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Current location : Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (Google map)
Last entry date : 13 May 2008

“We welcome you to Iran” says this man

It rained the Saturday morning I was supposed to leave Dogubayazit Turkey after a 2 days stay. It was a good excuse to stay another day – just relaxing and maybe shoot some photos of people going about their daily lives. That evening, the hotel manager came and told me that another rider has just arrived. It was Marc de Jong from the Netherlands on his KTM bike traveling alone on his way to India, a trip he wanted to do since 15 years. After a brief chat, we decided we’ll enter Iran together on Sunday and maybe ride some stretch of roads together. See how it goes. We both have never been to Iran and don’t really know what to expect.

At the border, its easy to figure out that its tough to get into Iran. There is a big separation gate. Its opens and immediately closes with screetching noise behind the vehicules or persons who passed through. The crossing point was quiet that day. The Iranian customs officers cheerfully talked to us about our bikes and trip while our passports and carnets were doing the rounds from one officer to another. After more than an hour wait, they smiled and waved us through. We too, have learned to wait patiently at checkpoints and smile at queries by police and soldiers.

We managed to change some money with a money changer with hands thick with Iranian Rials just outside the customs at a correct exchange rate. 1 Euro changed 14000 Rials. But the 1st confusion was how the money was counted ie ordinarily, the Iranians use the Toman term which is one zero less. So when they say 1000 Toman, they meant 10000 Rials, which is the official currency. We were confused – it took ages to make an exchange (well, we didn’t want to receive one zero less). From thereon, each time we wanted to buy anything, we asked that they write the complete figures down in Rials. That, of course lead to other confusions…

Normally, once I cross into a new country, I would pause to take a few photo shots as photos are not allowed inside the customs & police compounds. This time, it was not possible as down the hill outside the customs compound, crowds rushed to us to ask if we wanted to change money. So we sped away – quite happy to have got in. Just had time to see that it was a rather dusty border town.

When we got to the next town Maku 25 km away, we tried to fill up our tanks. That was another total confusion. They kept asking for our petrol cards and we later found out that we first have to buy an electronic chip card for 500000 rials (approx. Euro 30.00) for the right to get 100 litres of petrol, get this from a specially designated petrol station, who register our particulars, etc … then we were able to buy petrol at Euro 0.07 cents / litre. Really cheap (in France its about Euro 1.40 / litre). There were brief queues of taxis and cars at some petrol stations, but they were quite happy to let us go right up to the pump.

The first impression is there are not many foreigners in Iran. The locals are curious and surprised that 2 bikers are in their town. They are quite happy to see us. Crowds would gather around our bikes and start asking questions – where we come from, who we are, etc. And young men will come up and say with the few english words they know like “Hello and welcome to Iran”. We didn’t feel that lost when we turned into Marand city just before the evening, some 100 km before Tabriz, looking for a hotel. Nasir was in his car and saw us asking for directions and waved if we needed help. Yes, we did. We first followed him across town, then had to stop to tell him that we actually wanted to stay at a simple hotel. That’s when he said he’ll be happy if we accept his invitation to stay at his apartment, if we did not mind. Marc and me could hardly believe it. This just wouldn’t happen in Europe. Then Nasir called up his family members who all came to greet us. We talked and ate and laughed. And we laughed and ate and talked – about very simple things, like travel, jobs, family, etc. What a nice family and wonderful this man Nasir.

The next day, we rode direction towards the Caspian sea. We stopped for a brief lunch break, and a crowd soon gathered around the bikes. We’re not so worried about our things left on the bike. It was just innocent curiousity. Its probably due to the crowd that the police came and we got our 1st passport check. We ended up in Ardabil that evening. Looked like a small town on the map, but it turned out to be a provincial capital and the town was big. Someone said hotels are in city centre, so we went straight in. Not a good idea, there are more people there. There are not many foreigners to this part of the country and people just wanted to know who we are and see our bikes. Within minutes the police came. Then the siren went, through my helmet I could hear loudly the police siren asking them to clear. Next the police wanted me to follow them for disturbing the peace, but frowned when I said I couldn’t as Marc had gone off asking for hotels and left his bike. Its quite difficult to convince the police in a different language that Marc will be back any minutes. A number young Iranians came up and asked if they can help. We had police escort to the hotel that evening. They must think we’re trouble.

