1.1 Golestan Palace, Tehran

​- Persian culture is famous for beautiful poetry, luxurious rugs, and lush gardens. In fact, the English word “paradise” comes from a Persian word meaning “enclosed garden.”

– All the toilets here have the washing pipe (and not toilet paper)

The sun rose by 6am – all up – and set at 8pm. Such long hours! They woke up at 3am to eat.

Why does she wear the hijab the moment the other family came home?

This was one of the first pictures that I took. I remember feeling excited, because this was my first glimpse of the kaleodoscopic architecture I had seen so often in the guidebooks and photographs.

Golestan Palace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So many prints.

It required a ticket, entering the palace. Each room required additional entrance tickets. I didn’t really want to pay more to enter each room, so I walked around the area and eventually left.

It was nice, but frankly, after seeing the gorgeous patterns in Esfahan, I’d say if I had to re-do my trip, I’d likely give the Golestan Palace a miss. Of course if I had an abundance of time and plenty of cash it’s a nice-to-see, but not a must-see.

 

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1. Tehran, Iran (Route)

How I spent my 2 weeks in Iran:

A circular route, of sorts.
Overnight bus from Shiraz, back to Tehran.

reach tehran 2030 -> tehran -> qom -> kashan -> isfahan -> yazd -> shiraz -> persepolis -> tehran -> qazvin -> alamut valley (gazor khan) -> qazvin -> tehran 2200
The day I flew off to Tehran

I watched Argo on the plane. It annoyed me a little, in the ways in which it portrayed the Iranian state and its people. It felt to me like yet another recurring Hollywood narrative that served to celebrate its nationalistic heroism and achievements. Some scenes were so deliberate in portraying the Iranians as, I would say, even barbaric. E.g. There was a scene where an Iranian man at the Grand Bazaar was portrayed to be so worked up about having his picture taken, causing a great scene and pushing against a huge crowd while aggressively speaking in Persian – with no English translation of subtitles. The scene of him in rage, raising his fist and shouting relentlessly in a language the majority of the movie’s audience wouldn’t understand, inevitably reflects his seemingly unreasonable stance (‘just a photo’ may be the first thought). An English translation of what he was raging about would have shed a more objective light as to the reason for his anger. It’s about cultural understanding and acknowledgement, and such a portrayal, I felt, was somewhat unfair.
 
Then there’s the riots, the starving women, the fearful family (of their state), the public hangings, the armies and tanks and guns. It’s not to say that these didn’t happen and that it’s a complete fabrication by the movie, but no wonder the world has such a perception of Iran! The barbaric laws, the violence and aggression, the chaos and lack of structure, and the successful and celebratory escape of the Americans against the security of the Iranian state. Once again, America is great! 
 
(I have to admit, part of this annoyance at the US stems from them pulling out from the Paris climate deal – another self-serving scheme)
 
I acknowledge that all films have a purpose and a message that they want to bring across, and it’s not fair of me to claim that it’s ‘unfair’. Nonetheless I couldn’t help drawing this to the responsibility of the media, in both portraying / reflecting reality, while at the same time reinforcing certain stereotypes and messages (think: recent ‘Indian accent’, Jack Neo racial spate). Such scenes skewed to a limited portrayal certainly has an influence on the audiences’ geographical imaginations, and the dominance of the US in the media scene has its ways of strengthening their power by influencing people all over the world on their views of certain countries, to justify their policies and strengthen their political stance. Dominance and power comes not just in policies and leadership, but media is one of the political tools as well. 

 

from the first metro station i entered in Tehran

​Within the span of a single train ride from Fadak to Imam Khomeini, I’ve seen at least 4 different people selling a range of products from balloons to toothbrushes, headlights to earpiece and portable chargers, socks and fortune telling birds, rubber bands and Super glue.

One of my favourite places in Tehran was the Park-e Shahr. Here, I walked around the bird garden, watching families feed the little animals (not only birds but also rabbits, goats) with their plastic bags of food.

In Shahr Park, I saw a range of delightful bird species, including flamingos, peacocks and even the ostrich. I saw the children feeding the rabbits and turtles with bread pieces, and the man throwing food at the cats. I saw men playing dominos and Table Tennis, and using the exercise corner. I saw children playing at the playground, swaying comfortably on the flying-saucer swings.

 

 

 

Some men playing dominoes to pass time.

It was my first time seeing that in real life. I played dominoes on computer games, but never saw anyone actually using those small tiles/playing chips.

a typical view in the Iranian architecture, these rectangular pools/fountains that stretched across a distance, conveying some form of elegance and tranquility

A random stall along the street

Spices
My host, Sad, and his family were the first Iranians I had a conversation with in the country. I landed late at night, and by the time I had applied for my insurance and collected my visa, it was 10+pm. I tried using the apps that Sad recommended (Tap30 and Snapp, which work like Uber) but everything was in Farsi, and my internet wasn’t working (even though I’d gotten the simcard for half an hour) so I stuck with the cab from the airport.

