Despite with growling stomach and runny nose, I was sincerely smiling when I presented my passport and boarding pass at the Passport Control section upon my departure from Shiraz International Airport. All the remarkable sights and atypical experiences I had for 5 days flashed in a blink. Right that very moment, there’s a proud man inside me who conquered an unusual destination that not all will dare go. When the officer mentioned my name for verification, then stamped my passport, I held my head up, thanked him and smiled widely. I still couldn’t believe that I had the courage to travel alone in Iran and chose not to succumb to fear, but pursued a personal mission to break some stereotypes. Disregarding social and political issues, is there a thing to be afraid of going to Iran?
Prior taking a taxi cab for 200,000 Iranian Rials from my hotel to the airport, I didn’t forget to to go to the rooftop to indulge on my last Persian sunrise. I also took the chance of taking some photographs to document my last glimpse of Shiraz.
Everything seemed to happen so fast! The night before my departure, I was laughing so hard over rice and kebab with 2 of my room mates – Elena from Georgia, and Eddie from Singapore.
- WHAT TO WEAR IN IRAN?
- Female travelers must wear headscarves at all times, with arms and legs fully covered.
- Men must wear long pants (at least, I didn’t see anyone wearing shorts, not because it’s winter but I think it’s customary). In other words, dress decently and accordingly.
- Wear a smile, it always helps!
Since I only decided to travel to Iran for 5 days, I narrowed down my options and made plans to focus on Discovering Shiraz. While my 4 room mates on my last night in Iran were telling their travel stories and travel plans from Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz, I only listened with fascination and became more inspired with these solo travelers that I met randomly.
Five days and four nights might be literally a short break, and truly insufficient to get to know a previously unfamiliar place, nonetheless, I believe a I had a pleasant introduction of a slice of Iran from its southern city, Shiraz.
Before sharing details of my experiences, and featuring my photos on succeeding blog series about Shiraz, allow me to impart
a travel guidesome relevant information that might aid somehow, those interested to to travel to Iran soon.
- HOW TO APPLY FOR TOURIST VISA TO IRAN?
- 2 options for Philippine-passport holders : Either obtain a visa from Iranian Consulate prior to the trip, or go for Visa On Arrival. I went for the latter.
- The Iranian Airports where Philippine-passport holders can obtain a Visa-On-Arrival are : Shiraz Airport, Isfahan Airport, Tabriz Airport, Mashad Airport, Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran. Cost of Tourist Visa valid for 30 days as of February 2017 is 60 USD, plus travel insurance that I also purchased at Shiraz airport upon instruction of the officers, for 16 USD (or you may pay in Euros, as they also accept it).
- Before coming to Shiraz, I secured a Reference Number (RN) through online application and via email to Pars Tours Agency, a Shiraz-based travel agency. Cost is 30 Euros + 10% Paypal charge = 33 Euros. Once payment is sent via PayPal as per instruction by email of Pars Tours Agency, it took 20 working days for them to send me a Reference Number from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with details of my passport and dates of my arrival to and departure from Iran.
- When I arrived at Shiraz Airport, I went towards the window of Visa On Arrival Application and filled out a form, submitted it and was instructed to pay at the window of the “bank”, and to avail of travel insurance from the next office. Since I applied for RN, my name and other details were already written on a paper, held by the officer.
- I and the other tourists were instructed to wait, and it took 1 hour in Shiraz Airport for the entire process of VoA to complete (One of my room mates from Spain told me that it took him 4 hours to secure the same from Tehran Airport).
- The Tourist Visa Application to Iran is not complicated, with less requirements actually, compared to other visa-application process for other countries. No other requirements for Iran Tourist Visa except for a valid passport, and payment for the visa itself and for travel insurance. They did not even ask for an ID photo and used scanned picture from my passport itself.
- MONEY MATTERS : IRANIAN RIALS and TOMAN.
- Part of my preparation in coming to Iran was to know and try to remember that there are 2 systems of currency used in Iran. These are Iranian Rials and Toman.
- Generally, almost everyone in Iran will quote anything (from taxi fare, to meals on menu, to bottled water, and particularly in bazaars or public markets) in Toman.
