Khuzestan (Shush, Tchoga Zanbil, Shushtar), Kish, Qeshm, Shiraz,
Isfahan, Kashan, Qom
UPDATE JANUARY 2016
- tickets which were 150 000 rials are 200.000 rial for foreign tourists..
- tickets which were 100.000 rials are 150.000 rials for foreign tourists.
Planning and overall impression
Winter is not
exactly the best season to visit Iran, because the north and centre can
be cold and only the south will have warm temperatures. The best times
to visit the country are spring and autumn, but I only had this
available (two weeks around Xmas and New year, school holidays here in
The idea was to get back to Iran and visit some of the places not
seen yet. In addition, since I was travelling with a larger group (my
two daughters and my brother) I decided to revisit some
important sites (Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Kashan) in order to give
my family a more complete view of the country.
Whenever you travel with kids you have to adjust the trip to meet
their requirements, meaning that things have to be arranged in such a
way that the kids will be safe at all time, will get enough sleep and
will be able to devote some time to things in which they are
interested. This means in practice that you have to add some time for
instance on beaches, in kids play centres, shopping malls and other
places where kids can have fun.
Due to the cold season we limited the time in the north of Iran and
focused on the south. The planning was challenging, because the idea
was to travel across the Persian gulf coast
area and then return to Tehran via Shiraz and Isfahan - a 3000km
loop in two weeks. Originally I was planning to use four internal
which later became two as some flights turned out to be unavailable,
and in the end were three because we discovered a flight from Bandar
Abbas to Shiraz.
Pre-trip research and feedback from tour guides in Iran indicated that
the Iran’s Persian gulf coast is only interesting in a couple of spots
(mainly Kish and Qeshm), that Bandar Abbas should be skipped and that
there is nothing of interest between Bandar Abbas and Shiraz
We ended up with an itinerary involving an arrival in Tehran with
almost no time spent there, as Tehran is cold in winter and much
less interesting than other sites in Iran. From Tehran we would fly to
Ahvaz to visit the archaeological sites in the area, then would fly to
Kish is not exactly the most interesting site in Iran, but it’s a
Persian gulf island and a tourist hotspot, so it would be perfect for
the kids and the wife and a good way to break the journey. In fact it
turned out that it was a pity that we only spent two days/one night in
Kish, as Kish is quite a pleasant place. We should have spent at least
3-4 days there, but just didn’t have enough time.
From Kish we would make it to Qeshm island and spend three days there,
because Qeshm seemed to be quite interesting. And
in fact Qeshm more than fulfilled our expectations, as there are plenty
things to see and do. Qeshm is little known outside of Iran and
its tourist infrastructure is still underdeveloped. For this reason
Qeshm is getting very few international tourists, even if its tourist
attractions are world-class.
The further plan involved getting from Qeshm back to Tehran with stops
in Shiraz, Persepolis, Pasargadae, Isfahan, Kashan and Qom. This part
of the trip was very interesting from a historical/cultural
perspective, but not so interesting for the kids as we basically rushed
through these places in about five days and had no time for kids
The planning of the trip started in September 2014. I prepared a first
draft of the places to visit and approached some travel agencies in
Iran. For the visas I used Touran Zamin (found them via the Thorntree
forum) and they proved to be efficient and reliable. The trip was
ultimately only finalised in December, because until the last minute it
wasn’t sure if we would get the tickets for the flight from Tehran to
Although the exchange rate of the IRR climbed from 15000 for one Euro
in 2011 to 42000 for one Euro at the end of 2014, this wasn’t a cheap
trip. On the one side many costs (hotels, minivans, guides etc.) are
quoted in USD. Then prices for entry tickets to many historical sites
have grown significantly since 2011. For instance, the price of the
entry ticket to Persepolis was 5000 Rial in 2011 (=0.33 Euro) and
150000 Rial in 2014 (=3.57 Euro), a more than tenfold increase. Flights
were quite inexpensive.
Due to the high inflation of the past years,
there is a lot of price variation in Iran. In some places things are
really expensive, in others astonishingly cheap.
Due to the embargo it was not possible to pay the Iranian tour
we used for the bookings in advance. In two cases we made (partial)
payments to bank accounts in
Switzerland and Germany, but the bulk of the payment had to be done
cash once in Iran.
Here essentially the Iranian travel operator is
taking a risk, because the customer could not show up after all leaving
the travel operator with unpaid bills. The travel operator has no other
option than to trust the tourists and get paid in cash only in Iran. I
heard of a case in which the leader of a tour group handed over
something like 40000$ cash upon arrival in Tehran to the tour operator.
My personal guess is that in most cases Iranian travel operators get
paid for their work and that very few tourists in Iran cheat. I’ve also
seen that tour operators in Iran sometimes rely on hotels to collect
payments. How can the tour operator be sure that the hotel won’t pocket
the money and claim they didn’t receive anything? I suspect that people
in Iran overall are very honest and that a lot of business is based on
We ate very often the big dish with a large portion of rice, grilled
chicken or fish kebab and preserved vegetables. This was not bad, but
we got bored after a while and only kept ordering it because there were
so few alternatives. For some reason there was a lack of fresh
vegetables, so that we had to explicitely order dishes of salad and
tell the restaurant staff what to put inside. We also developed a habit
of just having soup, bread and salad in the evenings (and even at lunch
sometimes). Many restaurants offered these inexpensive salad buffets.
The kids (and even Shirley and I) got addicted to the very flat Iranian
bread, sort of thin sheets of soft bread, which we ate with the soup.
Different food (and western food) was available in better restaurants.
We stayed in a number of mid-range and sometimes upper end places. The
hotels were booked by the Pars travel agency from Shiraz and by
Farzaneh, our guide for the second part of the trip. All hotels were
booked in advance, because we were a larger group, often arriving late
in the evening and had no time to waste looking for a hotel and with
two kids could not run the risk of not finding accommodation.
The costs were not low and in fact the most expensive hotel cost 182
Money / Exchange rate (August 2011)
Euro = 42000 Rial (41500-43000, depending on where the money was
changed). We changed money in hotels and money changers. The best rate
was on Kish island.
1 Euro ~ USD 1.20
We had to carry [large amounts of] cash with us, because due to the
US embargo in Iran (western) credit cards, ATM cards and traveller
cheques cannot be used.
phones and prepaid cards
We were thinking of getting local SIM cards upon arrival at the airport
in Tehran, then in the rush and confusion didn’t get them there. We
also could not get them at the domestic airport in Tehran and in Avhaz
and only got them in a mall in Kish. No passport was required, but we
lost one hour waiting for these SIM cards. We bought from Irancell for
300000 Rial each (7 Euro), with an Internet package on them but almost
no airtime. So we bought some recharges. The cards were not activated,
but should have been activated within 2-3 hours according to the sales
guy. In practice two days passed before the cards were finally
activated, so we bought some preactivated SIM cards in an Internet cafe
in Kish in the meantime.
The Irancell network is 2G/3G: in the major cities there is a 3G
network, outside it’s 2G only. Internet access is sometimes good,
Compared to 2011 the Irancell
network was finally fast enough to access the Internet. In many hotels
there was WLAN, but many times this was unusable. Most of the time we
had to rely on smartphones with the Irancell data packages to access
the Internet or read emails. Many western news websites are blocked in
Quite fresh, even sometimes cold in the north of Iran. Spring-like
temperatures in the south and along the Persian gulf coast. Not hot
enough to swim in the sea in Kish. No rain, and on almost all days
there were no clouds in the sky.
Health / Vaccinations
No vaccinations are needed for Iran and there are no health risks.
VISA / Entry requirements
Although there is the option to get the visa on arrival, we got all
visas in advance. This involved getting visa approval numbers via a
travel agency in Iran (we used Touran Zamin), and submitting these
numbers, the passports, passport photos and an application to the
Iranian consulate. After about one week the visas were ready.
Despite all the turmoil in the region Iran is a very safe place. We
carried large amounts of cash with us and expensive photographic gear,
but experienced no problems. Overall Iranians are very honest and
- Qeshm: impressive island, with cool geological formations
- The historical sites of Shushtar and Chogha Zanbil
- Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Kashan: impressive Iranian
architecture and cultural heritage
Things to avoid
- Perhaps don't rush through Iran the way we did - the country is
very interesting and is best appreciated if you can spend more time
here and here. We regretted for instance having only one nigth in Kish,
a beautiful island.
The trip had to be scheduled around certain internal flights,
to minimise long overland transfers and save time. Some flights were
only available on certain
days or hours,
and it was necessary to plan
the activities in order to use these flights.
Since due to the embargo Iran is pretty much cut off from international
booking systems, i.e. you can’t book a hotel or flight in Iran using
the standard portals, it was necessary to do the bookings via travel
agencies in Iran. This required some intensive communication,
discussion of various options etc. which you normally do efficiently
with a web portal, but not when you are travelling in Iran.
