iran tourism dangers

The Secret About Iran That Disneyland Doesn’t Want You to Know

T

he logistics are simple. Fly to Dubai, arrive at the busiest airport on the entire planet. Transit to Shiraz, Iran – flight time, less than an hour. Various airlines, every day, take your pick. I paid less than hundred for the ticket. Just outside of Shiraz is Persepolis – the UNESCO World Heritage listed ruins of a 2500-year-old city. An array of beautifully decaying marble and stone. Walls, columns and buildings adorned with richly carved scenes of ancient battle and ceremony. Giant stone tombs of Persian kings, once filled with unfathomable riches. Street art fans, there’s even vintage graffiti, engraved by British and American explorers centuries ago. In the distance, across desert plains, strange and geometric flat-top mountains complete the disorienting experience. And five minutes down the road, there’s an ancient necropolis built into a towering cliff face. Two impressive sites, both easy to get to, and the entrance fee is three bucks. Three bucks. But this is the kicker – in the four hours I spent at Persepolis I saw exactly two other Western tourists.

Two.

Of course, it is Iran. So there’s a good reason for the lack of tourists.

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IRAN UNTOUR INFO --- UKRAINE/TRANSNISTRIA/MOLDOVA UNTOUR INFO


Here’s the analogy that explains it all. Millions of people around the world believe McDonalds has “healthy choices” on their menu. But, eat enough McDonalds, and you will die. Being dead is not a healthy choice. It’s being dead. Advertising, lies, propaganda, sleight of hand, public relations, marketing, pure bollocks, call it what you will, it works. Humans will believe anything if you repeat it over and over with enough “authority”.

We find it hard to accept some “truths” because we’ve been told “untruths” over and over. Water doesn’t rotate in different directions in each hemisphere. No, shush now, it really doesn’t. The Great Wall of China isn’t visible from space. Not at all, not even a little bit. Napolean was about average height for a French man, humans didn’t evolve from Chimpanzees, Kim Kardashian’s booty isn’t really that oily, and unfortunately Disneyland isn’t actually The Happiest Place On Earth™.

Imagine taking a vacation to Disneyland. You’re shuddering, but the chances are, you’re not thinking about colliding monorails engulfed in flames. Or wild brawls on Main Street USA. Certainly, you’re not recalling the sexual assaults and lawsuits that were filed against the characters playing Donald Duck, Goofy, Tigger, and even Minnie Mouse. Or the deaths on the Downhill Double Dipper, Rock N’ Roller Coaster, and the Tower of Terror. I’m not making any of this up. It’s horrendous at Disneyland. It’s pretty much The Saddest Place on Earth™.

And yet, people still travel to Los Angeles. LA, home of the Crips, Bloods, Hells Angels, Ducky Boys, Baseball Furies, The Lizzies, and over one-hundred-thousand heavily-armed hardcore full-time gang bangers, with a right, left, right, left, you’re toothless, and then you say goddamn they ruthless, but you just want to visit the possibly anti-Semitic theme park. Because, Disneyland is “safe”. And if ya got yourself (yes, that’s an incorrect use of a reflexive pronoun) an Uzi and your brother a nine, Los Angeles is mostly family friendly. Mostly. So for generations, tourists from around the world have skipped Dubai and Shiraz and plied their way to LAX, bound for Disneyland’s good, clean, some may say Nazi-inspired-corporate-happy-fun-times (any lawyers reading this, please, do let me know if I’ve crossed any lines so far), because it’s safe.

But nobody visits Iran, because Iran is dangerous.

Well, the truth is this: Iran is safe.

Much safer than, for example, California.

Yes, I just drew a comparison between tourist safety in Disneyland and Iran. Sure, maybe I don’t have time for esoterica like “facts”. I haven’t backed any of this up with “statistics”. But, I’ll wager that for tourists – Los Angeles is significantly more dangerous than Iran. And I’ll take a stab and say that more tourists have experienced “danger” in Disneyland than Iran, no matter how you would like to measure it.

Iran is safe. It’s simple. Safe, as in, not dangerous. There are no caveats with that sentence. Like “well…sure, Iran is sorta safe, unless…. “, or “well, look, I don’t want to give you a false impression, Iran is safe, but….”. No. Nothing. Just safe. Maybe you’ve heard Iran is dangerous. You heard wrong. In fact, Iran is relentlessly un-dangerous.

But, unless… no. Iran is safe.

There is no but.

There’s also no tourists.

None.

OK, when I say “none”, I’m only slightly exaggerating. The truth is, there are so few Western tourists in Iran that if you wanted to, you could meet most of them over lunch. When tourists spot each other in Iran, they say hello. It’s rare, and it doesn’t happen every day. So, we say hello. Have a quick chat. Or, at least, nod, wink, and smile knowingly at each other. Because, yeah, we know. Some suckers are at Disneyland, or even worse, London*, and we’re in fucking Iran.

