Iran Trip Report, Part 1

Aug 10th, 2003, 05:57 PM
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Iran Trip Report, Part 1

Just back from our trip to Iran and Armenia...not sure where to post the Armenia details but here goes with Iran.

Iran is the most fascinating country and we had a wonderful time, there is so much to see and do that it should be packed with hitory, architecture and culture buffs!

Amazingly they LOVE Americans and make a strong distinction between the people and the government. Because my husband and I are a Brit and an American we had to be on a tour to get our visas....

I didn't fancy a tour with alot of people and the tours from the US are very expensive so we decided to organize the whole thing over the internet with an Iranian travel agent (www.irangashttour.com)
They arranged a 14 night customized itinerary just for the two of us, Tehran, Isfahan, two nights in a nomadic camp, Shiraz, Kerman and Yazd.

Isfahan is certainly a highlight we loved the bridges, mosques, the quality of the stunning tilework and age of the buildings, many 500-300 year old. The Chehel sotun palace was gorgeous, with a classical Persian garden outside and incredibly beautiful painted mural inside including court scenes, musicians and dancing girls fortunately not painted over after the revolution! The carpet shops were wonderful and we even found one who took a credit card charged through Dubai. The Iranians are so friendly and trusting that the carpet shops will let you put down 25% in cash and then you send the rest when you get home.

People were so friendly and this makes Iran one of the most culturally accessible countries we have ever visited. Obviously there are very few foriegners there these days...kids wanted to take our photos and everyone loves to talk and particularly to complain about the government!

After Isfahan we drove through the Zagros mountains, encountered a nomadic wedding on the way where we saw traditional music and dancing...unbelievable and then on for two days camping next to a nomadic group.

The tour company had organized all of this for us and when we arrived, in the car with our guide the owner of the tour company, Mr. Ghajar had come out from Shiraz to meet us and had already set up our tents with another young man....I have never encountered such service, throughout the trip he called us daily to ensure we were happy and even had us to dinner at his house!

We were interested in hiking and he organized an interesting hike with a guide and arranged to drive us back from the hike with a visit to a fascinating US educated local geologist who also happened to be the leader of the local nomadic communities...we couldn't believe how much trouble they went to.

The nomads were fascinating, they move in the spring and autumn and live in bllack tents. They work all the time and the women spin wool even when sitting and chatting. The keep goats and sheep and supplement their subsistence by selling carpets and kilims which they weave themselves. They were so warm and hospitable and it was a look into an entirely different world.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Aug 10th, 2003, 11:24 PM
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Many thanks for the report, so glad your trip went so well...

I have a tip for you, don't know if you're interested. If you post Part 2 as a reply to this thread, the whole trip report will stay together, for future readers...

Kind Regards
Kavey
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Aug 11th, 2003, 10:03 AM
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Kavey,
thanks for the tip... it didn't occur to me!
Here's Part 2


Shiraz was very interesting most particularly because of Persepolis, a UNESCO world heritage site 100km from the city.

Much like a Greek ruin although in its own architectural style Persepolis is the ruins of a ceremonial center, almost a city which was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330BC. Nearby the necropolis has the impressive carved graves designed in the rockface of Darius and others dating from 5th century BC.

From Shiraz, where we also saw lots of other stuff including a beautiful bath complex converted into a restaurant with live traditioinal music, we headed south to kerman. Close the the Afghan border we visited Bam a deserted Silk Road mud city with undefined origins. It seemed like the largest sand castle in the world and at about 110 degrees it was baking!

In the desert city of Yazd we were captivated by the traditional wind towers used to cool the mus houses. We were equally fascinated by the Zorastrian Fire temple and the Towers of Silence where the Zorastrians used to place the bodies of the dead to be eaten by the birds so the didn't pollute the earth.

Iran really an extraordinary place to visit we never felt threatened and people were constantly inviting us to visit them or even to stay! We sat in the park and chatted to women, met young university students at dinner and found everyone friendly and open. With the guide we felt free to talk to anyone because he did a wonderful job translating.

At the Shia religious shrines I had to borrow a chador to cover myself and entered through the women's entrance. The decorative mirror works were unlike anything I have seen and at a shrine in Tehran they were so happy to see foriegners that they gave us a gift of lavish datebooks for 2004!

