When I first trying to found out about Iran VOA process in Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA) Tehran, I assume that it will be simple 4 step process, go get the form from the visa counter and then fill it, buy insurance, pay the visa, and then submit it back to the visa counter and wait. Yes, that indeed was the process. But no one told (or write) that actually there is no queuing line and passengers just swarming around the counter. A little bit chaotic.
Anyway, this is my note and a drawing about my experience getting Iran VOA. It might help other travelers. Or not. (I need to put a disclaimer because that was my first and only experience, so I don’t know if the absence of proper queuing line was a common practice or just only happened on that particular night I arrived).
Ok, take a look at my drawing. There are 4 steps you will go through: VOA counter, insurance counter, bank, and finally - of course - passport control.
Depends on whether you got off first or last from the plane, there will be lots of people gather in front of VOA counter behind the queuing pole. All you need to do is getting as close as you can to the ‘VOA guy’ to get his attention - raise your hand if needed - and tell him your nationality. (I screamed: Indonesia). Then the VOA guy asks you ‘EUR or USD?’ He is asking you what currency you will pay the visa fee in. I said EUR. Then he will do some writing in a scrap of paper ‘45’ and give it to you. So the visa fee for Indonesian nationality paid in EUR would be EUR 45. Bear in mind that it will be different depends on your nationality and currency used).
With that handwritten note he will also give you the visa form. It’s very simple with just a few to fill: first name, surname, father’s name, passport number, address and phone number of place you will be staying at least for your first night. (Together with a copy of return ticket to your country, you also need to have a printed document of your first night accommodation).
Go and buy travel insurance (USD 16 on October 2017).
Pay the visa fee in bank. The bank teller will check your passport to ensure your nationality. You will sign and have carbon copy of visa payment slip.
Go to the visa guy again, hands him your document (passport, completed visa form, and copy of visa payment slip, copy of return ticket and first night accommodation and your insurance).
That’s it. Then you wait. When your passport is ready, he will shout your surname or nationality. All of this process took 1 hour of my time. I was arrived at 11 PM and my passport with newly minted Iran visa was given back to me at 00.20 AM. There were around 30 people getting the VOA at that time, not too bad actually.
Finally, you go to the passport control as usual.
Final thought, Iran VOA process is simple. But the absence of queuing line and sudden arrival of passengers try to get the visa at the same time could be overwhelming and make you confused.
Step 1 and step 2 can be interchangeable. But you can’t do step 3 before you get confirmation from the visa guy the exact amount of your visa fee you have to pay (that handwritten notes in scrap of paper is really important).
I was in front yard sitting on the chair tying my shoes. Mehdi - the owner of the house, and acts as the Uncle or simply Dad to all this hostel guests - join me to have a little chat of what I’m planning to do in my first day in Tehran. I was just arriving at 2 AM, a mere 7 hours earlier.
Suddenly we heard a sound of falling object, and there it was, a grey pigeon with its wings spread facing the concrete, fallen from the big three that shades the house. We saw messy, transparent gooey substance from its beak. I think the pigeon just ate something rotten, or just having a bad hangover after flying from Turkey after wild night in Istanbul night club.
“O God, the bird is sick,” and uncle Mehdi carefully took the bird and put it in the corner of the porch. He frantically looking something to put some water near the pigeon to no avail, and then went inside. A moment later uncle Mehdi and his wife Forough came with a bowl of water. He gently rub the back of the pigeon, and wash the beak, and try to persuade the bird to drink.
Let me tell you that uncle Mehdi is tall, lean, grey haired middle age man with deep sharp looking eyes. A little bit stern is my first impression 7 hours before. Now with him being so worried and gentle with a sick (or injured, or poisoned, or drunk) pigeon is the best example of don’t-judge-the-book-from-its-cover.
Auntie Forough went inside again and came with some bread crumbs in her hands, and pour it next to the bowl. Hey, isn’t that those yummy crusty skin of sangak bread I had for breakfast just before? Please don’t gave it to the bird I really love it. (But I’m sane enough not to said that out loud. I guess they will abruptly kick my ass out of the house for being so unempathetic with the poor bird. That would be big problem because that day was my first morning in Iran and I didn’t know where exactly I was in Tehran at that moment except ‘you go left and left again and you’ll be in Shahid Moffateh Metro’ which I memorized like some kind of password to a vault full of free money or full of sangak bread). Half an hour before Mehdi served me those sangak bread by himself, accompanied by Forough’s homemade apple jam, cheese, boiled egg, and tea. I am just a guy who in my hometown impatiently ate bubur ayam (savoury chicken porridge induced with tons of MSG) in a styrofoam box with recycled plastic spoon for breakfast. Sometimes while standing in Jakarta polluted street on my way to work while thinking ‘oh what a beautiful morning mist, it so romantic, no it’s not mist you moron it’s smoke from motorbikes’. Anyway, being served by Mehdi made me a little bit uncomfortable. Thank you Uncle Mehdi!
