Stories in this Iran Travel Series:
Iran Road Tour: Tehran to Mashhad via the Caspian Coast
- Our Iran road trip is really an Escape
- How to plan a road tour of Iran First night of an unorganized trip
- Touring Iran’s countryside: Our first night
- Iran Road Tour: Mt. Damāvand’s first sighting
- Iran road travel: Tehran to Caspian Sea trip
- Iran Caspian Trip: Journey into the clouds
- Touring Iran’s Caspian Region: Filband
- North Iran Tour: Fantastic local food
- Waking in a traditional Iranian village home
- Tour of Caspian Coast: City of Sari
- Mobster turned Moslem servant
- Camping in Iran: Alendan of Mazandaran
- Badab Soort hot springs of north Iran
- Our Iran Road Trip > Meeting a shepherd
Iran is chaotic – so avoid planning too much
Two things are SURE THINGS about planning a road tour of Iran
We intentionally avoid reservations. If we know there’s an ecolodge that we want to visit, we call ahead to inquire but don’t pin ourselves to an arrival date.
There is no expectation of great comfort or luxury. No particular route (because we could discover new routes on the way). Just a general direction.
We favor being spontaneous, but lack of planning is also about being practical.
This is the developing world, after all. Much of life doesn’t go as planned here. A minor breakdown could take a day or two to fix.
And Iran is full of pleasant surprises you don’t want to miss. Time and again we’ve found the totally unexpected, like getting invited to tea at a local home. Or we run into historical marvels that we just have to checkout – like abandoned caravansarais. Or sometimes we meet new people on the road with whom we go exploring.
Our route on this road tour of Iran: north & northeast
Right now, about 2 hours into our latest escape from the madness of Tehran general malaise and depression induced by Tehran’s pollution is lifting.
Wife Saeideh are on a 1,500 KM journey back to our home in Mashhad, by way of the northern province of Mazandaran, along the Caspian Sea.
We just have a rough idea of the cities we’d like to pass through (Sari, Behshahr, Gorgan, Bandar-e Torkaman, Gonbad-e Kavus) as we head north and east, away from Tehran Province into Mazandaran Province and then onto the provinces of Golestan and North Khorasan toward Mashhad – Iran’s second largest city – in the Razavi Khorasan Province.
Our preferred lodging and food
The emphasis is to stay in the country as much as possible and away from maddening traffic of the cities. And by all means avoid hotels and tourist traps and instead seek local houses, traditional village homes or ecolodges as much as possible and eat mahali (local) foods as much as we can find them.
Camping in Iran
We’re so adamant about not planning in advance that we’ve packed a tent and sleeping bags just in case we end up with no place to stay indoors.
In a road tour of Iran, bringing along camping stuff allows you the option of avoiding hotels altogether. It’s not the cost that is bothersome. It’s the time to find suitable accommodations when we’re travelling between cities.
Camping is popular in Iran, particularly with the worsening economy and the skyrocketing prices of hotel rooms – most of which are, sadly, still substandard.
Routing our Road Trip of Iran
Google Maps – which often is more accurate than the Iranian online maps – claims that the drive to Mashhad would take about 15 hours. We have nothing looming over us. So again, we are not setting any time schedules. A day here, a day or two or three. Who knows? It depends on what we find, even if it takes maybe a couple of weeks! Right now, we have that luxury with time and we’re grateful for that freedom.
Cost of travel of an Iran road trip
Travel inside Iran is relatively inexpensive for tourists – not ordinary Iranians – because of the favorable currency exchange rates offered by the declining Iranian currency.
- Petrol is inexpensive in Iran because it is heavily subsidized by the government. It amounts to about 10 cents USD.
- Food and lodging are also also relatively inexpensive for foreigners. A relatively decent restaurant meal can cost just $2 USD and a half-decent hotel room maybe $10 USD.
Our transportation on this Iran road trip
We’re driving a 28-year-old Nissan 4WD 6-cylinder stick-shift that drives with all the agility of a mud-stuck Sherman tank. It’s really an old truck that happens to have a roof on it. But we are immensely grateful for it because it’s our protection from the Iranians’ demented driving habits.
And it allows us to avoid the high cost of buying a replacement vehicle. In Iran, cars are insanely expensive to buy but cheap to maintain.
“Suite for rent” in a village near Tehran
“Suites for rent” are offered all over Iran, particularly in touristic destinations. The “suite” is just someone’s home with basic furniture. You typically get a whole house or apartment to yourself at a price far less than a hotel’s.
The quality you get is hit and miss, of course, as you will read on this trip.
Our “suite for rent” near Tehran
Within two hours outside Tehran, I find peace and quiet in the tiny village of Lāsem (LAW-sem) in the Dashte Gole-Zard area.
We find sleeping arrangements at a “suite for rent” in a village home, parking in the yard included.
The kitchen is rustic, to say the least. And the bathroom stinks. Surprise! It’s a country home, and it’s a squat toilet in Iran. Squat toilets, unless installed correctly, let out sewer fumes when it’s windy outside.
But our suite is GOOD ENOUGH. For me, coming to life breathing the fresh cold air, anything beats the best hotels in that hellhole called Tehran.
We laid back on the wall cushions before a radiant heater sipping tea, as the wind howled outside. We felt proud – proud of having escaped Tehran once again.
We slept on bedrolls spread on the Persian rugs, looking forward to a bright tomorrow hoping for a sight of Mt. Damavand.
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