I was slightly appalled that 140usd was gone just on this first day (insurance, visa) on the preparatory elements. That’s really quite a lot of money, my heart ached a little. I tried telling myself at least I wasn’t working during the June holidays.

It was nice to have someone to turn to in this foreign land, a number to call. A person that could speak to my taxi driver, that provided an assurance to me that someone, in this land, knows I’m here. And so would my taxi driver. I’m not completely alone, and I have someone to turn to, to receive me upon my arrival. I love how embracing the global community is.

My taxi driver continues speeding down at 110km per hour.

By the time I had reached his home, it was 11.30pm. He wasn’t home yet – apparently he had gone for a walk with his family. I was worried it was because of my late arrival, but over the course of the 2 weeks I slowly learnt that Iranians seem to have a pretty late bedtime (i could be overgeneralizing, but most times they were fine being out past 11pm and staying up chatting till midnight! I would be yawning and wondering if it’s time to sleep and they’d still seem pretty chirpy)

Sad and his family gave me a warm welcome, made me some tea (persimmon tea, if i’m not wrong.  i often see it being brewed on the streets, with their floating seeds) and we chatted for awhile before I went to bed, taking over his son’s bedroom (hahah!)

The next day:





​ Lavizan forest park – Sad’s family invites me to join them for iftar, where they ended their Ramadan fast at sunset for the day. With 8 of us (3 little ones) squeezed in a single car, we weaved our way uphill as the golden rays that spilled across our vision dissipated into brush strokes of pastel pink. As the coolness of dusk sets in, around us the sparklers and the coal of barbecue pits glowed gently. Coupled with the scurried footsteps of children and their shrieks, the scent of shisha, and the 11 of us crowded on on 2 huge, colourful patterned mats, these family chatters lit up the night.

Getting ready to drive out to Lavizan Forest Park!



I love, love staying with families. I remember lying trying some of the food (specially prepared in light of Ramadan) and drinking tea in the cool breeze. I remember many of the women and men praying, facing a particular direction, taking turns before they came back to eat.

I remember feeling the fatigue of the time difference and wanting to sleep (4.5 hours later in SG. By 11am I was feeling woozy with a 3.30am SG body clock and I couldn’t participate in conversation anymore, just lay down and slept until they woke me up to pack up HAHAHAH)

I looked briefly at the things I packed, as I repacked my bag and I shook my head and inwardly chuckled. Only a day and I’m asking myself, what was I thinking when I packed those clothes in? I had the notion that long-sleeved may have been fine, but it seems like beyond being covered to your ankles and wrists, tight-fitting clothes were also disapproved of. I did read about loose-fitting clothes, but I think it only occurred to me now that everyone had a long cloth that draped over their bodies. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised because I read about it. Fine, I’m a bad traveller who didn’t register thoroughly the cultural customs.
 
But basically, my short sleeves with cardigan idea wouldn’t work out. 
 
Things to check: 
– loose-fitting
– shawl that draped up to thigh-length to cover body
– sheerness of clothing
– shawl/hijab to cover hair 
 
So what happens if your clothing doesn’t meet the cut?
 
Well I think they’re kinder to foreigners, I don’t know.

 

But apparently there’s a ‘fashion police’ – they come around in white vans and if they see that your hair is out of place or something 


Iran 2017 – At a Glance

​Finally! My heart flutters with anticipation at stepping into a dense unknown. But I love how each uncertain experience eventually bursts open to bear a wealth of memories, lovingly tagged with cultural curiosities I never knew before.

– 4 June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 
These are some of my favourite pictures of Iran.
  • Other than CS hosts I had three random families that invited me in, two ice cream treats, a full day excursion, many chai and watermelon offers, a woman who got off at MY bus stop to walk and wait with me 15 minutes for my host. And did I mention a shopkeeper who called out ‘Welcome to Iran!’ and gifted me a pair of slippers my size? I had some concerns as a woman travelling Iran alone but seriously, I’ve really never been so loved as a tourist like I have been here ❤️ merci مرسی Ancient land of Persia 🇮🇷
As I write this and look back on these pictures in October, I do feel that I have returned home with a deeper understanding of the Middle East, the Muslim culture and hospitality, and a greater confidence in embarking on trips to unfamiliar places. It was a wonderful trip, from the beginning to the end, and probably my favourite solo trip, with all the people I met. I also returned with a greater inclination to explore the Caspian region. Thank you for broadening my world view. 🙂 I am tremendously blessed.