The section of the trip from Shiraz back to Tehran was easy, because we
had a minibus+driver and didn't have to worry about bookings. The
minibus was a comfortable 10-seater, spacious enough for us, the guide,
the driver and all luggage. The price was 3000000 IRR/day (=71 Euro)
and included everything.
Travel agencies and guides who helped us on this trip
- The tour operator Touran Zamin (email: email@example.com) got the visa approval numbers for us for a fee of 35 Euro/person.
- Mrs Samira Zarei (email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Tel: +98 711 222 31 63) from the Pars Tourist Agency in Shiraz helped
us organising the first part of the trip until Qeshm, by advising on
and booking the internal flights, advising on and booking the hotels in
Tehran, Ahvaz, Kish and Qeshm, arranging the guide and driver in Ahvaz,
and the driver who picked transferred us from Bandar Charak and
Bandar-e-Pol (Qeshm). Samira was always friendly and efficient.
- Mr Razagh Mojaddam (email: email@example.com, Tel: +98 91 66151107) was our guide in Ahvaz. He showed us Susa, Tchoga Zanbil and Shushtar.
- Mr Fahim Saffari (email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Tel: +98 917 9390965) was our guide in Qeshm. Fahid is a young man from
Qeshm who drives around tourists in Qeshm with his Toyota Hilux car.
- Mrs Farzaneh Boloori (email: email@example.com)
is a guide from Shiraz who organised the second part of the trip from
Shiraz to Qom. I know her from 2011 when she was my guide in Shiraz.
Farzaneh arranged the driver and minivan for the trip from Shiraz to
Qom, booked all hotels from Shiraz to Qom (without even charging a
commission) and was our guide for the five days of the Shiraz to Qom
trip. Farzaneh is a charming and competent lady who knows everything
about the places in Iran she showed to us.
Hotel Khayyam, Tehran.
functional hotel. The room has beds with hard mattrasses, a fridge,
flat screen TV, some basic furniture (chair, table, cupboard without
hangers). WLAN available but not working (i.e. we can't connect to the
Weather: around 4°C in
the morning in
Munich but sunny. Fresh and sunny in Istanbul. Cold in
Tehran when we arrive at night.
We leave home shortly after 10am and reach the airport at 11:20am. The
gate area today is full of travellers, which is not surprising since
today is the first day of the Christmas school holidays here in
queue up and finally manage to check in shortly before 12pm.
We then rush to the McDonalds restaurant between terminal 1 and 2.
There is also an Asian restaurant immediately next to the check-in
area, but the prices are a bit steep, the portions smallish and the
kids want to eat fast food anyway.
After a quick lunch we are at the passport and security check by
12:30pm. Huge queue of people. It takes over half an hour to get
through. I can only imagine the mess that would happen if something
didn't go as planned or if somebody made a joke. They would shut down
the terminal for several hours.
Once we are through there is actually no waiting time, because Pegasus
already boarding people at gate 5. Again long queue of people at the
gate. I'd guess that at least 80-90% of the passengers are either
Turkish nationals or ethnic Turks.
It takes a while to reach the plane (no direct boarding via a bridge, a
bus brings the passengers to the plane). We only get on the plane at
1:30pm, the planned departure time.
Despite all the activity the plane only has a short 20 minutes delay
and in fact takes off at 1:50pm. The plane, a B737-800, is completely
full of people. It seems they managed to sell almost every seat. The
row spacing is a bit small.
Pegasus is a low-cost airline and all food or drinks on board has to be
paid for. Prices are a bit steep (12 Euro for a meal for instance).
The plane lands in Istanbul more or less on time around 5pm local time.
This time the access to the gate is via direct bridges (no bus needed).
After some walking we reach the transit area access gate. It's only a
handful people including us who go to the transit area (most people of
the Munich-Istanbul flight go to Istanbul).
The boarding pass is checked (whether we have one), then there is a
security check, and after that we are soon in the shops area. This
terminal is quite different from the one we have used in the past when
transiting through Istanbul with Turkish airlines. We are in an area
with access to the gates and with some, but not too many duty free
shops. I guess Pegasus uses a different terminal of the Istanbul
There are some restaurants and on the upper floor there is a fast food
area with McDonalds, Burger King, some Turkish fast food outlets and
I can't find an ATM, so I end up changing some cash into Turkish Lira
(1 Euro = 2.75 buy/2.88 sell TL). Actually I wouldn't have to change
money because all places here seem to accept payment by credit card,
even for small amounts.
WLAN is available for a fee of 10 TL for 2 hours. There are also 24
hours packages, and apparently there is a way to use the Internet for
free if you order some food or drink.
We head to this area and Shirley and the kids have some food. We stay
in the restaurants area until shortly after 7pm, then walk down to the
place where the transit passengers arrive and wait for my brother
Albert, who should have arrived by now (he is on the Pegasus flight
from Frankfurt to Istanbul).
We wait, wait and wait for a while but Albert is not arriving. At
7:30pm we stop waiting. Shirley and Natasha sit down on a chair and
Natasha takes a rest. Alissia and I go to the fast food area on the
upper floor and I order some döner meal.
Finally Albert shows up. Turns out that his flight was delayed. Dinner
and chit-chat until late in the evening. We spend time in the
restaurants, both on the upper and lower floors.
I end up spending more than 50 Euro on drinks and meals, which
surprises me a bit. But on the other hand prices here seem to be on the
same level as the airport in Munich (one freshly squeezed orange juice
for 11 TL (= 4 Euro) for instance. A bit strange that prices for drinks
and food are so high, given that average salaries in Turkey should be
lower than in Germany.
By 11pm we are all in the gate 201, waiting to board the flight to
Tehran. The gate is quite full. Boarding proceeds smoothly and we
quickly are on the plane. Again the seat rows seem very narrow (they
look even more narrow than the ones in the Munich-Istanbul flight). The
plane this time is an Airbus A320 and is almost completely full.
The plane takes off almost on time at 11:40pm (just five minutes
delay). Same setup as the previous flight (all drinks and meals have to
be paid for).
Hotel Pershia, Ahvaz. 86
USD for a
small apartment with kitchen area, bathroom with shower, living room
area with flat screen TV, nicely decorated, bedroom, furniture etc.
With A/C and WLAN, although for some reason we can't manage to access
the Internet or download emails. Many hotels have a flashy facade, a
superflashy reception area and mediocre rooms, but this place is the
opposite: from the outside it looks like a dirty old place, the
reception is small and cramped behind a staircase, but the rooms are
Weather: sunny and
surprisingly not cold in Tehran (only fresh)
The plane lands in Tehran at 3:40am local time, 25 minutes early.
We are at the gate shortly before 4am, then proceed to the passport
control. The IKA airport is a bit old, but functional. There is some
queue at the passport check, but we manage to get through at 4:10am. By
4:20am we have the luggage, by 4:30am we are in the minivan to Tehran
(driver picked us up).
It takes only half an hour to reach Tehran, but then it takes a
long time to actually reach the hotel. We sleep around 6am.
Around 10am the entire family gets up. Outside the sky is
cloudless blue, but with lots of haze. We stay some more time in bed,
then check out at 12pm.
Down in the reception I pay the bill of the travel agency.
change some Euro into Rial (exchange rate is 42000). Then we arrange a
car for the day. The driver will bring us first to a restaurant, then
to the national museum, then to the airport. Cost is 600000 Rial
(compare that to the 40 USD the travel agency was asking for).
It's 12:50pm when we leave the hotel in the minivan. The driver
brings us to a restaurant in Tehran, which from the outside looks
rather unspectacular and for a moment we even hesitate a bit to go
inside. But once in, we see the dishes other people are eating. Huge
plates full of rice and meat and vegatables, looking quite delicious.
Some difficulty communicating with the restaurant staff who only
speak Farsi, but a friendly customer proficient in English comes and
helps translating. The meals cost around 160000-200000 Rial.
In the restaurant Albert manages to get the password of the local
WLAN network. The connection to the Internet works, but the cool thing
is that the access to many newspaper sites is blocked. It's weird that
Albert cannot access some newspaper sites with his Ipad which I can
access with my Samsung Mega 6.3 phablet.
At 2pm we are done with the restaurant and get back to the
minivan. We now drive to the National Museum, which is on
the opposite side of the street.
The entrance ticket for foreigners costs 150000 Rial (adults, kids
don't pay). We have to deposit our bags in the store room. The museum
contains some quite impressive artifacts dating back to up to the
fifth millenium BC. But it's not that big. There is only the hall on
the ground floor and the access to the higher levels in blocked.
So, shortly before 3pm, we are back in the minivan. Some discussionw
with the driver, who seems to have SIM cards for us. These are from
Irancell and I have no idea where he got them from. Does this guy sell
SIM cards? I try two of his Irancell SIM cards in my phone but can't
register in the Irancell network with them.
