I’m not a hardcore backpacker nor one looking (or can afford) costly luxuries. Meaning it is okay to stay in modest accommodation as long I still can have my own private room with private bath.
I can only travel for 2 consecutive weeks at any given time.
I love to travel independently, I don’t like to wake up to early (9 hours sleep is good for my health and mood apparently) or force myself to see as much as I can and go everywhere in a rush.
I believe there are many travelers like me, so here is my Iran itinerary I did 4 months ago.
First thing first. Iran is big, so where I should go? For my first time visit, central Iran seems ideal because the route taken from Tehran in the north to Shiraz in the south is quite straight. These ‘classic routes’ cover 5 cities (Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd, Shiraz) and I spent 12 days in total (13 days if counting 8 hours travel time to/from my hometown in Jakarta, Indonesia).
Day 1: Tehran
Get off the plane at midnight and take 1.5 hours with VOA process (you can read about my fascination to not find any queuing line in the VOA counter here), I arrive in my hostel at 1 AM (pre arrange my pick up cause I just crave a quick hot shower as soon as possible and have a good rest). After 8 hours sleep and have a nice breakfast, I start my day at 10 AM. Today I need to orientate myself with the city and its mode of transportation (Metro, which is very good). I go to Golestan Palace, the bazaar, lunch, visit one museum. In the afternoon I go to Taleghani Park, enjoy green scenery and nice slow walk in the wood and eventually arrive at Tabiat Bridge, an urban architectural wonder and most beautiful to visit at night. Having dinner around the area. Come back to hostel at 8 PM. Enough for today.
(5 point of interests today, not too bad for first day and most importantly it’s not making me like a tired zombie either)
Day 2: Tehran to Kashan
Checking out my hostel at 11 AM, go to bus station and take 3 hours trip (VIP type, very spacious, reclining seat, foot rest) to Kashan. Arrive at 3 PM. Settling in my traditional house accommodation, having tea in its courtyard and take a little nap with an open but unread Lonely Planet. In the afternoon take a walk to Aga Bozorg Mosque which is located in the heart of Kashan labyrinth old town, then having dinner and finish the day at 8 PM after visit beautiful Kashan Bazaar. Kashan is small walkable city, but everything will be close between 2 PM – 5 PM. I can’t wait to go back to my traditional house courtyard to concoct my tea! (All traditional house accommodation I stayed provide ‘help yourself’ hot tea in the dining hall).
(2 point of interests today)
Day 3: Kashan
Start the day at 9 AM. There are at least 4 famous historic traditional mansion in Kashan, need more than half day to explore and truly appreciate all. Having some reference from Wikipedia or Lonely Planet really help to appreciate what I see and help me imagine the life of the occupant of these mansion. In the afternoon just strolling around the city and have some dinner. Called it a day early. Kashan might be boring for some people, but if slow travel fit you, Kashan is the place.
(4 point of interests)
Day 4: Kashan to Isfahan (stopover in Abyaneh village)
Long day in my standard. Visit Fin Garden - 1 of 9 UNESCO heritage site of ‘Persian Garden’ - at 8.30 AM. Then make a one and half hour trip to Abyaneh Village and spend my time there until 2 PM. Go back to Kashan and have 3 hours trip to Isfahan to be arrive at dinner time. A quick look of Naqsh E Jahan Square after dinner followed by enjoying Si Oh Se Pol Bridge. Shamelessly proud of my time management today. Fin Garden is best enjoyed in the morning, Abyaneh village with its terracotta hues looks glorious at noon, and Si Oh Se Pol Bridge and Naqsh E Jahan Square are magnificent at night!
(4 point of interests)
Day 5: Isfahan
Spend all day in Naqsh E Jahan Square (Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Isfahan Bazaar). Seriously you guys need full day here! After lunch in the famous Azadegan café, in the afternoon go to Armenian quarter to see its beautiful cathedral, museum, and having dinner and coffee in the area. Late at night finish my day after quick visit to Khaju Bridge. Long day indeed.
(7 point of interests).
Day 6: Isfahan to Yazd
See the sun light at 10 AM I guess. Yes I’m lazy. Go to Chehel Sooton Palace to get some serious knowledge of one of Iran Dynasty through its wall to wall murals. If you’re history and art nerd, this place is heaven. Then 5 hours bus trip to Yazd. Too tired to do anything other than long dinner and countless cup of tea in roof top restaurant. If I start my day earlier I guess I have already go to some places today but no, no regret at all.