The museums in Tehran were incredible particularly the Jewellery Museum in a bank vault and the Raza Abbassi Museum which has a wonderful collection of ancient gold peices (1000 + years old) and great Persian minatures.
Throughout the trip I had to were the hejab to cover my hair, which was hot but one got used to it. I wore loose long linen shirts but was happy to find out I could wear ankle length pants and open toed shoes without socks.

We really loved the trip, I cannot recommend the tour company (www.irangashttour.com) highly enough. The guide was in his late 50's a really history buff with a great sense of humour. He had been a fighter pilot and spent several years training in the US in the 1970's. He ensured we had a wonderful time and even took us up to the roof of one tomb and paid someone so we could climb to the top of a minaret!

I you are considering a trip to Iran I really recommend organizing something directly with an Iranian travel agent. The trip cost less than half the price of a US tour, which would have been with a group of perhaps 12-15 strangers, and it was entirely customized. I know Iran isn't the most average destination and our families and friends thought we were crazy but it really was an incredible holiday.



welltraveledbrit is offline  
Aug 11th, 2003, 12:22 PM
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You're welcome...
Where are you based?
If you're anywhere near London maybe we can do coffee and I can learn lots more about your trip - I'd never considered a trip to Iran, though a childhood friend was from Persia so I did have an interest way back when...
Kavey
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Aug 11th, 2003, 03:35 PM
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Thanks for the wonderful report. I hope to visit Iran in the next few years while my wife's parents, originally from Iran, are still young enough to keep up and act as our tour guides/translators. Next up in the major trip department, however, is India in February and Italy in June (my 3rd visit and not where I would prefer to go but 2004 is my wife's turn to pick our vacations).

One question about Iran, is it really not possible to drink alcohol, even a glass of wine with your dinner??? The only time that I enjoy a few drinks is on holiday (the only time that I don't seem to drive) and it would be a bummer if I could not enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner.

Also, how did you enjoy the food. I love Persian cuisine and don't think I'd have a problem over there. If you are familiar with Persian cuisine in the U.S. (or Britain), how did it compare to the food locally in Iran???

Thanks again.
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Aug 11th, 2003, 09:52 PM
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Rocco,
I certainly missed my glass of wine with dinner. Iran at least for tourists is completely dry...not a drop for two weeks! Apparently there is a black market in wine and beer but none came our way! They sell non-alcoholic beer but I don't drink beer anyway so I didn't try it. They sell a cola called Pi Pi which I drankincessantly!

We love the Persian food our Iranian American friend cooks but in Iran the difficulty was avoiding what my husband described as "kebab fever". Kebabs are THE thing that Iranians tend to order when they go out... so after the first couple of days we had the guy scouting any restaurant that sold a wider variety of food. He worked so hard to ensure we tried lots of local varieties including fresh juices, cookies,sweets, different types of Koresh and Dizzy. The truth is that the best food in Iran is served in the homes rather than in restaurants.

P.S.I like scaredtodeath's choice of holiday destinations!
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Aug 23rd, 2003, 04:15 PM
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Thanks for a great trip report on Iran.

As a young child, I lived in Tehran for four years with my family-my father worked for an American company who transferred him there. We evacuated back to the US in 1978 when Khomeini took over.

My husband and I are very interested in visiting Iran. He is a HUGE history, architecture and culture buff- and travel photographer. Were there any restrictions on photography? Also, how did you arrange your flights from the US to Iran? And what was the cost?

Thank you,

Nicci
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Aug 24th, 2003, 10:47 AM
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Nicci,
I'll try to answer your questions individually.

FLIGHTS....I wanted to use my United miles and we planned a visit to Armenia so our route to Iran was somewhat circuitous! We flew, San Francisco-vienna-Yerevan on Austrain and Lufthansa...and after a week in Armenia flew to Tehran on Caspain Airlines...an airline nobody has ever heard of that doesn't take credit cards, very adventurous!

Flights to Tehran go via Europe, I know that BA, Austrain and Air Iran fly into Tehran but I'm sure there are more carriers. I know that you can check flights to Tehran on Travelocity...I've seen flights advertised from $900 . I would think the best flight deals would be through a travel agent that deals with the Iranian American community so LA would be a good place to look.