 

yazd sunset iran
Sunset over ancient Yazd, Iran, from the roof of my hotel. It’s not Los Angeles, but at least it’s safe.
street photography iran
Mean streets of Tehran, Iran.
tehran skyline iran
Tehran is one of the largest metropolises on the planet. It has a subway, freeways, supermarkets, and shopping malls.
iranian hipsters
Iranian men, growing beards, and hanging out in cool cafes. Esfahan, Iran.
persepolis snow iran
Snow in the hills above the ancient city of Persepolis, Iran.
yazd old town
Getting lost in Yazd, Iran.
yazd water tower iran
Ancient air-conditioning systems. They work. Iran.
iranian teenagers
Teenage school girls. Just hanging out. Esfahan, Iran.
iranian dog
Somewhere, someplace, in Iran.
street photography tehran iran
Iran is paradise for photographers who enjoy street portraiture.
iran snow shiraz
Ancient monument number 137,685. Iran.
street photo iran
This guy asked me to take his photo. I have no idea where I was, somewhere between Yazd and Tehran.
iranian freeway
Freeways in Shiraz, Iran.
iranian supermarket
Why is this the only photo on the entire internet showing a large, modern, Iranian supermarket, with shelves stacked high with international brands?
iran food photo
I once read that Iranian food compared to Norwegian food. Rick Steves, you’re an idiot. I also read that it’s hard to find restaurants in Iran. Again, not true.
iran travel blog photo
These photos happen a lot in Iran. Yazd.
iran bazaar
Ancient bazaar in Yazd, Iran.
iran tourist
Woman are rarely required to wear a “Chador” – only inside some mosques, and some shrines. I took the opportunity of grabbing a photo of Phillipa, elegantly modelling her loaner Chador. Literally, Chador translates to English as “tent”. I think she wears her tent well.
tehran tourist attraction
In the Northern suburbs of Tehran. The smoke of grilled meats fills the air, but pork is not on the fork.

 

Perspepolis is just the beginning of the enormous list of Iranian attractions. Iran has it all. Dry empty deserts, snow-capped mountains (with ski-fields), lush forests, sandy beaches, sub-tropical islands. The largest lake in the world so huge that it’s usually known as a sea. A countryside dotted with a seemingly endless variety of ancient structures and monuments, thousands-of-years-old villages hand built from mud and straw, and a modern metropolis whose urban area holds more people than London, Hong Kong, Paris, or Chicago, and maybe none of that appeals to you, but chill out brah because there’s way more to Iran than would fit in this paragraph. Much more.

I’ve now spent two months in Iran and haven’t scratched the surface. There’s so much to experience in Iran, so many sights both ancient and modern, not to mention the friendliest, most welcoming people on the planet – from a huge variety of cultures and ethnicities. But even with all the media bias, the crazy thing is, I still can’t believe how few tourists there are. For now, Iran is tourist heaven.

Hearing tourists who complain about being surrounded by other tourists, I know, it starts to sound a bit pompous. But, there’s a point. I have no problem with being called a “tourist”, because that’s what I’ve chosen to be, every day for more than 900 days straight. Although as I’ve been told, “Nate, you’re not a normal tourist”, and sure, that’s sometimes followed by “Nate, you’ve had enough to drink, really buddy, you’re out of control”, but the point is, I’m not too modest to say, with some authority, I know exactly what almost every tourist in this world wants.

Of course, we all have different tastes, but I would venture an educated guess and say this:

What most tourists want, is Iran.

One day, when all the potential tourists of the world start to realise that almost every single thing they’ve ever read or heard about Iran is at best a distorted version of reality or at worst just outright bold-faced lies and dirty propaganda, well when that day comes, those newly enlightened tourists will visit Iran, en-masse.

And the day after that, perhaps the greatest travel opportunity of the century, will have changed forever.

Nate

PS, Iran. October. Seats remain. Click here and check it out, I’d love you to join us.

PPS, I’ve still got plenty more Central Asia and Iran photos and stories to work through, but for now, you can always read everything I’ve ever written about Iran by clicking here. Currently, I’m in Budapest, Hungary. If you would like to read a fresh, unique travel article filled with pretty photos every now and then, don’t leave this page without popping your email address here:

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74 thoughts on “The Secret About Iran That Disneyland Doesn’t Want You to Know

  1. I would love to go to Iran, and love your passion about it – it’s compelling. The thing keeping me from going there (aside from bureaucratic issues, being an American citizen and all) is the state sponsored homophobia. Which is not to say that America, or several other places I’ve traveled aren’t incredibly homophobic and/or right wing and icky in that same way. I just find it to be a tough pill to swallow that I could be legally executed there for being a gay man. I’m wondering if there’s any way for me to rectify this in my head and feel good about going there?

    That said, I think Iran is beautiful and would love the opportunity to go there. I don’t think I’d have any problems being gay and traveling there with my partner (certainly not any problems I had while in Georgia, Nicargua, Mongolia, etc.), but am not sure I want to go there on principle with their current laws regarding homosexuality.

    1. Hey Nick, first, I should say I met a gay man in Iran, also, just last night, I was talking with a friend here in Budapest who had contacted an Iranian couch-surfer who shows tourists the “gay” side of Iran. So, it goes without saying, there is a gay “scene” in Iran.

      However, yes, it’s a fucking tough pill to swallow – being executed for being gay! However, imagine if, for example, I decided that I shouldn’t travel to the USA, due to the Australian citizen who was detained in Guantanamo for SEVEN YEARS, without rights, only to have any and all convictions struck down. Or gay tourists starting avoided Australia, due to the government stance on gay marriage, despite that the locals are fairly liberal when it comes to homosexuality. It’s a complex issue you have raised, and a very personal decision that each of us need to make. There are a million other examples that could trigger these thoughts, for almost every country – and whilst not many examples can compare with being executed – I guess the point is that it’s up to each of us to decide whether or not the laws of a government outweigh the goodness of the people. Iran, perhaps more than any other country I’ve visited, has an enormous chasm between what the government says/does, and what the people think. Even private vs public life in Iran is like two different worlds.

      I guess what I mean is, I would hate for anyone to judge me, or apply principles against visiting my country, based upon anything my government said. As for the USA, well, they’re killing innocent children with drone strikes on the regular, but I’d be happy to still come and visit you.

      But – I respect anyone who chooses to make a decision based on their principles, I really do. I would also add, I’m not gay, so not for a second do I pretend to understand exactly what your thought process would be before deciding to visit Iran – however, believe me, I’m on your side on this topic.

