It is not an Arab country at war.
First of all, Iran is not Arab. It’s Persian. The last war in Iran was against Iraq between 1980 and 1988. In other words, it hasn’t been at war for the last 27 years. Ironically, it might be the most stable country in the Middle East at the moment.
The first tourist I met was an American woman.
She was about 50 years old and that was her second trip. She loved it so much the first time that she brought her teenage kids with her this time. How dangerous can Iran be if a mother decided to bring her children with her? (Curious fact: I went to the United States right after my trip to Iran. And my passport was empty with an exception of an Iranian visa when I arrived. I wasn’t detained or questioned about my Iranian trip at all. The media is making all of us paranoid. I should know. I worked in TV for more than a decade.)
I travelled alone.
Over the course of 2 weeks I visited 4 cities from the north to south of Iran by long distance buses. Buses were comfortable, with airconditioning, LCD TV, reclining seats and even provided complimentary bottles of water. I felt like I could have been in Europe. Except that I felt safer.
There are hardly any tourists.
That means incredibly low tourist crime. No pickpockets or robbers. No one is going to organise a tourist crime ring to rob one tourist per month.
It is a photographer’s dream.
Can you imagine being the only person in the Sistine Chapel? That’s how it was for me in Shiraz. Being empty didn’t mean that the sights weren’t worth seeing. In fact, they were probably the most impressive attractions I have ever seen.
I wasn’t camera shy anymore.
In Rio de Janeiro I only dared to take the same camera out when I stood next to a policeman and I would remove the memory card before I left a restaurant in Brazil (I was ready for my camera to be taken but I wanted to keep my photos safe). In Iran, I had my camera slung on my shoulder (not even across my body) every minute I was outdoors.
The locals will treat you like a star.
You can almost feel the street bubble with effervescence the minute they notice you. No one is going to rob a celebrity under a spotlight. In fact, expect to be flooded by Facebook requests and invitations for tea (I recommend accepting both, especially the latter).
You won’t get to read a map in Iran.
Once you open it up in the middle of the street, a local will magically appear and help you with directions. In English.
Speaking of English…
Each year, 20% of government spending and 5% of GDP goes to education, a higher rate than most other developing countries. And this shows. It was actually easier finding people who spoke in English in Iran than in Moscow or Istanbul for example. Don’t be surprised to find that the young woman next to you on the bus is a PhD student or an English Professor in a University. I met 3 in 2 weeks.
Iran will ruin you.
It was the best trip of my life and I will never have another trip as good as that. Anyone who has been to Iran will attest to this. Different people might have contrasting experiences in Germany or Korea for example. But not Iran. There’s never been another country where travellers have left with a different opinion of the place. It’s just amazing. Period. In fact, it’s almost an unsaid bond shared by people who’ve been to Iran. Like we’ve discovered a secret together.
Just so that we set the record straight.
I am not a daredevil. I don’t skydive, I don’t do adventure sports and I’m not someone who goes for extreme experiences. I’m just an Asian woman born and raised in one of the safest countries in the world. And in case you think that I only run off to “scary” places like the Middle East and South America that’s not true – I have also visited places in Asia, Europe and the United States. I was just lucky to have visited Iran. The above are just my personal experiences and opinions.
Maybe nothing I say will convince you.
Maybe you will never visit Iran. Because of what might happen. Because it’s so close to danger. Because all Iranians must be terrorists. So maybe it’s a good thing that you’re not going. Because after Iran, what’s next? Not much, really.
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