We reach the Mehrabad airport at 3:40pm. The travel agency informed us
earlier that our flight is delayed until 5:30pm, so we have delayed our
Also the Mehrabad airport is a bit oldish and would need some
modernisation. At the check-in the printouts of the e-tickets are
sufficient, i.e. the guy doesn't care about our passports.
We have some food in a cafe, then at 4:45pm proceed to the gate.
Separate security checks for men and women. We are at the gate shortly
The gate area looks relatively modern and welcoming. There
are shops, duty free shops and some coffee shops, cafes and snack bars.
The gate for our flight is not assigned yet. Even after 5:30pm the gate
yet. It appears that there
is a delay in the flight
schedule. The plane has not arrived yet.
While in the gate area I purchase an Irancell SIM card for 350000 Rial.
The idea is that, while most likely I'll have no or limited Internet
access, I want to be able to make phone calls (roaming being
prohibitively expensive at 3€/minute).
After a long discussion (nobody
in this place speaks English) it turns out that the SIM card has no
airtime and to make phone calls I need to purchase a recharge, which
however they don't sell. So I end up returning the card and get
The hours pass and the flight is still not ready. Every 10-15 minutes
we check the situation. There is a crowd of angry travellers at the
information counter shouting things in Farsi. I ask a bit around and am
told that the plane is a 32 years old machine which developed a
technical problem, and they are trying to solve it. It's a big plane
(> 200 passengers) and Iranair has no other plane with which to
replace it. The angry people in the crowd tell me that every hour they
are told that the plane will take off in one hour. Nobody knows for
sure when and if the plane will take off. As a guy puts it ironically,
At 8:30pm suddenly the plane starts boarding. I was already pondering
how to reschedule the trip, if we would only have reached Ahvaz
So we walk down the gate, get on a bus and reach the plane. This plane
is a dinosaur. It's an Airbus A300-B2K/B4, probably one of the first
models of Airbus. 2-4-2 seat rows setup. Quite unusual interior, I've
never seen anything like that. I joke with Albert that the parachute is
under his seat. Let's hope this plane lands in Ahvaz without problems.
The reason for these old planes in Iran is essentially the US embargo.
Boeing may not sell their planes because they are an American company
and neither does Airbus, because their planes contain parts made in the
Still, this may be a prehistoric plane, but it has one advantage. This
old model didn't go through the crazy cost-optimisation cycles, and
the planes of Pegasus airlines where passengers are packed like
sardines in a can, the seat rows here are very, very spacious even in
the economy class.
It takes a long time until the plane switches on the engines. This only
happens at 9am. Then some more time passes before the pilots dare to
move the plane, and finally at 9:15pm the plane takes off. If God wants
(insh-Allah) we'll make it to Ahvaz.
During the flight we are served a simple meal and the kids receive a
toy. Quite a good service for such an inexpensive flight.
The plane lands at 10:15pm in Ahvaz. Then it takes a lot of time to
retrieve the luggage. The driver is waiting for us here, despite the
almost 5 hours delay. The travel agency calls and asks what we want to
do tomorrow. We'll do Shush, Shushtar and Tchoga Zanbil. At 11pm we
drive to the hotel.
26.12: Ahvaz (tour to
Shush, Shushtar, Tchoqa Zanbil)
Hotel Pershia. The
breakfast is quite basic (tea, toast bread, some dates).
Weather: sunny, blue sky
clouds. Fresh in the morning, but not cold. Around noon it gets quite
warm, especially in the sun.
a short night we get up at 7:15am, get ready and have breakfast.
Our guide, Mr Mojaddam (Razagh Mojaddam, firstname.lastname@example.org
, phone: +98 91 66151107), is already waiting for us in the
At 8:30am we start driving towards Shush. It's a good wide straight
road, like a motorway, allowing to drive at high speed.
Later in the trip it becomes clear that there are plenty of these
straight and wide roads in Iran, allowing driving at high speeds. This
means that it is possible to get quickly from A to B in Iran.
Since Albert skipped the breakfast, we stop at a supermarket along the
and buy some food. What I buy is not cheap and I wonder if I'm charged
tourist prices or if this is really the price level here.
Mr Mojaddam explains that the area around Ahvaz is heavily industrialised,
with 50% of the Iranian oil production coming from here. Lots of
Chinese companies involved in the oil production.
We reach the
archaeological area of Shush at 10am (entry ticket: 100000
Rial/adut). This a large compound with what remains of the ancient
Elamite capital, a small museum and a French castle built about 100
years ago with the bricks found at the Shush site. The castle is
actually the only structure left standing here, because of the ancient
capital nothing is left, except for the foundations of the Darius
We spend almost one hour in this place, then walk to the museum (entry
ticket: another 100000 Rial/adult, a bit overpriced IMHO). The museum
has a small collection of artifacts found in Shush. These date from
various periods, the oldest being the 4th millenium BC.
After 15 minutes we walk out and go to the tomb of
Daniel. This has an
inner court full of people. As Mr Mojaddam explains, Daniel is popular
with the Muslim people and that is why they come here. This is not a
mosque. It's sort of a temple, as I'm being told.
We spend only a few minutes here, then walk back to the minivan,
because Mr Mojaddam starts being a bit concerned about our timing.
At 11:40am we start driving towards Tchoga Zanbil, the ziqurrat,
reach the place at 12:15pm. This is a UNESCO world heritage site,
dating back to 1200 BC. The entry ticket costs 150000 Rial. The
Ziqurrat is a stepped pyramid-like structure, currently consisting of
two levels. Mr Mojaddam says in the past it had five levels.
We walk once around Tchoga Zanbil. There is not only the ziqurrat here,
also many other structures, most of them temples. Apparently Tchoga
Zanbil was at the centre of an ancient Elamite city.
There are not so many tourists here when we come, although actuallly
this is the best season for visiting this place, because in the summer
it's far too hot and I guess that also in the spring it can get
Shortly after 1pm we are done with Tchoga Zanbil and start driving to
Shushtar. We reach the restaurant where we will have lunch shortly
before 2pm. This seems to be a place well-known with local people, as
it's quite full. It contains a number of carpet platforms, on which you
knee down and have lunch served on the platform.
We have again a similar type of meal as yesterday (big dish with rice
and either fish or chicken and some preserved vegetables). The bill for
the five of us is 740000 Rial. From the restaurant there is a nice view
of the river plain below with the ruins of an arched bridge (perhaps
dating back to the Sasanid period?).
We spend about an hour having lunch, then drive to the Shushtar
watermill system. This is quite close to the restaurant and consists of
a system of dams and water channels used to control water levels for
irrigation purposes and to generate power for mills.
The system is quite complex and sophisticated. It was built by Roman
soldiers captured by the Sasanid army. The entrance costs another
150000 Rial per adult. The structures are mostly in the rock and are
not so visible from the outside. It is possible to visit the place by
walking into corridors built into/on the rock.
Around 4pm we get back to the minivan and drive back to the hotel. On
the way we stop briefly at a dam, which is used to divert the waters of
the river, then drive back to Ahvaz.
We are back in the hotel around 6pm and rest for a while in the
finally manage to connect to the Internet and download the emails
(turns out that you have to open a browser and use an ID and a password
All news websites are blocked, except for the German tagesschau.de, and
the Iranian presstv.ir (imagine if they blocked also that).
In the evening we have a brief walk in the streets, which now are full
of life. We buy some cookies and pastries in a bakery (very
inexpensive, at 30000 Rial for a full box). Then we have a dinner in a
restaurant and head back to the hotel.
27.12: Ahvaz ->
Flamingo hotel, Kish. 182
USD for a big
elegant room with four beds, A/C, nice furniture, flat screen TV,
phone, cupboard, bathroom with shower. Probably a four star place. WLAN
available, but a bit slow. The breakfast is quite mediocre, considering
what we are paying. Buffet-style, but mostly for Iranian tastes. No
Weather: sunny, slightly
fresh in the morning in Ahvaz. Warm and very sunny in Kish (we switch
on the A/C in the room).
I wake up even before 6am, wake up Shirley and get ready. Shortly
before 7am we have a breakfast (actually the breakfast is not set up
yet, because it's so early, so we only have some tea). By 7:20am we are
in the lobby and have checked out. The driver is not here yet.
At 7:30am, since the driver still hasn't arrived, we decide to take
some taxis to the airport. We take two taxis to the airport (total
price is 400000 Rial). Later Shirley tells me that she saw our driver
arriving. Fine, but he came late and we could not wait for him and risk
losing the flight.
Most cars in the streets are small and quite old. Most are of this Saba
brand (local manufacturing, from the joint venture with Peugeot). The
streets are somehow dirty.
We are at the airport shortly after 7:45am. There we quickly head to
the check-in counter. Again the printouts of the tickets are
sufficient, and they don't care about our passports. Then we proceed to
Separate secutity check for men and women. The security staff note down
of my passport and the one of Albert (and don't care about the
passports of Iranian nationals). Perhaps there is a reason why
foreigners are treated specially, i.e. perhaps they want to note down
which passengers are foreigners in case for instance if the plane gets
lost, but then actually they should see that from the passenger lists.