      I’d also add, relevant to the article, my gut feeling is that gay travellers in Iran – using the same amount of discretion that, unfortunately, is standard in most of the world – would have nothing to worry about. A quick scan of travellers experiences says “great time/no issues”. Definitely no executions ;)

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Nate. It’s a complex issue indeed, and your notes on the disparity between government policy and actual beliefs of private citizens are appreciated. With America, I’d unfortunately venture that there are many places in the country where the disparity is not really that great (I’d say skip Texas, but their carnitas are damn tasty), but it’s good to know there’s some government-citizen cognitive dissonance in Iran and that de facto homo executions aren’t the norm there. The main reason I ask is that in some places in the world (looking at you, Russia) seem to be embracing government policies regarding treatment of LGBT folks in everyday life.

        I’m still really curious about Iran and would love to travel there, and your words have assuaged some of my concerns, but I still wonder for how long I’ll have the patience to tell folks I meet, when asking about family, stories of my “wife and kids” back home while venturing to the more socially conservative parts of the world.

        Also, your blog is fantastic – hands down my favorite blog in a seemingly endless sea of asinine listicles.

        1. hey Nick,in iran if a male and female want to rent a room ina hotel they have to show documents that they are legally related but two men can rent a room with no questions asked and in fact many iranians do even though they may not be gay so it’s nothing out of ordinary at all.unless you want to kiss your partner in a public place no one even looks at you.and gays are not prosecuted in iran at all unless they try to advertise and promote gay relationship.in fact i have a friend who is gay and she stays in germany and she told me once it’s easier to find a partner in iran than it’s in any part of europe.unfortunately lots of media hype scares the gay community abroad and depicts a bad image of iran but in reality people of the same sex can move around and get rooms in hotels easier than being from different sex group.but visas for americans are a headache i have heard which i hope turns for better

          1. Hey Masood – thanks for giving Nick some advice – I would say one thing – I’ve stayed for two months in Iran now, always in Hotels, and I have never, not once, been asked to show documents about marriage or relationships. I’ve also not heard of any other tourists being asked for this. Maybe this happened in the past, but not anymore. Also, visa’s for Americans are not that much of a headache – it’s just that you need to be confirmed with a “tour”, and the visa will only be issued for the duration of the tour (as in, you can’t stay any longer or arrive earlier).

            Cheers!

            1. hey nate
              well my information on tourists are not really extensive and i am happy that the visa thing can be done without a hassle.anyway as i mentioned in my comment hope to see you guys in iran and if at anytime i could be of some assistance please let me know.i would be happy to help you guys.have fun.

    2. You don’t have to declare your sexual orientation at the airport or anywhere else in Iran. No-one in the street (and I mean no-one) is gonna walk up to and ask you if you’re straight or not. Even if a person is suspected of being not straight, they are not executed right away. We do still have a minimum of respect for human rights as far as the LGBTs are concerned.

      The fact that you are an American citizen is more of a problem than your homosexuality for the Iranian authorities. Focus on solving the bureaucratic issues. Your sexual orientation is the least of your worries.

      1. Hey Ali, thanks for the comment.

        If you come back here, perhaps you could clarify the comments about being an American citizen in Iran. Obviously, Iranians have a respect and fondness for American citizens (as much as any other nation does), but as far as the authorities are concerned – it’s just the visa issue that is different for Americans, and the need to be part of a tour. There’s no other “special treatment” for Americans in Iran.

        1. Hey Nick,
          Don’t worry at all about being gay. I saw (probably straight) men hugging and kissing each other’s cheeks in public no problem when they meet since to the police it is “obvious” that they are straight and they wouldn’t be so silly to do such things in public if they were gay. I know it’s strange logics and maybe I am being confusing or controversial. About booking into a hotel, I concur with what Masood wrote above. For 2 men it is no problem. For a straight couple, the hotel manager runs a bit of a risk but again he “assumes” just like the police in the above sentence, that of course a straight couple sleeping in the same room are married. Maybe that’s why Nat never had a problem or got asked for a marriage certificate.
          I am not gay so you are understandably WAAAAY more sensitive about the subject but I wouldn’t let this stop me from seeing Iran.
          About other political visa issue, I love America AND Iran but my little piece of experience about my travels to those countries are: when I visited Iran with a US entry stamp, no questions asked and I got my VOA. After that trip to Iran, I visited USA and once the officer saw my IRAN visa stamp, he took me to a “secondary inspection” room where I had to wait 2 hours to finally get my passport back (and I come from a Visa Waiver Program country) without the possibility to call my uncle waiting at the exit and inform him that I was being held there, no access to water or food. Yet I am still going to the US and the above story tells you that maybe you shouldn’t worry much.

    3. Hello, Nate. Great blog and articles/comments/experiences. I love Iran, too. Being myself a travel agent [I work in an inbound tour operator in Brazil] I am rather glad & happy to say that I try to ‘promote’ Iran to the world as much as you do. And I do it for the sole reason that I love the country and its people and culture. I do have some good friends there and loved each and every experience in the country. I have visited Iran six times already and I plan to return as soon as possible. Well, I travel a lot because I need to promote my own country as tourist destination in the many outbound markets around the world – and Iran is one such market towards Brazil, mashallah! so I do travel to iran on bizz purposes but also to meet my friends and visit places I do not know yet. Like you I have also sent some passengers to Iran and everyone returned with very positive comments and experiences…surprised by the Iranian hospitality and their happiness to meet foreign visitors in their cities, especially Brazilian ones. I do hope you’ll return often to Iran and also will have other small groups of visitors with you. Congrats for the blog and your effort to present Iran as it really is, not as the int’l media and some western politicians insist on doing. Cheers! Khoda-hafez.

