Iran is again catching its share of headlines. So it seemed as good a time as any to share the story of our exit from the country — hopping a train en route from Tehran across the border to Turkey, then all the way to Istanbul. One of the finest and most surprising segments of our around-the-world journey.
When one of our Iran-savvy friends (thanks, Masha!) put into our heads the idea of taking the train from Iran to Turkey, we couldn’t let go. We love overland journeys and we love trains, but our budget and the time allotted for our Iranian tourist visas both conspired against us. We struggled to make it work, however, and our perseverance eventually paid off.
But there we were the night before departure, train tickets in our hands. This dream train trip of ours was actually going to happen. That's when a pang of fear set in. Oh boy, what are we getting ourselves into?
Waiting on Tehran
Our train was scheduled to leave at 11:00 A.M from Tabriz in northwestern Iran. We'd arrived at the station at 9:30 A.M. just to be on the safe side. It was the last day of our Iranian visa and we absolutely needed to exit the country. We harbored no interest in reporting what happens to Americans when they overstay their Iranian visas.
When noon arrived, even the horrible movie Orca with Farsi subtitles on the video screen couldn't diffuse our restlessness. One of the station attendants came over and smiled, “Just relax. The train is delayed from Tehran. It’s usually like this.”
A few hours later, it was finally time to go.
Iran's Orient Express
Imagine an Iranian train. I know when I envisioned one, the image resembled that of Midnight Express and harkened to something like an Indian train in the old days — dark, dank, old, and mobbed.
Instead, we found a plush, clean four-person compartment with free water, snacks, and functioning electrical outlets. We continued exploring and landed in a nicely decorated dining car with a full Iranian menu flush (read: kebabs). Sure, the décor reeked of the 1970s and lost hopes to be the Orient Express, but this vessel was downright civilized.
Oh, and did I mention that the cost of this 2.5 day train journey in a 4-person sleeper cost $75 per person?
Our Train Guardian
“I would like to speak with you.”
A few minutes after boarding a young Iranian man with a briefcase stood upright in the door of the compartment we’d schemed to carve out for ourselves. His posture and tone suggested he was reporting for duty.
We thought, “Uh oh. Where’s this gonna’ go?”
Formalities out of the way, Abbas introduced himself and we quickly covered the basics — where we had traveled in Iran (a lot of places), where he was going in Turkey (Ankara to study) how often he had taken the train (he was a pro).
When it came time for lunch, we pulled out our feed bag — you know, that ratty plastic bag full of random edible bits and bobs like pistachios, apricots, sunflower seeds, dried pomegranate wraps, a stash of Iranian trail mix, loaves of fresh flat bread, and nomadic Iranian cheese.
Abbas took one look at the snacks and offered an alternative: “I’ll make lunch for us. Don’t worry, I have enough food and tea for all of us.”
He pulled the curtains closed, locked the door, and took out a camping stove. “You’re not supposed to use these on the train, so I need to hide it from the conductor,” he explained.
I made note of his butane canister: “Made in Israel” was plastered across it in big letters.
I joked, “Your camping gas is from Israel. Isn’t that illegal in Iran?”
“You can buy anything in Kurdistan (an area in western Iran),” he smiled. “Everything gets smuggled over the border from Iraq.”
Americans in Iran, on our way to Turkey, eating cans of tuna warmed over Israeli butane. Aren't we worldly?
Abbas finished the can of tuna over the flame, bubbling, and we stabbed at it with bits of flatbread. It’s true what they say of breaking bread. Surprisingly satisfying on so many levels.
In reality, Abbas didn’t have a lot of extra food. But it was clear he wished to take care of us. He shared whatever he had and he shared generously.
“I will make a tea,” he would say, assembling his arsenal of trainbound tea-making: electrical heating element tongs (also forbidden), a bottle of mineral water, tea bags, cubes of sugar and a thermos.
His mantra: “Tea is very important!”