- Toman is basically the superunit of Iranian currency, Rials.
- Remember that 1 Toman is 10 Rials, hence if you’re buying Potato chips and the vendor tells you 20,000 Toman, it means, you need to pay 200,000 Rials; or you just simply add zero to the value of Toman to convert it to Rial. Understood or confused?
- For the currency exchange for USD during my trip, I changed 300 USD at the FOREX at Shiraz Airport (there’s less FOREX within the city) for 10,000,000 IRR.
- It’s also fine to use even torn, old and dilapidated bills in Shiraz as confirmed by the man at the ForEx at the airport.
- WHERE TO STAY IN SHIRAZ.
- Location matters. It always does. If you stay in a hostel, hotel, AirBnB or in a couch surfing host’s place (which I initially planned but I changed my mind due to location), that’s near to your itineraries, so much the better! Case in point – I stayed in Parhami Traditonal Guesthouse that’s located right across the road to Nasir ol Molk Mosque or Pink Mosque, and it’s also a walking-distance-away from other mosques, and must-visit-bazaars and other attractions. I stayed in Parhami Traditional Guesthouse for 3 nights in single room with en suite toilet (with hot and cold shower), and transferred to Niayesh Boutique Hotel for my 4th (last) night in Shiraz, which is also located strategically from the main road and frequently visited tourist spots (Note : Details and photos of my accommodation will be shared and featured on the next blog posts).
Iranian nan that’s best paired with jam, margarine or butter.
Kalam Polo : Persian rice, cabbage, beef meatballs + Shirazi salad : tomato, cucumber, vinegar, onion.
Fish and chicken Kebab for dinner (I liked beef kebab more).
- WHAT TO EAT IN SHIRAZ, IRAN.
- If you can’t tolerate a day without Starbucks Coffee, or your favourite fast-food joints like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and others, do not go to Iran. None of these western franchise are established in Shiraz, not even trace, or shadow of them.
- Indulge in dough or yoghurt drink served with meals.
- Savor kebab!
- Look for restaurants or eatery in Shiraz beforehand. They’re usually tucked in small alleys, if not, located in most basements of buildings. Good luck! Happy hunting! I mean, happy eating!
- ARE THERE ONLY CAMELS FOR TRANSPORTATION IN IRAN?
- Buses and taxi cabs are always available for hire in the streets of Shiraz.
- According to my room mates, they’ve tried taking subway metro in Tehran, VIP buses to go cross-cities (they pre-booked online tickets), and night train.
- Also, try to note travel time. Tehran to Shiraz by night bus takes about 13-hour-trip.
- In Shiraz, most tourist spots aren’t distant from each other; except for few.
Colors & textures from Iranian market.
Necropolis : Tombs for the Persian kings.
Larger than life bas-relief at Necropolis.
Details and other photographs from Necropolis, soon!
Gate of All Nations, Persepolis!
Ruins of Palace of Darius I, Persepolis.
Scale matters. Details and other photographs from Persepolis will be on the succeeding blog posts; please stay tuned!
Nasir ol Molk Mosque or Pink Mosque. One of the highlights of my trip!
Inscription at the gates of Shah-e-Cheragh Shrine.
Massive mirror-work on the walls and ceiling of Shah-e-Cheragh as I was toured by a guide inside.
Blooms from Almond trees at Eram Garden, Shiraz.
Rainy afternoon at Eram Garden.
One of the prettiest gardens I’ve seen.
They took bath houses seriously in Iran! They mean business!
Amazing real-life-size statues inside Vakil Bath.
- MY ITINERARIES IN SHIRAZ
- Day 1 – Arrival. Check-in at accommodation, verified how-to-go-to preferred tourist spots.
- Day 2 – Persepolis, Necropolis.
- Day 3 – Nasir ol Molk Mosque or Pink Mosque, Ordou Bazaar, Vakil Mosque, Vakil Bazaar.
- Day 4 – Eram Garden, Vakil Bath (museum).
- Day 5 – Check out and Departure.
Full details and a lot more photographs from this 5-day-trip to Shiraz, Iran will be shared soon! So please stay tuned! Maraming salamat po!