middle east

​What about Iran?

I am just back from a trip around Morocco and some of the countries which used to be part of the Persian Empire at some stage in the past – Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Georgia, Armenia.

For information I used Lonely Planet: Morocco; Middle East; Georgia, Armenia, & Azerbaijan. These three books. I uploaded the electronic version to Google Play Books and saved the weight of real books. They served their purpose pretty well. I bought them when on special, which LP does quite often.

For each country I’ll be writing of one good and one bad experience. And then include some hints and a few photos of the country.

In every country almost everyone talks on their mobile phone while driving. And if you wear a seat belt you’re a big sissy. Taxi drivers will make a show of kind of putting their seat belt on while laughing as if to say, I’m not a sissy, but I can see that police checkpoint is up ahead and I have to put the belt on. Then they’ll undo the seat belt after passing the checkpoint.

As for Iran, I’ve never seen worse driving. As I like to walk everywhere if at all possible, it made Tehran and Shiraz a nightmare. I wanted to cycle in Shiraz, but it was too dangerous. Esfahan,  it seems, was much better. I really like it. It’s apparently the most popular city in Iran for both domestic and international tourism.  And there was no noticeable litter there, too​ – another eyesore in most places. I liked Yadz, too. In the old city the streets / alleys are very narrow, and in many cases, too narrow for cars.

But the people in Iran were really nice. Amazingly nice.  And you learn not to expect any ulterior motive.

If I go again I’d want to visit the smaller towns and the natural landscapes.

As for me getting a visa:

I had read that some people were turned away when they applied for visa on arrival. And I read the Iranian government website. It seemed better to have a confirmed hotel booking and this printed out to show when one applied for visa on arrival. As I was travelling standby I didn’t know for sure when I would arrive, so a confirmed hotel booking that was non-refundable that I couldn’t use would be more expensive than using a company to get visa approval for me, and also more expensive than me going down to KL to apply. Using such a company was supposed to be much faster, too. A week or ten days at the most to get approval.

I used Iranian visa.com, who were terrible, threatening, rude, inefficient,  didn’t send the right documentation to the ministry, and took more than a month.  If you want a visa in advance, either go to a handy consulate or find a company that has good reviews from many people to get the approval for you.

The idea is that the company gets pre-approval for your visa and you then go to the consulate in the country you’ve nominated, give the approval number, fill out the application form, and go to a local bank to transfer the visa fee to the consulate.

I had nominated Rabat, Morocco. When I finally got the approval I went to the consulate, but they told me all was not in order.  They asked for proof of health insurance, details of an Iranian friend who lives in Iran, my plans there etc. In the end the consul himself came out and gave me a visa, but only for 15 days. All staff were polite and friendly, and the consul particularly so. It should have been 30 days, but given the circumstances, and also because I had got the visa far later than I planned, 15 days was enough.

As for visa on arrival: when you arrive in Tehran by air there is an area before the immigration counters where there is a bank window so you can buy rials, a health insurance booth where you pay for that, the amount depending on how long you’re staying ($16 for 15 days) and which you pay in dollars, and the visa window, where I’d guess you pay in rials. Then there was just one queue for foreigners for immigration. I didn’t see any dramas while I waited about an hour in the queue.  As I already had the visa I didn’t need to bother with any of that including paying for the health insurance.

A few other things about Iran, which I will mention:

  • Iran and elsewhere in middle East still has lots of small shops and businesses. As it used to be decades ago in English speaking countries, but which now are replaced by chain stores, franchises and multinationals.
  • Many women seem to have had nose jobs – so many women walk around with bandages on their noses. All women must wear hijabs, including tourists, but women’s faces are not hidden, except for women who dress like Saudis, of which there are not so many.
  • As a man one doesn’tt really talk to women except if they are working in a shop or at a ticket counter, etc.
  • Normal native Iranians do the cleaning, not immigrants
  • Everyone drives and talks on their phones
  • No-one wears seat belts except if there are police around.
  • There are so many expensive new cars around
  • Iran has hordes of motorbikes, other countries in this region have only cars