They check my camera and the lenses, and do the same also for Albert.
Same strict procedure as in the airport in Munich.
It's 8 something am when we reach the gates. After a very short wait
they start boarding the plane. Short walk to the plane which is waiting
The plane is an old MD82 and it appears that they bought it from the
Italians, because they text on the seats is in Italian. The plane is
quite full, only a few seats are empty. It takes off at 8:50am, with
only a short five minutes delay. Again, because the plane is old, there
is plenty of space in it, i.e. the seat rows are generously spaced.
On board we are served a meal, essentially some kind of breakfast with
fruits, salad, bread, cheese and a drink.
The plane lands at 9:55am in Kish. By about 10:15am we have retrieved
the luggage. The Kish airport is a bit small, but modern and flashy.
Very tourist oriented.
We walk outside and fetch a taxi, actually two, to the hotel. It's a
short drive, perhaps less than 10km to the hotel (100000 Rial per
taxi). Once in the hotel we check in, and after some waiting time we
get into the room shortly after 11am.
settle down in the room. While Shirley and the kids take a rest,
Albert and I take a taxi (50000 Rial) to the men's beach. They call it
'plage', borrowing a word from the French language (actually there are
several words in Farsi which have been taken from the French language:
merci, manteau, janvier etc.).
Here on Kish
men and women have to use separate beaches for swimming. There are no
family beaches from what we are told.
Shortly before 12pm we reach the men's beach. A bit unusual to go to a
beach in Iran.
The ticket for the beach
costs 100000 Rial. The beach
has a complete infrastructure: changing rooms, showers, lockers etc.
The seawater is clear and the beach is of the white coral sand type.
Nice beach, but the water is shallow and you have to walk over coral
rock to reach deeper water. So basically it's advisable to wear some
rubber shoes when entering into the water.
On this beach there are only men and boys, no females. But surprisingly
on the adjacent beach there are men and women, i.e. this seems to be a
mixed beach. So apparently mixed beaches exist in Iran...
The seawater temperature is a bit low. I might get in with some trying,
but Albert isn't in the mood. And there is some fresh wind blowing, so
we just walk a bit into the water. But the sun is quite strong, despite
the winter season. I didn't put on sun tan lotion, so can feel the sun
burning on my skin.
Around 1pm we are done with
the beach and fetch a taxi back to the
hotel. Along the way we spot many malls and trade centres. Lots of
construction activity as well. Many new buldings are being built.
Back in the hotel I meet Shirley and the kids who have been sleeping a
bit. After some more time we head down to the lobby and discuss with
the staff what to do today. Turns out that the shopping malls are
closed (they closed at 1pm) and only reopen at 5pm. The delfinarium is
only open in the morning. Then they tell us that the boat to Bandar
Charak only leaves at 8am. Supposedly they are some ruins of an ancient
place worth visiting and if we walk down the road we reach the jetty
and next to it there is a restaurant.
At 2pm we leave the hotel and reach the jetty area at 2:20pm. This is a
big long concrete pier with beaches on both sides and a seaside walk.
Immediately next to it there is one restaurant, but only one. In other
countries the entire promenade area would be plastered with cafes and
restaurants, but here there is only one.
This restaurant turns out to
be a pretty good one serving a number of
delicious and relatively inexpensive dishes (compared to prices in
Germany). We have a late lunch in this place, then at 3:45pm take a
taxi to the harbour. The idea is to buy the tickets for tomorrow to
The harbour of Kish is a pretty sophisticated and modern building,
somehow similar to an airport with security checks, gates and shops.
The problem is that here almost nobody speaks English. Very difficult
to get information about ferries. Also, the place seems quite empty and
deserted. We probably lose about 20 minutes talking to people, trying
to find out what time there are boats tomorrow and how to buy tickets.
In the end they tell us that there are several boats and that we have
to come back tomorrow to buy the tickets. A bit strange that it's
impossible to buy boat tickets the day before.
So we walk out of the terminal and look for a taxi. We find taxis at
the arrivals area of the terminal, then after some discussion end up in
which will bring us first to an ancient place called Harireh, then to
the Greek boat for sunset.
We reach the Harireh place at
4:30pm. There are lots of people here,
most of them probably Iranians, and some buildings in traditional style
and a big tree. No idea what is so special about this tree. Perhaps
it's the fact that there is such a big tree in a desert area.
The ruins on the other side belong to an 800 years old palatial house
with an own water storage system.
After about 20 minutes in this place we drive to the Greek boat,
arriving there shortly after 5pm. It's actually almost too late for the
sunset as the sun sets within minutes. These are the rusty remains of a
Greek ship which sank here years ago very close to the coast.
seems to be a tourist hotspot because it's full of people. It actually
is not that impressive, but there is a lot of activity going on here.
We spend maybe 10 minutes at the Greek ship viewpoint, then get back to
the taxi and ask the driver to bring us to a big and flashy mall. The
taxi driver suggests a mall, which turns out to be the Kish Trade
Centre. It takes 20 minutes to get there.
We get there at 5:40pm, and check it out a bit. It's kind of a modern
with higher end goods and shops selling branded stuff. We first walk to
a money changer and change Euro into Iranian Rials. Here the rate is
good. You get 43000 Rial for one Euro.
After changing the money we look for a place selling SIM cards and
after some search finally find one.
waiting time, followed by a very long discussion with a guy who barely
speaks English. It's a discussion about packages and Internet and
voice. We lose something like 40 minutes here.
In the end we buy three
Irancell SIM cards for 300000 Rial each (about 7 Euro). The SIM cards
don't work now, but we are told they will be activated in one or two
hours. In reality even at midnight the SIM cards are still not
Then we walk to a shop where to buy a recharge. Some weird discussion
with the guy telling us prices in UAE dirham. We ask how much a phone
call costs, but the GUY does not understand and initially even refuses
the card recharges to us. Only later we get the recharges (55000 Rial
But nobody seems to know how much a phone call costs, not even a
local one. Really amazing. In any other country people selling SIM
cards would know how much a phone call costs. Like this we do not even
know how much balance there is on the SIM card.
the SIM cards together with Albert I buy a headscarf for Shirley (and
initially the salesgirls think the headscarves are for us...).
Then we walk to a
hypermarket where we buy some stuff and eat some snacks. From there we
taxi to the same restaurant where we had lunch and have dinner there.
After dinner we walk back to the hotel. Despite the early wake up the
kids are hyperactive and easygoing.
28.12: Kish ->
Qeshm via Bandar Charak
Behesht, Qeshm. 80 USD for a small apartment with kitchen/living room
area, toilet, and two bedrooms. A/C, big fridge, table+chairs, no
cupboard for clothes in the rooms; telephone in the rooms which is not
working. This place is in serious need of revovation, as the rooms and
facilities are quite old. When we arrive there are no towels, and when
we ask for them we get small ones only. We'll only get real towels the
next day. The room of Albert is in a sorry state (paper peeling off
from the walls, broken door, smelly bathroom etc.). WLAN in the lobby,
but quite slow. No WLAN in the rooms.
Weather: sunny, blus
sky, warm. Spring-summer like temperatures.
We get up at 8:45am and head down for the breakfast. This is rather
unimpressive, considering what we pay for the room.
After the breakfast I check with the lobby where there is an Irancell
sales outlet and get the passports back. The idea is to get the SIM
cards activated (they are still not activated).
While Shirley is with
the kids in the room, at 11am I go with Albert to the nearby Venus mall
where there should be an Irancell outlet according to the hotel.
We walk down the street and find the Venus mall opposite the bowling
centre. This looks from outside like a somehow modern mall. Inside it's
a bit less impressive, with few international branded goods. But in any
didn't come here for shopping.
It takes a while to find the Irancell place. We ask several people
(most can't speak English, but I have a piece of paper written in Farsi
with the details, so I use that) and are sent from one place to the
next. No real Irancell outlet in the whole mall, which is a bit
we find is sort of an Internet cafe, where the guy tells us that
the cards are not activated yet, and we knew this already. But he sells
preactivated Irancell SIM cards for 300000 Rial, so we buy two of these
in order to be able to make phone calls. We also buy some
recharges (55000 Rial) each.
Finally we find out how much a local call costs. It's around 1000 Rial
per minute for a local call to Iran, and about 8000 Rial/minute for a
call to Europe (= 19 Euro cents, very cheap compared to the roaming
cost of 3 Euro/minute).
Then we take a taxi and rush to the harbour where we want to buy the
tickets for the ferry to Bandar Charak. This turns out to be a pretty
complicated thing, probably because Kish is a special area which can be
visited without an Iranian visa. But to get from here to the mainland,
you need to show that you have a valid visa or are an Iranian national.
We go through a mess of talking to people who can't speak English or
speak very little English,
being sent from A to B,
information etc. In the end one guy directs us to a security guard, who
asks us to provide photocopies of our passport and visa. A friendly
shop owner lady somehow fluent in English, big fan of Germany, jumps in
and helps a lot with translating.
