On the Way to Iran

Three days prior my departure to Iran, I heard unexpected news about major cities in Iran were in chaos, demonstration and ten of thousands of people have protested in Iran.

Interesting, I’ll be in Iran next week .. https://t.co/MAIZ5WgR6Q

 

 

The worse part is Donald trump and his supporters who used the situation to spread the fake news and photos about Iran’s circumstances over social media, making Iran looked so chaotic or in potential war/conflict. Without a shame they grab a demonstration photo in Bahrain a few years ago then made dozen tweets as if ‘This is Iran today.’ 

Initially, the tension was about the country’s economic policy against rising prices and unemployment, but then transformed into an open rebellion against Iran’s Islamic leadership itself.

Albeit, I had no hesitation cancelling my VERY first trip to Iran with this demonstration, but then there is another drama that made me panic, out of the blue.. Anti government protest in Iran is forgotten.

My panic topic switched to visa problem. One of my friends said that although Indonesian passport only requires a VoA, but there is an obligation to register online and show our e-visa track code once we arrive at the airport.

At first, I wasn’t pretty sure about it. As my knowledge, Indonesian passport is pretty easy and cheap to travel to Iran. But I don’t know why, less than 50 hours before my flight, I finally started to be panic. Nearly  2 am in the morning I filled in  the form on the website for e-visa. I was so sleepy and was in a hurry to go to bed, because I need to be in office in the morning.

Then, during the lunch time I received an email;

“Your visa application has been rejected
Reason for rejection:: Please apply via travel agency.

Your sincerely,
Department of Electronic Visa, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Islamic Republic of IRAN

Lesson Learned; Don’t fill out the visa form when you’re sleepy. I made an embarassing mistake, well, I don’t need to reveal what mistake I made. It’s just ridiculous. I guess that’s why I was asked to apply visa via travel agency

There’s no Iranian consulate in Singapore, no other way, I ran to Kuala Lumpur by bus from Singapore earlier than my initial plan, before midnight. Long story short; 

Consulat Iran di Kuala Lumpur

Upon arriving at the Consulate, I had to write down my detail into some forms in Farsi and English (the answer is in English, no worries 🙂 ) 2 passport photos with white background without hijab. Not more than 30 minutes later my queue number was called. An Iranian officer smiled pleasantly at me from behind the glass divider and asked what issues I have. I explained to him that my e-visa was rejected, but I had no time anymore because tonight I have to fly to Iran.

I handed him my Indonesian passport and he replied with a friendly smile. No-no, you don’t need an e-visa, once you landed in Iran, find the VoA counter, pay the VoA & health Insurance, and just enjoy your trip.”

Hooray, that’s all ??!!! Felt like want to give a big hug to the officer with this good news and such a relieve moment, but we were separated by the glass. 

I left the consulate with a bright facial expression – well, one problem solved, the next plan was to money changer. Shit happens, due to American Embargo, Iran becomes the cash country. Our ATM/Credit Card can’t be used in Iran. I rarely dealt with money changer because for me, it’s safer and economical withdrawing money from the ATM than dealing with money changer in destination country. I forgot that my Singapore Dollar needs to change to Ringgit Malaysian first then I can change to USD or Euro. My bad, of course… I lost quite much because of converting currency twice.

 So, in Iran, bring enough money, and spend the money wisely, by all means you don’t want your money is over before the trip ends. 

Two and a half hours before 7 pm there was an annoying new drama when checking in Air Asia. The Air Asia check in counter asked; “is this your first time to Iran”. Yes, I replied honestly. Then this woman officer started to ramble,” sorry, do you have visa to Iran? “

“No, Indonesian passport only needs a VoA at the airport”

The check in counter officer began to annoyed me, I haven’t even gotten a proper breakfast and lunch yet, my patienceness was tested.

“Sorry, I’m not sure whether you can travel to Iran without Visa, let me check first”.

Which means, she doesn’t trust me and assumed I was lying. Oh shit. Like a hungry lion I began to insist; “What else do you want to know, I’ve just come back from Iranian Consulate in KL this morning and the officer said, I DO NOT NEED ANY VISA TO IRAN, only VoA later once I arrive in Tehran !!” I took out two forms from the Iran Consulate this morning, but she just ignored the forms I showed, hey.. it’s evidence, she was busy calling here and there instead, to her colleagues whether the Indonesian passport requires a visa to Iran or not.

“Will I get my boarding pass soon?? It’s wasting my time, I don’t have a proper breakfast and lunch yet, and I’ll have an 8 hour budget flight meaning no proper meal. I’m very starving now…. “

And finally, her unnecessary conversation over the telephone ended with ; “Oh, so no need visa in advance .. Ok, thanks ..”

Then she offered an apology, “Oh sorry” and the fact is, my boarding pass had been printed before she was stalling with her stupid questions I needed a visa, and the last question was worse, I felt like there’s a need to claw her face  “Do you have 45 Euro for VoA? “

I replied arrogantly; “Not only 45 euros, I have at least one thousand Euro with me right now” and I showed  some of my Euro and USD, and she said with a bit embarrassment  “I’m sorry”

“Yeah.. no worries, I’ve just lost my 20 minutes for my very late lunch”. What a stupid question asking do I have 45 Euro?? No respect at all to Indonesian tourist. Typical!!