Milad Tower, Tehran

Milad Tower, Tehran

view from Milad Tower, Tehran

view from Milad Tower, Tehran

Tehran Station

Tehran to Shiraz night train

Tehran to Shiraz night train

train trip between Tehran and Shriaz

dinner in the dining car on the train

the train dining car

train trip between Tehran and Shriaz

on the train

train trip between Tehran and Shiraz

arrived in Shiraz

Shiraz station

barren hills in the background of the city centre of Shiraz

baths in the fort, Shiraz

Persepolis ruins – thanks to Alexander the great destroyer

Persepolis ruins – thanks to Alexander the great destroyer

Persepolis ruins – thanks to Alexander the great destroyer

Persepolis ruins – thanks to Alexander the great destroyer

Esfahan

delicious pottage from a shop in Esfahan

Shah Mosque, Esfahan

mosque in main square, Esfahan

Shah Mosque, Esfahan

Shah Mosque, Esfahan

park next to the river, Esfahan

bridge over river, Esfahan

night time view of bridge

in a park, Esfahan

Church of Holy Bethlehem

Church of Holy Bethlehem

Esfahan Railway Station

Jameh Mosque, Yadz, Iran

Jameh Mosque, Yadz, Iran

street in Yadz old town, Iran

street in Yadz old town, Iran

rooftop view, Yadz old town

wind tower – used for cooling

the tallest wind tower in Yadz

Yadz at night

I’ve forgotten this one

desert scenery from the train from Yadz to Tehran

 

 

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What about Jordan?

I am just back from a trip around Morocco and some of the countries which used to be part of the Persian Empire at some stage in the past – Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Georgia, Armenia.

For information I used Lonely Planet: Morocco; Middle East; Georgia, Armenia, & Azerbaijan. These three books. I uploaded the electronic version to Google Play Books and saved the weight of real books. They served their purpose pretty well. I bought them when on special, which LP does quite often. Otherwise I read some blogs and online forums for more up to date information.

For each country I’ll be writing of one good and one bad experience. And then include some hints and a few photos of the country.

I think my guide-book described Jordan as “Middle East Lite”. You get the Biblical and Islamic sites, but without the political problems and implications, or indeed the danger, of a visit to many of the other countries in the region. Alcohol is freely available. So are shishas. English seemed widely understood, people are honest and friendly.

What was bad? Well, it was kind of expensive compared to other countries in the area, but alcohol was very expensive, even though, compared to some countries, it is actually available.  500ml beer cost USD$5 or more.

And the good? Well, it was magic to stand where Moses stood for his first view of the promised land. Mind you, it’s barren, dry and hard to scratch a living from. The many other sites and places I saw, the landscapes just as I imagined from when I was a child, the food… They were good. But seeing the view from Mt. Nebo as Moses had done was magic.

Not many hints to give. I based myself in Madaba rather than Amman as it’s a comfortable small town and a bit closer to many of the sites you’ll probably want to visit, while the town itself also has many things of interest. You can go there directly from the airport without passing through Amman, the airport being between Amman and Madaba.

I organised taxis through the hotel and so had no problems with taxis cheating me. A hotel will often also arrange airport pickup for you. If you do this you won’t need a SIM until in town, where it may be cheaper than the airport.

Some photos:

there’s shisha

there’s beer and wine

there’s statues

and lovely Christian churches

inside one

St. George at work

another church

and another beautiful interior

and another beautiful interior

local restaurant

dinner

sunrise over Madaba

one of the historic sites in Madaba

Madaba has many mosaics

Madaba has many mosaics

local transport to Amman

local transport to Amman

olive groves on the way to Amman

Amman

how else would you tow a cart?

in the centre of Amman

from the citadel on the hill

in the town centre – taken from the citadel

citadel ruins

citadel ruins

and there are mosques

Amman

interesting building

In the market in central Amman

Church at Mt. Nebo

looking east

the view of the promised land that Moses saw

it seems not much has changed for some in the last few thousand years

where Jesus was baptised

where Jesus was baptised

across the Jordan River looking at Palestine – people are getting baptised

a church celebrating the baptism of Jesus

a church celebrating the baptism of Jesus

goat herding

at the Dead Sea

at the Dead Sea

at the Dead Sea

so dry

What about Lebanon?

I am just back from a trip around Morocco and some of the countries which used to be part of the Persian Empire at some stage in the past – Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Georgia, Armenia.

For information I used Lonely Planet: Morocco; Middle East; Georgia, Armenia, & Azerbaijan. These three books. I uploaded the electronic version to Google Play Books and saved the weight of real books. They served their purpose pretty well. I bought them when on special, which LP does quite often. Otherwise I read some blogs and online forums for more up to date information.

For each country I’ll be writing of one good and one bad experience. And then include some hints and a few photos of the country.