PHOTOGRAPHY...We had no difficulty taking photos of the things we were interested in...street life, mosques, bazaars, countryside etc.... I think there are restrictions on photographing military installations ...but the ones we saw on the outskirts of town didn't look any more interesting than a US army base so we weren't interested in photographing them anyway!


I'm sure if your husband is a history/culture buff you'd find alot to see in Iran. We really enjoyed our trip...it was also very good value. We went with an agency called Gasht Tour (which I highly recommend)and paid around $80 per day per person for a private tour for the two of us. That included accomodation in hotels and camping with the nomads, all food, entrance fees to all sites, transportation including internal airfares, an excellent guide and car.

Let me know if you have anymore question, I hope this helps!
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Aug 24th, 2003, 06:55 PM
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Thank you. My husband and I are always interested in unique travel experiences. We may have more questions once we start planning our trip.

Do you have any photos on-line that you would be able to share?
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Aug 24th, 2003, 08:01 PM
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Your post has inspired us to possibly change our November trip planning from Hong Kong, China and Bali to Dubai, Oman and Iran.
We checked flights- it's only $400 rt. on Malaysian Air from New York to Dubai and another $160 from Dubai to Tehran. We live in Atlanta, so it would not cost much to get to New York.
My husband is contacting Gasht Tours by e-mail for details on November travel.

Did you feel it necessary to purchase trip insurance?

How did you pay for everything? Were there any ATMs that accepted our cards?

Other than covering your head with a scarf, how else did you dress? Was it necessary to cover yourself completely to wrist and ankles?

Just curious, did you meet any other American travelers while there?

Thank you,

Nicci


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Aug 26th, 2003, 05:38 PM
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Nicci,
It the beginning of the semester and I've been overwhelmed with lectures etc so I haven't checked the board in a couple of days!

PHOTOS: As to your questions, we don't have any photos online...I've put them in an old fashioned photo album and I keep meaning to put them on the web but somehow I never get around to it...

INSURANCE: I can't belive how cheap the flight to Dubai is from NY! Incredible! We didn't purchase any trip insurance but that's the way we are! I know for some people it's crazy! I do have baggage coverage, which I think is excellent for multi connection flights, through AMEX.WE also have health coverage that covers us abroad.

CASH/ATMSn the question of ATM we didn't even look for ATM because of the embargo which does not allow financial interactions between the US and Iran.

On the Lonely Planet site (Thorntree) there are various discussions and most seem to suggest that sometimes you can get money on a credit card through a bank but that it often takes forever and often doesn't work!

Iran is a cash society and we carried the entire cost of the tour with us and gave it to the guide at Tehran airport!

We bought some carpets in Isfahan and they took our credit card and phoned it through to Dubai. However, the guide told us that this was the only place he had ever seen people use a credit card.

DRESS: The dress code was a little less strict than I had anticipated...I wore loose ankle length pants, with my ankle and foot exposed. I wore a long cotton scarf which I did get used to but which made it very hot. I generally wore longish linen shirts with sleeves above my wrists.
We saw some foriegners wearing much shorter shirts, some not even covering their bums and one woman wearing a very small scarf or kercheif that didn't cover the back of her necks. The guide explained that Iranians are more flexible with foriegners but I felt more comfortable conforming to the dress code.

AMERICANS: WE met one American woman and her Iranian American husband and a number of other Iranian American but no other Americans with no family ties to Iran. We meet one guy from the UK, quite a few Scandinavians, a cantankerous Swiss guy, some people from France, a couple of Dutch guys and four Koreans!

The only thing I would add is that we loved Iran but it doesn't have the "relaxation factor" of a holiday that incudes Bali.

Hope that helps.
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Aug 29th, 2003, 09:27 PM
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Sorry for my late reply- I travel for work during the week.

Thank you for all your helpful information on travel to Iran. My husband received an e-mail response from Gasht Tours this week. Our main concern was that we were thinking of going in November, which is Ramadan. The tour company said that this shouldn't be a problem for tourist; however, I think it might be a less relaxed atmosphere. Although, we've read it's also a unique time to visit. There's a big celebration during the last three days or so of the religious holiday. So we're thinking about beginning our two weeks in Iran during the last few days of Ramadan- the week of Thanksgiving. Then we'll stop in Dubai and Oman for a week on the way back.