      1. Hey Sidney, thanks for your comment… maybe we will cross paths in Iran one of these days, and good luck with any tourist-endaevours regarding Iran, it’s a really fun, and exciting, thing to be a part of. We’ll both spread the word!

    4. you can travel as two friends or if you have the same last name as two brothers ! They don’t even ask .. Enjoy

  2. Congrats on excellent set of photos. The man’s portrait against the carpets is as good as anything I’ve seen. How lucky you were to get to Persepolis in snow too. One carp: I don’t think the men in the “cool Esfahan cafe” are Iranians, more likely from Afghanistan. Oh, and Persepolis isn’t “just outside of Shiraz”, like you could walk there at a pinch. At getting on for 40 miles it’s more like an hour’s bus or taxi ride. But yes: Iran is safe (always has been!), and welcoming and hospitable, and if you know where to find them the traditional food dishes are out of this world. Two more minor caveats for your readers: inter-city taxi drivers may try to charge you over the odds; and there are reports that street crime (thefts from the person) is on the increase in some places, like Tehran, where drug-taking is a growing problem.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, really appreciate it. That man made for a great portrait!

      My responses: thanks for the Afghan/Iranian/Esfahan cafe point. My ability to pick certain ethnicities isn’t so great.

      As for Persepolis being “just outside of Shiraz”, well, the city I’m from is about 60 miles end-to-end, and has a similar population to Shiraz. So, 40 miles for me, or an hours drive, certainly is within the realms of “just outside” Shiraz. Given the Los Angeles mentions in this article – if you spoke to many people in LA, a one-hour drive is nothing. It’s all subjective, but point taken.

      As for being charged “over-the-odds” – this happens in Iran not just inter-city Taxi’s, but inner-city as well. However, on the whole, I find Iran to be an honest place, with fair prices. Taxi drivers are the worst – all over the entire planet. In general, I would say this: Iranian taxi drivers are nicer towards tourists than any of the almost sixty other nations I have caught a taxi.

      And, “reports” of street crime in Tehran – I’ve read “reports” saying it’s totally safe (which is my experience, and the experience of every single person I’ve ever spoken to who has been a tourist in Iran). I wonder what the “truth” is?

      1. Re street crime, I haven’t heard yet of any tourist being subjected to snatches, and I read/see a lot of trip reports! All are almost ridiculously positive, and make very much the same points you do here. My own experience of Iran and Iranians (3 years working there in the ’70s) was exactly the same, and above all, safer than I’ve felt in almost any other country, including European. Another point: safe to eat out as hygiene when handling food is strictly observed. Ate out all over the country, plus chicken sandwiches from a corner shop in Tehran every day while working, and was never, ever ill — and I can’t say that about most other places I’ve been! Anyway, Iranians are fabulous people and you won’t regret a trip there.

        1. It’s a good point – as I’m travelling all around the world, I will often get some kind of stomach “bug” as my body adjusts to the local cuisine, the tap water, etc – but each time I’ve visited Iran, no problems whatsoever!

  3. Please stop talking about Iran like this – I can’t have everyone go there before I finally manage to go myself. It’s my 2016 travel priority now so I really hope I can make it happen.

    Also enjoyed your reply to Nick’s question, very thoughtful indeed.

    1. Kathi, the thing is, for every small blog like this, millions of people will re reading some inaccurate stories about Iran veiled with fear.

      Even if tourism to Iran doubles or triples, or more, it will still be an experience. But… I noticed a distinct increase in numbers of tourists between 2012 (my first visit) and 2015. This was confirmed when I asked locals, who agreed that in 2012 – almost no tourists, 2015, many more. Of course “many more”, is still very few in the overall scheme of things.

      Go there!

      1. Yes, this is what I have been hearing too. And I am only kidding, kind of. It would definifitely be great not having to explain myself to people every time I mention that I would like to go to Iran. When I went to Kyrgyzstan people said “Where is that? What can you do there?” When I mention Iran it’s more like “Whaaat?! But isn’t this dangerous? And you’re a woman!”

        So, please do continue writing about Iran, as well as Central Asia. :)

        1. Funny thing is, I also read about the “dangers” of late-night Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I didn’t see anything remotely close to “danger”, in the month or so I spent in Bishkek.

    2. Hi nate, and thanks very much!!
      I’m iranian and live in iran, mashhad city.in here I can say all the people enjoy to see tourism in their country. When I understand that some people thinks iran is dangerous or we don’t like them I laughed!beacause it is in fact joke!I my self really like to see you in my city and show you everywhere.and my brother travel in all parts of iran and take photo if you want you can see his instagram page:mojtaba _ bazazan
      Another thing! I lived in china for 2years, they act with us very good however we use hijab, in all that 2 year just one time when I entered to a shop the owner scream! And push us out of there, so! I should say Chinese people don’t like us?!??! Of course not,, I still love china and chinese people and don’t judje bad a baut them beacause of one time.
      Sorry if I made gramer mistake in my writing, I am in learning english! Thanks again!

  4. Really enjoy your blog posts and pictures. I’m an Iranian living in the US that travels back to Iran quite a lot. Currently I’m trying to facilitate travel for Americans to Iran, and work with some of the restrictions that American and Canadian passport holders have there. We are also building a travel guide and travel website for Iran to organize all the great places there are to see there. We would love to use your blog posts as part of the collection of experiences we are gathering from “Western” travelers to Iran so that we might ultimately be able to break some of the stigma.
    Americans and Canadians are restricted to traveling with a set itinerary with tour companies from inside Iran, and as much as that is a great way to see the major sites, I don’t think that experience is as authentic and close to the real Iran as it should be. We are working with select local Iranian tour operators to enhance that experience and facilitate travel to Iran as much as possible. By working with local(regional) tour operators in Iran we seek to give travelers much more flexibility and cut costs, as well as make sure the revenue generated by tourists stays in the local economies.
    Reading the comments on your blog I see many readers expressing their interest in traveling to Iran who are reserved about the difficulties of making it happen. I would love to assist them in the process if you put them in touch with me. As an Iranian, every time I go back it breaks my heart to see how few tourists there are to see a country that has been there as long as history!