I’d wanted to visit Lebanon for decades, but every time I thought it was safe another war started or incident occurred, and it just seemed too dangerous. At the moment is seems OK, but apparently the south is not safe because of rocket attacks from Israel, and Tripoli in the north is not safe because it’s a stronghold for terrorists, and sometimes demonstrations block the road to the airport so you can be stuck and unable to fly out. In addition, people are sometimes kidnapped from taxis or private buses, so you must use a reputable taxi company or government buses only. More normal crime is also a problem.

Despite minimal tourism, hotels are still quite expensive.

So I came up with a plan. To fly in early in the morning, get a prearranged taxi to pick me up and show me some of Beirut, Byblos and Tyre, and drop me back at the airport in time for a night-time flight. In doing so I could avoid expensive hotels, crime, and minimise exposure to the other dangers. Only one day, but I could fit the equivalent of two or three days sightseeing and it’s better than not visiting at all. A few weeks before my trip I arranged a one day tour with Comfort Taxis, and they were happy to correspond with me, despite being a one-time customer. It all worked out well and very conveniently. I flew out to Jordan that night.

What was disappointing was the airport. I arrived very early in the morning, but there weren’t really any facilities. No free WiFi. You could buy WiFi by the hour, but it was expensive, or you could buy a SIM card for $75! In Europe around $7 buys you a SIM card and 5GB of data for around a month. Celcom Malaysia has a roaming “deal” of RM38 ($8) for a Malaysian time-zone day – i.e. it expires at midnight Malaysian time – for a tiny amount of data – it may have been 50MB. It was the cheapest choice, and the data allowance ran out almost immediately, but at least I could contact the taxi company.

Here are a few photos:

driving through Beirut

driving through Beirut

monument to Napoleon north of Beirut

north of Beirut

orthodox church in Byblos

ruins in Byblos

ruins in Byblos

beach at Byblos

ruins in Byblos

ruins in Byblos

old church in Byblos

old church in Byblos

harbour in Byblos

harbour in Byblos

mosque in Beirut

ruins in Tyre

ruins in Tyre

ruins in Tyre

ruins in Tyre

Mediterranean at Tyre

My driver tracked down this food – we ate the lot

Tyre

Tyre

north towards Beirut

​What about Morocco?

I am just back from a trip around Morocco and some of the countries which used to be part of the Persian Empire at some stage in the past – Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Georgia, Armenia.

For information I used Lonely Planet: Morocco; Middle East; Georgia, Armenia, & Azerbaijan. These three books. I uploaded the electronic version to Google Play Books and saved the weight of real books. They served their purpose pretty well. I bought them when on special, which LP does quite often.

For each country I’ll be writing of one good and one bad experience. And then include some hints and a few photos of the country.

In every country almost everyone talks on their mobile phone while driving. And if you wear a seat belt you’re a big sissy. Taxi drivers will make a show of kind of putting their seat belt on while laughing as if to say, I’m not a sissy, but I can see that police checkpoint is up ahead and I have to put the belt on. Then they’ll undo the seat belt after passing the checkpoint.

First the meaning of a few words. Kasbah means castle. Medina means city. Souq means streets of market stalls.

OK, and here is the bad experience. Small boys will want to guide you somewhere. And then demand ridiculous sums for their service. Say $30. They’ll ask you where you’re going, then walk in front of you even if you know where you’re going, and then demand money as they’ll say they guided you.  If you want to use them, negotiate beforehand.  If you don’t, and don’t answer their questions they’ll walk in front of you anyway for a bit, but mostly they give up. On one occasion they didn’t give up, and they were extremely rude, swearing in English like you would wouldn’t believe. I can’t say I want to encourage such obnoxiousness. It leaves a bad taste. This is mainly a problem in Marrakesh.

The good experience: I had a good time with people. I couchsurfed just once as mostly I couldn’t schedule much in advance. But it was on the weekend, and my host was kind enough to share it with me and introduce me to friends and show me around Rabat, in addition to experiencing how someone lives. As luck would have it, his place was also easily walkable to the Iranian consulate, which was a bonus as I had to go there for a visa.