Anyway, we're still in the planning stages.
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Aug 30th, 2003, 12:15 PM
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Nicci,
to get some feedback on Ramadan I suggest you go to Lonely Planet's thorntree site. There's someone there on the Middle East board called Marty who is a foriegner (I think an American) living in Iran. She seems to reply very regularly to questions on Iran and I'm sure she could give you an insightful perspective on the question of travelling during Ramadan.

Along with the travel agency I found this sort of information more accurate than the guidebooks which seemed a little out of date.

Hope that helps!
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Feb 29th, 2004, 04:47 PM
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ttt (thanks again for the excellent report, wtb).
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Feb 29th, 2004, 05:31 PM
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Welltravelledbrit,

If you had to cut this trip down to 9 or 10 nights, how would you modify the itinerary that you did? Surely, some places were more fascinating than others.

I am particulary interested in places that feature Babylonian/Assyrian culture/history, if you recall any of the places that you visited being more prominent in this scope than others.

Also, I may have missed it in your reports, but did you enjoy any nights out on the town with live entertainment, etc.? It would seem odd to go out for a night on the town without at least being able to enjoy a couple drinks.

For the most part, how were the roads and traffic during the extent of your tour? Did you have a choice of vehicles? How was the vehicle that was used? Do you think it would be comfortable for four adults? And, lastly, did you price out 4/5 star hotels vs. 3/4 star hotels or did you go with 3/4 from the onset? If you did compare the two, what was the price difference per night?

Thanks a lot.
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Mar 1st, 2004, 09:56 AM
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Roccco,
if I had fewer days I would recommend... Tehran 2 days perhaps divided between the beginning and the end, Isfahan 3 days, 2 days Shiraz and a night in Yadz. You could add a night to Isfahan (Isfahan is the most historically rich city though Shriaz has more important ancient sites within an hour or two) and leave out Yadz...it's a matter of what interests you.

Internal flights are efficient and you could fly Tehran-Isfahan-Shiraz, drive to yadz and then fly to Tehran...However, I think from Dubai you may be able to fly into Shriaz directly.

In terms of the vehicle we were taken around in the guide's car which was a small Japanese four door car, probably 2/3 years old with AC. It was perfectly adequate for us but I don't think it would work for four adults. I'm sure they can provide something suitable.

In terms of food and hotels. We stayed in mostly 4 star hotels and there was very little price difference between 3/4 start hotels there were few 5 star hotels in the country. Remember this is not a US star system and doesn't actually mean that much...You have to be fairly flexible, the hotels aren't fabulous but they were adequate.


We went for the newest hotels which I think was a good bet. The only 5 star hotels on offer were in Tehran (mainly further out of town... the old intercontinental and in Isfahan the Abbassi.

The Abbassi was much more expensive, I can't remember what it was quoted at per night but it would have added several hundred dollars to the overall cost and we were trying to keep things down as the overall trip included Vienna and seven days in Armenia.

We ate at the Abbassi and although we didn't see a room it was an interesting hotel. The Shah had an old Caravanserai upgraded into a luxury hotel in the 1970's. It has a lovely central courtyard that is dominated by a beautiful tiled dome (lit up at night) from a religious school next door. We liked the more modest new hotel where we stayed in a room overlooking the river but I would recommend the Abbassi.

As to food although Iranian food in the home is fabulous it's much harder to find at restaurants. Everything is very much orientated towards meat and when Iranians go out they apparently eat alot of kebabs!

We ate at a couple of restaurants with music...in Kerman and Shiraz at converted bath houses. The Vakil baths in Shiraz were wonderful and the music was great. We also heard traditional music at a couple of other places including a restaurant in Yadz and a fashionable place in northern Tehran...which apparently has been closed down a couple of times because people dared to sway to heavily to the music and it was interpreted as dancing which is not allowed!

As to the roads...generally they were fine, even out in the more rural areas. However, the traffic in Tehran is terrible, really horrendous and to be frank the airport which was fine on the way in was chaos on the way out...however some terminals are better than others.

As to the Babylonian/Assyrian influence obviously there's more of this stuff in Iraq however, some of the large sculptural walls in Persepolis are very similar to the magestic Assyrian winged Lion style entry walls on display at the Metropolitan in New York and the British Museum in London.