USD 121 = 167 sgd
+
Rials 8705k = 268usd = 371 sgd 
+ souvenirs 1000k = 31usd = 42 sgd
= about  420usd = 538sgd + 42 = 580 sgd
i used about 299usd out of my 220usd. means i used CZ about 79 usd.
leftover: 176k + 1000k + 1000k = 67usd = 93sgdAbout 1000$sgd in total, including return flight (Thai Airways)

At a glance:

reach tehran 2030
tehran
qom
kashan
isfahan
isfahan
yazd
shiraz
persepolis
tehran -> alamut
alamut
alamut
alamut – tehran 2200

 

                                                                                      

 

Mount Ophir, Malaysia

The interesting thing about Mount Ophir was how we had to count and account for every single item we brought up along with us. We had to write them down on a form, all the items that we had with us, and bring our baggage back to check with the forms after the hike. Apparently, 5RM will be charged for every missing item. That meant every packaging (e.g. 5 packets of biscuits, 2 socks, 1 hairtie, 1 hand sanitizer…)

While I was amused, I appreciated such measures. Sometimes it’s necessary for such actions to prevent the laziness of human from contaminating the environment.

I liked this part :p

These were rubbish from before they implemented this ‘count the amount of items you carry up’ regulation – and possibly the reason for it

The next day CZ and I stayed in JB and walked around for a local food hunt.

 

Mount Ophir with friends – Malaysia

IT’S A BIRD!
No, IT’S A PLANE!
No….. IT’S MOUNT OPHIR!!!!!!!!!111!!!!!111!!!!!!
(no it’s actually cashew nuts)
crew!
partner!
SUMMIT!

I liked this weekend trip, I like how a single weekend becomes memorable. A quick getaway to another place, unlike a usual routine weekend.

I also liked how my friends came along this trip. 😀 With work these days, it’s quite hard to find time to get everyone together. This was a great opportunity, and I’m really glad and appreciate that it was organized ❤

Photospam of memories, of people I appreciate in my life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt Pulag – film

The last of my lomo smena 8 before it officially departed. 😦

 

 

 

 

 

 

​ Had a really lovely break chasing sunrises and the sea of clouds, waking up to cows outside our tent, sleeping under a million stars, soaking in nature’s calming playlist – the rhythm of the rushing waters, the hushed whispers of the waving trees, and the gentle pitter-patter of the rain. Running into the vast embrace of the grassland, in that moment stripped of all responsibilities. So blessed, so thankful, so happy :’) Special mention to my Pulag partner @moonlitsunsets, and to @ganworm for challenging me to take on more difficult routes, always. 😘

 

Mount Pulag: Sea of Clouds (Summit hike)

When we woke up we heard murmurs of others in our surroundings. More had joined to pitch their tents. We set off to our 500m hike to the summit to catch the sunset.

We stumbled out of our tents at 4am and made our way towards the summit, against the forceful, howling wind. It wasn’t too long before we ascended. Earth was growing bright. The sea of clouds could be seen. Happy hikers aplenty.

sea of clouds 
Sunrise at Mount Pulag!
I love so many pictures from this series, it was hard to choose.

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Mount Pulag, Philippines – Akiki Trail (3D 2N)

Our humble abode for the night
All ready!

What I liked about Mount Pulag was the fact that they conducted a talk with the hikers before we started our hike. They highlighted to us the importance of keeping Mount Pulag clean, and not to litter or wash our things along any water bodies because the residents around the area relied on Mount Pulag as a watershed for its clean water supply.

 
Looking at the map of the Akiki trail 🙂
The first part of the trail, approaching the Eddet River
love the sound of the rushing waters
The climb was alright before the river, but after the Eddet River it was uphill all the way. Up, up, up. Took in the beauty of everything around me. The pine forest and its needle-like leaves, the cool breeze tickling my ears. The blue dragonfly that whizzed past my shoes. Strands of thoughts weaved in and out of my head. Work, school, colleagues. I sincerely tried to shake these thoughts away and focused on the surroundings instead.



All ready to immerse in the beauty of Mother Nature 😊

My hiking guide shows us the trail route. All hikers have to pay and hire a local guide.

“Many locals are trying to convert the forest into agricultural land for commercial farming. To minimise the conversion of the forest, the only way is to give them another source of $$$ income – tour guiding.”

Watershed area that provides water to the community and dams. That’s why rubbish is not allowed to be left there. Everyone is advised to bring down garbage, and to wash their things away from water sources.

I love the calming sounds of nature – the rhythm of the rushing waters, and the gentle pitter-patter of the rain.