And it was.
Iranian border crossing fears
As the train approached the border with Turkey, my fear and anxiety grew. We were the only two Americans on the train and we were by ourselves, unescorted.
Cue footage of the detained American hikers fresh from an Iranian jail that had scrolled endlessly on the international news just weeks before.
I had expected an interrogation and bag search and was prepared. The night before boarding the train, I cleared my browsing history to erase any sign of blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking, all of which are censored in Iran. I wiped the call records clean on our mobile phones, eliminating any history of contact with Iranian friends during our visit. (I blame my spy novel paranoia on growing up as a daughter of diplomats and having lived in the former Soviet Union).
The border-clearing process began. We were called to the dining car, a few people at a time. Inside a queue formed and we worked our way from dining table to dining table until it was our turn.
The border guard looked up from his reading glasses, over his computer screen and a pile of registry books and papers.
He eyed my entrance stamp to Iran and finger-counted the number of days we’d been in the country. Assured we had not overstayed our visas, he asked where we’d visited and how our trip had been. As I rattled off all the names, I noticed a smile. He was clearly proud.
“Did you enjoy your visit to Iran?”
“Good. Enjoy your trip. Please return.”
And that was it. Polite and friendly.
Iran to Turkey: No Man’s Land
The Iran-Turkey borderlands are flush with mountainous landscapes, tiny rural villages, endless contours and the occasional shepherd tending a flock. Through one tunnel to the next, we climbed higher. In this no man’s land, it was impossible to tell exactly where we were. Let’s just say there’s no big “Welcome to Turkey” sign along the way.
As we descended to civilization, Abbas remarked: “We’re in Turkey now. You can tell by the apartments.”
I was confused. The buildings didn’t look any different to me than the ones we'd seen just 30 minutes before.
“The satellite dishes are out in public. That’s how I know we are in Turkey.”
I looked again with fresh eyes. It was a subtle difference.
As time passed, I noticed women’s headscarves coming off, mine included. The corridors came alive with new sounds as passengers began playing music on their phones and radios.
We were still on an Iranian train, but you could tell we were no longer in Iran.
Across Lake Van: The Turkish Train
Lake Van. Yes, the lake of the same name as the town hit by a devastating earthquake just a month earlier. It’s a wonder the train tracks hadn't been affected.
Our train was supposed to stop at the eastern edge of the lake at 9:00 P.M. In reality, it was close to 2:00 A.M. when we bade farewell to our Iranian train and boarded the ferry to take us across the lake. The crowd of passengers, we included, looked weary and laden, bags dragging. The ferry was terrifically uncomfortable. The chairs were certainly big enough, but their shape was uniquely designed for torture.
A few hours later, with the sun poised to rise, we arrived on the western shore of Lake Van.
We boarded the Turkish train that would take us the rest of the way. It was more modern than our Iranian train, not quite as plush or roomy, but clean and comfortable enough.
We and Abbas crashed instantly. It was some of the best sleep we'd ever enjoyed on a train.
Iranians Prefer Americans?
When we're asked how Iranians responded to us as Americans, people are often surprised to hear that we were treated like rock stars. But if we were Elvis on the streets of Iran, we were The Beatles on that train.
Just about every visit to the dining car turned into social hour, as we were engulfed in Iranians hoping to chat, take photos with us, and just hang out. We'd leave with hands and pockets full of nuts and dried fruits as gifts.
During one dining car interlude, as we were swamped with visitors, a French traveler sat all by himself just a few tables away. He was perfectly nice (we’d talked with him earlier), but to the Iranians on that train, “French” did not hold the same appeal as “American.”
Proud of Iran, Searching for Opportunities Abroad
Later that evening we ventured back into the dining car. After all, we didn’t want to eat all of Abbas' food. We also secretly wanted a beer. Never had a mediocre not-quite-cold enough Efes tasted so good. (Iran was bone dry when it came to alcohol.)
