Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

11-12.8: Munich -> Dubai -> Sharjah -> Shiraz
13.8: Shiraz, Persepolis
14.8: Shiraz
15.8: Shiraz -> Pasargadae -> Abarqu -> Yazd
16.8: Yazd
17.8: Yazd -> Meybod -> Chak Chak -> Kharanaq -> Yazd

18.8: Yazd -> Abyaneh -> Kashan
19.8: Kashan -> Tehran -> Polour
20.8: Polour -> Camp 2 -> Camp 3
21.8: Camp 3 -> Mt Damavand summit -> Tehran
22.8: Tehran
23.8: Tehran -> Mashhad
24.8: Mashhad -> Tehran
25.8: Tehran -> Kuala Lumpur

Overview and overall impression
This was not the conventional type of trip, as my friends noted when I first told them I was going to Iran. The typical reaction was disbelief, remarks such as '... Iran ... you go to Iran??...'. My wife even did not talk to me for two days when I told her about the trip. She said 'you know, you have two small kids'. Office staff stated 'I would go to Iran, but perhaps not right now'.
My brother instead surprised me when, after hearing about the trip, he told me I should have informed him about the trip earlier, because he would have liked to join me. What can I say, I only decided at the end of June I would go to Iran and planned the entire trip in a very short time. Besides, who would have thought that my brother wanted to follow me on this crazy trip?
I myself was a bit hesitant as well, because I would be visiting Iran during the hot summer months and - even worse - during the Ramadan month, when everybody is fasting and restaurants are closed from sunrise until sunset. My only previous trips to Iran had been two very short visits of Tehran and Isfahan.
Another thing which left me wondering was that I would have had to carry large amounts of cash with me, because credit and ATM cards cannot be used in Iran.
In the end, also thanks to the very valuable support of some friends of Tehran who helped plan the trip and arranged local bookings for me, everything went incredibly smooth and according to the plan. I was able to complete the entire itinerary covering a large number of places and the very challenging Mt Damavand climb in the two weeks I had available.
I was impressed by the rich historical and cultural heritage of Iran and by the friendliness of its people. In lots of places people would stop me on the streets to have a chat with me. A couple of Swiss travellers I met in Kashan told me they had been in Iran for a week and had been invited every evening for dinner by Iranian people they just met on the street.

It is possible to travel across Iran on a tight budget, because except for Tehran most cities offer cheap accomodation, meals in restaurants are inexpensive and public transportation is inexpensive. I ended up spending much less than I had budgeted for daily expenses and food. What is expensive are private cars+drivers, which however are a very convenient way to get around. See below for a detailed explanation of costs.

For  some reason I ended up having Kebab with rice almost every day (even once when I ordered Chinese chicken+rice I got again chicken kebab). Somehow the Iranian and Turkish cuisines seem to be related.
The cost of a full meal was in the region of 50000-60000 Rial in restaurants and 80000-100000 Rial in hotel restaurants. Eating was a bit a challenge, because due to the Ramadan, most restaurants were closed during the  day. But restaurants in hotels were open, because according to Islamic rules travellers are allowed to eat during the Ramadan. When I could not be back in the hotel for lunch, I used to buy some food in groceries and eat it in some not so visible place (you are not supposed to eat in public during the day during Ramadan).

The hotels where I stayed cost between 270000 and 1000000 Rial (=18 to 60 Euro). Most were midrange hotels with A/C, attached bathroom etc. I had advance bookings but these would probably not have been necessary due to the low season, except perhaps for the one in Mashhad because Mashhad is a pilgrimage site.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2011)
1 Euro = 15000 Rial (but most hotels gave between 15000 and 16000 Rial for one Euro). I changed money in hotels, not in banks, because the exchange rate in hotels was better than the official rate.
1 Euro ~ USD 1.40
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

I had to bring cash with me, because due to the  US embargo in Iran (western) credit cards, ATM cards and traveller cheques cannot be used.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
I bought a prepaid SIM card of MTN Irancell in a shop in Shiraz. A passport was needed to purchase the SIM card and the shop staff activated the SIM card for me.
Can't remember the cost, but it must have been below 100000 Rial. Recharges were available in amounts of 10000, 20000 and 50000 Rial. Local and even international calls were inexpensive.
The card would have also allowed to use the Internet, but the shop staff didn't manage to get the Internet connection to work on my phone. I guess there was some problem with the settings, or perhaps mobile phones purchased outside Iran cannot be used to surf the Internet in Iran with an Iranian SIM card.


Internet access
Since the Internet connection using the mobile phone as a modem didn't work, I used the WLAN hotspots of the hotels where I was staying to connect to the Internet. The quality of the connection was variable - quite fast in some hotels and slow in other hotels.
Lots of websites were blocked in Iran.


I travelled across Iran during one of the hottest months (August). The heat was bearable however because I avoided the coastal areas of the Persian gulf and instead stayed all the times in places at a certain altitude (1000-1500 metres) where the air was dry. The temperature was ok in the morning and evening and it was only very hot during the  midday hours, during which I used rest in the hotel. Needless to say, it never rained.
The weather was perfect for Mt Damavand, because of its very high altitude. In fact, at 5000 metres it even snowed a bit.

Health / Vaccinations
Not an issue in Iran. I didn't have to get any vaccinations for the Iran trip.

VISA / Entry requirements
A valid passport is necessary. Visa on arrival is available for nationals of a number of countries, but it is advisable to get the visa before travelling to Iran. I didn't have to go to the consulate to apply for the visa, because friends in Tehran arranged one visa for me. However I met a German national who told me that it was very easy to get an Iranian visa at an Iranian consulate in Germany.

I used to walk around with large amounts of cash and several thousands of Euro of camera equipment. I never felt unsafe or threatened. Iranian people are very helpful and friendly with (western?) foreigners.
Also, whenever I took a taxi, these were not metered, but I never asked beforehand what the cost of the trip would be. Taxi drivers never ripped me off and always asked moderate to reasonable amounts

Recommended things
  • Isfahan is breathtaking. Its architectural highlights are on the same level as those of Rome and Paris.
  • Persepolis, Shiraz and Yazd are very interesting from a cultural/historic perspective.
  • The traditional houses in Kashan.
  • The Mt Damavand climb, if you are fit enough.
  • Don't be afraid to get involved in discussions with the local people. Such exchanges give you a deeper understanding of the local culture.

Things to avoid
  • Be careful not to take photos of military installations or government buildings. Probably because of the bombing threats of Israel and the USA, the Iranians are quite sensitive towards anybody who takes photos of military installations or government buildings.
  • Shorts -  nobody wears them in public in Iran.

Getting around
For this trip I used mostly private cars with drivers to get from one place to the next and flights to cover the longer distances. The cost of the car+driver used to be 500000-1000000 Rial per day, depending on the distance covered.
I didn't try out other public transportation (i.e. buses, trains) but I read that these are very cheap, comfortable and in a good state.
Planes of Iranian airlines are on average in a less good shape than those of foreign airlines, because Iranian airlines have difficulties getting spare parts and servicing because of the embargo.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon