Iran Trip Report (late June 2012)
Replies: 7 - Last Post: Sep 17, 2012 11:47 PM Last Post By: hauteboy0
Aug 26, 2012 2:15 AM
Iran Trip Report (late June 2012)Hi people, hope that my trip report (late June, 2 weeks) will be useful for potential travellers to Iran!
Tehran (2 days)
Took AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Tehran. Please note that AirAisa is much more stricter than the Iranian customs, as they almost prevented me from boarding, insisting that I had to have an official itenary sponsored by an agency in Iran. They finally relented as I showed and emailed them the email correspondence between me and Mr Mousavi of Firouzeh Hotel
(350,000R / night, single, with breakfast, a/c, private shower, 30,000R wifi / night) .
Reached at around 10pm after uneventful landing. Obtained Visa on Arriva (VOA, 15 days) at IKA after 30 minutes wait, paid 60 Euros (Singaporean) with exact change, or be prepared to forfeit / get your change at uncompetitive rates. The immigration office will make a call to your sponsor that you’re supposed to fill in the form, so please make a hotel booking beforehand. DO NOT mention that you’re CouchSurfing, or know anyone in the country, or prepared for a very high possibility of being grilled for hours / sent back on the return flight. Lucky Malaysians can obtain their visa for free either through air or overland borders, as confirmed by other Malaysian travelers I met in Iran.
There seems to be a significant price difference (20-40 Euros) as well as “leniency” on visa approval depending on your nationality if you’re deciding to arrive at Iran through Shiraz or Tehran by air.
Customs was relatively easy to clear after you’ve gotten your visa. Waited for the pickup driver as ordered by Mr Mousavi (3000,000R), journey took about 45 min – 1hour to the hotel.
Obtained a Irancell SIM card (100,000R) and toured around the city. Exchanged money at Ferdosi street (1US = 18,880R, late June) after a couple of tries. Be aware that rates are very volatile, lots of locals clamouring in the parks to hear the updated rates. And keep a lookout for the insane traffic, especially at Amir Kabir junction, as vehicles don’t make exceptions for pedestrians / traffic rules.
Visited the Golestan palace (5,000R) for each section, pretty run of the mill stuff. Lunch at sharaf-ol-eslam in the Bazaar (130,000R ?) for the chelo kebap (I think). Very very busy, and you probably need to ask someone to order for you (all in Farsi, no english). Their biryani rice was extremely good, probably the best I’ve tasted in Iran.
Sa’ad Abad (around 10-15,000 R? per section) was more interesting than Golestan, in terms of building architecture and proximity to Darband. Went to Milad (didn’t go up, too expensive and many security checkpoints) and up Azadi monument (60,000R?)
Kashan (2 days)
Bus to Terminal-e Jonub by subway (1,000R? one way) and caught the bus to Kashan (45,000R) at 7pm. Be aware that southern Tehran is quite different from the Northern or central part (be prepared to get flocked by savari drivers shouting their destinations straight in the face), especially in terms of security so beware if you are arriving or departing in the night.
Arrived at 10pm, took a taxi to Khan-e-Ehsan (200,000R/night, dorm, no a/c, with breakfast, free wifi). Location was excellent to proximity to attractions and clearly demarcated. Hotel staff speaks English, traditional courtyard and the “restored” high arched ceiling accommodation were pretty impressive. Only guests at that period, feels great having the whole dorm room to ourselves!
Hotel booked a driver (no English) to drive us to Abyaneh (1hr drive) for 3 hours (300,000R, shared my friend) to see the building. Town was pretty deserted and somewhat lackluster, in character, as compared to Kharanaq, or even Yazd. Characteristic old ladies with their distinctive headscarves will ask you to buy their wares if you want to take a photo (aks) with them.
Visited historical houses (20,000R each I think) (Abbasian = impressive scaled rooms, Tatabel = intricate façade carvings) Bagh-e-fin (10,000R) was quite organized (by Persian standards), very old Seyalk ziggurat (5,000R) was also interesting in terms of the close proximity with the living quarters of the city.
Lunch (outside Fin gardens, forgot the name) was quaint with the small streaming atmosphere, chelo kebap (80,000R?) with the local tour guide introduced by my friend online.
Dinner at Hamman-e-khan was reasonable and relatively atmospheric (converted caravanserai) with dizi and the bademjun (eggplant) (140,000R) but hidden deep within the bazaar so ask locals for directions.
Esfahan (2 days)
Took a taxi (30,000R) to the Kashan bus terminal, then caught the evening bus to Esfahan (45,000R). Liased with a local, took me on his moped, without any safety gear, truly on an adrenaline high. Esfahan has extremely chaotic traffic (even worse than Tehran) as he zipped us through labyrinth small alleys and pavements with seemingly confidence and ease. Unexpected highlight of Esfahan would be the night scenery of pol si-o-she (no water = dried / dammed up in the summer), and Jolfa area (saw some police cracking down on the “night venues”, so beware if you’re planning to visit them). Crashed in his office for free, but suffered terrible experience sleeping at night while trying to evade persistent security guard at night.
