Moldova and Transnistria! Safe travels. Jonny

  • Awesome! Thinking of a day trip out there next week. Off to Transnistria tomorrow, for 2 nights – so will head to Orheiul Vechi when I get back to Chisinau 🙂

    Thanks for the helpful post!

  • I wanted to take the bus from Chisnau to Orhei because it was only 26 leu ($1.45) and I didn’t want to join a tour. 

    I read from these two blogs:

    http://dontstopliving.net/backpacking-in-moldova-visiting-orheiul-vechi-monastery-in-remote-countryside/ 

    http://katieaune.com/orheiul-vechi/

    Also, this site had a bus timetable: https://vilaroz.com/en/directions-to-vila-roz/

    I’ve seen it written Orheiul or Orhei and it sounds like Jorge. 

    The bus leaves from Chisnau at

    8:30 AM
    10:20 AM
    1:15 PM
    3:00 PM
    5:15 PM
    6:15 PM

    and returns from the monastary at

    6 AM
    8 AM
    10 AM
    11:45 AM
    3 PM
    4:20 PM

    I got on the 10:20 AM and returned on the 3 PM bus. 

    The bus station is called Gara Centrala (blue dot is where the van is) and is just southeast of King Stephen the Great park and the Arc de Triumph. There are 30 vans here so I just kept asking the drivers for “Monastery” and they pointed me to the correct van. 

    Minivan sign:

    This is the bus route:

    I went in May 2017 so the day was sunny and bright. The van was almost full, but it was very warm inside because you can’t roll down windows and there is no AC. He would stop to pick up people so at one point, we had 25 people in the van, and a lot of people had to stand up. He will drive you to the base of the monastery. I think a few years ago, he would drop you off at the top of the hill, but they’ve changed the route. There is a hotel and restaurant here, so some people get off to work. You will pay the driver when you exit. It takes about 70 minutes to arrive at the monastery. Walk up the gravel hill to your left and you will see the church. There were about 10 people looking at the church with me. They were open every day of the week. You could walk downstairs into a little chapel. 

     

     
    I walked through the church grounds and exited the other side and kept walking up the hill. After a 30 minute walk, I was close to the next town and I saw some caves cut into the hill. I walked down this path and it was much cooler in the caves. I saw a yellow church in the distance and had a lot of time to waste until the next van, so I did a lot of walking. Bring your own food and water! I didn’t want to walk back to the monastery, so there was a little convenience store where some people where congregating. I assumed this was the bus stop, so I waited there for an hour. The bus came at 3 PM!

    The Moldcell sign above the red door was a little store and it’s where the bus stops in Trebujeni.  

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