Intrepid travelers looking for a different experience than lying on a beach in Thailand, holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or strolling along the bright boulevards of Paris or New York, should maybe consider the middle east for their next holiday.
Middle-eastern countries have copped a fair bit of bad press over the past few years, and probably rightly so, in light of what’s been happening in recent times.
Iran has always been in the thick of it as well, but in my travels I’ve met some truly lovely people hailing from this former heartland of the Persian empire, and as is usually the case with the world media, we the readers really only seem to get one side, or at least the darker, more violent side of the story.
Invariably, the spotlight is shone on what a minority might be doing at the time, and neglects to tell the other, more human side to the tale. Iran, I think, is one such place.
Sharing borders with some of the world’s most conflicted hotspots like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Persia, as Iran was once known, has had a human presence dating back to c.200,000 years BC.
At its peak around c.500BC, the Persian Empire was estimated to have ruled over 44% (or around 50 million people) of the total world population at that time.
From this history comes a wealth of knowledge passed down through generations, a very distinctive and utterly delicious middle-eastern cuisine, and an architectural heritage almost second-to-none in the modern world.
Maybe Egypt could lay claim to that one, but Iran would run a close second, and probably minus the touts too!
Couple all that with a uniquely beautiful landscape that takes in everything from ancient ruins dating back thousands of years to verdant, rolling countrysides and then snow-covered peaks only an hour out of the capital, mysterious misty mountains straight out of a Tolkien novel, and from the lovely, sandy beaches of the Caspian Sea to the bustling modern metropolis of the capital, Tehran.
‘For while Esfahan or Persepolis has a convincing case for being the soul of Iran, Tehran is indisputably its big, ugly, chaotic and dynamic beating heart’. says Lonely Planet.
‘. . . Expect relatively bold fashion statements, a range of ethnic and international restaurants, chic cafes and plenty of art galleries.’
Interestingly, when it comes to art, Tehran has one of the largest and finest collections of modern art anywhere outside Europe and the US, boasting works by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, René Magritte and Mark Rothko.
As many travelers will attest, it’s often not until you get to a country and experience first-hand the generosity of the people and the true nature of the land, that you start to understand how misleading the media can often be.
That’s not to say it’s any different from any other country, in that precautions need to be taken, and advice from the various government bodies should be heeded regarding travel within that country.
[At the time of this post, the Australian govt advice for Thailand, where I’m currently living, advises a High degree of caution! It’s the same for Iran! I can honestly say that I feel safer here than in Melbourne!]
The people I’ve met from Iran seem to be just like you and me, and are often at pains to show off their hospitality, and to prove just how wonderful their country is, if only we’d give it a chance to show it’s true colors, rather than what we may read in the newspapers.
From all reports, Iran is a greatly underestimated part of the world that should be given a window to redeem itself on the bucket-list of travelers worldwide.
Iran will certainly be on my list when I next have thoughts of packing my bags!
Travel facts below!
A few important Travel facts:
At this time of writing, you can get a 30-day VOA (visa on arrival) at airports and harbours provided you supply the correct paperwork – return ticket out of the country, details of where you are staying etc.
More information is here, however, for peace of mind, a visit or phone call to your nearest Iranian embassy is probably not a bad idea – nobody wants to be turned back at the border and have to get on the next plane back home.
Going through an Embassy will get you a 15 day tourist visa and can take up to 3 weeks, so start the process early.
Iran is cheap and almost on a par with the likes of SE Asia for the most part. Bus and train travel costs very little, and taxis are cheap. If you’re American, British or Canadian, you may need to travel with an authorized Iranian guide. Again, check with your local Embassy. Hotels range from Budget to high-end.
Budget travelers may want to consider couch-surfing as an option, as many Iranian people welcome foreigners as a way to practice their English.
The official language of Iran is Persian, however, many people speak pretty good English, especially in the cities, and most signage is bi-lingual.
Bring fresh US dollars or Euros, as ATM’s are few and far between, and those that are will probably not accept your card. Credit cards probably won’t be accepted either. Local currency is the Rial. There is another unofficial ‘super-unit’ called the Toman which is often quoted by Iranians – essentially equal to 10 Rials.
Rules and Customs:
Iran is a Muslim country so Girls, you’ll need to cover up. Bring a light headscarf with you as you’ll need it at the airport when you arrive, and no excess amounts of flesh showing. Arms, legs and midriffs need to be covered at all times sorry. Guys, we get the better end of the deal – short sleeved shirts are okay but long trousers are usually required.
is banned, but as usual, you can usually get it on the black market if you look hard enough. Of course, use discretion when drinking it.
You’re in someone else’s country so to make things easier it’s always best to abide by the rules, as with anywhere else on earth really!
PDA’s (Public displays of affection) are not recommended and couples should just say they are married, even if not, as sex outside of marriage is frowned upon, for Iranians at least.
Homosexuality is forbidden and people have been severely punished, but as the saying goes, ‘what happens behind closed doors . . . . ‘
*Tip: a ‘thumbs up’ gesture is considered offensive in Iran – similar to giving someone the middle finger!
As with all foreign countries, Iran has a list of things that you should adhere to, but it’s not difficult and should not put you off your travel plans to this exciting country.
Check with your local Iranian Embassy, tick all the boxes, and like anywhere else, kick back and enjoy traveling in this unique and fascinating part of the world.
If for some reason I have not credited the author, then please get in touch and author credit will be added or the picture deleted upon request.
Hello too, to my friends Mehdi and Masi, who made me feel so welcome in their home in KL, and who were also the inspiration for this post – see you soon guys! 🙂