Finally it turns out that the 3:30pm ferry is not so sure anymore. It
might be rescheduled, but nobody knows yet. So we just get back to the
hotel at 12:45pm. There we fetch Shirley and the kids and walk to the
restaurant on the beach from yesterday. We have a lunch, then walk back
to the hotel, retrieve the bags and take a taxi to the harbour.
When we arrive at the harbour
at 2:30pm we are greeted by the helpful
shopowner lady who tells us that the ferry is now scheduled for
departure at 4pm.
I call the travel agency who has arranged the driver in Bandar Charak
and inform them about the departure time, so that they can inform the
driver about our arrival time (driver speaks no English).
The ferry starts boarding on time shortly before 4pm. It's
ferry with perhaps 70-80 seats (passegers only allowed to stay inside).
The actual boat transfer proceeds smoothly. A movie about sort of a
James Bond is shown.
We arrive in Bandar Charak on
time at 5:30pm. We are probably the only
tourists on this ferry and in fact the route is a bit unusual for a
tourist. I just arranged this overland transfer because a flight from
Kish to Qeshm was not available according to the travel agency.
At the pier a bus picks up the passengers and brings them to the exit
of the harbour area. There our driver is already waiting for us. He'll
to Bandar Pol, from where there is a ferry to Qeshm. Some discussion
arises, as it appears that the driver hasn't been paid yet. A friendy
Iranian engineer who speaks English helps. I call the travel agency and
they reassure the driver that he will be paid tomorrow.
At 6:05pm we start driving towards Bandar Pol. For most of the trip the
road consists of only two lanes and the driver must overtake every now
and then some trucks.
trip to Bandar Pol takes longer than expected. We reach the harbour
at almost 9pm. I had read or heard somewhere about a car ferry, but
there is nothing like that in this place. According to the Lonely
Planet, it would seem that the car ferry leaves from a different place
in Bandar Pol.
The driver talks to some guys and
after some time a motor boat arrives. Seems small initially, but when
getting closer to it you can see that it's actually big enough to
transport us and our luggage.
So we get in, and after an adventurous five minutes in the sea we
over to the island. It's low tide, meaning that the staircases at the
pier are wet and slippery (the lower steps are full of algae.
up the luggage and look for a taxi. The place looks pretty empty and
After some searching, Shirley manages to get hold of two guys in army
gear. These look like soldiers, but tell us they are from the police.
The good thing is that they speak English.
After some discussion two
drivers arrive. The police guys sets the price of the trip to 400000
Rial (less than 10 Euro), which seems quite cheap for a 60km trip.
So we leave and reach the hotel shortly after 10pm.
Hotel Behesht, Qeshm.
Weather: sunny, blue sky
the whole day. Fresh wind blowing, strongish sun.
We get up at 9am and get ready. We spend quite some time discussing
with the hotel staff the various issues of the rooms. Very difficult to
discuss things when people only speak Farsi and you don't.
In the end
Albert is moved to a different room (a two bedroom apartment). Our
toilet is broken and I explain this to them with the smartphone using
There is a travel agency adjacent to the hotel.
I check if there are
flights to Shiraz, because the road trip to Shiraz takes 10 hours.
There is no flight on the 31st (only the day before or on Friday), but
there are daily flights from Bandar Abbas to Shiraz. On the 31st the
flight leaves at midnight.
It's 11:10am when we finally move out of the hotel. We explore a bit
the area. We are close to a big street with several shops and malls.
All buildings are modern, there is no historic core here.
At 11:20am Albert and I walk up a building because Albert has
restaurant there. From the rooftop there is a nice view of the city. We
sit down in the restaurant and order some food (grilled fish, chicken
with rice). Shirley joins us with the kids at 11:30am.
The food we have seen so far in Iranian restaurants is most
of the time similar and there is a lack of fresh vegetables or fruits.
I explain the flights option to the group, i.e. the one hour flight
spare us a 10 hours road trip, but is very late. In the end
since nobody is in the mood for another 10 hours car trip, we opt for
So we walk to the travel agency and tell them to book the flights
(1259000 Rial/adult, 655000 Rial/child). The travel agency is staffed
by five ladies and getting the tickets takes a very long time. Quite
While there I ask for tours in Qeshm. Long discussion, then we settle
for a full day trip (tomorrow) covering all interesting sights in Qeshm
island (Geopark, Harra forest etc.) for 3500000 Rial and another full
day trip, this time a boat trip on Wednesday to Hengam island to spot
among others dolphins for 2500000 Rial.
We finally finish the travel agency bookings after 1:30pm. Then there
more discussion with the hotel staff (by the way, they offer no laundry
service) about the rooms.
It gets later and later. Albert is waiting for his new room which is
not ready yet. Finally I manage to move the group out of the hotel at
2:20pm. There are only a few hours of sunlight left.
We take a taxi to the Geopark museum (one of the four places the travel
agency told us to visit today). We discover that we could have just
walked as the museum
is about 300m from the hotel.
The Geopark museum contains some geology exhibits, some stuffed
animals, some rock samples and not much more. The ticket costs 10000
Rial and this place is rather unimpressive.
We spend perhaps 10 minutes in this museum,
out and fetch a
taxi to the next place, the Zeytoon park. This a a few km away, along
The Zeytoon park is a stretch of green area along the beach.
some cafés next to it and you can access a beach, which is partly rocky
and partly sandy. There are quite a few people on the beach this
afternoon. We are in this area until about 4:30pm.
Then we walk to the City Centre
mall, which is only a few hundred metres away. Opposite this mall
is a new mall under construction, which is not ready yet.
The City Centre mall is relatively flashy and modern, but inside there
are not so many branded western goods. It's mostly local products or
products from east Asia.
We explore a bit this mall. Alissia and Natasha spend some time in the
children play area on the second floor.
At 6pm we take a taxi back to the hotel, but get out at the main street
next to the hotel, because there are so many shops there. We'll spend
the next hour shopping around a bit, then have a dinner at 7pm in the
same restaurant where we had lunch. We're back in the hotel after 8pm.
Around 11pm suddenly the Irancell SIM cards are all activated.
30.12: Qeshm island
Beshesht, Qeshm. When we return from the trip, the room has not been
cleaned. Shirley asks for toilet paper and gets [BILD].
Weather: sunny, but with
lots of clouds (low clouds) in the sky.
We get up at 8am and at 9am meet our tour guide and driver. He is a
young guy, local Bandari, speaks English and the car is a Toyota Hilux
pickup. When I say that this is too small for all of us and that we
actually need a minivan, he replies that only this car can go on the
rough roads we'll drive on today.
We leave at 9am and start driving along the southern coast of Qeshm.
Since the road is quite good
and with few curves, we can drive quite
It's mostly desert scenery, with not too much to see.
Around 10am we stop in a small village and buy some food and drinks.
Later, around 10:30am, the road becomes very bad. Not paved anymore and
full of stones. Every now and then some dromedaries along the road.
At 10:50am we spot two cyclists who are apparently touring the island
on bicycles. One man and a woman.
Very few tourists in this area, even if it's the peak holiday season.
And even fewer foreign tourists (driver tells us he drove the last
foreign tourists, a Spanish couple, a month ago).
At 11:00am we reach the first place of the day, a salt mine.
surrounded by mountains. We walk into it. Quite cool, as the walls are
made of white salt. The mine extends for perhaps 100-200 metres into
At 11:50am we leave the cave and drive to the
Geopark, arriving there at 1pm. The Geopark is an area with rock
formations and gorges.
From the parking you walk for
minutes along a trail. The deeper you get into the mountain, the
narrower gets the passage. Where the trail ends, in the Chahkooh
canyon, you are surrounded on
both sides by steep rocks, with special shapes. Also, here there are
Apparently there is plenty
of water under the ground.
We spend about an hour in this place, then at 2pm start driving towards
the Harra mangrove forest. On the way we stop at a shipyard
they build wooden ships. These look like ancient dhows, but they are
still used to transport goods between Qeshm and Dubai.
Shortly after 2:30pm we arrive at the Harra mangrove forest. Actually
we are at the end of a long road which like
a pier extends into the
wetlands area. On both sides mangrove trees are growing.
We stop at a parking with a restaurant. From this restaurant
there is a
view of the mangroves.
Here we stop for lunch (fried
fish with rice,
Following the suggestion of the driver/tour guide we take a boat trip
to the mangroves (half an hour for 600000, which later become 650000
Rial). The trip is very nice and interesting as we see the
mangroves and some birds. But it's too short, as it lasts only 23
instead of 30.
At 4pm we drive to Laft in
order to watch the sunset, arriving a bit
after 4:30pm. Laft is a historical place, and 500 years ago it was
the capital of the Qeshm island (before Qeshm city became it). In Laft
there are the ruins of an ancient wall and many houses with
windcatcher towers for climatisation.
