Soaring mountain ranges, stunning mosques, palaces and ruins from different eras provide architectural wonder, while brilliant bazaars adds colours to shopping culture, making Iran an irresistible destination for travellers. Even before touching down, the view from the plane is just soooooo breathtaking
Iran was one of the countries I’ve included in my Middle East backpacking trip during Summer. When I told my friends about my plans, most of their reactions will be like: “Why must you go to such dangerous place alone?!”, “Is it even safe?”, “What if you got kidnapped?!” and the funniest i got was “Is your boyfriend crazy to allow you to go by yourself?!” All I could reply was: “but Iran is considered as one of the safest place in the World!” I guessed people just confused between Iran and Iraq, and so without a doubt, I made Iran a “must-go” destination.
I flew from Doha to Tehran, and took a 13-hours night bus to Shiraz (because it’s more expensive to fly to Shiraz, but I wanted to start off with Shiraz and end the trip in Tehran). Surprisingly, the bus ride which cost less than USD9 was spacious and it comes with food and drinks! As such, night buses became my main transportation travelling from city to city in Iran. And judging from the curiosity of the locals, I am pretty sure not a lot of foreigners using this mode of transport to travel around in the country.
While planning my trip to Iran, I had read so much online forums which stated that applying visa in Iran is a hassle; a lot of documents are to be submitted and be prepared to wait for a few hours if you didn’t settle the paperwork online, etc. So to play safe, I had paid USD68 to apply a 30-days visa online and settled whatever paperwork that needed to be submitted. Upon reaching the airport, not only am I one of the few tourists, but I also being informed that with my nationality passport, I can easily get 15-days visa-on-arrival for free! To further add salt to my wound, i was told that I can extend the visa to 21-days with only USD12!! I wondered why didn’t they inform me about it when I submitted my stuff to the embassy…
Sim card can be bought once you exit the terminal. I do not know how much because my Couchsurfing host bought it for me and he refused take my money. Similar to China, Iran cannot access to Facebook, google, and some other apps so you will need to download VPN app to bypass the network in order to use those apps. For me, I depended a lot on Google Translation to communicate with the locals who speak Farsi (most of them can’t speak English well unless you are at big cities), and also Google Map to make sure the transport I am taking is on the right track.
To be fair, like many other countries, solo female travellers attract attention in Iran too! (Throughout my three weeks in Iran, I only saw a few travellers in groups of 3 or 4, did not see any female solo traveller, and none of the Asians ) Iranians are known for their incredible hospitality. Even with their limited English vocabulary, they will start approaching you and try making conversations. The locals are helpful and eager to help if I’m appeared to look lost. Even when walking around the bazaars, the vendors treated me with respect and I’ve never felt pressurized to buy anything. If you planning to do some shopping in Iran, be sure to bring enough cash to sustain your whole stay which include accommodations, food and others. Foreign credit cards are not accepted in banks for withdrawal or used in hotels. USD, Euros and Pounds are the common currency used for exchange to Iranian Rial. I would highly suggest you change most of your money at the airport.
Couchsurfing is illegal but not blocked in Iran, and it is really working very well in the country! And it will save you a lot of money as the hotels in Iran are pretty expensive. I am so lucky that most of my Couchsurfing hosts are so awesome, making my stay in Iran so much comfortable. My stay in Iran was during Ramadan period, meaning the Muslims will fast during the day and will only start eating after their evening prayer. Fancy to learn the culture, I woke up early to have heavy breakfast with my host, and fast during the day. However, as it was also Summer and the weather was incredibly hot in Iran, my hosts always urge me to at least drink water, fearing that I will fall sick. The best part about Ramadan is that I am always invited to other friends and relatives house for their sumptuous dinner!! Iranian food always come with sweets, black teas and lots of vegetables! I think I will never get sick of Iranian food.
Iran is officially an Islamic Republic, so the very important part on female dressing is to have your hair covered at all times. If you happened to forget, the hotel’s receptionist will remind you before you walk out of the hotel. If your scarf fall off from your head due to wind and you didn’t realized it, there will be nice Iranian women who come to you and help you do your headscarf properly. (YES! it happened a lot of times to me, so i learnt to bun up my hair high up and letting to scarf to drape over it). Despite there are websites and forums telling you about strict dressing for females in Iran, basically it is not very true. You can dress as colourful as you like! In cities like Tehran and Isfahan, ladies wear scarves which only cover their hair partially and they wear bright colours long dresses and tunic. Skinny jeans and tights are allowed but be sure you wear your tunic or top long enough to cover till knee. And it is okay to expose your feet so it’s perfectly fine to wear sandals!
Stay tune for the next few travel blogs as I will share with you in details on places of interests in different cities I’ve visited in Iran!