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Trip Report Iran travel itinerary -18 days April 2017

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We are an Australian couple in our early 60’s and in April 2017 we spent 18 days in Iran. We organised the itinerary and travel arrangements, rather than booking with a tour group, as we like to travel independently.

We have listed our itinerary below, this includes
• Arrival in Tehran
• Tehran to Kashan
• Kashan to Kerman
• Kerman to Yazd
• Yazd to Esfahan
• Esfahan to Shiraz

We flew from Sofia (Bulgaria) to Tehran and from Shiraz to Dubai
30-day visa on arrival. Australians need to pay Euro 145 for the visa and also have travel insurance documentation
• We found out that it is best to purchase a local sim card for mobiles at the airport on arrival – we found it impossible to sort this out in major towns
• Women need to use a head scarf before getting off the plane

Our Itinerary
Tehran – 2 nights and 1 and half days
The airport is 55km from city. We organised for the hotel to arrange for a taxi transfer as we arrived after midnight. we stayed at Hotel Markazi – was within walking distance to the bizarre, palaces and museums

We had planned to go to the following sites -Azadi tower, Baharestan (parliament), National Museum, National Jewels Museum, Darband chair lift, Niavaran Palace. However we arrived on 1 April and discovered that the 2 April is a national public holiday when Iranians have a picnic with their family - so the whole of Tehran was closed down. 2 April is Sizdah Bedar also known as Nature's Day - an Iranian festival held annually on the thirteenth day of Farvardin (the first month of the Iranian calendar), during which people spend time picnicking outdoors. It marks the end of the Nowruz holidays in Iran. It was great introduction to Tehran having the whole city closed down as we managed to be able to walk and cross the roads – which in usual Tehran traffic is very challenging

We did see the Tehran bizarre, Golestan Palace and the Glass and Ceramics Museum, plus the biggest picnic site at Shahr Park with thousands of Iranian families out doors cooking over BBQ coal fires

Tehran to Kashan
Stayed 2 nights - Travelled by bus in the afternoon -3 hours passing through some fantastic desert landscapes

Kashan
We stayed at Hotel Negin a traditional Persian hotel – very helpful for tourists We visited Kashan Bizarre, Aqabozorg mosque and some traditional residences.Our favourite tourist site was the bathhouse Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad. The tile work was great and the roof was fantastic – light domes and wind towers. We also took a day tour and visited Fin garden (world heritage site) and Abyaneh village (mud brick over1500 years old)

Kashan to Kerman we travelled in an overnight train with a sleeper – 12 hours. This was a good way to travel the long distance between Kashan and Kerman. Meals are an added extra – better to go to the dining area. We travelled a first class 6 berth sleeper

Kerman – stayed 3 nights
Akhaven Hotel – very good tourist hotel – been in the business a long time We had a very Iranian tourist experience in Kerman – we were invited to an Iranian family home for lunch. We visited the Bizarre and Jameh Malek mosque

We also did a day trip (organised through the hotel) to Mahan (shrine and water garden UNESCO site), Rayen (UNESCO site) an ancient adobe citadel and the Kaluts desert and coloured mountain desert landscapes

Kerman to Yazd
Again used a hotel-organised taxi to travel to Yazd. Visited the world heritage site of Meymand – a troglodyte village between 3000-10000 years old

Yazd – 4 nights
Khane Dohad traditional hotel and restaurant. In Yazd we visited the Masjid-e-Jame mosque, the old town and Yazd water museum (very informative)

Yazd to Esfahan – 3 nights
We stayed at the Iran Hotel which is managed by 3 brothers who have been in the tourist business for a long time and were very helpful Travelled by bus – 5 hours

We visited the Armenian quarter- Jolfa (the cathederal and museum), the Esfahan Music Museum (highly recommend), the Bazar-e-Bozorg, Masjed-e Jameh Mosque, the Naqsh-e Jahn Square and the bridges crossing the Zayandah River

Esfahan to Shiraz Travelled by bus – 6 hours
Shiraz – 4 nights. We visited the Tomb – Hafez, the Bazars- Bazar-e-valik, Mesgartha, Moshir-e-now, Vakeel and the Mosques – Jame Atigh, Nasir al-Mulk. We also took a day trip to Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam which was excellent