There are also about 60
from which water is pumped (in the past there were 365 wells).
We walk on the top of a small hill from which there is a view of the
city and the harbour with the boats. From here you can also see the
sunset and the sea.
We are in Laft until after the sunset, that is until after the sun
drops below the haze and is no longer visible. Then, at 5pm we drive
back to the hotel.
reach the hotel at 6pm. In the evening Shirley and the kids go
shopping, Albert and I have a dinner in the restaurant of the Marina
hotel. More expensive than usual, but pretty good food.
31.12: Qeshm ->
Hengam island tour ->
Bandar Abbas -> Shiraz
Eram, Shiraz. $120 for a suite with two bedrooms. A bit old
infrastructure, but nicely furnished. TV, phone, A/C and heater, WLAN
in the room (but with access codes which expire after a few hours),
bathroom with shower and hair dryer. Good restaurant in the hotel.
Overall good service, centrally located in Shiraz. The only problem is
that our room is hot like a sauna. For some reason the heating is out
Weather: sunny blue sky
in Qeshm. Today no clouds. Quite cold in Shiraz at night.
We check out, leave the luggage in the hotel and at 9am start the trip
to Hengam island. It takes 45 minutes to reach the harbour in
Here are the boats which
bring the tourists to Hengam island.
Lots of activity on this Wednesday morning. Many groups of Iranian
tourists are waiting here to board a boat. After about 10 minutes, at
9:55am, it's our turn to get on the boat.
So the boat trip starts. The
boat is a big boat without a sun cover.
After a few minutes we see the first dolphins. There are plenty of
them, and the boats with tourists follow them. We spend about 10
minutes watching the dolphins, then head to Hengam island.
We reach Hengam island at 10:15am. A
s Fahim explains, after the
revolution the înhabitants of the island relocated to the emirates.
Other people from Iran moved in.
We stop at a sandy beach on Hengam island. Here there is a settlement,
where locals sell souvenirs
and snacks and other food. Pretty touristy
setup, but very picturesque.
We spend some time here walking around, shopping a bit, eating some
food and soaking up the atmosphere. Very colourful scenes, with Iranian
women dressed in very colourful clothes interacting with each other.
The women on Hengam sell food consisting of bread (thin bread, paper
like, but tasting well) with some kind fish-tomato spread on it.
Apparently very good, from what I'm being told.
Shortly before 11am we leave the beach of Hengam. We stop at a rock
from where we, together with other tourists on boats, feed the fish.
colourful fish in the sea.
We're back in the harbour in Shibderaz at 11am and drive to the next
place, the island of Naaz, arriving there at 11:25am. Right now
it's low tide, so the cars can drive until the island on the sea bed.
The island (actually it's more of an islet)
is rocky and has some
houses which are used by the fishermen. It's nothing special, but the
views from here towards the main Qeshm island with the seabed are
great. Several other cars with tourists come here.
We spend only 20 minutes here, then get back to the car. When I ask
what the next place is, the driver is telling me we are driving back to
Qeshm city and the tour is over. In other words, this is a three hours
So I tell the driver that we agreed on a tour from 9am to 5pm with the
travel agency and show him the invoice. Some discussion follows, he and
I call the travel agency. The lady in the travel agency, Roya, promises
twice to call me back but does not do so.
It's not clear who made the mistake here. Probably the driver is
innocent and either the travel agency promised too much or the person
who informed the driver didn't bother passing him the full details of
Anyway, after some phone calls, discussion etc. the driver agrees to
extend the trip until 5pm.
Right now (it's 12:10pm) we are at the 'plage': a beach with some
services, a club, a restaurant and some children playground. Very nice
beach actually. It's a place to which you would come on a day like this
for instance with the family and spend a few hours relaxing.
But as usual our schedule is a bit tight. While the driver goes into
town (Qeshm is 11km from here) we have a lunch in the restaurant of the
plage. Again we eat the same type of food (kebab, grilled fish with
rice, soup etc.). It's as if all restaurants served the same food
At 1:40pm we drive to the Khorbas caves.
actually in walking distance from the plage. It's a set of caves in a
rocky outcrop overlooking the area, connected by tunnels dug into the
rock. In the past this was used as an early warning system, to warn
locals about incoming pirate raids.
The entrance apparently is free. We buy some small souvenirs in a shop,
then start exploring the cave system. It's actually quite interesting,
and while we are here, plenty of (Iranian) visitors come. This place
seems to be well known among Iranians.
At 2:40pm we drive to the next place, the Stars Valley.
This can be
reached by a short drive along the coast to the south, followed by a
turn inland. We arrive there at 2:55pm.
This is a very interesting place, looks like a Star Wars scene. It's a
set of canyons and narrow gorges, most likely dug by the water into the
soft soil. Individual rock/mud pillars and narrow walls forming some
kind of labyrinth. Very scenic area, lots of Iranian tourists. This is
again a great place, probably unknown to the outside world.
While we are there some Iranian film crew is filming the scene of a
movie. The current scene is of two guys on a motorbike with guns,
passing by the body of a motorbiker lying dead on the ground and
shouting something. Would be interesting to see this movie once it's
At 3:45pm we drive back into town. Fahid (our driver) explains that he
is finishing his studies and will do the military service next year
(two years), then will marry his girlfriend.
We are back in the hotel at 4:30pm. There we take a rest and have some
At 5:20pm Albert, Alissia and I take a taxi to the harbour to secure
the tickets for the ferry to Bandar Abbas, just in case there are
problems similar to those on Kish. The taxi trip (40000 Rial) takes
only a few
The harbour, or let's say the terminal for the ferries to Bandar Abbas,
is a couple of km away from the city centre. It's a modern
building, easy to access and understand.
We immedately spot the counter where they are selling the tickets to
Bandar Abbas (100000 Rial/person) and buy five tickets. Almost can't
believe it's so easy. The guy (who unlike the people in Kish speaks
some English) tells us there are ferries every half hour. The trip
one hour according to him. No forms to fill out, no passport to show,
no hassle as on Kish.
So we take a taxi back to the hotel. There we check with the travel
agency (they are still open) until what time there are ferries. We were
thinking of taking a ferry around 8pm, to avoid being too early in
The lady in the travel
agency urges us to leave now with
the next ferry, because there could be delays caused by rough seas
(trip could last two hours instead of one) or the captain could wait
one hour until the boat fills up etc.
So, after buying some food in the nearby store, we take a taxi around
6:20pm to the terminal. By 6:30pm we are in the waiting area for the
After a few minutes the ferry
starts boarding and at 6:40pm the ferry
leaves the harbour of Qeshm. It's a small ferry with two levels. One
lower level deck (closed) and an open upper deck (both with
chairs/benches). We sit on the upper level. During the crossing to
Bandar Abbas both the temperature and wind levels are comfortable.
Neither is the wind too strong, nor is the temperature too low.
We reach Bandar Abbas at 7:40pm, exactly one hour after the departure.
After leaving the ship we pass all bags to a porter who brings our
stuff along the very long pier until the main street for 200000 Rial (a
bit steep, but never mind).
Then the mess begins. Some people immediately show up and ask where we
are going. Fine. Then I notice that along the street there is a row of
white cars, all the same. The word taxi is not written on them, but
it's safe to assume that these are standard taxis.
When I go there to check them further, one of the guys from the harbour
area comes and talks to the taxi drivers. Not clear what he is saying
but probably he is telling them that I am his customers and they should
not serve me. Anyway, to make a long story short, after some heavy
discussion we take two of the white taxis on the street to the airport
for a fee of 150000 Rial. First time I'm in Iran that I experience such
discussion with nasty individuals.
It's about 8:30pm when we reach the airport in Bandar Abbas.
quite clean and modern and makes overall a good impression. However
there is no restaurant in the departure area (only some cafes and fast
food places) and there is no public WLAN network. I'm being told that
we can only check in at 10pm.
So we wait. We have some drinks and food and I review the pictures of
the day. Around 10:40pm we can finally check-in and some time later we
can proceed to the gate.
situation in which they ask Shirley to open her suitcase because they
seem to have seen something. Seems they are looking for liquids (but
then why not sort out my suitcase which contains all liquids (shampoos,
shower gels etc.) of the family. They ask if Shirley is carrying some
Nescafe in her suitcase. Later we joke that Shirley got caught trying
to smuggle Nescafe in Bandar Abbas...
The Aseman flight is delayed and only takes off at 0:55am (almost an
hour of delay). The plane is a Fokker 100 and looks very, very old.
Inside it's almost full. I'm a bit surprised that such a late flight is
so full with passengers.
The plane lands smoothly at 1:45am, i.e. with a 50 minutes delay in the
Shiraz airport. Then everything proceeds quite fast: we retrieve the
luggage in a matter of minutes and Ali, our driver, is already there
waiting for us. It's almost 3am when we sleep however.
Hotel Eram, Shiraz.