So, I don’t know what to do with the bird situation and awkwardly excuse myself, eagerly ready to start exploring Tehran. I took 2 photos of the pigeon. And although I understand if you think I’m lying because the bird looks healthy (or you might think I just randomly took photos of any other pigeon), I swear it was the particular pigeon I tell you in this story. I just now realise that both sick bird or healthy bird has similar facial expression.
That day I went to Golestan Palace, the bazaar, some museums, Taleghani Park and Tabiat Bridge. Already forgot about the bird when I came back in the evening, Auntie Forough happily told me, “the pigeon…, the pigeon is not there, I think it recovers and fly!” I went back to the porch with her, to make sure the pigeon really was gone, not just hiding in the bushes. She handed me a flashlight, we spent about 5 minutes looking. I guess It would be funny if my friends send me a whatsapp message at that moment asks how am I doing in Tehran and I said, "it's really great, I'm looking for a sick grey pigeon in the bushes now."
We finally conclude that the pigeon was indeed not there anymore. We wish the pigeon long and healthy life, flying above every new travelers in Tehran.
Hey pigeon, I just want you to know that I will never forget you. And if you can read this, give me a sign by pooping to one lucky traveler, and let the traveler tell the story to me.
(In no particular order. All photos taken by myself)
Aqa Bozorg Mosque Kashan at dusk.
Visit Zoroaster (Persian ancient religion) temple in Yazd to be amazed because several of the rituals are similar to Chinese traditions, like this table spread for some celebration. There are more or less 300 thousands Zoroastrian left in the world, with 200 thousands live in Iran.
Tower of Silence, "planet Tatooine" look alike landscape as seen from the top. In zoroastrianism, dead bodies should not pollute the earth, so it will be brought to the tower for nature (and birds) take care of it. After 3 months, the clean bones then be buried in the deep hole in the tower.
Explore Tehran using Metro, while shopping - on the train - some knick knacks such as socks, mobile phone accessories, chewing gum, hat, even travel bags!
Nasqh E Jahan Square in the evening with perfect reflection from its pool.
.... or in daylight.
Nasqh E Jahan Square in Esfahan might be one of the most important travelers destination in Iran - aside from Persepolis. This magnificent place (one of the biggest public square in the world) needs at least 1 full day to be explored. In this UNESCO heritage site, there are 3 sites not to be missed (2 mosques and a palace), surrounded by indoor and outdoor bazaar. Photos can’t do justice of how magnificent this area is.
Golden hued Vank Cathedral in Esfahan. Refresh or learn yourself new things from the murals. Don't forget to visit the museum next to the cathedral, and see (with microscope provided) a verse written in a piece of hair.
.... or learn about one of Persian dynasty in Chehel Sotoon palace in Esfahan.
This shrine in Yazd! Surreal experience, it reminds me of Frozen and Aladdin.
Long journey trip with VIP Bus.
Almost all bus operators offer VIP and regular buses. VIP bus seat arrangement is single seat on the left and double seat on the right. Affordable, spacious, reclinable (your back will thanks you), with foot rest, and snack box. But you need to ask if you wanna pee.
Former US embassy in Tehran, where you can freely exploring the communication room, sound proof meeting room, document room, you name it.
Take a leisure walk in Si Oh Se Pol Bridge, Esfahan .....
... or UNDER Si Oh Se Pol Bridge.
Or the side of it.
Look up for surprising marvel of geometry and symmetry.
Waiting for sunset in Persepolis.
Karim Khan fort in Shiraz, with one of its leaning column like Tower of Pisa.
Exploring Esfahan bazaar and find this gem, Azadegan Cafe, for some beryani.
... or just simple establishment turns tea house in the bazaar of Shiraz.
Look up to be surprised (again).
Visit madrassa, have a little chat with Mullah.
Wander your mind, imagine the atmosphere and the guests of caravanserai hundreds or even thousands years ago. Caravanserai is kind of hotel for traders and merchants and their camels and donkeys, in the Silk Road trading route. Chinese merchants carry silk, and European traders carry perfumes (among other things). Persia is one of the most important hub in the middle of Silk Road.
Armenian Quarter (New Julfa) in Esfahan.
Armenia and Iran has long relationship as far as 500 BC. In the early 17th century (during Persian - Ottoman War) Shah Abbas relocated 500.000 Armenians to this neighbourhood.
Fresh pistachios are much more delicious than dried one, in my opinion!
3 layered 270 meters long Tabiat Bridge in Tehran, best enjoyed at night.
Abyaneh. The land that time forgot between Kashan and Esfahan. Surrounded by mountains and isolated from harsh winter. The people of Abyaneh have their own culture, language, and distinctive clothing (especially the older generation).
Friendly pedestrian with extra trees as your umbrella, in most part of Tehran as well as Esfahan and Shiraz.
Camel stew with egg plant. I never knew camel meat can be so tasty. Poor camel.
This "Herb Drink". I didn't know what I will get when first order it (and I thought herb drink is anything but clear transparent coloured). But it didn't disappoint!
