Naked truth about traveling Iran
Iran is the country you won't forget.
It can be insanely beautiful and deep, full of poetry and ancient culture.
Iran can also make you surprised, especially if... you're travelling alone... or you've tried to hitchhike... or you are a woman. If you have 3 of those, believe it or not, Iran is not the easiest country to go.
Let me divide this article into 2 sections: the heaven and the hell.
The part that I love about Iranian culture and those fragments, that I found extremely challenging even for experienced travellers... and how to cope with it.
So, let's start from the beautiful part.
As someone, who likes eastern cultures for the sake of hospitality, authentic vibe and the deserted landscapes, I was very eager to make my visa to Iran, and explore this still unspoiled land from North to South. It was an interesting decision to take my time in this Sharia land, where women are barely allowed to have any freedom, and stay for 25 days. And as soon, as I've entered the country, I realized, that Iranian welcoming ain't no joke, so here is the great point number one.
The heaven part of iran
1. Iranians have big hearts. And the hospitality is encoded in their DNA.
Persian people love travellers, and you can often get invitations when travelling through the country. You can be invited by someone you meet in the bus, by someone you find through Couchsurfing, or someone you’ve hitchhiked. People will ask you whether you feel hunger, need a place to sleep or any help. They will make selfies with you and leave their contact in case you need anything.
2. "Meeting you would be the most special day of my life".
Rain or shine, you’ll be treated as someone special in Iran, because foreigners are strongly uncommon in the country, especially if you go off the beaten track and visit some lost villages. Those 2 young boys with good English I’ve met on the street when I’ve asked for help to get a local taxi — Snapp. One of them, Ali, told that meeting me again would be the best day of his life. You wonder why? Because it’s the first time when he can go out with the girl.
3. Iranians answer "thank you" for thank you.
Yes, Persians have some interesting ways to thank someone, especially that they like to be very polite to guests. When I’ve stayed in deserted city of Yazd, with the local family, they were extremely nice to me. Every time they’ve offered me food, they’ve started their sentences with: “We are very sorry”.
— We are very sorry to give you this food.
— No, thank you, it’s very delicious.
— We are very sorry for that.
4. Nature will take your breath away.
Iran is a very big country, and it will take you around 30 hours drive to go from the northwest to east south. And this country has it all — the green forests, the lost deserts, the pink lakes, the rocky mountains. It’s a beautiful land and there is no doubt about it.
5. Persia is all about poetry.
It’s not only old times when Iran was full of poetry and cultural vibe. Till now, many young people are singing traditional songs, sharing poetry and very knowledgeable about art. I was given Persian poetry written with Arabic script as a gift when it was my time to move to the next destination. One day I’ll translate those papers, I believe…
6. Iranians are: Persian, Kurdish, Turkmen, Azeri, Baluchi
It would be a mistake to think Iran is inhabited by Persians only. If you like cultures, you should visit this place, because it’s a wonderful point where many cultures cross path. Just remember this… Iranian people don’t like to be confused with Arabs, as much as Ukrainian people don’t like to be confused with Russians.
7. Iran is a food orgasm country
From the smell of fresh morning bread, cooked on stones, to the delicious rice cooked on potato, and picked up literally in the middle of nowhere, your taste receptors will blossom with pleasure. Iran is, definitely eat good food for a moderate price. And don’t forget to try the local soup.
And now, let's go with the devilish part of iran.
AND HOW DO YOU cope with it!
1. Woman rights? Woman's freedom? Just forget about it.
I knew Iran was a charm, but staying for 25 days in the lifestyle of a Muslim girl, was maybe, too much for me. In Iran, locals girls, and also all women who travel inside the country, have the same rules. Which state:
– you must wear hijab and cover yourself completely with loose cloth
– as a girl, you cannot sing and dance on the street
– you are not free to use your regular swimwear, and must swim fully covered
– you are supposed to be modest and follow the man/family.
So at first, I’ve tried to be respectful towards rules, but after time the feeling of being completely pissed off because I am told was should I behave/have to dress/have to be like. Not only this is not common in my Ukrainian culture, but also, swimming in the heavy wet cloth near men, who wear just swimwear didn’t feel good to me.
Iranian women seem to be okay with having fewer rights, even they might want to have more freedom. There was a story about a teenage girl who fell off the bridge and crushed herself in the name of woman rights…
P.S. Once I was kicked out of the restaurant, because the part of my shoulder was seen. And once a very lovely gentleman refused to shake my hand, ’cause it was against his beliefs.
And how do you cope with this?
Well, if you are a woman travelling to Iran, you shouldn’t have too high expectations about your freedom. Just don’t take too much time in the country if you are a bit savage. Even that Iranian men really are respectful towards women, you’ll still be told to wear your hijab, in any public place, or otherwise, “the world ends”.
2. The curiosity about your sex life goes to... well... EXTREME.
Especially if you are a girl. Especially when you travel alone.
Iran takes the 1st from all 49 countries, I’ve visited so far, for the very “interesting” questions I’ve received.
— When did you lose your virginity?
I was asked this question when I’ve met a local through CouchSurfing. Later on, I was explained, that in Persia, you can still be judged as an object, depending on if you ever had sex before marriage.
And my Instagram was full of messages like:
—Do you like sex?
—Have you had sex in Iran?
And how do you cope with this?
To be honest, I don’t have an answer for that. Don’t give your Instagram to random people 🙂
3. If you're a foreigner, you must be very, very rich.
Iran is currently on a stage where economy is not good. Unfortunately, the Persian money devaluated a lot, and this brings two consequences:
1. Everything will be quite cheap.
You can take a taxi ride for 1$.
Lunch in a local restaurant would cost you 2-5$.
Bus ride for 500 km in a comfortable bus would cost you 4$.
2. Iranian people will try to overprice you with the guilty face expression.
Yes, it’s you, the stupid tourist, who doesn’t speak and read Persian, so we create a special price for you. Just pay a bit more in the supermarket, pay 3 times as much for your taxi drive, pay 7 dollars more for your hotel, etc.
I know it happens pretty much everywhere. And it’s not a big deal, to pay a few extra dollars, but being treated stupid because you don’t understand Arabic number system just doesn’t feel good.
And how do you cope with this?
- Get local friends. Iranians are generally helpful and friendly. They could negotiate good conditions for you.
- Learn basic Persian and Arabic system of numbers. That would help.
- And forget about your visa card! Everything is cash driven in Iran!
Iran is a fantastic country to visit, and it’s embracing travellers all over the world.
This country is full of hospitable culture, interesting people and completely authentic atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else.
If you are travelling alone or at least without a tour group/guide, you’ll experience difficulties and challenges with the language, money, and maybe a bit overwhelming attention. But as soon as it happens everywhere off the tourist destination, you shouldn’t miss this mysterious place.
All in all, Persia, you impressed me to the bottom of my heart.