Iran – Shia Muslims, Persian hospitality and beautiful art [Pt2]

…continued from Part 1.

Currency

The official Iranian currency is the Iranian Rial.

However locals and merchants throughout the country still widely cite ‘Toman’ (previous official currency) when transacting. Though they will still tell you the price in Rial if you ask.

RM 1 (One Malaysia Ringgit) = IRR 10,039.52 (10 thousand Rial)

To convert to Toman, simply remove one 0 from the Rial e.g 10,000 rial is 1000 toman.

vice versa, to know what the price is in Rial, simply add a 0.

Alternatively the Euro is also accepted in some touristy places around the country, though I suggest you stick to using their local money for ease of transaction.

Are things cheap in Iran? From my currency to theirs, no it’s not. In fact things are rather expensive.

Public Toilets

I am the kind of traveller whose experience of a country tends to be impacted by my visit to the public restrooms (weirdly enough yes). If it’s unpleasant, it would most probably make me reluctant to go, which isn’t good for me in cases of long travels. In such event I’d resort to a proper place like the shopping mall.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in my trip as we had long bus rides and would stop at gas stations and even random rundown R&R areas for toilet breaks. I would always hesitate a bit. But what did I come to find? Public toilets throughout the country are clean. And not that wet. Even though the toilet was provided with a water pipe, it was relatively dry. I was actually impressed. This may seem trivial but elevating the comfort of any tourist in a country is appreciated.

Friendly locals

Iranian locals are generally very friendly. This is more true outside of the capital in more suburban or less populated cities or in places where perhaps tourists don’t frequent. And even though there are many tourists in Iran, I figure for some locals it’s an uncommon sight for them, even to see Asian looking Muslims like Malaysians.

Some of them are so friendly they asked to take pictures with us. Not the other way round where we’d ask them for a photo. This took me by surprise, maybe because I’ve not experienced people wanting to take pictures with us. At times I was overwhelmed too. But it was testament to how friendly and open and easy going they are.

Shopping

Given that things were generally expensive there (after converting), shopping would depend on your budget (and probably currency conversion).

However the markets/bazaars are definitely a must visit. I went to the bazaar in all three places I visited – Shiraz, Esfahan and Tehran. Though locals tell me the better ones are in Esfahan as well as Tehran (if you can stand the madhouse that it is, apparently the Tehran market is constantly jam packed full because it’s a wholesaler’s market).

Things to look out for and buy? Carpets and silverware at the top of my head. But for me, I particularly enjoyed browsing and buying their scarf selection. There was so many in abundance and of all kinds, colours, materials and variations. And they were not too expensive so my mum and I didn’t mind splurging on a handful to bring back for personal use as well as to gift.

My favourite purchase was a yellow square scarf with hand painted floral patterns that were exclusively a pattern that could only be found on the tiled walls in Nasir Ol Molk Mosque (or Pink Mosque) in Shiraz.

Final thoughts

One week there was definitely not enough. I only managed to visit 3 major cities with a few stops along the way. Though I know there is more to see. Locals recommend at least 2 weeks there. So it would definitely be nice to go back because really, Iran is an absolutely beautiful country. There is no doubt to that.

For a country so misunderstood and frequently subjected to media bias, it’s initially hard to understand why anyone would be interested to visit. But there’s more than the little we know from mainstream media. It’s a country rich in history, diversity and progression. Also some of the best Islamic scholars and poets originated from the Persian lands. What an honour it was to have been able to visit.

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