Stayed at Amir Kabir hostel the next day (150,000R, dorm, with a/c, breakfast, free wifi), not too bad (take usual security precautions with dorms), just that showers tend to be flooded. Probably the only place in Tehran (other than Shiraz) I saw tourists congregated together. Esfahan is a longish city (spans vertical I think), so be prepared for long hikes if you want to cut down on taxi costs. Day walk from Imam square over to Jolfa crossing all 3 bridges and back (6-7km?) is definitely doable, just remember to drink lots of water in the summer.
Imam square was impressive, as an extremely organized and curated public space- relatively rare in Iran (in my opinion). Just marred by the fact that the Imam mosque façade, minarets and Ali Qapu balcony were undergoing renovations (for many years now I heard) so pictures don’t come out exactly picture perfect. Come back during dawn to watch locals mingle and picnic together amidst the changing sunset colours.
Lotfollah mosque was absolutely intricate in terms of mosaic tiles, as reflected on the dome (watch out for the “peacock” opening its tail in the morning).
Ali Qapu (5,000R) abit rundown, highlight was its 6th floor music room, delightful wooden acoustic themed roof. Lots of renovation in the balcony with their buttressed columns hinders the sights of Iman square, so photographers take note.
Imam mosque (5,000R), as expected, was pretty grand and majestic, eclipsing both Ali Qapu and Lotfollah in terms of scale.
Chetel Sotun (10,000R) was the surprise, contains very interesting portraits with accompanying detailed descriptions (in English!) depicting the various stages of Persian history.
Esfahan cuisine – Beryani (Azam Beryani) is definitely a must try (54,000R with doogh), fereni (10,000R for large bowl)(reminds me of beancurd back at home) and corn flavoured ice cream (bastani, 6,000R). Bought back some gaz (pistachio nougat – way better than Turkish / Australian nougat, sorry about that folks) near Imam square - Kermani emerged as the clear favourite (50,000R ?) back home. Dinner at one of the “mountains” – forgot the location / restaurant name – very atmospheric but pretty much expensive (250,000R / person average) but the khoresht-e-mast (orange yogurt stew dessert) is a must try for dessert / sugar lovers
Yazd (2 days)
Hitched a ride with a local to the terminal, and got a bus to Yazd (70,000R, 5 hrs). Hitched another ride with a friendly local to Kohan hotel (100,000R / night, dorm, no a/c, breakfast, metered? wifi). Hotel is quite difficult to locate within the labyrinth like corridors of old Yazd city, even for locals, so beware, especially if you are planning to travel in the night. Be warned that the dorm is EXTREMELY humid and warm, in the summer, as there are not fans, very limited ventilation whatsoever. Changed to a single room (300,000R/ night, with a/c, private bathroom) for the next night.
Dinner can be arranged but take note that staff is rather limited in English conversation and conveniently forgot to inform me of the 20% tax (!!!) imposed on the meal. As well as my passport that was required to be deposited in their safe for their safekeeping. So potential visitors beware.
Arranged a trip to Kharanaq, Chak Chak and Meybod with Mr Lorian (350,000R for me with 3 others, full day). Very helpful and informative, highly recommended!
Kharanaq was beautiful in its own eerie and sad way, being abandoned for centuries after Arabic conquest, Meybod was rather commercialized, but still interesting (huge caravanserai, ice making building in the desert, pigeon tower). Chak Chak (10,000R ?) very disappointing, just watching drops of water dripping from the cliff, nothing much special.
Got ripped by a taxi driver (first time in Iran) who originally requested for 60,000R and later 80,000R at the end of the journey (for the passport detour), but was in a hurry so just dumped the money to catch my bus to Shiraz (115,000R, VIP bus, 7 hrs).
Shiraz (3 days)
Took a taxi from the taxi kiosk booth (30,000R) to Niayesh hotel (200,000R, a/c, free wifi, breakfast). Staff was extremely knowledgeable on the local tours and attractions so kudos to them.
Vakil mosque (15,000R) was relatively run down (renovation works), Arg-e-Karim Khan (5,000R) was not too bad (though it’s still pales in comparison in rivaling Esfahan). The two poet’s tomb – Saadi and Hafez requires a bus ride (around 2,000R / trip) try visiting them during sunset, especially Hafez’s to observe how the locals pay their adorations to him. Shah Cheragh (free) very populated with locals, photography banned inside their tombs, definitely worth a visit, but beware they require people to deposit their bags in the baggage counters before the compound.
Sharzad restaurant (near Vakil mosque) is expensive (120,000R) for a substandard kebap, but relatively atmospheric with locals and music. Roudaki restaurant (Roudaki st) is pretty affordable (50,000R) for a normal chicken meal with pilav (rice).