Amin and Parisa, an Iranian couple we’d met at the Turkish border invited us back to their compartment for a nightcap of more snacks. As we cracked open pistachios (Iranian pistachios are truly among the best in the world) and talked about our travels through Iran, they shared photos of various Iranian historical sites they had visited. You could tell they were proud of their heritage. As graphic designers, they drew from traditional Persian design and calligraphy for their modern creations.
They told their story: “We are on this train to go to the American Embassy in Ankara. We want to apply for a student visa or maybe refugee status. It is impossible for us to live in Iran anymore. During the Green Revolution, Facebook really helped us. But we can’t survive now economically, socially.”
This sort of tale was common. We’d met so many Iranians headed to Turkey to apply for American visas.
Earlier when we had gathered in the dining car, we noticed a man with his young son. He noticed us, too. He’d sit and listen, and when the time was right, he would sit in the booth next to Dan and ask questions, non-sequitur.
“Is Texas good for job?” he asked.
“We won American green card lottery.” (To this day, I don’t understand how such an immigration program exists.)
He left, only to return 30 minutes later.
“If we go to Los Angeles, how do I get driver’s license?” he asked.
“Is Los Angeles good for job? Good life?”
Dan explained how to get a driver’s license and that in some cities, there are probably many Iranian immigrants who can provide practical information and support. To address the more difficult question Dan added, “There are opportunities in America. But success is not guaranteed. And at the moment, jobs are difficult.”
The man quickly left.
He returned once more. “Maybe I think about whether I take my family to America.”
This train, it seemed, was the American Embassy Express.
Early on our third afternoon together, the train pulled into Ankara. We could feel a shift.
We were aboard all the way to Istanbul, but all our trainmates were getting off — Abbas with his generosity and insight, the dissident artists hoping to make their way to the United States, the woman who'd transcribed a poem for me in the middle of the night, the winner of the green card lottery weighing Los Angeles and Austin, the high school student who paired her unaccented English from watching Friends with dreams of studying in the United States.
While we'd enjoy the space to decompress, we could feel a void. We waved goodbye to our newfound friends as they made their way across the platform.
Our journey was coming to an end, but theirs was just beginning.
67 thoughts on “Midnight Express: Iran to Turkey by Train”
Hi Daniel and Audrey,
I enjoyed the journey. Makes me want to travel again. Nice meeting you on Cozumel and hope you enjoyed the rest of your Mexican visit. Stay in touch.
Wow, truly an amazing overland journey! Great photos and reporting.
Fascinating as always. I love hearing the different background stories about the people you met. Sounds like a great journey. Good luck to those hoping to get visas to the US.
Truly a fascinating train ride! Really enjoyed reading this post. The green card lottery is an interesting process. My family is from Russia and former Soviet Republics and while we did not win a green card (my parents and I first moved to Australia when the Soviet Union collapsed and then to the US through my dad’s work visa) but my cousins – 2 families who lived in Belarus both won the green card lottery and moved to the US that way.
@Julia: Although we wish we had more time so we could hop off and hop back on the train throughout Turkey, we really did enjoy the cross-Turkey train journey. I didn’t realize that HaydarpaÅŸa station was closing. Won’t there be another station taking its place for Asia-bound trains?
@Michael: Thanks for stopping by and commenting! It’s journeys like this that keep the travel bug alive 🙂
@Kurt: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this.
@Ali: This train journey was all about the people and their stories. I’ve been in touch with a few of the people by email and so far it seems like everyone is still in waiting mode for the American visas. It’s not an easy process.
@Lisa: Every time we told people (esp. family & friends) that we wanted to take the train from Iran to Turkey, they thought we had completely lost it. But we knew it would be a great journey for so many reasons. And the hospitality and openness of Iranian people is what made it so special. Thank you for your kind words about us as ambassadors – really means so much to us.
