Iran Sojourn: Part III

I sincerely apologise to my readers and my dear friend who took time out to write about the beautiful journey through Iran. As promised, this is the third and final piece from my friend. Please read on and send in your queries and feedback, we would love to help you if we can 🙂

Here, I want to share some possibly useful tips from my 10-day experience in Iran.

 Iran: Some useful tips for travelers

 Language

I do not know Farsi and I was fine and faced no major hurdle. Nevertheless, I would recommend at least learning the Farsi numerals (they are written in the same way as in Arabic or Urdu), because often menu prices in restaurants or in other places are only written in the local language. It would be better if you can count one to ten in Farsi, especially when you haggle while hailing a cab. It should not be very difficult for Indians as the numbers sound very similar to Hindi. 

This brings us to the issue of managing currency, which can be a little bit difficult at first because of the confusion between ‘rials’ and ‘tomans’. Iranian currency is officially known as ‘Rials’ and currently (in May 2017) one US Dollar can buy more than 32,000 rials. One rial is equal to 10 tomans and most prices in shops are written in tomans rather than rials. However, in actual conversations and haggling, the last there zeroes of the tomans are often omitted. So when a cab driver quotes a fare of five tomans, he most likely means five thousand or ‘panjhazaartomans’.

 Commuting within the country

Although a railway network does exist, you need to book tickets well in advance. In hindsight I am glad I failed to get train tickets as it allowed me greater flexibility. Overnight buses appear to be a popular mode of long-distance travel within the country and the buses and terminals are quite clean and well-maintained. I found buses to be a cheap and comfortable mode of travel. An overnight journey from Isfahan to Shiraz, almost same as Mumbai to Ahmedabad in distance terms, cost me 18,500 tomans or Rs. 370, in a semi-sleeper 3-seats-in-a-row (2+1) bus.

 Airfares also seemed much cheaper than fares in India. I booked a flight from Shiraz to Tehran – equivalent to a Mumbai to Bangalore flight – which cost me only 128,000 tomans or around 2,500 Indian rupees, despite booking just one day in advance and that too in Nowruz season. 

Things to do in major cities

In Tehran, the entire stretch from old Bazaar to Golestan Palace to the National Museum would be a good starting point to acquaint yourself with the history of the country; the entire area is well connected to the Tehran metro network. Also, I would recommend a visit to the Milad Tower, which offers a good panoramic view of Tehran.

 Isfahan is a great heritage city and the entire Naqsh-a-Jehan square and the surrounding area should be part of your itinerary. Also, it is a nice place to buy traditional Iranian delicacies like ‘Gaz’ candy (you can also buy it from Tehran International Airport on your way back home). I would also recommend a visit to the Vank cathedral in Isfahan, which stands in testimony to Iran’s history of religious tolerance. If you are interested in history and would like to see and know more about the Armenian genocide, then Vank cathedral and the accompanying museum would be good investment of time.

 If you plan to visit Shiraz, I am sure that Persepolis, the ancient capital city which was attacked by Alexander, would be in your itinerary. However, bear in mind that the local name for Persepolis is ‘Takht-e-Jamshid’ and that is likely to be the only name by which taxi or bus operators identify that place.

 Finally, you should know that alcohol is banned in Iran (except for maybe some religious minorities). However, there are tea houses and places where you get hookah.

 Although there is little to worry, but please be on your guard

I have already discussed how easily I found help, often more than asked, whenever needed. I did not discern any tendency to fleece tourists. My hotel in Isfahan helped me with my onward bus and airline tickets and I have no reason to believe they tried to make any extra money. On one occasion, I had forgotten my mobile at a restaurant in Isfahan and got it back when I went there after about an hour. Nevertheless, I can recall atleast two instances where I suspect street vendors tried to fleece me. Also, I was never sure if I was paying the correct fare for taxi because there does not seem to be any concept of paying by metre. Thus, while there is no reason to be paranoid, it is better to be on your guard.