I heard the sound of a motorbike in the distance, except it had been going on for awhile. Where was the route for a motorbike, and why has that motor sound remained for some time? I asked Kyle, our guide. He tells us that that’s the sound of a chainsaw. I was surprised. I learnt that illegal logging meant lifetime imprisonment as imposed by the government. They were allowed only to saw the trees for their own uses. Buffalo tree, sticky sap…
 
Almost there. The guide hiding water in the middle of the grassland. LOL
Apparently they do this so they have extra water here (for cooking etc), hidden in their secret spots.
We reached the base camp at about 5pm. Before long it started raining and we hid in our tents, already set up by our dear porters and guide. In the drizzle and the cold we were greeted by a surprise knock on our tents – dinner, served! Room service! We exclaimed excitedly. Yummy hot rice with corned beef. In the cold and after the long walk, everything tasted like sweet relief. I finished Persepolis 1 and started on Persepolis 2 while Jolene blabbered on (LOL). Eventually we fell asleep.

Room service despite the rain!!! Actually I loved the rice – the somewhat hard texture of the rice, and the treat of eggs, maggie noodle on 1 day, the corned beef (YUMMYYYYY) and tuna!

Day 2:
We awoke at 8am and set off at 9.30am.

 

 

The vegetation took a gradual shift with an increase in altitude, from the pine forest to the mossy forest, and at the end, we emerged to the grassland – my favourite!

 

we got incredibly excited waking up to cows strutting outside our tents, and squealed way too early in the morning. HAHAHHA

random cow

 

So happy. So so happy. We reached at about 11.30am to a vast field of grassland. There was nobody but us! I wanted to roll around in the sunshine. I wanted to shout with joy. I did. I wanted to lie on the grass and read my book while soaking in the warmth of the rays. It was not so practical, and though I loved the cool breeze I crept back into the tent instead. We had all the time in the world, in the middle of this vast field. My usual day had barely begun but here, in this time and in this moment, I relished in the joy of not having to do anything. I had a blank space of time for myself, for the rest of the day, to do nothing. Absolutely nothing, if I wished! Stripped of all of my responsibilities, the large sacks I burdened myself with back home. So happy. I finished the rest of Persepolis 2, made a mental note to read up on the Iranian Revolution / Iraq-Kuwait conflict / Iraq-Iran & Iran-Kuwait relations and fell asleep to the lazy afternoon heat.

Sadly this photo reminds me of the timelapse video of our guide setting up the tent that we didn’t receive 😦

copying our guides’ pose, which we thought was genius

yummy!

The descent down the Ambangeg trail was pretty straightforward. After that, we made our way back to Manila and stayed at DG Budget Hotel, aka Salem Domestic Guesthouse for a night. At $31sgd a night for a private room for two of us, it was reasonable and comfortable after a long hike. Very near the airport too!

That night, we bought lots of polveron from 7-11 (hahaha) and I bought more at the airport the next day.

Thank you, Mount Pulag! You were beautiful and I’m blessed for the experience!

Mount Pulag, Philippines – Akiki Trail


Mount Pulag, Philippines.

4 days 3 nights – I had only this much time in my March holidays, and I managed to squeeze this in. Hurray 🙂 Thankfully Jolene could take the same leave. What’s for next year I wonder? Hmm.

It could have been a relatively easy, scenic route to the summit, with the Ambangeg-Ambangeg trail. But Cz and I read up on this a year ago, and unsurprisingly he wanted the Akiki trail, and we had read up a little on that. We had gone for Mt Batulao and Pico de Loro instead for that trip, but the Akiki trail stuck on my mind nonetheless. No regrets! Of course, on hindsight, once successfully summitted, the pain is but a faint memory.

Crew!

We landed in Manila. Explored some sights, such as Fort Santiago.

In the evening, we headed to our meet-up place in Cubao. We experienced some drama with the company we had booked with. 



Arcobaleno Trailoutours. We had made arrangements to join the group tour, and had made our down payment. Only the night before (or two), they told us that they didn’t have enough people who signed up, and wanted to cancel the group tour. At this point, after much negotiation, we went for the private tour. Overall, it took some drama, time and negotiation messages to settle everything.



in between 



In the afternoon and evening, we walked around Intramuros and Mall of Asia. The most memorable thing about that day was drinking the chocolate slushee at Krispy Kreme. Yummy! Also tried Jolibee and dinner was not very memorable. We reached the Victory Liner at Pasay at 9pm. Caught the bus to Baguio and reached at about 3am. I tried sleeping on the jerky bus (which had wifi! Pretty decently fast one too!) and we reached the final station, our stop – Baguio city. My brain was not working well in the wee hours of the morning, but Jolene problem-solved and called Jerry. Had some rice with meat and potatoes before taking the shared van towards Kabayan, Benguet, the jump-off point. Showered at the ranger station and ate lunch, before leaving at about 12.30pm.

Our cook and our guide/porter, which we hired at the registration centre. 🙂 Awesome bunch!

Sea of clouds!