    1. Hey Sadra, thanks for the kind words. I agree with you – the existing tours don’t offer an authentic experience, and isn’t close to the “real” Iran. Which is why I just spent a month on the ground, putting the finishing touches on an Yomadic Iran “untour”. Our itinerary is far more laid-back than any other I’ve seen for Iran, giving us a chance to slow down, check out some off-the-beaten track destinations, and get to know the locals.

      The first trip is in May (sold out), and again during October. I’ve got Canadians, Americans, and British coming along – these three nationalities all face the same visa-issues, which is why I’ve partnered with a local operator (to overcome that issue).

      All the best with your own endeavours, the more that see the “real” Iran, the better.

  5. I caught part of a story on NPR one morning this week about traveling in Iran. It was surprisingly more positive than I expected, but you could still hear a noticeable hint of skepticism in the reporters voice. Opinions change very slowly… I’m curious, do Iranians talk much about the ongoing nuclear negotiations? What do they think about the US stance?

    1. Hey Kevin… yes, I read four articles on NPR yesterday (all about Iran). I know exactly what you’re saying – kind of positive, and then there’s the bit about danger/poor oppressed people/skepticism/etc. Imagine if *every* article about the USA *always* mentioned something negative! I had a private chat with somebody about NPR, and the summary was: there will never be a 100% positive article about Iran in any major American media outlet.

      Iranians don’t really talk too much about the nuclear negotiations – the people I have spoken to just assume the nation will be continually screwed by the US government, as they have been for many decades now. So I guess that means they believe the US stance is ridiculous, and they’re being punished for no apparent reason. I agree.

  6. Thank you for this great article. Indeed positive things about this country are not always easy to come by.
    I definitely intend to visit Iran as soon as possible … And what you say is true for nearly all the places I visited in the Middle East these last years (off the main touristy centers). I’m happy to see there’s more of these awesome places and peoples that “regular” tourists haven’t heard about yet !

  7. Nate, thank you for sharing your beautiful experience and for being a part of the solution. And, did I mention you’re a great writer, photographer, andddd funny as hell! Thank you!

    /Kaveh

  8. Perfect Perfect , I was in Iran teo years, people is kind and friendly, coutry is safe, history and historycal heritage is great, culture has its roots overthere, bazaars are magic what else ….. !!? more much more but you must discover it , visit Iran an meet Iranian people and Iranian Culture don’t try to be political overthere before visiting the country and talking with Iranians. There are points to argue for sure but informations we have are not enough correct and clear. Countries are made by People and their Culture and their History.
    Bye

  9. Humans did evolve from apes and share a common ancestor with Chimpanzees! that is as true as the earth going around the sun!!! Iran has an image problem not because of its people or culture which are wonderful! it has an image problem because of the criminal thugs who are running the country. Iran is generally safe for American tourists but there’s also the very clear possibility of being thrown in jail on spying charges or allegations of anti government activity! these are not exaggerated claims!

    1. I said that humans did not evolve from Chimpanzees. That is true. We have a common ancestor with Chimps, we did not evolve from Chimps.

      Now, there is NOT a “clear possibility” of being thrown in jail in Iran if you are an American tourist. That’s simply not represented by any evidence. Three American tourists were detained in 2009/2010, they entered Iran illegally – walking across the border from Iraq/Kurdistan. In Australia, there are hundreds of foreigners EVERY YEAR who are detained in terrible conditions, due to entering the country without a visa. Often, they remain in custody for YEARS. How many foreigners are detained in the USA, when they enter without a visa? How many American tourists have been detained in Iran? If it was genuinely an issue, the media would be all over it.

      Now, the stats are, for a fact, far more foreigners are detained in Australia, than in Iran. The conditions are terrible – research and you will see.

      In the United States, an Australian citizen was detained for MORE THAN SIX YEARS, for no reason at all (any and all charges were dropped), and he had no rights at all during his incarceration.

      Which country do you think gets more negative publicity? Iran, Australia, or the USA.

      (of course, people being thrown in jail/detained for unjust reasons, is terrible – no matter what country it happens in)

      The point is, your claims about the dangers of Iran, are exaggerated.

      And you’re right, the people and culture of Iran are wonderful.

      I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

  10. I loved this! My husband and I both have Iranian heritage (our families migrated to India in the 1930s due to religious persecution, and then to the US in the 1970s – so double immigrant experiences), as much as we love India and America, Iran is a part of our souls and experience as well. We’ve both visited with our families (I still have family there he doesn’t), but we want to go back on our own and just travel through as you have done. We would love to get your ideas on how the best way to do this is. I can speak and understand Farsi fairly well but I don’t feel very comfortable with it (he doesn’t know beyond cursory formalities). Waiting to hear back! :)

    1. Hi Mahin, what an interesting history you and your family have.

      If you do have a US passport (and no other citizenship), you will need to be a part of a tour. It’s the only way to get the visa.

      If you do have another passport, apart from USA, you will probably be able to travel independently. So, that is the question. Your language ability will make the journey even more special – note that I speak only a handful of Farsi words, and have no difficulties at all.

      Any questions at all, I’m happy to provide my knowledge to you.