We have a Love and Hate relationship with Malaysia. Arrogant neighbour that always look down on Indonesia. They always think Indonesian are poor. Yet when traveling abroad in Asia and Europe, I bumped into Indonesian tourists MORE than Malaysian tourists. Indonesians are everywhere..

On the way to the plane, most of the passengers seemed to be Iranian nationals, I began to hear the melodious tunes of Farsi language and good looking Iranian women, mostly didn’t wear the hijab.

Eight hours later the plane landed at Imam Khomeini airport, all the Iranian women began to put on their headscarf, included female tourists, flight attendants and me.

Getting off the plane, some foreign passengers lined up to buy insurance and Visa on Arrival. VoA process took some times but sure. An hour later the Immigration Officer even came out of the room calling my name from Indonesia, asking some questions about my visit to Iran.

Is this your first time in Iran?? What’s the purpose of your visit and where are you going to stay.”

I convinced him “Yes, It’s my first time.” I’m gonna stay at See You in Iran hostel in Tehran for a few days (while showing print out booking email from hostel), then I’ll travel to the south and back to Tehran for my flight back home “

The immigration officer nodded and went back into the room. “Wait here”

Not more than 10 minutes later, my name and country were called, then my  passport was returned to me. An Iranian Visa sticker attached neatly on my passport. Next step, to stamp the passport. Approximately 2 minutes, passport stamped. Officer smiled at me, I smiled back and grabbed some candies that deliberately served at immigration desk.

 Health Insurance; 20 Euro || Visa on Arrival for Indonesian nationality; 45 Euro. 

Imam Khomeini airport is not that big but clean.  As my knowledge, I only found 1 ladies’ bathroom on the first  floor, and several cafes. Interestingly, exchanging the Euro in airport money changer is more profitable.

At Imam Khomeini airport, they provide two free WiFi; Asiatech.Ir and Ikac Free, the differences are; IKAC-Free-Wi-Fi for Iranians, while Asiatech for foreign tourists. If you want to activate Free Wifi and confused with the language, easy .. Find the information counter where the officer and desk in the shade of yellow, a few minutes we can connect to the internet.

 

Or, not far from the Information Counter, we can buy Prepaid Tourist SIM Card and the price is not expensive at all. All you need is just a passport and of course a mobile phone. We need to ask the Iranian to set up the 4G setting to be activated, if not, it seems .. the internet runs quite slow.

Rial and Toman are currency in Iran, will describe about these currencies on next entry

Although Iran is safe and hospitable with tourists, but for me, as a solo female traveler;  common sense in traveling should not be ignored or don’t be too naive. I landed in Iran in the middle of the night, alone, and the temperature outside was around minus 1 or 3. I chose to wait until the sunrise to rent a taxi to downtown Tehran.

The distance between the airport to the city center is approximately 50km. Fortunately the airport in Tehran opens 24 hours, and many flights until morning. Even the cafes also opens for 24 hours. You can sleep on the chair if you want.

Waiting for the dawn at the airport, there were some taxi drivers offering their service. I always said 7 am, and even there was a middle aged woman who wanted to share a taxi with me. It’s a bit hard to refuse their offer. It seems like normal in Iran to share a taxi with a stranger.I think this signifies their mutual trust, I used to lived quite long in Jakarta, it’s not a culture for us, sharing the taxi with stranger, we are very prejudice especially to foreigners. Secretly the seller of the SIM Card whispered, “Because you are foreigner, it’s better you take the official airport taxi.”

Soon I searched for a quite place  on the corner and I saw a West Asian man with a little bit of beard sitting on the chair, charging his gadget, and soon we talked like we know before. He’s a Turkish who is fluent in Malay and Indonesian. I feel lucky to meet this Turkish guy, we chatted many topics about Iran, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.He also gave me some tips on Iran, advised me to take the Metro to the city center, instead of taxi.

Metro starts to operate at 7 am. Purchasing Metro ticket costs only 50,000 Rial or 5000 Toman and can be used many times for buses and metro in Tehran. Meanwhile, if you take a taxi, at least 750,000 Rial from the airport to the city center, it means you save 700,000 Rial.

Because I’m not in a hurry, why don’t just take the metro?

From the airport, we walked to Imam Khomeini Airport Station, not so far by way of  the indoor bridge connecting the airport and metro station.

An economical way to the city center that is approximately 50km away, operating time is at 6.50am. Just need to purchase an  EZpay ticket for 50,000 Rial and can be used many times. Public transportation in Iran is very cheap yet convenient. And Metro began to be built in Iran after the revolution, in the 90s.

The Turkish guy I just met treated me a glass of hot tea, and I came to realize, drinking tea in Iran is quite cute. Tea is served with saffron candy in Iran. 

The distance from the airport to the city center with Metro approximately 1.5 hours, the beginning of the journey before transferring to another train at one of stations we witnessed the sunrise through the train window, “beautiful”, I cheered. The sun looks bigger, like sunny side egg. 

