A must-visit place in Iran is the Tehran Bazaar! Tons of traders have been hawking their wares on this site for nearly 1,000 years, but most of what you see today is less than 200 years old and is no architectural jewel, or so I was told.
The bazaar is huge, covering more than 10km of lanes and there are several entrances. We used the main entrance, in a square opposite Bank Melli. Most lanes specialise in a particular commodity: gold, spices, carpets, paper, and kitchenwares, among others. It’s not possible to finish shopping in a day. In fact, we only covered a fraction of it. You’d almost certainly get lost but we were thankful to have friends to take us around. Just be careful, there are fast-moving haulage equipment everywhere.
I’ve never been to somewhere this BIG! I’m guessing that the Grand Bazaar is the largest market of it’s type anywhere on Earth. We would have spent more time shopping there if not for Sonia sleeping. Like a velcro baby, she refused to be carried by anyone else but me. I should be feeling flattered but my bones were breaking!
When she finally woke up from her nap, I got to take a break. Here, where we stood, were many jewellery shops. They do not display their gems in a nice fancy fashion but they were real gold, silver, diamonds and gems! I hadn’t seen a single security guard or police patrolling this area. It feels pretty safe to walk around. Anyway, after some 30 minutes, we decided to exit the bazaar. I was drained from carrying Sonia all day!
It was crowded inside and outside the bazaar. There were people everywhere and I started to ponder if these people actually needed to work?
If you have realised, this is probably the closest I can get to hub in public. Just in case you didn’t know, PDA (public display of affection) is illegal in Iran. Holding hands is fine, hugging and kissing are not.
After visiting the Grand Bazaar, we went to the Golestan Palace, but I’ll save that for another post.
There were just too much to see at the grand bazaar, so we returned to the bazaar the next day. It didn’t matter if it was a weekday or weekend, there were still many people at the bazaar, and I guess, that was a good sign?
They sell just about everything! From slippers, to cosmetics, to copper, to food and whatnot.
I loved the market there! They have a vast range of vegetables and every piece was FRESH!
Just around the corner is a mosque. I think they call it the Zaid Mosque. It’s beautiful, very colourful, very different from those we see in Singapore.
Everyone entering the mosque had to put on a chador. Just in case you didn’t know what a chador is, it is an Iranian traditional outer garment (also exist in Turkey) that covers the head and body and is a full-length semicircle of fabric but comes down to the ground. Does not have slits for the hands and is held shut with the hands, or simply wrapped under the arms.
It’s a beautiful mosque with a rich history.
This was how the mosque looked like many hundreds years ago.
Besides the Grand Bazaar and the mosque, there are many things and places to see in Iran! More coming up in my next few post!
If you are visiting Iran, you better read up about their culture and rules!
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO IRAN
Travelling to Iran doesn’t have to be difficult at all – tourism is growing as relations develop; hatred of the western world is not as rife as the media likes you to think; and tourists are not subjected to as heavily enforced rules as the locals. With enough pre-planning and prior research, you can easily avoid the limitations and stresses that come with travelling in what is perceived to be a closed and tricky country to traverse.
We did our research and most sources said we didn’t need a visa if we are traveling to Iran for 30 days of less but upon arrival, we were denied entry unless we got a visa. Though it was a long wait at the custom (an hour wait), we managed to get through smoothly. Visa upon arrival cost about 35 Euro per person. After which, you will be required to buy travel insurance at the counter.
HEADSCARVES AND HIJABS
Iran does have a strict dress code and this is one of the biggest concerns for female travellers to Iran. REMEMBER TO PACK A HEADSCARF IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE. You must be wearing this the moment you exit the plane and are officially in Iran. I had to wear a headscarf the entire time except when I was in my hotel room. I also had to wear loose clothing that covers my body. A long sleeve top that covers to the hip and a pair of jeans is good.
I was a little worried about what to wear until I saw the Iranian women on the streets. Boy, they are so different from the stereotype. These women are stylish and very fashionable. There were colours, not all black; and they take pride in dressing up! The “morality police” many talked about do exist but I haven’t seen any while I was there.
Well, if your headscarf falls, just quickly put it back on again. Mine falls all the time and I just pull it back. I later just used Sonia’s hair clip to secure the cloth to my hair. After a day or two, I learned that a ponytail helps keep the scarf in place. You don’t have to cover your entire head. Showing a little hair is granted.
Top must be loose-fitting and three-quarter length sleeves are ok. Trousers must be baggy but in Tehran, leggings are ok if matched with loose-fitting top. However, if you are travelling to more conservative areas such as Isfahan, Mashad and Qum, respect their vales and wear looser fitting trousers.
Open toes sandals are fine. Colours don’t matter. And if you haven’t brought enough suitable clothes, just hit the bazaars and shop away.
For men, it’s simple. You pretty much dress the same back home, except you are not allowed to wear short shorts, no super short sleeves and no extreme tight-fitting clothing.
In Iran, we use Iranian Rial, but bring US dollars or Euro with you, just in case. They do accept US dollars. In fact, they very much prefer USD than their own currency.
Internet access in Iran is slow and limited. All social media, except Instagram and Whatsapp, is blocked. Forget about downloading shows or stream movies because those sites are usually blocked. Be prepared to go on a “Digital Detox” during your time in Iran.
If you are not used to Persian Cuisine, fret not. They have fast food outlets there. I personally love their kind of food, especially their grilled lamb.