  11. Your take on Iran sounds to me like a big metaphor of how the majority of people understand foreign countries. It’s a global cultural malaise: swallow a single paragraph of a local newspaper saying shit about Iran or Sri Lanka or Lebanon or whatever and DONE, one has the ABSOLUTE COMPLETE understanding of said country. It angers and depresses me. A lot.

    People here in my home country – Brazil – just love to say how dangerous the “middle east” is. You see, the whole middle east. Then, I show them crime statistics from all around the world and VOILA, there it is, Brazil ranking top 3 in homicides total numbers, top 3 homicides per citizen, top 5 in corruption… the list goes on. And yet, no one leaves the country.

    1. Hey Gerald – can honestly say, I agree 100% with your comment. Exactly.

      I don’t want to incriminate a friend of mine, but I do know someone who lives in a very dangerous place, a place that has suffered through unspeakable violence, but he won’t travel to Iran because “it’s too dangerous”. This is all just based on a couple of mass-media clippings.

      On a related note, I’d love to visit Brazil one day, but I’ve heard it’s really dangerous ;)

  12. Well said. The murder rate in most of the middle east is very low (other than the countries where there are active wars in progress) and it is far safer than any part of the US. The high rate of firearm ownership in the United States gives it some of the highest crime rates in the world. However, as the article says, safety is all a matter of perception. You are actually far safer in Tehran than in almost any US city.

  13. Hi Nate,
    I really enjoyed your blog and photos.

    I lived in Isfahan for 3 years, and visited Shiraz so many times, and yet there are so many places I need to visit. As an iranian, who has lived in LA for 4 years, i can say, that people are fed with somewhat negative news everyday about Iran which leaves me no surprise why Americans know almost no truth about this country . And I for one, cannot change this stream, but we all can do this together. We will spread the word of peace and love.

    Thanks for the blog and nostalgic photos, and keep doing the good job.

  14. Hi a great article and it makes me want to go back
    I lived there for quite a few years and would support the positives about the people and places. Long may it stay safe – i just hope the economy picks up so that young people can get good work and families have bright futures

  15. Your allusion to Disneyland is problematic, since we Americans can’t visit Iran unless we’re on an oppressive organized tour. I’m glad you had such an incredible experience, but you are among a privileged few citizens of the Anglophone world who are currently able to travel in Iran the way you did.

    1. Hey Robert, cheers for leaving your comment…

      So, no, I don’t see any problem with the allusion to Disneyland, considering it was just about danger. But, if we were to discuss “access” to USA vs Iran, let’s look at the details:

      Visa policy for Iran: more than 90%+ of the countries of the world can now get a visa-on-arrival. It’s an easy process. There are only 17 nationalities that cannot get a visa on arrival in Iran. Iran is really open for tourists, in a way few nations are.

      Visa policy for the United States: if you are a citizen of around 160 nations (that is, most humans in the world), you are required to apply for a visa prior to your arrival in the USA. Most of the world faces a huge problem just getting a tourist visa to visit USA/Disneyland. Taking part in an oppressive organised tour of Disneyland would be an unobtainable dream for most of the world.

      The reality is, it’s easier – for most of the world – to travel to Iran than the USA. Safer too. Much more fun. More interesting. Less dangerous.

      Yes, there are restrictions if you’re American/Canadian/British – but, you don’t need an “oppressive” tour, you can even custom design your own tour, it can be just you and your best buddy if that’s how you wanted it, and sure – it’s not independent/backpacking, but it’s not like you’re being watched, or restricted to your hotel, or having a government employee with you, nothing like that. It’s just a tour, and millions of people every day take tours. Even in the USA. Keep in mind, Iranians are VERY fond of American tourists.

      One thing I would agree with – I do consider myself privileged (and lucky), and hopefully, one day, Americans will also be as privileged and lucky as 90%+ of the rest of the world. ;)

  16. Dear Nate, great blog, great stories, love your blunt expressions.

    The more tourists visit Iran, the fewer fresh powder tracks will be left for me! I laid fresh tracks for two days straight, just got home from Dizin, one of our few amazing ski areas with great snow…

    Just kidding. Come one, come all. This place is an amazing tourist destination, Nate ain’t lying.

  17. Hi Nate.
    Great blog, great article, and pictures. I’m an Iranian-American who came here as student in late 70’s but visits Iran every few years. Iranians are the most pro-western people and specially the US, probably in the world. When visiting, Americans should proudly tell Iranians where they are from. Americans will be overwhelmed by their hospitality and friendliness. Iranians want to be part of the world community and make up for the poor behavior of their government. Despite the hardship due to their governments mismanagement and sanctions Iranians are still very hospitable, friendly, and generous. There are some petty crimes but not much. I have been to the major cities in Iran but I plan to spend more time travelling to small cities, villages, and out of beaten path places that are just amazing. Have you been to Azerbaijan and Caspian sea area? Great places.

  18. Iran is a much safer, friendlier, more welcoming and interesting country than anyone can imagine who has never been there. I have been there twice and would love to return for a longer period of time.

    But we should be fair and admit that there are a few “buts”.
    – You mention that women only have to wear a full chador in some mosques, but you don’t mention that they have to wear a headscarf whenever they leave the house. I have seen girls/women being harassed when someone else thought their headscarf was “improper”.
    – If you are not married, you often can’t get a double room as a couple. At night, hotel staff knocked on my and my friend’s door until we answered to check if we slept in different rooms.
    – It is an oppressive, brutal state and while most visitors won’t ever notice that, on my second visit I was pulled out of a car in Tehran by agents of the Interior Intelligence Service, hooded, driven to Evin prison and kept there for one week until I had missed my return flight. Solitary confinement, sleeping on a concrete floor, no access to lawyers or embassy, interrogations while blindfolded, charged with conspiracy to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran, threatened with a 3-year prison term. Why? I had been in a car with an Iranian lawyer, his wife and his daughter; we were driving to dinner. He was arrested as well, of course, for meeting with foreigners which is still seen as something suspicious by the government.