Weather: during the day warm enough in the sun,
cold in the shadows
(you need a light jacket). Cold at night. Sunny blue sky, it hasn't
been raining for months.
At 9:20am I'm woken up by the alarm clock. I rush to get ready, then
get down into the lobby. There Farzaneh, our guide, is already waiting
for us. While Shirley and the kids are still resting, Albert and I
will do some sight seeing until noon, then will pick up Shirley and the
kids for lunch.
The first stop is the Nasir ol Molk mosque (the pink mosque), which we
reach at 10:35am because there is some traffic in the streets of Shiraz
today. This is the mosque with the cool hall with pillars and the
stained glass windows.
While I'm taking some pictures, Farzaneh explains the history of the
mosque to Albert. Initially there are some people in the hall, after a
while we have the entire hall available for us.
We're in the Nasir ol Molk mosque until 11:15am, then drive to the
hotel to pick up Shirley who in the meantime is ready with the kids.
Together we drive to the Vakil bazaar.
The Vakil bazaar is located adjacent to the omonymous mosque and
contains a multitude of shops selling handicrafts, carpets, spices,
clothes and other stuff. As usual it's full of activity with plenty of
people shopping for goods.
As we have all skipped breakfast this morning and are quite hungry, we
go to a traditional restaurant, the Saray-e Mehr, for lunch. This has a
pretty characteristic dining hall with plenty of decorations and
paintings on the wall. We reach this place at 12:15pm and have lunch.
At 1pm we are done with the lunch and spend the next
walking around in the bazaar. Albert gets lost in the maze of streets
and it won't be until 1:40pm when he finally finds us.
Together we visit the Vakil mosque. The interesting thing of this
mosque is the hall with 48 columns, all carved out of one piece of
After about 25 minutes we walk to the adjacent Vakil bath (100000 Rial
ticket, relatively pricey). Here we see the interiors of a perfectly
restored old hammam, which is now converted to a museum.
At 2:20pm we drive to the next place, the Ali Ebne Hamzeh shrine.
Farzaneh, Shirley and the girls have to put on a chador,
is a special place. In the interior there is a hall with walls covered
with a mosaic of mirrors. Very photogenic.
Shortly before 3pm we leave this place and drive to the Eram gardens,
which are a botanical garden. Relatively steep entry fee of 150000
Rial. The gardens today are not as beautiful as they are in other
seasons, because it's winter, many trees have no leaves and there are
few flowers. Still, the place is full of people on this Iranian weekend.
At 4pm we drive back to the hotel and take a rest.
At 5pm Albert and I walk to the Shapouri pavilion, a beautiful
in neoclassical style with an adjacent park. The building contains a
high-end cafe and restaurant.
The we walk along the Zand boulevard towards the citadel. There is
plenty of activity on the streets now. Shops are open, cafes sell
drinks and snacks, people walk on the streets.
We are back in the hotel around 6:30pm, then have a dinner at 7pm.
2.1: Shiraz ->
Persepolis -> Pasargadae -> Isfahan
Kowsar, Isfahan. 2900000 Rial for a double room in a four star hotel.
High class, the best hotel in which we have stayed so far in Iran. Room
is nicely furnished, has everything. The hotel has two good restaurants.
Weather: sunny, blue sky
and fresh in Shiraz when we leave. Fresh in the evening in Isfahan.
We leave the hotel at 8:35am and start driving towards Isfahan.
hour later we reach the parking of the Persepolis site
capital of the Persian empire). There we buy
the tickets (price has gone up to 150000 Rial per adult) and proceed to
Visitors are not allowed to bring backpacks into the site. This morning
there are not too many people at the Persepolis site.
At 11:30am we meet at the
cafeteria of Persepolis and shortly after
that we drive to the next place, the Naqsh-e-Rostam necropolis. This
site is 6km from Persepolis and consists of four tombs dug into the
rock face and one building whose purpose is not clear (could be a fire
tempe or a temporary tomb).
At 12:20pm we are done with this site and drive to the restarant,
Laneh Tavoos restaurant. This is a restaurant serving traditional food
and is targeted specifically for tourists. Today they have a buffet for
300000 Rial/person (children pay 200000 Rial). We are some of the first
to arrive. After us some larger tour groups arrive.
At 1:45pm we start driving towards Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the
Great (559–530 BC) and also the location of his tomb.
The road is a good two
lane road, quite straight, with few curves, allowing fast driving (but
the speed limit is 100-110 km/h).
We reach Pasargadae at 2:45pm. This archaeological site of
the Achaemenid period (entry ticket: 150000 Rial) lies at an altitude
over 1800m and in the late afternoon the light is quite special. There
are a number of ruins of ancient palaces, spread over a large area in a
plain. The most significant structure is the tomb of Cyrus.
Shortly before 4pm we have some tea which Ali, the driver, has prepared
for us. Then, at 4pm, we start driving towards Isfahan.
While checking the bills, I notice that Samira of the Pars tour agency
forgot to charge me for
the flights (Tehran-Ahvaz and Ahvaz-Kish).
I send an SMS to Samira
informing her about this. We agree that I will pay the amount to
somebody of the Isfahan office of her tour agency tomorrow.
The road is quite easy (broad two lane motorway) and we proceed
speedily towards Isfahan. In fact by 8pm we reach the hotel.
In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel, then have a short walk to
an ice cream parlour.
Kowsar, Isfahan. Finally a fast enough Internet connection. The access
codes they give out only last for three hours however (then you have to
ask for a new one).
Weather: some thin
clouds layer in Isfahan today. The sky opens up and closes again (high
altitude clouds), otherwise sunny. More fresh than in the other cities
(I have to wear a thin sweater below the jacket).
leave the hotel shortly after 9am and drive to the Naqsh-e Jahan
which we reach at 9:30am. All of today's sightseeing will be in and
around this square.
The winter morning sun gives
this square a very
special look today.
We visit the blue mosque (Sheikh Lotf Allah, ticket: 100000 Rial). This
mosque has a very scenic, heavily decorated iwan and a beautifully
decorated inner hall.
Next we visit the Shah mosque (ticket: 150000 Rial) at the long end of
the square. This is a pretty large mosque with a huge inner court
bordered by four iwans on each side,
and with a number of
courts and halls.
At 11am we get out of this mosque.
We then pay a visit to the
palace (ticket: 150000 Rial) on the long side opposite the blue mosque.
This is only moderately interesting, except for the beautifully
choreographed music room. The terrace from which usually there is a
nice view of the Naqsh-e Jahan square today is not accessible,
is undergoing renovation.
From the Ali Qapu palace we
walk to the nearby Chehel Sotun palace
(ticket: 100000 Rial). This consists of large pavilion with
wooden columns adjacent to a pond. Inside there is a large room with
wall paintings of scenes of the Iranian history.
At 12:10pm we are done with this palace and walk back to the
Naqshejahan square. Then at 12:40pm we have lunch in the Partikan
restaurant, a traditional restaurant next to the Naqshe Jahan square.
After lunch the guided sightseeing is basically over. We shop around a
bit, and buy gaz and sohan, local specialities of Isfahan (sweets with
honey and nuts). Lots of shops everywhere with beautiful handicrafts.
At 2:45pm we drive back to the hotel. There Shirley and the kids will
spend the rest of the day. All three of them have some stomach problem
and diarrhea. Must have been something they ate in the Partikan
restaurant (all three ate from the buffet, while the other group
members who didn't eat from the buffet don't have this problem).
Shortly before 5pm Albert
and I walk down to the river for some blue
hour shots of the Khaju bridge. The river actually doesn't contain much
the bridge is a dam in reality. At this time of the day the light and
atmosphere is simply magical.
Shortly before 6pm we walk back to the hotel,
leave the tripod and
other lenses in the room and get out again. This time we walk along the
Chahar Bagh e Abbasi street towards the Abbasi hotel. This street is
the main shopping street of Isfahan and is full of activity now.
We walk to the Abbasi hotel, a famous Isfahan hotel in caravanserai
style with beautiful interiors, then back to the hotel, which we reach
At 7:30pm we have a dinner in the restaurant of the hotel.
the guy from the Pars tour agency is supposed to come to collect the
payment for the flights. He doesn't come and calls and asks me to
leave the money at the cashier of the hotel. Very strange, but in the
end I pay the amount to the cashier. Hopefully the money will reach the
Pars tour agency.
4.1: Isfahan ->
Hotel Negarestan, Kashan. 2430000 Rial for
a nice room, nicely furnished, with flat screen TV, fridge, phone,
table+chair, smaller table+chair, attached bathroom with
bathtub+shower. Breakfast included. Free and fast WLAN everywhere in
the hotel, requiring no password. Everything is fine with this hotel,
the only problem is that you are several km out of town (but close to
the Fin gardens).
Weather: sunny, blue sky
in Isfahan, warmer than yesterday. Overcast sky in Kashan, fresh.
We check out of the Kowsar hotel and start the second day of
sightseeing in Isfahan.