On the 3rd day, we got caught big time up in the mountains between Ardabil to the coastal town of Astara. We drove through a tunnel and did not see light at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly its nothing, just fog, very thick dense fog – the heavy type that creeps and moves in wave likes along the ground. I’ve not seen such fog before and started to ride slowly on the road shoulder hoping to find a broader shoulder to stop, which I did some 50 metres further down, and before a truck drives by. But Marc was lost in the fog and I still wonder how he managed to appear some 5 minutes later. With our eyeglasses and helmet screens, it was fogged up inside as well. In the meantime, one hear sounds of vehicules and do not see them till very close up. Trucks and cars with and many without lights just rolled by as usual. They must be used to this as I saw them overtaking slower going vehicules in this fog ! After 15 minutes wait we tried to ride again, but had to stop very quickly since we could not even see the road. We waited and some local cyclists appeared. All of us just laughed at ourselves silly for being caught up here in the mountains. Sometime later, by chance a car stopped by the road shoulder next to us and we asked if they could help us by going slowly if we followed them. They did this some 15 km down to the valley. We could not thank them enough. That afternoon we called it a stop after doing only 70 km when we reached the rained soaked town of Astara. We had enough fun for the day.

The roads along the Caspian sea are filled with small and medium size towns. Its a densely populated area. We had to go through these and it was not easy at the bigger towns. Why ?? Iranian driving style. Imagine there are junctions with traffic lights – and nobody obeys them. At one town, I saw all 3 lights : red, amber and green light all lighted up at same time. Traffic police are usually at the junctions but they don’t seem to direct the traffic or nobody obeys them anyway. People would cross the streets from all angles, or cars & taxis would cut across without turn signals. And the best of this is we did not see any accidents in the cities – traffic was fluid. We soon got used to it and did the same. However, there are times when young boys on their motorcycles would see us and ride very close-up to follow us or admire our bikes. And the same with cars. I had a truck driver who actually drove parallel to me for a few hundred metres while filming with his handphone. Outside of these towns there would be chicken and cows along the side of the road. We really wonder what will happen if we run over a chicken – do we get to eat chicken wings ?

The name Malaysia is a big hit in Iran. Saying that I come from France does not convince them much. People would look at me and asked again where I come from, where I’m traveling to, etc … so I had to explain that I was originally from Malaysia. Its all smiles after that – from the customs officers to the man on the street. They would offer me tea and cakes, etc. just because of Malaysia. And they say “Good country, nice people Malaysia”. One man even tried to pay for my petrol at a filling station as he had been to Malaysia for holidays. Is there anything I can do for you while you’re in Iran, he said. For Malaysians reading this, you can count on Iran for a good welcome. Nevertheless, we both found that the people along the route in North Iran were just plain friendly.

For this Iran ride, the surprise was that Marc and myself spent a total of 7 days riding together. Much has been said about solo riders and riding styles, etc. We enjoyed the company and rode togther up till the last junction 2 days ago on the 11/May/08 evening at Quchan, eastern Iran, when we had to part (Marc goes south to the Iranian holy city of Marshad, I turn north into Turkmenistan). Marc will be heading up the Karakoram highway from the Pakistan side around mid June and I will be coming up the Karakoram highway from the Chinese side around the same time. So Marc, if you’re reading this blog, see you up there on the KK or somewhere in Pakistan mid-June. Pls also buy a pair of simple walking shoes as you look really silly walking around with your pants tucked inside your bike boots looking for places to eat in the evening.

25 Responses to « Iran, Iran – How are you ? (2nd part)  »

  1. Le club des supporters des Milles t’envoies de gros bisous , avons pris l’habitude d’aller tous les 2 jours sur ton blog c’est toujours un plaisir pour les photos et les commentaires même en anglais .Bonne route.

  2. Oh Papa.. les photos sont magnifiques… je suis tres contente pour toi tu te debrouilles super bien!! continue a nous faire de beaux articles mais surtout ENJOY et above all TAKE CARE

  3. Siew Hoon & Victoria14 May 2008 à 2:44 pm

    Hi-Sheen,
    Enjoyed reading your interesting descriptions of your ride to Iran with Marc de Jong.Once again, beautiful photos & friendly people.Take care.

  4. You keep tempting me with all that nice food. Too bad I only drink wine, not beer. Nice to see you have so many fellow bikers. You are getting closer to your family reunion day. I am also going to have my own family reunion in S.F. next week. So I’m feeling as excited about it as you are. When I return I will try to give a wake up call to the LSU Tigers since they are sleeping right now. I hope May, Teh and Lim start preparing a get-together for LSU fans soon.
    Good luck in your journey and best wishes for you and your family,

    Teresa

  5. Kenny and Cecilia15 May 2008 à 7:55 am

    Hello Sheen, your latest update shows how interesting and exciting your trip is getting.Your photographs and write up about the friendly,hilarious and different ways of people in those nations you visit keeps us looking forward to even more updates from you.Keep enjoying yourself all the way.
    God Bless.
    KCDP

  6. Hi Sheen,

    It would be nice to see you ride on one of those camels.

