2. Qom, Iran – of Patterns and Prints

I take a taxi from the bus station that the Tehran-Qom bus drops me at, to the holy Fatima Masumeh Shrine.

It should cost no more than 50k rials, but the annoying taxi driver kept insisting for 100k, so we waited until more passengers came on board. Only then did we agree on the 50k, but upon reaching the destination I gave the driver 100k and he returned me 40k and acted like ‘his friend’ was the one that agreed upon 50k, and he was trying to insist it was 60k. 10k does not make much of a difference, but it really annoyed me, that sense / fear of being cheated. Anyway, I insisted it was 50k and he (somewhat begrudgingly) accepted, and that was that. 

On the bus to Qom




You need a chador to enter the holy shrine. There’s a free bag deposit there, so I left my backpack with them (seemed safe, had a ticket to claim it back) and the women sat me down in their tent while we waited for an available chador for my fitting. No DSLRs allowed, but mobile phone cameras were acceptable. A (free) guide was also available and necessary for Non-Muslims to explain the various functions / history of the mosque. How considerate(?) (!)
My guide, a very eloquent man who showed me around the mosque.

I loved the patterned tiles and prints I saw at many stops along the way. Part of the allure of Iran was the dazzling architecture, with their gorgeous pillars and ceilings.

loved these!

Qom is clearly a more conservative city. Upon reaching, most women (i would say 95%) were covered with the chador.



The Iranian government-mandated Islamic dress code requires women to be modestly covered from head to toe, and wearing a hijab is obligatory (or risk getting caught by the ‘fashion/morality police’ – @elaavor shares – thankyou!) While it’s not uncommon to see shawls loosely draped over the hair of Iranian women in big city Tehran, majority of the women in Qom, with its more conservative traditions, wear the black chador.

Can’t stop gaping at these beautiful patterns of the shrines/mosques 😍



It’s funny thinking about the responses from my Iranian friends from the second half of my trip. The first person I mentioned this to was Elham (Esfahan), the girl I had met by chance when I was lost. They (Elham, Azar and friends) asked me about the route, they laughed when I said I went to Qom. “Qom?” “Why did you visit Qom?” There was a certain chuckle in their statement and they seemed to stifle a giggle as they asked politely. It seemed that Qom was a very religious city, so religious that they didn’t want to visit it themselves. That was quite an interesting thought, and reminded me (though not really comparable) of Jerusalem vs Tel Aviv, and preferences of cities and perhaps stereotypes of its people.I liked Qom though, I found it an interesting visit and was glad I stopped by for the few hours, before setting off to Kashan.

Another interesting I found was the use of smartphone apps to resist the regulation of the dress code.

Additional reads:


Obligatory wearing of the hijab has been an integral policy of the Islamic republic ever since the 1979 revolution but it is one the establishment has had a great deal of difficulty enforcing. Despite fear of reprisals, millions of Iranian women, defy the restrictions on a daily basis by pushing at the boundaries.

7,000 male and female officers for a new plainclothes division

government-mandated Islamic dress code, which requires women be modestly covered from head to toe

They would take a range of approaches to enforcing dress codes, including handing out scarves as gifts, giving verbal warnings or having female officers physically remove excessive makeup.

At worst, offenders would be sent to court and face fines of up to $250 or hauled to the local police station until their family members gave a written promise that they would never commit the same offense again.

A new smartphone app is helping young Iranians avoid Tehran’s morality police, who have become notorious for harassing anyone whose dress or public behavior doesn’t adhere to strict Islamic standards.

The app, called Gershad, uses crowdsourcing to identify the locations of Iran’s morality police, known by their Persian name Gasht-e Ershad (“guidance patrol”). Ershad officers regularly patrol the streets of Tehran to identify men and women who violate Islamic code of conduct, and they have come under criticism for abusing their powers. Those found to be in violation — typically women who wear too much makeup, or the wrong type of hijab — can be thrown into the back of a van and detained. They’re often let off with a warning or released after being lectured, though some have been fined or prosecuted.

Gershad helps Iranian women avoid police checkpoints by crowdsourcing their locations and displaying them on a map. Users who identify a checkpoint can anonymously mark it on the map to warn others, in much the same way that drivers flag traffic stops on the navigation app Waze. When users report a sighting, a small police icon appe

After the Shah of Iran was ousted in 1979, Iran reverted from a legal system to Islamic law.


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.


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

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 -> 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

No….. IT’S MOUNT OPHIR!!!!!!!!!111!!!!!111!!!!!!
(no it’s actually cashew nuts)

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. 😘