Solo Travel in Bali

Sunset at Jimbaran

 

I have been solo traveling for last seven years and each time I have an interesting story to narrate. But as a solo backpacker, I have always avoided travelling in Asia, but this time around I decided to visit Indonesia.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much but I came back with such beautiful stories and memories. And I totally recommend you to pick your bags and travel alone and cheer up your soul.

The first thing that comes to mind when one says Indonesia is Bali. But trust me there is more to Indonesia than Bali and Ubud. Infact, beaches in Bali like Kuta, Seminyak etc seem like upmarket Goa, the good thing is as a solo traveler it makes you feel at home before you set out to see the unseen. I spent the best part of my holiday roaming around an island called Gili Trawangan (more on this in next post).

For Indian travelers, Bali is really hop skip and jump away (Mine was a 15 hour journey). I took a Malaysian Airline flight and reached Bali via Kuala Lumpur. The flights were delayed in all legs of my trip so maybe you can see if you want to choose any other airline. The official name of Bali Airport is Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, and it can easily be passed off as a domestic terminal in any Indian airport. It’s small, hence convenient and easy to get by. So if you are a solo traveler don’t be intimidated, things are easily under control.  For Indians, visa is exempted, so basically you don’t have to pay a penny to enter the land of history, culture and magnificent sunsets.

Currency:

The Indonesian Rupiah is quite intimidating for the first two days, as you haven’t really dealt with millions before in your life. Inflation hasn’t really helped the economy. For eg- a packet of bread costs  17,000 Ind rupiyah. So the best part is to know your currency and you should bargain hard for a better rate. In case someone offers you a better deal than anywhere else then dump it, always ask for a receipt. There are currency exchanges shops in every nook and corner so try and be careful. I exchanged currency in batches as I ended up spending way more when I had pile of cash.

Hotels:   

Now, picking a hotel is the first part of the trip, here is what I did and what I could have done better.  I booked all my hotels through Expedia and when compared to other sites, I did get a better deal.

As a backpacker I usually live in hostels, but when it comes to travelling in Asia, especially back home I prefer hotels. Although the mindset is changing but for a first timer I decided to try the safe bet. I booked Sun Boutique Hotel managed by BENCOOLEN at Sunset Road in Kuta, it was quite cheap and the facilities were very good. My room was next to the pool and there wasn’t any outside noise and the staff is very nice and updated me on every offer they had during my stay.

Cost: Rs 1975/- per night per room (2pax)

But I would recommend that if you are travelling budget in Bali, you should opt for a hostel or a hotel near the beach road. Don’t try and stay too far from the beach, else you will end up wasting money on cab and time as traffic is a huge problem in the island. It helps to leave early when in Bali. The roads are too small and taxis are an expensive affair.

I also stayed at Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort during the last leg of my stay as I wanted to pamper myself. If you are looking for luxury this hotel surely ensures one. The hotel has a gate which opens up to the beach and it is in the midst of all the action Bali has to offer. Totally recommend their Spa services too.

Cost: Rs10,000/- per night per room (2 pax)

Other hotel that I liked include Hard Rock Hotel on Kuta Beach Road. One can try hotels in Legian Street or Seminyak. Infact Seminyak has some of the best hotel properties for luxe travelers.

Food and Shopping:

While walking on the beach road one can’t help but see series of shops hanging dreamcatchers in every sizes and trust me you will end up buying one. One thing in Bali that one shouldn’t forget is to bargain. I was totally ripped off in the first two shops and then I rehashed my bargaining skills. Always pay half of what they ask for and always be confident. And go to as many stores as you can before you start buying.

Indonesian food can be quite spicy, but the plethora of sea food it offers warrants mention. I had a lovely sunset dinner at Ganesha Café at Jimbaran Beach. The prawns were beautifully cooked and served with rice and sea plant.

Travel Tale in next post: Canyon of Sukawati, Bali Marine Safari, Saraswati Temple, Goldsmith shop, Tanha Lot and more.