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