I hope this helps!
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Nov 8th, 2004, 12:17 PM
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Thanks for the great report. Am planning to take my wife and two kids (we are American) on a one week trip to Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz over Christmas. We currently live in the Republic of Georgia. As coincidence would have it, I have been emailing with several tour agents in Iran, one of which is Ghasttours. They have all been very helpful, but especially Mr. Honari, so your recommendation sealed it. Likewise, we will fly into Tehran from Yerevan ($170 roundtrip). Based on your report, I told Mr. Honari we wanted to stay only at the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan.

Question: Where would you recommend we buy a carpet? How pricey are the silks?How much haggling over the price will be involved? I recently bought a carpet in Baku, and thought I did well knocking the price down by 50%, but it was a lot of effort and hassle.
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Nov 8th, 2004, 12:18 PM
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Thanks for the great report. Am planning to take my wife and two kids (we are American) on a one week trip to Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz over Christmas. As coincidence would have it, I have been emailing with several tour agents in Iran, one of which is Ghasttours. They have all been very helpful, but especially Mr. Honari, so your recommendation sealed it. Likewise, we will fly into Tehran from Yerevan ($170 roundtrip). Based on your report, I told Mr. Honari we wanted to stay only at the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan.

Question: Where would you recommend we buy a carpet? How pricey are the silks?How much haggling over the price will be involved? I recently bought a carpet in Baku, and thought I did well knocking the price down by 50%, but it was a lot of effort and hassle.
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Nov 9th, 2004, 11:42 AM
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Dear Stepstra,
I'm very glad that the trip report helped and that you've found Gashttour helpful.

I wish we had made it to Georgia on our trip but we only had time for Armenia and Iran...I'd love to see some of the frescoes in the Georgian churches! The flight from Yerevan was fine.I don't think they see too many US or UK tourists on that route! I still remember the Armenian lady with a hugh basket or apricots!

We bought carpets in Isfahan,tribal carpets rather than the traditional Persian designs which are less to our taste. We even me tourists from Turkey who were buying carpets in Iran because they we so much cheaper...thoug an Iranian friend told us she thought they were now very expensive!

Out situation was a little different from the average...it's an involved story but the summary is that a friend of a friend visited Iran about 6 months before us with a charity group...he was reading a book while he was there which had a picture of an Isfahani carpet seller and when he bought his carpets in Isfahan the man saw the book and wanted a copy because it had his piture in it...anyway a long story short we brought a copy of the book for him (he was on a pilgrimage to Mecca) but his son was very grateful and so we got a great price on the carpets...we spent $800 US for three fabulous (approx 3ft+/5ft+ )rugs.

Yes we did need to haggle quite a bit but I spent alot of my childhood in Africa so it's second nature...I also think it helps to buy more! The rugs are fabulous but the prices varied enormously based on the quaility and tightness. Rugs from Turkmenistan with deep red and black designs were very much cheaper.

I'm very pleased with what we bought and I was surprised by how easy they were to transport because they were so finely woven that they folded up into fairly small packages.

I've never been particularly fond of silk rugs until we saw a semi antique silk rug in pale yellow...it was enormous and magnificent and very expensive...something around $10,000US but they have them in every size and I'm sure the smaller/newer ones are far cheaper.

The rug company we used was called Chetzias...sound like "Cheats-us" (!) they have two locations one in the shopping mall opposite the Abbassi hotel, upstairs on the right...and one in the main bazaar not very far in on the right. Abass the guide who works for Gashttour will know the place or just ask someone.

WE really enjoyed the rug shopping because rather than focusing solely on the price we just kept looking at a wide range of rugs and felt we really learnt alot.

We also visited another shop where we also saw some lovely older rugs...which Abass our guide brought us to...but the clincher for us was that we could us a credit card at the first place which they do through Dubai. For us this was far better because we had brought a limited amount of cash with us.

The main thing was that in all of the rug shops we visited in Isfahan the people were very freindly and not at all pushy (which would have turned me off the whole thing)...we looked at rugs in Yerevan but they were very much more expensive and we didn't find the atmosphere as relaxed or as informative.

Hope that helps...do try to see the jewellery museum in Tehran I think it's definately something kids would like.

I'll look forward to your trip report and do feel free to ask any more questions if you think I can help.
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Nov 14th, 2004, 12:38 PM
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Welltraveledbrit, thanks for the information. I will post a report upon our return.
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