Dinner in Darband, northern elevated area of Tehran, for fresh mountainous air.
Ride a horse cart in Nasqh E Jahan Square. Touristy, but whatever.
Getting lost in Kashan bazaar to find an intersection like this one.
Observing incredible small details.
Race with sunrise for the perfect angle of rainbow shine. Nasr Ol Molk Mosque, Shiraz.
Nasqh E Rustam. Necropolis of 4 Persian kings.
Quirky street art!
Again. Always look up for architectural wonder from different periods.
Staying in old town Yazd, an ancient city made of muds and weeds. Getting lost in the labyrinth like alleys, go to the roof top tea house to found out where exactly we are.
Traditional houses turn hotel (lots of them in Kashan and Yazd). Iranian traditional houses usually 3 storey building goes underground with open courtyard in the center, to avoid the harsh winter or the peak of summer. And why 3 storey? They said in the old day the house occupied by 3 generations at the same time.
Which one is appetizer and which one is the dessert? Just take a bite and let your taste buds be surprised.
Tomb of Hafez, one of Iran prominent poet. In the evening, lots of lovebirds sing or read poems about love.
"Hipster" store with strange trend like this plants with colourful condoms.
Vakil Bath, Shiraz. A place to socialise, have a nice a massage and bath and get your beard trimmed. There are now dioramas with super real mannequins showing us the activity of this place at the ancient time.
Eat like a local in 'Moslem Restaurant' next to Tehran Grand Bazaar main gate. My friend said this place could cater 4000 clients a day. It's amazing to find how fast they prepare the food!
... try Shirin Polo. Rice under grilled chicken under generous chunky sauce made of pistachios and sweet orange peels served with tahdig. Tahdig is crusty rice full of flavour, a byproduct from the bottom of a rice pan (but now Iranian specially cook tahdig ... for tahdig). My Iranian friend said the competition of who will get the tahdig is the main and common reason of 'fight and war' in the dining table.
Wondering what (and where) is this European style hand painting I found in the wall of mosque in Shiraz.
Zhurkaneh (house of strength), combination of body building, righteousness, and chivalry. These "gym members" exercise while a man sing or read verses about wisdom.
Enjoy open air bazaar ....
... or indoor one .....
... from the most crowded one to the most quiet one, to appreciate how great Persian ancient engineering and design are. The Bazaars are always have pleasant temperature no matter how hot outside is. And they said it also warm enough in winter. Modern buildings should learn about the design of ventilation from Iran.
Don't forget. Keep looking up!!!
Find a lot of places which millennials will say: Instagrammable.
Magnificent Shah Cheragh in Shiraz with its beautiful mirror hall inside. This compound has already been a pilgrim site from 14th century.
Freshly squeezed carrot juice and pomegranate juice.
While in Yazd buy famous Iranian sweets, inside and around Amir Chakhmaq complex.
The harmony of cooking utensil sound in front of Jame Mosque Yazd. People prepare Ash (some kind of porridge, beloved Iran comfort food) for the poors.
Because vanilla flavoured ice cream is sooo last year!
Feel the Iranian youth energy in this popular local coffee chain. I just read that Iran has now around 80 million population, and half of them are younger than 30 years old.
Faludeh. Famous treat from Shiraz. Frozen vermicelli soaked with syrup and lemon juice.
Shop till you drop. In the jewellery section, or copper section, or carpet, sweets and nuts, spices, or anything. (Including china products which seems invade every bazaar or shopping mall or market in every country in the world).
Again and again, I remind you to look up and be marveled.
Well maintained parks.
Traditional houses and Persian gardens. UNESCO heritage sites.
Take shades from the sun under hundreds years old cypress trees in Eram Garden, Shiraz.
Some neighbourhoods which make you forget that you are in the Middle East, not in Europe.
Call it a night, after sip some tea in roof top.
Geometry and symmetry.
Visit underground tea house to get first hand experience of how badgir (wind catcher) works. Be amazed of how this place in oasis city could have temperature as cold as a fridge.
Safe and friendly cities, even when you are alone at almost midnight (well at least for a male).
Be amazed and amused of Azadi Tower in Tehran. This monument seems like have power to shape shifting. Different angle you look, different shape it will be.
This stove under restaurant table to warm you up. Errr.. this might be the only experience I didn't like in Iran. It reminds me of "roasting nuts on open fire".
This cute roof top tea house in Yazd.
Having some regrets for not buying these. And can't let go of the feeling now.
And lastly, wake up early in the morning with excitement of "I am in Iran", having simple but fulfilling breakfast of boiled eggs, breads with butter, cheese, carrot jam, and tomatoes and cucumbers, and do some planning for the day.
And those 75 photos are just from 5 cities only.
From central part of Iran only.
I will be back.
oh.. and here a bonus, 76th photos. A stick of not-so-good-for-your-teeth-don't-let-the-dentist-found-out rock sugar with saffron!