    Still, most people in Iran are very friendly and helpful and open-minded. But we shouldn’t forget that an oppressive regime only survives because it has enough informants everywhere and enough people who support the regime, whether out of conviction or because they have a government job.

    If I wasn’t afraid of being re-arrested, I’d return to Iran in a heartbeat. If it will ever become a democratic or liberal state, I’ll move there right away.

    1. Hi Andreas,

      In case you come back and read this reply:

      The point of the article – is that there is always a “BUT” with Iran. Imagine if EVERY article about the USA was “well, yeah, it’s safe BUT there were those foreigners who were detained with no rights for several years”. It’s happened. Or those tourists that were murdered in the USA that happens.

      I hope you understand, sure, I’ve chosen to keep this page “BUT” free. But of COURSE – no country is perfect – none – but the true balance would be making a comment about Iran and the USA, not just Iran.

      The other thing you should realise – is Iran has seen changes since you visited, indeed, even since 2012, when I first visited, things have changed. In 2012, no male would shake Phillipa’s hand in public. None. Even friends. This time around, male friends/acquaintances were hugging her, in public. Even males we just stopped and spoke to briefly would shake hands with her. This is a small, but distinctive, change.

      In the sixty or so hotel nights I’ve spent in Iran already, not once was I asked about “marriage”. We have different surnames, there is no way to say whether we are married or not – it was purely assumption. In fact, your story about this is the first one I’ve heard. Maybe it was different when you visited, six years ago.

      You may or may not believe this coincidence, but it’s true:

      When I visited Iran in January, I was also in a car with a lawyer, his wife, and his daughter. And, we were driving to dinner. However, we didn’t get put in jail, or stopped, or questioned, by anyone. We spent more time with the lawyer and his family, indeed, we are friends now. Not at any stage did he hint in any way that what he was doing was “risky”. I have not heard of such a thing, after spending many days with many different Iranians.

      I hope you understand, your story is a very unusual one. I believe everything you say, but I am also just as certain there is more to the story than you have said (I’m not insinuating you are covering anything up, I just know that with a complex story like yours, there would be more than just a paragraph or two of details).

      You were there six years ago. Tourism has increased, and most locals say it is due to the politics being better.

      Yes, women still must wear a scarf, and nobody seems to like this – men or women. However, look at the street photos – the scarf is almost just a “suggestion” for many Iranian women these days. I’ve got plenty more photos, showing this, including one girl we know – she would wear a scarf that was made out of string with 5cm gaps between each thread – it was barely there.

      I have never seen anyone “harassed” about their dress. High heels are common now, and were uncommon in 2012. Scarfs are often barely there. Jeans are common. Jeans are tight. Ankles are uncovered. As one Canadian/Iranian friend said to me, she had just moved back from Canada to Tehran “I feel so unstylish here”. The dress is modern in Iran now. If harrassment happened regularly, I would have seen it. Maybe it was different in 2009.

      That’s not to say, again, that women face no problems in Iran. Not at all am I suggesting that. But women TOURISTS – they face very few problems. So few, it’s barely worth mentioning. I can’t find any recent examples of women tourists having problems in Iran.

      Another story – when we arrived in Shiraz, another tourist on the flight (a female) didn’t have a scarf. It was in her luggage. We waited in the terminal for our visas, she was the only woman without a scarf. I thought, sooner or later, it was likely she would be pulled up for it by the authorities. But, she couldn’t get to her scarf, she had no choice.

      Then, it happened. An authority came up to us, and really quietly leaned in and said “you need to be wearing a scarf”. He smiled, and then left. She placed a light jacket over her head, we laughed, but in no way was it “harassment”. It was actually the opposite – really polite. It is the law in Iran, after all, but the situation was handled with compassion.

      So, in summary, your story is terrible, I’m sure there’s more to it, and I’m sure you would find Iran different now than it was in 2009.

      I want people to read your comment.

      I also want people to use Google – and quickly realise that your story is unusual. Look at all the other comments above yours – non-stop tales of Iran being safe, and the people being caring. Even the authorities in Iran – they’re human beings too. They care. They’re not stupidly arresting tourists for no reason.

      Every day, people travel to Russia, Iran, North Korea, Iraq, and all those places that are “dangerous”, and have no problems at all.

      Every day, a tourist has a problem in the USA.

      I’m not singling out the USA – just using it as an example to show the incredible media bias that has infected all of us when it comes to Iran.

      Hope you understand, and I really appreciate you leaving your comment here.

  19. I am an Iranian born living in Western Europe and I am familiar with the European lifestyle and way of thinking. Also I know the Iranian lifestyle and way of thinking and am familiar with Iran’s history and how it became the contemporary Iran.
    Lately I do not understand why non-Iranians have developed such an interests in Iran. Let non-Iranians stay ignorant! Why should we invite them in Iran? why should we welcome them in Iran? I have concerns that Westerners will discover that old country and take advantage of it. Let them stay in Europe and North-America where all is just fine and boring. By all due respect: Leave Iran alone! don’t advertise for Iran…. in fact no one asked you!
    Honestly, Western countries are messed up because of the way they are…. call it democracy!
    Iran is the way because the government in Iran + the culture are the way they are…. call it dictatorship or whatever term you like.
    Iranian government should make it very difficult for Westerner to obtain visas. Let Iran stay a safe place and not get contaminated with ignorant/arrogant Western outlook on “how life is supposed to be”.

    Stay out of Iran and leave Iran alone! We don’t need you and your unnecessary “advertisement”.