The first stop is the Jame mosque (ticket: 100000 Rial) which we reach
at 10am. The minibus stops in an underground tunnel, then we walk up a
staircase. We arrive in an area with older buildings, next to the
bazaar which is surrounding the mosque.
The Jame mosque dates back to the 9th century and has been expanded for
10 centuries until the 19th century by the local rulers of the city. As
such is contains architecture from various periods. Nowadays many parts
are quite run down and are being or have been restored. The mosque is
At 11am we walk out of the mosque, then spend some time in the bazaar
area and at 11:20am drive to the Vank cathedral (ticket: 150000 Rial,
tripods and flash not allowed inside the church building).
This is located in the Armenian quarter and is an Armenian Christian
cathedral dating back to the
17th century. The church interior is
decorated with beautiful and detailed frescoes of scenes from the
In the peaceful inner court of the compound there is a museum.
At 12:20pm we walk out of the cathedral compound towards a KFC
restaurant which the kids had spotted while we were walking to the Vank
cathedral. It turns out that this is not a KFC, but a "ZFC". Otherwise
it's more or less a copy of a KFC outlet (and they also sell pizza hut
pizzas). There the kids order some chicken fast food. It takes a while
served, because we are the first customers of the day. Finally at
12:50pm we have received the fast food and get back to the
minibus. We then drive to the restaurant, arriving a 1pm.
This is a traditional restaurant with a large dining hall one level
below the street, richly decorated with paintings, frescoes and
At 2:10pm we start driving towards Kashan.
Initially we are stuck in
the heavy Isfahan traffic, but after a while we reach the motorway to
After some more time, when we are far out of Isfahan, this motorway has
three lanes + an emergency lane with a speed limit of 120km/h.
It's a pretty cool scenery. Desert-like plains,
every now and then some
rocky outcrops eroded over time, like in a wild west movie, endless
open spaces, nice late afternoon sunlight.
We reach the Kashan
outskirts where the hotel is located, then drive
into town. At 4:45pm we park the car in the historical area near the
Tabatabei traditional house. Some traditional houses are already
closed, but the Tabatabei one is still open until 5pm. So we quickly
pay a visit to the Tabatabei traditional house, then have
a cup of tea near the minivan, do some souvenir shopping and finally
drive to the hotel after dark. We spend the rest of the day in the
5.1: Kashan ->
International hotel, Qom. 2880000 Rial for
a triple room with TV, phone fridge, some furniture (table, chair,
A/C, heating, attached bathroom with shower. In our room the heating is
out of control and the room is really hot. The hotel is conveniently
located on the square adjacent to the shrine. Mediocre and overpriced
(for Iran) restaurant in the hotel.
Weather: sunny, blue
sky, fresh (not too cold) in Kashan. Same in Qom. After the sunset it
gets pretty cold.
We leave the hotel at 10am
and drive to the centre of Kashan, to the
historical houses area, arriving at 10:20am. While the rest of the
group are busy with the Boroujerdi historical house (ticket: 100000
Rial), I visit the Amir Ahmad historical bathhouse (ticket: 100000
Rial). This has some very nicely decorated interiors.
When I'm about to walk out, the caretaker stops me and tells me there
some nice view on the roof.
Actually I'm a bit in a
hurry, but fine,
let's have a look. And indeed this morning the lighting is absolutely
perfect for the small cupolas of the bathhouse. The caretaker even
encourages me to walk to the highest point of the roof and explains me
So I spend some time on the rooftop. Later Albert tells me he saw me
and took a picture of me. You can see a guy with a tripod on the
highest point of a house taking pictures.
Shortly before 11am I'm back with the group. I fetch Albert and with
him walk to the Abbasi historical house (ticket: 100000 Rial), where we
take some more pictures.
We are rushing like hell, because the group is waiting for us and today
we still have several places to visit. Strictly speaking you need a few
hours to visit all historical houses in Kashan, but we have only an
hour or so.
At 11:15am we rejoin the group and drive to the Fin gardens. The
distance is not so big (about 7km), but there is some traffic, so it
takes us 20 minutes to arrive.
The Fin garden (ticket: 150000 Rial) is a garden in a walled compound,
maybe with a size of 100 x 200m. It dates back to the Shah Abbas I
period and contains some water ponds and fountains and cypress trees.
The water comes from an underground source. The gardens are very
peaceful and relaxing, and more fresh than the surroundings.
After one hour at the Fin garden, at 12:15pm, we drive to a nearby
restaurant for lunch. Between 12:30pm and 1:30pm we have a lunch, then
start driving towards Qom.
We arrive in Qom at 3pm and initially drive to the holy shrine. This is
the second most holy place in Iran after Mashhad. The shrine is near a
huge square on which there is a mosque currently being restored. Most
women here wear a black chador (head to feet cover).
While Shirley and the kids are taking a rest in the minivan, Albert and
I try to visit the shrine. According to the guidebook, non-muslims may
only access the shrine if accompanied by an accredited Muslim guide.
Farzaneh talks a bit to the guard at the men's gate. We are then
allowed to get into the inner court. Lots of people on this Monday
afternoon in the shrine. The inner court and the buildings are pretty
scenic and photogenic.
While we are in the inner court a shrine guide approaches us and
offers to show us around. After some discussion we follow this
individual. He brings us to the other courts of the shrine, but not to
the interior of the buildings. These are reserved to Muslims.
At about 3:40pm we are done with the shrine and walk
back to the
minivan. This brings us in front of the hotel, where we check in. Then
we pay Ali and Farzaneh for their services (Farzaneh has also prepaid
the hotels in Isfahan, Kashan and Qom) and split from them.
will bring Farzaneh to the airport where she will catch a flight back
to Shiraz, while Ali will drive through the night back to Shiraz
(1000km from IKA to Shiraz, 10 hours).
At 5:15pm we get all out of the hotel. Shirley is doing some shopping,
while Albert and I have a look at the area and take some pictures.
The buildings and malls here are quite old, as are the cars on the
streets. It's as if the economy has been in slow motion for many years.
A bit of
German-democratic-republic-before-reunification feeling. Walking down
the streets you get the impression that there hasn't been that much
development in the past 10-20 years. At least not in this place.
At 7:30pm we have a dinner in the hotel. Since the food was not that
good and Albert didn't eat that much, after dinner Albert and I go out
again and buy some food. In one place they sell the cheapest freshly
squeezed orange juice we have found so far in Iran (30000 Rial for one
elsewhere in Iran the juice costs 60-80000 Rial).
In kind of a bakery
we buy some incredibly cheap pastry (sort of a fried krapfen/croissant
filled with vanilla cream, selling for 7500 Rial/piece). Albert jokes
that he could have had dinner for 15000 Rial instead of the 340000 Rial
he payed in the hotel.
This is the current Iran: huge differences in prices. In one place the
pricing level is close to the one in Germany, in another things cost a
By 9pm we are back in the hotel and take a rest there.
6.1: Qom ->
Istanbul -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: cool but not
too cold in Qom and Tehran airport when we leave. Light snowfall in the
early morning in Istanbul airport. Sunny and cold in Munich.
At 1:35am we leave the hotel and drive by taxi (1400000 Rial for a
minibus) to the
Imam Khomeini Airport airport, arriving after 3am (they told us the
trip would take one hour, but it took one hour and a half).
we check in (quite cumbersome procedure; first you have to queue up for
the baggage security scan, pretty long queue; then you have to find the
check-in counter - but no electronic board shows you which is the right
Then we look for a place where to change the remaining Rial into Euro.
An airport staff lady tells us the money changer is in the gates area.
Turns out that she has no clue, because there is no money changer
there. Most likely the money changer is in the check-in area.
Our 4:55am Pegasus airlines flight takes off with about half an hour of
delay. Almost all women on board are not wearing headscarves. Finally I
can see some womanhood after two weeks of covered women. The hostess is
even wearing a skirt and showing her legs. What a contrast with Qom,
where women were covered from head to toe by black chadors.
This time the Pegasus plane, an Airbus A320-200, is a bit more
spacious, i.e. there is more space in the seats.
The plane lands in Istanbul at 8am local time. We collect the boarding
pass at the transfer counter. We didn't get one in Tehran, because we
checked in online but could not print out the boarding pass. Albert,
instead didn't bother checking in online, got his second boarding pass
already in Tehran.
At the money changer in Istanbul they don't take Iranian Rials (I still
have 330000 Rials, about 8 Euro). Albert jokes that, with the current
inflation levels, in a couple of years they won't be worth anything and
that I can use them to wallpaper my home. In fact the
Iranian Rial has devalued from 16000 to the Euro to 42000 to the Euro
we are at the Istanbul airport and have some breakfast while waiting
for our flight to Munich. At 10:35am we start boarding the plane, at
11am the plane takes off.
The plane, a Boeing B737-800, is almost completely full. We reach
Munich airport around 1pm and by 3pm, after some lunch and shopping at
the airport, are back home.