    Looks everyone there are very friendly to you. That’s really great.

    Take care.

    Regards,
    Henry

  7. bon mon cheri, on a vote et on a tous decide que dorenavant ce serait toi le photographe officiel de notre famille lors de nos vacances et sorties…tes photos sont superbes et les visages des personnes que tu rencontre sont si beaux, tellement expressifs. Luv,Lydia

  8. we really miss you!! Have a good rest.

  9. waouw! there are very beautiful pictures , you are a good photograph!
    keep enjoying your trip! We miss you. i love you ( je t’admire!) =)

  10. oups desolé le commentaire d’avant c’etait moi (pearl) ! hihi

  11. This site looks like the KUA family.com gathering. Keep it up with all those info ….. Sheen

    Peter

  12. You should have studied Mass Communications and not Engineering. Very impressive pictures and write-up. You know, I have the same problem, when I tell people I am from Honduras, they look at me like I’m from Mars. Keep up the good work.

    Teresa

  13. annie jeanmichel erwan gwen17 May 2008 à 8:43 am

    j ai adore les photos surtout celle avec le chameau et la moto
    bonne continuation
    bisous annie

  14. Salut sheen, quelle belle aventure ! Tu nous fais decouvrir de magnifiques paysages.
    Les photos sont suberbes et les commentaires très sympa.
    Je vais finir par regreter de ne pas être parti avec toi !
    Bonne Route …

  15. Salut Sheen,

    Grace à tes photos tu nous fais voyager (les cadrages sont super pros !). La photo des poissons nous montre que tu n’as pas perdu l’appétit ! demain nous serons 50 à manger un couscous pour les 40 ans de Cathy et nous aurons le plaisir d’avoir ta petite famille avec nous. Nous penserons bien fort à toi. Bisous, Famille Perret

  16. salut mon beau frere

    je vois que tu n as pas perdu l appetit ouf
    tes photos sont tres belles mais je suis toujours aussi nulle en anglais lol
    gros bisous

  17. Je ne me lasse pas de lire et relire cet article.. meme a minuit et demie. dors bien et a demain, bisouuu

  18. Hello all, thanks your visit to this site. Now in deep Central Asia. Just crossed into Khazakstan this morning and in a town called Taraz. A Khazak man called Suyunduk has invited me to stay at his home for the night. Bike is running fine. Weather is heating up. Expect to get across into Krygystan late tomorrow. Currently unable to upload post and pictures for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan due to slow connections. Will do so when able to. Knocking soon mid next week at China’s door. Sheen

  19. Siew Hoon & Victoria21 May 2008 à 9:43 pm

    Hi- Sheen,
    Good to hear from you again. Nice of Suyunduk to have invited you to his home.Also thanks for letting us know that your bike is doing fine. Take care. God Bless.

  20. Hi Sheen,

    I’m glad you’re doing well and in good health so far. I’ll be in Mickey’s hometown next week with my kids. I can’t go to LSU yet.
    I hope my brother will let me use his laptop to be able to read your blog, don’t want to miss a thing. No matter what you do, you are still the same to me. I’m sure your journey will be quite memorable for you and Lydia.
    Take care,

    Teresa

  21. David Atkinson22 May 2008 à 7:23 am

    Hey there Sheen,
    Been travelling and not looked at your site for a few weeks. You are doing so well with your ‘little bike ride’
    Stay with it pal. There are a lot of people back here so envious of you(me included)
    Stay safe Sheen.
    Dave (Atkinson)

  22. so many countries you’ve seen, so many people you’ve met…and so much more you are about to discover. You are a lucky man. I’m so glad the kids and i can share this beautiful adventure with you. Take care of yourself. Lots of love from the 4 of us here. Lydia, jade, pearl and gem.

  23. Hi Lydia,

    I hope you can remember me from the old days in LSU. I just want to say I admire you because you are a strong woman who always stands by her man and I envy you because your children are so supportive of their father. This experience will definitely bring your family closer.
    Tomorrow I will be taking a flight so most likely won’t be able to write anymore. I wish you success in your adventure.

    Teresa

  24. Lydia,

    I totally agreed with Teresa, keep it up!

    Peter

  25. hi Teresa, yes I remember you!! thanks to you and Peter for the nice things you wrote to me and for following Sheen on the blog. See you both in Malaysia!! Lydia

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