In the Medina of Marrakesh is the most amazing maze of  alleys.  Some go straight for a while, and others lead off them, and some come to a dead-end.  Maps don’t help much as they’re not accurate enough, and GPS doesn’t work as they are too narrow with thick-walled buildings on either side.  So it’s not easy-going to where to want in the Medina. If you remember what turns you took you can retrace your steps and try a different turn. Or just keep on trying to go in the direction you want, and go back from dead ends and try what you think is another way.  Some areas are teeming with people, some have a few, and some are eerily deserted. You can ask shopkeepers or someone the direction to, for example, the main square. If you ask before every turn, you might get there.  If you use roads on the outskirts, combined with some of the larger alleys that are accurately drawn on a map, combined with remembering from past experience and noting landmarks, you do get better at it.

Taxi drivers are often dishonest, but in the capital, Rabat, they use their meters, and thus present no problems to use.

If you are a pedestrian be very careful as the drivers are bad.

Thus where possible catch trains for travel as it’s safer and more comfortable. There are trains to many places you might like to visit. Otherwise you will have to catch buses.

I was told that they’re not allowed to sell alcohol in the Medina, so if you want it you’ll have to go to the new town.

Change any leftover money before you go through immigration to the airside of the airport. Airside there are no change facilities, and they don’t accept their local currency in the shops. Just Euros. The information desk people will unofficially change your money, but at a shockingly bad rate. The one shop I found where you could use the local currency was the shop selling Moroccan crafts.

souq in the medina, Rabat

main street, Rabat

Rabat

Rabat

Tangier

Tangier

in the medina in Marrakesh

souq in the medina in Marrakesh

garden in Marrakesh

in the medina in Marrakesh

in the medina in Marrakesh

mountains near Marrakesh

dinner in Marrakesh

Marrakesh station

typical long distance train – to Marrakesh

lunch in El Jadida

lamb tangine in El Jadida

sunrise in lamb El Jadida

beach in El Jadida

Portugese fort in El Jadida

colourful house

Langkawi – some observations from my latest visit. And could I retire here?

Tanjong Rhu Beach

I have just returned from my second holiday in Langkawi in about three and a half years. So, while I cannot claim any vast knowledge, I would like to make a few observations.

For a newer version click the green button.

http://tropicalexpat.com/index.php/2018/09/19/cleaning-my-air-con/

GETTING THERE

  • In August 2008 we drove up to Kuala Perlis and caught the ferry over to the main ferry terminal in Langkawi.  All we had to do was phone a contact who ran a parking lot, give an approximate arrival time, and he bought the ferry tickets.  When we arrived we could park undercover and he gave us the tickets, and pointed out where to catch the ferry.
  • This time we flew on Air Asia from Penang to Langkawi, which is about 25 minutes in the air, but from when we left home by taxi to when we were in our hotel room about four hours had elapsed.  Which was about the same amount of time as driving and catching the ferry, although the flight was less strenuous.
  • There are other alternatives, such as a ferry from Penang to Langkawi, directly; or driving to Alor Setar, and catching a ferry from there.

WHEN

  • High season is supposed to be between mid-November and mid-April, which corresponds to the dry season -but we got low season prices in early April, and rain didn’t bother us. As I mentioned, we’d previously visited in August, and again we had no problems with the weather.

ACCOMMODATION

  • Langkawi has changed quite a bit in the intervening three years. Now there is a vast range of accommodation available – from very cheap to very expensive (resorts), and many choices in between.  Cenang Beach is the mass tourism area.  There are a lot of motels now, homestays all over the island, and you can even stay in a caravan at a beach. Or you can camp at the government fruit farm, mentioned below.

You can rent this caravan at the beach

GETTING AROUND

  • Car rental is cheap – from RM40 or so a day for an old car in poor condition, RM70 for a newish car in good condition, and motorcycle hire is also available.  It seems you can also rent bicycles.  If you rent a car, check the tyre condition before you drive off, too.  They will also give you a road map, most likely.  Of course, there are taxis; and buses exist, but I saw very few, so you’d need a lot of time.

This one year old Proton Saga cost RM70 a day to rent, and RM50 deposit.

