I cycled along the silk road from August–December 2015, spending almost three months in Iran. Here are some tips I collected during my ride. I hope some of them will be mildly useful for someone out there. It is such a beautiful and accomodating country. Enjoy. I know you will.
- If unsure whether the price is in Toman or Rial, pay Rial.
You can get marginally better exchange rates on the street but if you do this, do it in a hotel lobby.
The price of many market goods (e.g. Biscuits, ice cream, etc. ) is printed on the packaging in farsi/arabic numerals.
If you are hungry, digestives (biscuits) are excellent value and will fill you up (10000RR; or 15000RR for chocolate coated ones)
Do your souvenir shopping in Esfahan. Though it might feel like you're paying higher prices because it's such a beautiful city and Iran's main tourist draw, from my experience it was much cheaper than Tehran and Shiraz, more pleasant, and better value. You should also be able to knock off at least 25% off the starting price.
VIP buses are nice; but if you're on a budget, normal ones are fine too. If on a budget, I'd only get a VIP one for an overnight trip.
Buses to major cities run at least till midnight if not later. You can sometimes buy tickets on the bus, esp. if catching a late bus after the ticket windows have closed.
You can put your bike on a bus but haggle hard. I tried to never pay more than my ticket.
You can enter many mosques for free at prayer time or from the rear. This is easier if you're not 7' and blonde.
If extending your visa in Tehran, there are two police chiefs. The bald one is much friendlier than the one with grey hair. I was told to wait 7 days in Tehran for my second renewal so caught a bus to Esfahan and back and got it the same day.
Couchsurfing is ridiculously easy in Iran, even if you don't have any prior feedback.
There are big parties in the desert; ask a Tehrani for a hookup.
Learn the word for slowly. It will come in handy in taxis.
Become familiar with the script for 'rial' and 'toman' as well as the numerals. Also 'hezar toman' which means 'thousand toman', e.g. 500 hezar toman means 5 000 000.
The thumbs up gesture can be rude.
Get an Irancell. This is easiest at Tehran airport where they won't take your fingerprints. Otherwise bring your passport
Get a local to change your Irancell (I had MTN Irancell) to English. The data plans are great value with decent coverage.
For a VPN on iOS, I had the best luck with OpenVPN + PrivateTunnel. Open door is also good. People with Android were all using 'cyphon' (sp?)
If you're from Australia, say your city, because it sounds a lot like Israylia (israel) to a Farsi speaker.
You can camp in all town parks, though I didn't try this in Esfahan. Iranians will find it strange if you camp on the grass and often escort you to some concrete for your safety.
The tap water in cities is safe to drink.
There are good bike shops in most cities (Tabriz, Tehran, esfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad (bicycle line))
Kerman gazd is Esfahan is delicious. Go to the factory outlet for the best prices.
If getting into a taxi, be sure to say 'na dad baste' or else you run the small risk of paying for 4 people. By memory it means 'not shared'.
There is very cheap bicycle hire in most cities.
Bring colour photocopies and a dozen passport photos if you plan on crossing into Turkmenistan. Note the borders close last two weeks of October. Also only 2011 or newer USD are accepted by the embassy. Some places in Turkmenistan are quite intense about notes—save your best one for there.
If buying things by the kilo, and feel like you're getting ripped off, tell them how much you want to spend rather than how much you want to buy.
Bring a pollution mask, esp. if you're asthmatic or will be spending any prolonged amount of time in the streets esp. in Mashhad and Tehran.
In Esfahan, there's a great place to smoke shisha/drink tea near Naqsh-e Jan.
If going to Dakhme in Yazd (what Lonely Planet calls 'The Towers of SIlence') and want to watch the sun set, being a torch and stay as long as you want. The exit will be closed but the walls are easy to jump. Or, if you have a bike, bring it with you, it's fun to ride there.
If you can only afford one museum at Sa'ad Abad, go to the Green Palace. Photography ain't allowed.
Don't buy camping gear in Iran. Most of it is low quality, and genuine branded products are more expensive than in Europe (e.g. Deuter).
There are drug sniffer dogs on some buses.
Red Crescent is an excellent service and, like the rest of Iran, super hospitable. Their enthusiasm and desire to help was really humbling.
Many mosques will happily host you.
The owner at Tehran Hostel, Mori, is a supremely helpful guy. He made my start in Iran really great, and I couldn't recommend his small hostel more. Such a stand-up guy.
Go to the Madrassa in Shiraz and eat some dates from the palms that fill the courtyard. Knock on the door to get in.
The best view of Tehran is from 'the rooftop of tehran'. Ask any local. Go at sunset.
There is a great Basecamp at Polour, south of Mt Damavand. Go there if you plan on hiking. I was caught in a storm while cyclng and I was offered lodging (~150000R).
The blue Nissan trucks in Iran have a reputation for being the Kings of the Road. Be careful of them. Esp in the rain. I saw two slide out of control in front of my eyes.
The guys at the Silk Road Group in Yazd are good. The dorm rooms there are great value.
If you eat meat, the Azari Teahouse in Tehran has superb 'Dizi'.
If you get the chance, watch Press TV for an interesting alternative to western media.
The pomegranates on display are usually redder than the ones you'll buy.
You can get to Persepolis by bus..