22 Jan Travel to Iran- Tips and Impressions
How I ended up going to Iran?
Our interest in seeing this country came about after my husband and I got the chance to talk to his Iranian colleague (lived for most part of her life abroad) in one of their business gatherings. It was a quick exchange about the usual what to see there, best time to visit etc… but that conversation sparked interest in us more than we realized.
So, while browsing through flight options to the Philippines for Christmas, we saw a layover to Iran. We thought, why not make a manual flight and stay for a week in Iran?
My thoughts about Iran before going there
So after a quick research on costs, best time to visit, things to do, and checking that the country is safe to visit, we sealed our plan and booked our flights.
Both my husband and I like adventures- one of these include visiting countries that has a rather unpopular tourism. Despite this, I still have this doubt about our safety. I don’t know much about Iran, just the negative stigma surrounding the country. Or am I confusing it with Iraq? I’m an ignoramus and I can’t decide for sure if Iran was indeed safe. I guess I’ll find out when I get there.
What my friends and other circle think about Iran
“Are you guys crazy?” ” What the fuck are you guys thinking?” “Why on earth are you going there?”
Need I say more?
First Impressions of Iran
After waiting for nearly two hours for our Iran visa, we found ourselves in Tehran just around 4am. Cold and windy but still pleasant. We skipped Tehran per our friend’s advise and went straight to Isfahan in a bus for 6hrs. My first impression is that there’s nothing unusual apart from me having to wear hijab, everything is just as usual as the rest of the countries I’ve visited. People tend to stare a bit more but they are polite and helpful. No, there’s no crumbling buildings from last night’s war nor militia men walking through the streets. At least in Tehran, it’s a city with people and tall buildings with men and women going about their daily routine. It’s a country like any other.
Dress-code in Iran for women
It was odd wearing hijab for the first time but exciting at the same time. I was constantly fixing my hair underneath and taking selfies. Basically, you need to have your hair covered including ears. Note that I’m actually not wearing a hijab, I used a scarf to improvise. Your arms and legs up to the ankles should be covered too. And that goes without saying that you can’t show cleavage and other clothing that defines your shape. Best to wear pants and a tunic top- one that goes all the way down to your ass.
Book with a Tour Operator
We had one week in Iran where we visited Isfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz. We initially planned to do a DIY but 2 days was enough to change our minds and look for a tour operator, last-minute. Why? It was difficult to negotiate with taxi drivers, we feel robbed each time. Internet is rare so we had no leverage in checking the prices. Not much street signs outside the city center; public transportation is difficult; and some top sites are far from each other so taxi would almost always be the only option. It takes time and energy to find a taxi, negotiate, and do it all over again. In the end, our quick calculation actually not only saved us costs but time and effort as well. We definitely recommend this option especially if like us, you only have a few days in Iran. If you’re staying for a month or so, then DIY all you want as you have enough time to get to know the city and learn how the city operates.
1st Day: Arrival in Tehran and took a bus to Isfahan
2nd Day: Walk around Isfahan
3rd Day: Isfahan tour and left for Yazd after lunch
4th Day: Yazd
5th Day: Yazd
6th Day: Yazd- Shiraz
7th Day: Shiraz- Fly out from Shiraz
We stayed in a hotel in Isfahan, Safir Hotel. We paid almost 100 USD just for the room. It has complete amenities with AC, study table and a nice toilet but nothing fancy about it. The pool and sauna you have to pay extra for and the breakfast is not good at all. Our experience was okay and didn’t really have major issues but it’s so much more interesting and cheaper to stay in hostels.
Like Badgir Hostel below in Yazd. At 28 euro for a private room, this is not bad at all. It has a traditional Iranian architecture and felt more cozy. They have dorms too at around 10 per night. There’s AC as well but it was comfortably cool at the time of our travel so there was no need for it. Toilets here are shared for both men and women, which we find odd considering it’s a conservative the country. But I guess, hostels cater to international travelers.
In Shiraz, we stayed at Taha Hostel. I like the ambience here except we stayed in the “other building” which is not as cozy. It’s about 3 minute walk from the main building (photos below) and although it wasn’t really bad, more quiet in fact, we just didn’t like that they didn’t tell us this when we booked. We paid 20 Euro for a private 2 single beds with shared toilet. I like the breakfast buffet also and the staff were nice.
I love kebab so I was always happy. I generally liked all the food I’ve tried 🙂 Just keep your palettes open and try everything!
So what’s Iran like after being there for 7 days?
- People are very friendly. Women are more reserved and men more vocal that they would strike up a conversation with my husband while walking on the street
- Food is cheap and if you’re a fan of Kebab, then you’re in heaven. Most local places are in Persian though and that’s when knowing local would come in handy. Our driver served this purpose and we get to sample authentic Iranian dishes from non-touristy places
- It’s a relatively cheap country in terms of food costs, and hostel prices are not bad, it’s reasonable
- Tourism is rising and there are plenty of travel operators you can book with at reasonable costs
- Because Iran is not as commercialized as other countries, one would be awestruck by the richness of its culture particularly how they are able to preserve it; and how its being behind the curtain of mass media adds up to its enigma
- Alcohol is prohibited so I was forced to detox
- Taxi drivers will try to rip you off with higher prices
- The public toilets can be unbearable- dirty with “full of surprises”
- Iranians tend to drive wreck less. We almost crashed with another car twice in 7 days
- Public transportation is not easy hence, you end up with taxi
- Internet is rare and if available, often slow or unreliable
- Because of the gov’t restrictions, you can only access limited sites. As I work online, I had to use VPN.
- The country has rules on international bank transfers. Simply put, you cannot make advance payments so you have to bring lots of cash to pay for tours and all others when you arrive. You can’t use your credit card and/or make withdrawals.
- Alcohol is prohibited… this might have been my first travel without!
Other things to note:
- Best to bring Euro but I’m sure USD is just as fine. Exchange your money in the airport, rate is not bad. You can also exchange in the city but the money exchange offices are in Persian so you need to ask a local to find one
- Bring as much cash as you think you need, you can’t withdraw money in Iran. International cards won’t work either.
- They use 2 local currencies and it’s really confusing. You will get the hang of it.
- For women, always bring with you tissue and hand sanitizer
- Download an offline map of Iran before heading there (I use MAPS.me)
- If like me you need all websites to work, subscribe to VPN before heading there
- Alcohol is prohibited, respect this
- Women should wear hijab at all times (in public places) and should respect the dressing culture
Why you should visit Iran
Will I recommend you to visit Iran if you haven’t been to Paris? USA? And other usual travel places? Well, that depends. Three yrs. ago, I couldn’t care less about Iran. But after traveling for some time, my preference has changed and I am now drawn to less visited countries. But more than anything, I would encourage everyone to visit Iran so you can meet the locals. We only know as much as the media tell us. They live in a country where freedom of expression is suppressed and unless you go and meet them yourself, you will live having a false knowledge about Iranian hospitality and culture.
Now, after having visited Iran and then seeing them make the headline news here and there, what changed is my perception. When I hear Iran, I no longer have images of riots and violence in my head. Instead, my mind goes back to those happy times my husband and I shared with this country and its people- the kebab we shared with our guide, the conversations, the shy smiles of women and children. It was only 7 days but it was enough to make me aware and be able to build my own impression of the country. Don’t let its political issues affect your perception of its tourism. Before all these political turmoil, there is land, there is history, there’s Iran- a beautiful country with one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I encourage you to travel here because they need travelers like us to help spread the word that there is more to Iran than what the news tell us.