Some reflections

The People
One of the deepest impressions from our experience as tourists in Iran is how friendly and hospitable the people are to tourists. Every day we would be greeted with questions and genuine curiosity and interest. The people were not rushed, were not harassed by tourists needing assistance and went out of their way to help with whatever we were trying to do. Like many tourists we also had the invitations to visit Iranian families in their own home. We took this up with one family in Kerman – we had lunch with a student, his mother, auntie and grandmother. Our student host spoke English and we communicated via google translator with his other family members. We sat on the carpet in the dining room and ate a home cooked lunch together. There were many other memorable experiences – the taxi driver we toured with to the Kaluts has been making sure an old stray dog living in a desert caravanseria was fed every day by delivering leftover meat and bones from his friends restaurant, a student in Kashan who opted to be our tour guide for the day – he was finishing a research degree focusing on the desert windtowers and took us to a traditional bathhouse residence, one of the hotel managers in Esfahan who devoted many hours to answering questions about the culture, history and current situation in Iran – with a focus on Persians love of music and poetry, a group of teenage girls who used all their courage to ask Ann a bunch of questions including which Iranian football team she supported.

We had a Lonely Planet phrase book (not very good and quite confusing) and also used google translator – we would recommend using google translator as we found Iranians to be very open and warm and they were appreciative that we were visiting their country and trying to communicate in Farsi

Hotel bookings
We were able to make preliminary hotel bookings before we left Australia but were able to pay for 2 bookings (one through Pintapin which was good) but generally we were not able to pre-pay due to the absence of PayPal, Visa and any other usual forms of accommodation booking (because of the sanctions). In addition we were told that the Iranian government sets the price for each hotel and room type annually on 1 April. Therefore this meant at the time we wanted to make bookings the hotel staff were not 100% sure about the cost after the 1 April.

We did not experience problems with organising hotel accommodation through this method. We recommend that you start an email discussion with the staff at your chosen hotel well in advance, as accommodation in the most popular sites was limited. For example April was a very busy period for the Iranian tourist industry as it coincided with the European Easter holiday break – there were busloads of French, German, Dutch etc tour groups in the most popular tourist cities and sites. Also if you have any preferences you can start sorting this out before you arrive. For example we were informed that at some stage during the revolution the tourist hotels had to remove western style toilets and replace them with squat toilets. If you are getting on in years (like us) squat toilets could be a real challenge. We found most hotels were slowly going back to western style toilets (as this also suits Persian people) so you can pre book a room with a western toilet.

Transport bookings
We were not able to book any transport before arriving in Iran. We found the staff at the tourist hotels we stayed at to be exceptionally helpful in organising transport. For example hotel staff in Esfahan and Yazd were able to organise bookings via phone calls, get the tickets sent by email and then print the purchased tickets, the Kashan hotel sent a staff member to the railway station to purchase tickets for an overnight train, the Kerman staff organised a taxi with world heritage tourist sites along the way between two major cities. The cost of transport is very reasonable. For example a 12 hour overnight train with sleepers was around $Aus 20 per person. There were no hitches, no incorrect information and no rip offs.

The History and sites of importance
Iran currently has 49 UNESCO World Heritage sites listed; some are still on a tentative list waiting for approval/ accreditation. We were able to visit quite a few sites including Persian gardens, ancient villages, Mosques, Palaces, tombs. There were also lots of museums – example the Yazd Water Museum – detailing desert water and air-cooling technology, some modest contemporary art museums, the Esfahan Music Museum – instruments from all regions of Iran. We only spent a minimal amount of time in Tehran as we do not like big cities. If you can spend more time in this massive city (15 million residents) and visit the museums etc this may assist with starting to understand the history, culture and complexity of Iran.

Money
We took US cash and found that ‘shop front’ money changers were better value than banks and hotels for changing currency. It took quite a few days before we could quickly think about the costs of what we needed to purchase, as both rials and tomans are used concurrently. Tomans have one less zero than rials although in reality tomans do not actually exist as hard currency– only rials are the paper notes!! We would look at a price or order a lunch and then wonder is that $2.50 or $25 during the first week or so. Often we just opened a handful of cash and the seller took what was needed. There was not a culture of bargaining generally and we did not experience a desire to rip us off because we could not initially understand the currency.

Other bits
Traffic
Iran is the most difficult place we have visited in terms of pedestrian safety. Even at pedestrian crossings drivers will not stop and will beep horns for pedestrians to get out of the way. The strategies we have used in places for example in SE Asian countries or our recent experience in Bulgaria which are also not pedestrian friendly - to just keep walking in a straight line, not hesitating or deviating from a set path - do not work in Iran. We crossed roads with locals and in groups.

Food
Breakfasts are usually part of the hotel accommodation price and generally good – particularly if you like white cheese, tomato, labne, cucumber, egg and soups as a staple, which we do. We started to find dinners a bit boring – there are only so many kebabs and salads you can eat in day in and day out. We ate sometimes in the hotels we were staying in which was OK and easy as we could understand the menu better.

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