26 November 2016

Impressions and Images of Iran

As I alluded to in this post, I visited a new country recently. I went to Iran, and spent three weeks in late-September to mid-October. Iran was my 48th country to visit, and I have to say that it was perhaps my best trip I have ever done. There are plenty of things I want to write about and discuss, but all in due time. For the moment I would first just write an overview post here.

This trip was a trip with no fixed plans. I bought a round-trip ticket to/from Tehran, and aside from accommodation reservations for my first 5 nights, the rest was open and decided more or less last-minute. I found a really good ticket on British Airways, departing September 24 and returning October 16. So on Saturday, September 24, I headed to the airport with a backpack and expectations for an adventure. I flew to London that afternoon, and later on in the evening, I flew to Tehran, landing in the morning of Sunday, September 25.

It was a weird flight, I must say. I have flown British Airways before several times, in fact, I think it is one of my favorite airlines, but it was a little unexpected to see an all-male cabin crew. In the London-Tehran route, apparently, female flight attendants are not assigned, perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the fact that there are some social restrictions in place when it comes to females in Iran. The hijab is mandatory, and I suppose British Airways is not forcing any of their flight attendants to cover their heads and therefore to avoid these issues, the female flight attendants are not assigned to this route. Anyway, I will have a post about women in Iran sometime later, stay tuned for that. I will also write a detailed post on how to get an Iranian visa.

I arrived on a Sunday morning, and the first thing I needed to do was change money. I brought a significant amount of money with me, mostly due to the fact that Iranian banks are not connected with the rest of the world, and therefore I couldn't use my bank cards or credit cards in the country. So I brought cash, and changed them along the way, as needed. In order to get out of the airport, I had to change some money, so I changed some money before I hopped on a cab.

Now that I got money, I got into a cab, and went to Tehran South Bus Terminal. I needed to take a bus to go to Kashan, my first stop. Kashan is a low-key town that is known for its traditional houses, and it was also the place where I would spend 2 nights. While I was there, I explored these traditional houses, as well as a well-preserved hammam.

After Kashan, I took a bus and headed to Isfahan. I would stay in Isfahan for 3 nights. This city was perhaps the highlight of my first week. There were plenty of mosques and other architectural wonders that kept me busy while I was in the city.

After spending three nights in Isfahan, I took the bus again and headed further deeper in the desert, and this time, I headed for Yazd. This is a desert city, and I spent 3 nights here. I also did some day trips to the surrounding towns, visiting crumbling mud villages, fire temples in the desert mountains, and other small villages nearby.

After Yazd, I decided to go further to the southeast. I headed to Kerman, leaving Yazd relatively early. I wanted to reach Bam, which was a few more hours beyond Kerman, but when I reached Kerman, I learned that the next bus leaving for Bam was not departing until late that night, and I didn't want to arrive in the night, so I opted to just stay in Kerman. While in Kerman, I got lucky because the hotel I was staying at was good in arranging excursions, and so he arranged a taxi for me to take me to Bam, to Rayen, to the desert, and to Mahan, for an overnight trip. This was the highlight of my second week, when I found myself exploring the Dasht-e Lut desert, marveling at the yardangs that the wind has shaped over time. I slept in a small village near the desert for one night, returning to Kerman the day after.

I spent 3 nights in and around Kerman, and after that it was time to move on again. I first wanted to go to Mashhad, but it turned out that a religious celebration was coming up, which was Ashura (I'll write more about this later), and since Mashhad is a religious city (as an important shrine is located there), it would be crowded, and so I decided to avoid it instead. I went to Shiraz instead, spending 4 nights there. I also checked out sites outside Shiraz, such as Persepolis, Pasargadae, and Naqsh-e Rostam.

I bought a one-way flight from Shiraz to Tehran, so after spending 4 nights in Shiraz, I flew to Tehran, but instead of checking out Tehran, I went to the bus station again, and this time bought a ticket to Qazvin, to the west. I stayed here 2 nights. I explored the city, and the next day, I also did a day trip to the Alamut Valley, hiking around the Castles of the Assassins. This was the highlight of my third week.

After hiking near Qazvin, I then returned to Tehran. This would be my last leg. I spent 4 nights in Tehran, and surprisingly, I actually liked the city. Most travelers spend only a night in Tehran, as they immediately zoom to the cities in the south. But I guess I did my trip slower than the others. I didn't want to pack it all in, after all, I was traveling for three weeks, and if I make everything tight, then sooner or later every mosque will start to look the same. I could have done things quicker, I guess I could have stayed one night less in Isfahan, one night less in Shiraz, and that would give me more time to see other places, but then I didn't want to get sightseeing fatigue.

Anyway, I was in Tehran for 4 nights, and I checked out its museums, its bazaar, its shrines. And after 4 nights, I woke up early, headed to the airport, and flew back home.

There are plenty of things to talk about, and so I will try to unpack these in future posts. There are pictures to show as well, as always. So stay tuned.


  1. Who were your fellow passengers in the aircraft? Iranian tourists, immigrants, travelers...?

    I remember being the only Westerner on the flight to Beijing when I first visited in 1999. That was a strange experience, a valuable one too since it let me experience being a minority for a short time! Of course, in China, I was a minority too... so the flight was a good introduction to the trip.

    1. Zhu,

      Good question. On both inbound and outbound flights it was a mixture: there was a good part of the passengers who were Iranian expats, alongside Western travelers. The Iranian expats were further subdivided by age: the old and the young. The difference being the young ones dress differently, and especially the women, the moment they enter the plane they take their hijab off (or coming in, they only wear their hijab when they exit the plane). For Western travelers, it's either business people or backpackers.