Iran – is it safe?
That was the first question everybody asks when you tell them you are going to Iran. There are two very simple answers: yes and no. It depends on what you mean by ‘safe’ and what you want to hear.
We’ll give you both (even though we had to think hard to find a ‘no’ answer), so you can choose yourself.
The ‘no’ answer is short. Iranian roads definitely aren’t the safest in the world, but they are probably also not the unsafest. We’ve definitely seen our fair share of terrible drivers on this trip, a lot of them in China, but Iranians are up there amongst the worst (Italians are still probably the worst in the world though).
Iranian drivers have a complete disregard for any speed limits, traffic signs and, common to all of Asia, use the white lines on the road as a rough indication of where they could potentially drive.
Jumping queues at lights (often using the lane for oncoming traffic), reversing down one-way streets or on the wrong side of the road, ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, pushing (instead of towing) a broken down car on the highway, overtaking with no visibility or with oncoming traffic barreling down towards them (who have to hit the brakes hard to avoid full on frontal collisions), cutting off people when getting back in their lane after overtaking and then slowing down so you have to overtake them in return (or maybe they just did that to us to get a better look and another chance to wave enthusiastically, heads out of window and all?) are all good examples of the Iranian driving style.
Add to that the usual hazards of sheep, dromedaries and other life stock or wild animals crossing the roads and you have a full-scale diabolical road situation.
But we loved it nonetheless. It’s lack of respect for rules almost refreshing. And although dangerous, when you drive defensively and go slowly in towns it’s perfectly possible to cross Iran unscathed. We did miss Tehran however…
And that’s where the ‘no’ answer stops. There isn’t much else to say. There are no people trying to gun you down, no revolution is going on, no burning of American or Commonwealth nations’ flags in the street, no violence against foreigners (including Americans), and no police intimidation.
The ‘yes’ part is also quite short. Four words are all it requires to answer the question: yes, it is safe. But we’ll give you some examples so you can decide if your next holiday will be exploring the history, culture and nature of this amazing country.
Yes it is safe to walk around towns, even at night. Yes it is safe to browse in the bazaars, even with a camera and money in your pocket. Yes it is safe for women to explore the sights of Iran, even if you’re not wearing a chador. Yes it is safe to talk to people, even though you can’t speak a word in their language. Yes it is safe to ask directions from a police officer, even if he can’t speak English. Yes it is safe to enter somebody’s house for a cuppa. And we could go on and on and on like this, but it’s probably pretty clear. It’s safe.
In Iran we felt welcome, very welcome. People are genuinely friendly, interested and helpful, including officials and policemen. Unlike our western society where everybody is always (superficially) friendly, but always in a hurry and never actually helpful to a complete stranger, here they go out of their way to help you.
We have many, many examples of this. People hopping in their car and telling us to follow them so they can drive us to a sight, people walking with us to help us find a specific shop or item, people calling for us to find out if a shop is open or a hotel has space, people translating for us when buying something, people who drive or ride us somewhere. And not just once, many times this happened and in all parts of the country.
And then there are the countless people giving us things like bread, pomegranates and the numerous cups of tea, simply because they want to, because we are their guests.
People invite you in for a cuppa. Everywhere. From petrol stations, to shopkeepers to random people on the street, everyone. Sometimes, around feeding hours, you even get invited for food. We accepted occasionally and felt sad we had to decline often. Otherwise we would still be in Shiraz at Christmas!
People say hello all the time. That sounds like something they do everywhere, but you should see the shyness of some of the women when they say it and the big grins and giggles you get in return when you respond. It is simply heart-warming and always brings a big smile to our faces too. On the road, Iranians gave us friendly hoots, countless enthusiastic waves and even invites for food.
Would we recommend visiting Iran? Yes, most definitely. Throw away the images ingrained in our memories by the sensation-seeking media.
Just remember our ‘free’ press is keen to show any bad, sad or stupid story about any country. Unfortunately, they are news stories from sensation-seeking reporters who are only interested in sales numbers and viewer ratings.
Those in Europe will know that the only mainstream news coming out of Australia is about massive floods, devastating fires, lethal crocodile or shark attacks and our newly selected idiot of a prime minister. Iran is no different (although in Iran they have recently selected a new leader of whom many have high hopes he will bring positive changes to the country and for its people).
Iran is a great country with wonderful people, so allow yourself to be immersed in its delicious foods, bustling bazaars and amazing history and culture (more on that later). Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as we have.