(1 point interests? That's new low. What have you done with your time? Well, I make a journey from Isfahan to Yazd, that's quite something, right? Right?)
Day 7: Yazd
Among 5 cities in the itinerary, Yazd is the second smallest after Kashan. Still walkable but I need one or two taxi trip here. Today I visit Jameh Mosque, Amir Chackmagh complex and the Bazaar, Imam Zadeh Jafar Shrine, watching Zurkhaneh, and go to the top of the hill of Tower of Silence in the outskirt of the city. Finish my day and still have time to go to beautifully cute Yazd Art House for dinner in their rooftop.
(7 point of interests)
Day 8: Yazd to Shiraz
A quick visit to Yazd Atash Behram (Fire Temple) to learn about Zoroazter. Then the longest bus trip in Iran today. It takes about 6 hours from Yazd to Shiraz. Again because I’m too lazy to wake up early or use overnight bus, I spend today basically doing nothing. Just lots of nap in the bus, and read my guidebook and write some notes in my journal. Arrive in Shiraz at 6 PM. Taking a stroll after dinner passing by Kharim Khan Fort (and take a photos in one of its leaning column), and then spend quite a time in Shah Cheragh Shrine. This is one of the most magical place I’ve ever been in my life. A must. Go at night when the place lit by beautiful decorative light.
(3 point of interests)
Day 9: Shiraz (Excursion to Persepolis)
Persepolis may be the main reason visitor come to Iran. Enjoy it full day. It takes 1.5 hours car trip from Shiraz. Just 15 minutes from Persepolis you will be arrive in Naghsh E Rostam to see 4 necropolis of Iranian Kings from Achaemenid dynasty. If you don’t mind another 80 kilometers trip, you can also visit Pasargad, the tomb of Cyrus the Great. I don’t go to Pasargad that’s why I only start at 11 AM and go back to Shiraz again at 7 PM.
(2 point of interests. Hightlight of the trip).
Day 10: Shiraz
Near the end of my trip. I think I should try to wake up earlier. Today I go to Nazir Al Molk Mosque (Pink Mosque). Yeah this one is the best to be visited early in the morning to get the colorful shadow of the morning sun. But well even at 8 AM so many people already there. Same planning I guess. After having some breakfast nearby, I go to explore Vakil Bazaar, visit Vakil Bath (the diorama is so life like. Mezmerizing!), and Vakil Mosque. All are in the same area. Next one is Eram Garden (using a cab). Go back to my hotel for a nap (in my defense I wake up at 7 AM this morning! Yeah yeah I’m lazy). Waking up fresh for dinner and finish my day listening locals reads some poems in Tomb of Havez.
(6 point of interests).
Day 11: Shiraz to Tehran (1 hour flight)
I hour flight, but considering travel time to airport and waiting time to board and get the luggage, still it takes half of my day. I only manage to go to Azadi Tower and having dinner in Darband today, enjoying fresh air of high elevation area of northern Tehran.
(2 point of interests)
Day 12: Tehran (last day)
My flight home is at 10 PM. So I still have full day to explore. I go to Ebrat Museum, then having lunch in locals favourite ‘Moslem Restaurant’ (it is said they serve 4000 customers a day!), Former US Embassy, Museum Square, having coffee in vibrant Valiazr Street (the longest – about 12 kilometers – tree lined street in Middle East), and finally go back to Tehran Bazaar to get some souvenir (I didn’t buy anything in my previous cities). I go back to my hotel for last minutes packing and shower again (fortunately they allowed me to, in one of the vacant room) at 5 PM.
(6 point of interests).
So 49 point of interests / places for 12 days, excluding some other places (unique restaurant, cafes, hidden tea houses, and other places I take a quick look or passing by). Seems many, but there are places which fascinate me much that I spent 3 hours, and there are also places which I only spent less than 30 minutes.
Do I make the most of my time? No. Most of the time I only wake up at 8.30 AM and start going out at 10 – 11 AM, and most of the time I also already settled in my room at 8 – 9 PM to read and write. Definitely I still get my 9 hours beauty sleep LOL. If I’m not too lazy, I could squeeze some more places to my itinerary (like maybe Qom, Meybod, Chak Chak, Varzaneh desert, etc). But even that, I will still miss a lot. I believe I will need at least 3 weeks only to explore central Iran. But never mind. I surely will go back.
PS: there are 75 photos of places I visited accompanied with captions. You can find it here.
Finally, pardon my english...
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).