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 included in my Middle East backpacking trip during Summer. When I told my friends about it, their reactions will be like: “Why must you go to such dangerous place?!”, “Is it even safe?”, “What happened if you got kidnap?!” and the funniest i got was “Is your boyfriend crazy to allow you to go there by yourself?!” All I could reply was: “but Iran is considered as one of the safest place in the World!” However, without a doubt, I made Iran a “must-go” destination.
I flew from Doha to Tehran, and took a 13-hours night bus straight to Shiraz. Surprisingly, the bus ride which cost less than USD9 was spacious and it came with food and drinks! After that, night buses became my main transportation travelling from city to city in Iran in order to save time. Judging from the curiosity of the locals, I am pretty sure not a lot of foreigners use this mode of transport to travel around here.
While planning my trip to Iran, I had read so much forums online which state that applying visa in Iran is a hassle. There will be tons of documents to be submitted and be prepared to wait for a few hours if you did not settle the paperwork online. To be on the safe side, I had paid USD68 to apply for 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 was also informed that with my Malaysian 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 for only USD12!! I wondered why did they not inform me about it when I submitted my application 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. You may check this out on getting a SIM card in Iran here.
To be fair, like many other countries, solo female travelers attract a fair amount of attention in Iran too! Throughout my three weeks in Iran, I only saw a few groups travelers in 3s or 4s, but did not get to meet any solo traveler. Nevertheless, Iranians are well known for their incredible hospitality so you are never really alone! With their limited English vocabulary, they will still approach you trying to make some conversations. The locals are helpful and eager to help whenever 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.
Couchsurfing is illegal but it is actively used by the locals throughout the country! This will allow you to truly experience the Persian’s culture and save you a lot of money as there isn’t hostels around. Some of the cities I stayed in backpacker hotels, whereas some I stayed with CS families. I am lucky that most of my CS hosts are pretty awesome, making my stay in Iran so much comfortable and easy.
Iran is officially an Islamic Republic, so it is important for female to have your hair, arms and legs covered at all times. If you happened to forget your headscarf, the hotel’s receptionist will remind you before you walk out of the hotel. If your scarf fell off from your head and didn’t realized it, there will be nice Iranian women who come forward and help 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).
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, and try fasting during the day. However, as it was Summer with the weather incredibly hot in Iran, my hosts always urge me to at least drink water, fearing that I might fall sick. The best part about Ramadan is that I am always invited to 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.
Despite there are websites and forums telling you about strict dressing for females in Iran, it is not very true. You can dress as colorful as you like unless entering a mosque. In big cities like Tehran and Isfahan, ladies wear scarves which only cover their hair partially and wear bright colors long dresses and tunic. Skinny jeans and tights are actually allowed but be sure your tunic is long enough to cover your butt. And it is okay to expose your feet so it’s perfectly fine to wear sandals!
Lastly, be sure to bring enough cash to sustain your whole stay which include accommodations, food and other expenses. I left with USD250 for Iran after traveled to Dubai, Qatar and Oman. Foreign credit cards are not accepted in banks for withdrawal or used in hotels. USD, Euros and British Pounds are the common currency used for exchange to Iranian Rial (the locals use Tomans more frequent; 100,000 Rials = 10,000 Tomans). I would highly suggest you change to change some money at the airport as it is not easy to find money charger especially in small cities.
Iran is perfectly safe for female to travel, even by yourself! Getting ready to travel in this exotic country, read more on my other post!