And interestingly riding public transportation in a country, we find various local faces. Perhaps,  a lot of people got misunderstood that the Iranians are like Arabs. Do NOT ever equate Iran with Arabs in front of Iranians, they will get offended with this. Iranians and Arabs dislike each other, but Iranians get along each other with Turks and Armenians.


The Turkish man whispered to me in Malay-Indonesian: “Rahma, do you know the ethnic of the old guy in front of us ?”

I secretly glanced at the old guy who is standing in front of us, his face is the mixture of West Asian and narrow eyes like Chinese, but they are Mongolian descent. I whispered back; “yes, Hazara”, if you ever happen to read ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini, you might notice with the Hazara, an ethnic that oppressed by the Pashtun ethnic in Afghanistan. The Hazara is different from Pashtuns who embrace Shia Islam, while Pashtun embraces Sunni Islam. In Afghanistan they are always being discriminated against by Sunnis because they are a minority, Shia.

After a very interesting talk with the Turkish guy, I had to get off at Shohada-ye Hatom-e Tir station to rest in the hostel I had booked. Inside the metro I found this interesting illustration. Unfortunately I do not understand Persian language, and it is not true what media portray that Iran forbids paintings that resemble humans and so on.

 Once I got out of the Metro station, I finally realized that the weather outside was very cold and walking more than 3 minutes just enough to make me shivering and my lips became stiff, chapped. I entered the Bank by the side of the road to study the map where exactly the position of the hostel I had booked a few days ago. My GPS was very slow and no other way I had to re-learn reading the map, but it’s okay .. sometimes technology makes us stupid, I had been spoon feeding by the GPS all the time, till I lost my instinct on reading the traditional map.

On the map, get out of the metro station I have to walk straight along ‘Karim Khan Zan boulevard’ a few hundred meters then turn left to ‘South Kheramands Street’.Because It was so freezing and I guess my brain was frozen,  I finally asked the passer by, an old Iranian guy, I showed the address on the paper. This old guy with his body language told me to follow him, and I was escorted to the corner of the road to the hostel. The Iranians are very kind, I can only say thank you with a big smile.

Arriving at the door of the hostel with frozen fingers, I rang the bell. Hearing the footsteps from inside and the door opened, an Iranian gentleman greeted me then I handed him a print out of the hostel’s booking, with a smile in a bloody cold morning he said; “Welcome to Iran”, then I was invited to sit in his cafeteria, while he started making a cup of hot coffee and Iranian breakfast. I haven’t made a payment yet.

Photo Source from seeyouiniran.org

And here’s the scenery from behind the window in this hostel cafe, there are some cats out there. If the weather was not 5 degrees celsius I might have gone out, sitting on the swing while cuddling with their cats.

The first two days I stayed at female dorm, and met some solo female travelers but they are from South Korea. One of them was a teacher in South Korea and told me, she had been traveling solo in Cuba. WOW.. My respect.

Photo Source from seeyouiniran.org

If you are in Tehran, I highly recommended ‘See You in Iran’ hostel.Besides they provide a healthy middle eastern breakfast with tomatoes, cream cheese and Iranian bread, It’s situated in the heart of city center. Not really far from the former US Embassy which along the sidewalk is full of Mural on American and Iranian relationship due to the revolution, not only that, you can find coffee shop and park where you can meet locals spending their time to socialize.  Female dorm; 12 Euro/night. 

Address;

No. 2, Vahdati-Manesh (3rd) Dead End, South Kheradmand St., KarimKhan Ave, Tehran

See You in Iran (SYI) is an economic, social, and cultural travel platform helping to build new connections between Iranians and non-Iranians, as well as promoting more nuanced understandings of Iran. This platform, both physical and online, aims to intervene in the common connections and imaginations of Iran. The main source of connections and imaginations is currently structured by the global ‘Iranophobia’ project, endorsed by Western media and political elites. SYI aims to help change these forms of connections and imaginations, by enabling creative, tangible, and personal connections among people and by opening up new spaces for creation, interaction, and organization inside Iran.

Important;

  I highly advised to show the ‘real’ booking hostel in the immigration, do not ever show them your couchsurfing address, because it will give trouble to your host. Just booked online for one or two days in your first city in Iran, and the rest you can find the hotel/hostel or even couch surfing on the spot. 

To stay being ‘exist’ in Iran, in this digital era and culture, I can’t travel without twitter and facebook, unfortunately these websites are blocked in Iran, I used this free VPN; VPN365. Installed first on your smartphone before landing in Iran.

I finally set foot in Iran after being haunted with anti government protest, chaotic news on the media about Iran, but what I found??  Iran looked so calm and peaceful. There were no riots even though the weather was very cold but they can still be friendly and helpful.

Stay tuned for the next post about the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Have you been to Iran?? What’s your first impression of this ‘mysterious’ country. Me?? Traveling in Iran is the best decision I’ve made so far. I never regret and planning to be back at the end of this year.

 

4 Responses to “On the Way to Iran

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  • Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
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    Regards
    Wiki

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