DRIVING

  • The standard of driving in Langkawi is better than in Penang, and there are not so many cars on the road, so driving can be quite relaxing.  As Langkawi is quite small, it doesn’t take very long to get where you are going.  I think it took about 40 minutes to drive from the crocodile farm in the north-west, to Kuah, the main town,  in the south.
  • Petrol is slightly cheaper than the mainland, at 1.90 a litre.  In three nights / four days we used about RM40 of petrol for about 250KM – but put in RM50 as we didn’t want to be low on petrol on the other side of the island where there is no petrol station so near. (Yes, this happened to us last time.)
  • You are warned not to drive at night because of cows and water buffaloes on the road.  Cows are a tan colour, and not so hard to see, but water buffalo are black, and hard to spot.

cows wander the roads at night

ATTRACTIONS

  • As a tourist there are some nice things to do, and the airport tourist office has brochures and maps, of course.  I’ll just mention a few activities.
  • Our favourite beach is Tanjong Rhu in the north of the island – but there are some other nice beaches, too.  And there are no jellyfish – at least at this time of year – so you can swim in sea.  As you approach Tanjong Rhu there is an open manned barrier for some reason – just slow down and drive through.
  • You can  also swim in waterfall pools in the jungle.

waterfall pool – the wet season hasn’t yet started, so water level fairly low

  • When we were there we could walk off into the jungle and not get attacked by mosquitoes – much.  We did get the odd bite, but nothing like the jungle, or even anywhere outside,  in Penang.
  • The government agricultural research facility – Taman Agro-Teknologi is interesting. They take you on a bus within the grounds to eat the fruit in season, and then drive you around, stopping to show you different fruit trees and landscapes.

Dragon fruit plants at the Taman Agro-Teknologi

  • And the Bird Paradise and Wildlife Park is worth a visit if you like birds.  Many attractions charge tourists a higher price than Malaysians. I dislike this, so I asked if I could get the lower price as I was a resident; and I showed my Malaysian visa.  I was charged the lower price, which was RM15 instead of RM22.  The tickets we were given had printed on them that they were children’s tickets. This question is worth trying everywhere there is discriminatory pricing.

one of my favourites

and this is a friendly one

  • There is far less litter than much of Malaysia. It was so nice to see beaches and jungle paths with the only litter being leaf litter.  This is so different from elsewhere in Malaysia.

FOOD AND DRINK

  • Food more expensive than Penang and it is much more expensive to eat out, and there is less variety.
  • Since we live in Penang we didn’t really see the point in spending a lot on food, so we had a big breakfast at the hotel, which was included, and ate fairly lightly later in the day.
  • The biggest variety of restaurants is in Cenang Beach. Kuah, the main town, of course has restaurants, too, as do the various malls. And there are the usual hawker centres and roadside stalls.
  • We enjoyed fish and chips on the north coast, however.

English style fish and chips

  • Of course, Langkawi is tax-free for at least alcohol and tobacco products.  There are many duty-free stores, but probably the cheapest are in Kuah.  It also means restaurants often charge a lot less for alcohol, too. A can of Royal Stout cost me RM1.80 in a store.  Sparkling wine costs RM30 and up, and champagne RM150 and up. For more, read this on Langkawi’s tax status.

this cost RM47 – the view somewhat more per night

COULD I RETIRE HERE?

  • I think it is too quiet for me to retire here, and too isolated – you can’t just drive onto the mainland and go somewhere.  And I would miss the variety and low price of food in Penang. Certainly the tax status of Langkawi is attractive, though.
  • A local Japanese lady we spoke to said that the two downsides of living in Langkawi are you really need to speak Bahasa, and for some hospital treatment you have to go to the mainland – Penang etc.
  • However, if you wanted a very quiet life, perhaps it would suit you, if you had no medical concerns. Bahasa doesn’t strike me as too difficult to learn.

Alternative Media this week

Argentine Advice for Greece: ‘Default Now!’  where Adrian Salbuchi, having experienced a similar experience to Greece’s present economic catastrophe in Argentina a decade ago, gives his advice.

The US & UK etc. are supporting the rebels Al Qaeda in Libya and Syria.  The rebels are Al Qaeda.  So now Al Qaeda are the good guys?   Bob Chapman on the 22/02/2012  “USA PREPARES.COM W/ VINCENT FINELLI” http://republicbroadcasting.org/  You may have to subscribe to download this podcast.

How we are moving from the 3rd dimension into the 4th. The earth has a wobble, which has a cycle of approximately 26,000 years. Every 13,000 years there is a change of consciousness, alternatively a raising of, or decreasing of. Bob mentions the type of consciousness we’ve been immersed in for the last 13,000 years and discusses the rise of a new type of consciousness.  December 21st, 2012 marks the end of a 13,000 year cycle, after which we start to have a raising of consciousness.  http://www.redicecreations.com/radio/2012/02/RIR-120205.php

Interesting thoughts or articles I noticed from the alternative media this week. I don’t endorse or dismiss the ideas – and in many cases I have been aware of these ideas for years, but perhaps there is additional information or there is something new.