    Thank you and best regards,
    Roshanak

    1. Thanks Roshanak… I liked these bits:

      “living in Western Europe” and “let Iran stay a safe place”, in other words, you see Iran as being safer than Western Europe. I agree.

      On another note, the secret will get out about Iran, possibly that’s unfortunate, and yes, eventually, every country on Earth will be identical. It’s happening already and my little blog will make only a small difference. Most people in the world will never read this page.

      I tried to point out – Dubai is the BUSIEST airport in the world, and MILLIONS of people go through there every year. It’s only a matter of time, before a lot more of them take the short trip to Iran. It’s inevitable. And as I said, everything will then change. It’s predictable.

      Unfortunately.

  20. I’m Iranian and was fortunate to take 3 of my German friends to Iran. They simply loved it. Best trip of their lives. Here is a report that IranWire wrote about our journey: en.iranwire.com/features/6054/ … and I’m exhibiting all my pictures from Iran next month in San Francisco so more people can see what traveling in Iran is really about!

    1. Hey Omid!

      I just read your interview at: http://en.iranwire.com/features/6054/

      I would encourage EVERYONE to read that page. It explains, perfectly, the experience that visitors to Iran can you expect. As you said – the Iran the media presents is not real. The people are unbelievably friendly and welcoming – even the soldiers. And “friendly” is an understatement, Iranians are above and beyond friendly.

      Well done on getting the word out, I have a feeling we’re all starting to change quite a few opinions.

  21. hi,
    I am an Iranian.
    I’m really happy and also proud that You’re seeing my country from that angle.
    You are always invited to Iran and as you may know we always welcome new guests.

  22. thank you for your beautiful piece on my country Iran.i grew up in india but am an iranian and am living in iran now.apart from all the facts you mentioned about iran the best part i loved was about security.iran is the one of the safest countries in the world.of course robberies happen and so does cheating but no foreigner has even been abducted or raped.you see a lot of reports of women getting raped in south east asian countries .and another things is the misconception about Hijab. they police is not really hard on tourists although no one can walk around in shorts and tops .again thank you for the beautiful piece and hope to see you and many more tourists in iran.

  23. I just want to say hi and i do really appreciate your good and positive way of thinking towrd Iran..
    i only say one thing…here in Iran nobody is going to ask you about your religin , your sexuallity , your idiology of your life..
    you will just be a very welcomed tourist here and people will treat you as you deserve..

  24. well…sure, Iran is sorta safe, unless you are a gay man and have the sterotypical gay male mannerisms… then you risk being harassed/persecuted by the religious police as my friend was… they harassed him and stole his shoes and made him walk back to his hotel in bare feet! I realize this harassment is from the religious police of the current despotic government NOT the Iranian people or culture, but still…

    1. Hi Gable – thanks for your story. I would add for a little balance – if we compare Iran to other countries – unfortunately, gay men could face issues in many places around the world – both from the authorities, and the people. As I said, unfortunately.

      Not only that, but I know someone in Iran (a local Iranian), who has extremely “sterotypical gay male mannerisms”. I would say more about him, but I don’t want his career to be affected – let’s just say you would be extremely surprised to know what his job is in Iran and it is related to the government in some way. Hanging out with him for a day gave me an insight to the people of Iran – walking along the streets, he faced zero problems. And we really stood out! Two tourists (myself and Phillipa), and a very very camp gay man, and had no problems at all – from citizens, or authorities.

  25. I’ve been following your posts on Iran since you visited the country for the first time (and made it on the news for not having a visa in advance, being an Australian that is) and also reading online resources on this beautiful country. I’m also quite aware of the little, slow but sure changes on the grassroots — people are becoming more culturally and technologically savvy, and their limitations have made them very creative in working things out, going around the regulations and government officials. I definitely should come visit the country before people around the globe start to have a different perspective on Iran.

  26. I love this article! Beautiful photos. Although I have to admit that when I hear Iran I immediately think “danger”. But that’s my prejudice and it’s clearly ungrounded! Would love to travel there some day.

  27. Very interesting post and a delight to read. I have spent a month in Iran recently and had an amazing experience. After travelling the world across 100 countries, Iran is on the top of my list, the people are so generous, well educated and lots of fun when you spend some time with them in the privacy of their home, the true spirit shows. I couldn’t agree more about the safety, I still believe USA is more un-safe than Colombia, Iran, Salvador or any other country I have been…

    If you feel like checking out my blog about Iran, here it is: http://www.veryhungrynomads.com/20-photos-of-iran-that-will-change-the-way-you-see-it/

  28. Hey there
    I have thanked you before for your article and views on Iran but thank you again.
    but what surprises me the amount of bad publicity going around about Iran in the western countries or rather most of the countries :).
    i mean atleast two people claim that gays get executed in Iran??????show me one instance of that which has happened in the past or someone says people are becoming culturally and technologically savvy????? wow he must have read some where that iranian ride camels and count stars for fun as there is no cinema or tv :).
    thank you Nate for your publicity but people please read some books(unbiased of course) and watch some documentaries on iranian history and culture and present things happening here so you don’t make comments like these
    but few know that Iran was one of the first countries where cinema and motion picture was introduced in or the first automobile was driven and many more such stories.

  29. I just returned last month from a 12 day trip to Iran. It was a wonderful experience. I had many, many people come up to me, wanting to chat, when they found out I was an American. They all told me how much they liked America and Americans. In a tea house the waiter brought flags to represent the nationalities at the table (Britain, Australia, US and Iran). After he brought our food, he rearranged the flags, telling me that the US and Iranian flags needed to be next to each other since we are friends. We were invited to people’s homes for dinner (unfortunately we could not accept) and many times we were asked to be in people’s photos. It was touching to be the object of so much affection from complete strangers.

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