Booked a tour with Pars tour agency through the hotel (US$25 I think) for Persepolis, the royal necropolis (naqst-e rostam, rajab) and Pasargarde. Tour guide (the owner I believe) was helpful in understanding, but has relatively limited English. Persepolis is as grand as they say, probably the highlight of Shiraz. Naqst-e-rostam was interesting (we conveniently missed out naqst-e-rajab I suspect as the guide claimed that the conditions there were unsatisfactory and much less impressive) Pasargarde was a far and lonely outpost (only Cyrus tomb remains). Somewhat forlorn and beautifully quaint in its own way after being neglected for millennia. Good for escaping the hordes of tourists though.
Tabriz (1 day)
Taxi (30,000R) to terminal, coach (280,000R, 21h (!) to Tabriz. Arrived in the morning to the terminal. Funny situation when I pointed out that the taxis dropping their passengers were everywhere. Hitched a taxi ride out with a local family, as locals claimed that there were no taxis out in the city, and insisted that I wait for the bus in the afternoon.
Checked in at Mashad hotel (120,000R, no a/c, no breakfast, no wifi, showers 20,000R). The worst accommodation ever stayed. Period. Closed Tabrizi bazaar was interesting in its own right, skipped blue mosque, met and wandered around with a local back to his neighborhood and surprised many locals there whom had never seen a foreigner in real life, as he claimed. Hung out with his buddies and got to see a different side of Persians (Tabrizis) that was really distinctive and striking in their own way.
Overall, I personally felt that Tabriz exhibited a distinctly different vibe as compared to the other Persian cities, relatively opportunistic at financial situations and somewhat forlorn even, might I daresay, as the Tabrizis seem to associate themselves more of Turkish identity and language, probably due to the close linguistical and cultural proximity
Caught a taxi (40,000R) to the bus terminal and the bus to Maku (55,000R, 4 hours).
Shared a cab with friendly local to Barzagan (25,000R, 1 hr with traffic jams) and another cab to the border customs (10,000R – should be ripped). And yes, I got ripped by that same taxi driver and money changer friend duo hanging out at the border as I was spoilt silly by the amazing Persian hospitality that I had taken for granted. Please change your large sums of money at established exchange offices in the city.
Crossed over from Barzagan (Iran) to Gurbulak (Turkey) side relatively quick and painless – no exit fee required: check in advance if you need a Turkish visa to cross their land borders. Pleaserefer to my other post on my 2nd leg of the journey in Turkey (2 weeks).
Comments / Observations:
Any trip in the summer will require: sunblock, water, and moisturizer, especially if you come from a humid country. Weather in Iran is extremely dry, as I discovered it the hard way when my skin around my fingernails cracked and shriveled while my lips were extremely parched and bleeding.
Passports are kept by the hotel staff, so try and get a photocopy of your Iranian visa in case you get stopped / detained by the police / military on the street. At this time of writing, inflation is extremely high, as remarked by locals, so expect prices for everything (including food, water, accommodation) to increase as the political situation in the country becomes increasingly unstable in the near future.
Perisan hospitality is probably second to none, but always take sensible precautions in suspicious / doubtful situations, as evidenced in Barzagan / Yazd. The attraction in Iran for me, personally, was their people and their culture, not so much of their physical attractions. Tarof (Persian hospitality rules) is something that travelers may have to insist on breaking, as locals are extremely welcoming and friendly without demanding for repayment or reward.
Even so, the need for security in Iran is overly exaggerated, as long as you respect their culture, and avoid drawing attention in your dressing / appearance. Definitely much safer than Barcelona, Rome or Istanbul for that matter, I would say, so potential solo travelers, especially the ladies (bring a headscarf – no need for hejab or burqa) can rest assured.
Aug 26, 2012 3:12 AM
Aug 30, 2012 4:14 AM
Sep 4, 2012 12:05 AM
3Great, thanks for the effort!
May I ask what exactly were the problems with Air Asia? I am booked with them to Tehran - I should bring copies of hotel booking, will that be sufficient?
Sep 7, 2012 11:25 AM
Sep 10, 2012 7:16 PM
How to prove one has sufficient funds since overseas credit cards do not work in Iran? Most travellers will be bringing cash, so do the traveller need to show the Air Asia the amount of cash they are bringing to Iran?
By the way, do you think it is safe for a solo female Asian to travel to Iran?
Sep 13, 2012 7:05 AM
you may be required to show the amount of cash you are carrying, so you might want to be prepare your cash in advance before boarding the flight, just in case.
It's definitely safe for travellers to travel solo, as I mentioned in my trip report, much safer than the big western cities. I've met solo female travellers in Iran during my trip and they seemed pretty confident about moving around the country.
Just bear in mind the usual precautions and sensibilities (e.g. avoid military sites, staying up late in the night, blend in with the locals in terms of dressing and mannerisms), try to understand Tarof (Persian hospitality rules) and you'll do fine!
Btw I'm also an Asian travelling alone, so yea you'll definitely attract much more attention from the Persians everywhere you go (;
Sep 17, 2012 11:47 PM
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