I must confess Iran was not on my travel bucket list until a couple I met in North Korea convinced me to do so.

When I first told a few of my closest friends of my plan to visit Iran, most of them raised their concerns. Words like ISIS, Taliban, and terrorists were heavily mentioned during our conversations. 

I had to explain to them that even though Iran is bordered by Afghanistan and Iraq, it is still very safe to travel there. I even shockingly and successfully convinced two of my friends to join me at first. However, after a few weeks, they eventually backed out, as their families did not allow them. Hence, I ended up traveling solo.

To tell you honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect before I went backpacking in Iran. I’ve heard several good stories from people I met during my travels. But what I experienced was much more than I expected.

Visa/ Visa on arrival
Filipinos are not required to obtain a visa before traveling to Iran as we are qualified for visa on arrival in most major airports in Iran.

In my case, I wanted to make sure that there wouldn’t be any issues when I arrive so I just applied for a visa while I was still in Manila. I figured I only had a limited number of traveling days so I had to make sure that I would be able to enter Iran smoothly.

I applied for a visa reference code through the website key2persia.com. They will apply on your behalf to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran, and once it is approved you can go to the embassy near you and apply for a visa.

After waiting for a week, I received an email informing that my visa reference code has been approved. I then called the Iran embassy in Manila to inform them that I already have an approved visa reference code. They validated it first before I went to the embassy to fill out another form and pay the visa fee.

Money
Due to sanctions imposed against Iran, non-Iranian debit and credit cards are not accepted there. There are no money transfers to and from Iran as well so you need to bring as much cash with you when you visit.

The country’s currency is called Iranian Rial (IRR). However, locals will always quote a price to you in Toman, as it is the unofficial currency. Try not to get confused with computation, just remember that locals will always quote you in Toman, and not in Rial. Just divide Rial by 10 and the equivalent is Toman.

Read: 12 Money-saving tips for millennial travelers

What to wear

All women in Iran, whether local or foreigner are required to wear a scarf or hijab on their hair when in public. Arms and legs should be covered as well. Men are also not allowed to wear shorts when in public.

 Accommodation

I never paid for accommodation throughout my journey in Iran! A month before my trip I posted on CouchSurfing (CS) the dates and provinces I planned to visit and not long after that invites from locals to stay in their homes started to flow in. Some invites were asking for a small amount of money and some were for free.

After carefully and extensively reviewing their CS profiles (Read: CouchSurfing for newbies), I listed my options where I could stay and sent them messages asking if they could accommodate me for free to which they confirmed.

In Isfahan, a young couple invited me to stay in their home. Upon arriving, they immediately asked me to have dinner with them. But I remember reading on their CS profile that no food would be provided, so I asked them where we could buy food and that I would buy for the three of us.

My host said, “No, you are our guest! As long as you are in my house, you will not pay for anything”. I was touched by his words, that even though I am a stranger, they welcomed to their house like an old friend and shared with me whatever food they had at the time.

In Tehran, I was welcomed with a breakfast feast by my host and his wife. They even invited their close friends to make sure I will enjoy my stay in their home.

However, if you’re not keen on trying CS yet, backpacker hostels usually range from 10-20 USD per day.

Transportation
Hitchhiking
Hitchhiking is pretty popular in Iran. However, you have to arrange beforehand whether you will pay or it is for free. Some locals would ask for a small amount when you hitchhike.

When I was in Isfahan, I wanted to hitchhike but I’m not sure how to distinguish a private car from a cab. So, I just waved my hand in the air and a car stopped in front of me. I thought it was a taxi so I told him my destination and asked how much. The driver opened his car door and I asked again how much it would cost to my destination. He said “No”, smiled, and invited me to get in his car.

We could not understand each other but somehow we were laughing on our way. He kept saying “Japon” and I kept saying “Philippines” then he would laugh which made me laugh as well. When I was about to alight, I tried to give him money but he just smiled and refused my money.

Taxis/Shared Taxis
Taxis in Iran do not have meters so prices would have to be bargained before you ride. Also, in most provinces, taxis do not have signage making it hard for foreigners to identify a cab from a private car.

They also have shared taxis, which is similar to our version of “UV Express”, where there is a predetermined route for the cab. This is also a much cheaper option than riding a taxi on your own but most taxi drivers speak little to none English so and there is no signage displayed where their route will be.

City bus
In Iran, men and women are not allowed to sit together in public transport unless they married. The rear section of the buses is usually designated for women. This set up also the same for trains and other forms of public transport.

Taking a city bus is a cheap way to travel but just like shared taxis, it would be very difficult to ride a local city bus if you do not speak Farsi.

Long distance bus/Provincial bus
Throughout my stay in Iran, I used buses to travel from one province to another. An Interprovincial VIP bus, which has more legroom than regular buses, usually costs 6-10 USD. VIP buses also come with a free snack and a drink.

Metro Train/MRT

There are metro trains available in Iran. Tehran metro has several lines and multiple interchange stations as well. This is probably one the easiest and cheapest way to go around the city. One trip usually costs 10-20 PHP and their trains are way better and more efficient than ours.

Things to do / Places to visit
Shiraz

  • Karim Khan Castle – pics and description
  • Visit the majestic Shah Cheragh
  • Vist Nasir Ol Molk Mosque
  • Old School
  • Go back in time to ancient Persepolis and Necropolis

Yazd

  • Vist old Yazd (Chak Chak, Kharanaq, Meybod)
  • Hike Temple of Fire
  • Go to Tower of Silence

Varzaneh

  • Varzaneh desert
  • Salt Lake

Isfahan

  • Naqsh-e Jahan Square
  • Khaju Bridge

Tehran

  • Golestan Palace
  • Visit former US Embassy where Argo happened
  • Azadi Square
  • Grand Bazaar

Food
Sitting on a carpet ground is where locals usually dine and it creates a unique dining experience. Rice dishes with chicken, lamb, or fish are available almost everywhere. Kebab and stews are also popular and can be found in every restaurant. Prices range from 6-12 USD per meal in restaurants.

Safety and Iranian Hospitality

I can honestly say that I have never felt unsafe throughout my stay in Iran. The people were extremely kind and hospitable. People went out of their ways just to help me whenever I needed one. I was walking on the streets of Tehran with my phone on my hand! That’s something that I could not do in Manila.

I remember getting lost in Yazd while looking for a post office. I asked several guys hanging out in front of a bookshop for the location of post office but they do not speak English.

I showed them my post cards and one of them realized where I wanted to go. He hopped on his motorcycle and gestured for me hop on as well. He dropped me off in front of the post office. And there are many more stories of kindness and generosity that I had experienced during my travel to Iran.

I honestly never thought that backpacking in Iran would be this awesome. The places I visited left me stunned and speechless but the hospitality and kindness of the people is what blew me away and as cheesy as this may sound, I will definitely forever cherish it in my heart.

This trip started as a disastrous one. My vacation leave was almost canceled, I almost didn’t make it in time for my flight, and I forgot to bring cash with me.

Read: Iran Part I

I almost gave up my on my dream of visiting Iran. But after getting a little help from family and friends, I stood up again and finished what I started. I survived solo backpacking in Iran and it is one of the most amazing things I have accomplished.

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2 thoughts on “Iran Part II: A Traveler’s Guide

  1. Hello. I stumbled upon your blog while Googling “Australia PH blog”. Re: Iran – I met a Catalan (Spanish CSer from Barcelona) who said the same thing. He had a nice time in Iran because the people were friendly.

    Like

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