@Lavanya: Wow, you really did just miss the earthquake at Van! We had a hard time getting information about whether the train actually ran after the terrible event, but fortunately the railroad tracks were OK. And yes, the hospitality of Iranians is really incredible. Wish more people could experience and know this for themselves.
It’s our dream to make that train journey across Turkey. Alas, it’s not going to happen from Istanbul anymore with the closing of HaydarpaÅŸa station but would still love to go cross-country to Van.
What a great journey. So wonderful to connect with these warm, hospitable, and open people. Definitely a trait in the Middle East. So proud to have you as ambassadors.
Iran remains one of my favourite countries visited till date! The hospitality of the people there is unmatched 🙂 Oh and the earthquake that hit Van? we missed it by a day when we left from there to Tabriz and that too only cos it was snowing there 🙂 that was close!
Loved this article as well as the previous one on the series about your train travel out of Iran! So glad you had this experience. Such an eye-opener. May there never be war with Iran. Hope the President can avoid it if he can.
Getting out of one’s country, no matter how young you are, is difficult and one of great anxiety. I remember mine. I was excited but also anxious. Some of the people who won the green card lottery to the US were probably older people in their 40s?
Recently, I started going to a local Hispanic church. I live in an area where immigration, assimilation, and actual racism is a real problem. I was trembling when I walked inside to join the congregation.
My reception? Warm, welcoming, and mindblowing. I discovered a different culture and language on my doorstep, and the barriers I was afraid of were mirages.
People are people. Sure, we can be savvy travellers, understand that we might not always be treated as rock stars, and protect ourselves. But more and more, I think I’m believing the world is an astoundingly friendly place.
The wonders of travel! You expect to enter a hostile country where being stoned to death is not a unusual thought but you meet a man who cooks tuna over a canister in a train compartment.
Great journey! I love the stories you share of the people that you meet along the way and the genuine friendliness shared the world over.
@Sutapa: Every time I hear news about Iran now I hold my breath hoping to hear something about peace and resolution. I sincerely hope that we are all able to avoid a war – it really doesn’t benefit anyone.
I’ve left my country many times, but it’s always been with the knowledge that it is temporary and that I can return. For the green card winner, he was probably in his mid-30s with two kids under the age of 10. Rather frightening at any age, but especially with a family.
@Heather: What a wonderful story – thank you for sharing about the warmth and hospitality you found at the church that you thought would be hostile. Like you, we believe that for the most part the world and its people are friendly.
@Sagar: That’s the beauty of travel – it turns stereotypes and fears upside down!
@Matt: Glad you enjoyed this journey and the stories of the people we met along the way.
I see You really enjoyed Your journey :)))
I feel like i was on that train with you. 🙂
@Vicky: It was a great train ride – glad you enjoyed following along with this post! To be honest, I’ve never really understood the Green Card Lottery very well as it seems like such an anomaly to the rest of the US immigration process. Hope your family from Belarus has a good experience from it and adjusted well.
@Madhu: That was the goal! Thanks!
@Akila: Thanks so much for your kind words on this post and why you enjoyed it. I couldn’t agree more with your comment: “this is a good world and there are good people here.” The irony is that when we travel to “scary” places (e.g., Iran, Central Asia, Bangladesh, etc.), this seems to be even more true – we’re humbled by the hospitality and kindness we receive.
Audrey and Dan, there are so many reasons that I love this post — from the stories to the humor, the honest appraisal of your fears, and the pictures — but, ultimately, the reason I love this blog post is because it continues to further my belief in a fundamental truth, a truth I’ve found as I’ve crossed this world: this is a good world and there are good people here.
Thanks so much for posting this brilliant article.
Thanks so much for this post. My husband and I love train journeys as well. This one sounds like a great way to leave Iran.
@Jan: We couldn’t have asked for a better way to leave Iran – much more interesting than a flight 🙂 And, it’s nice to have a couple of days to decompress on a train after a visit like this before re-entering the “real world” again.
Am very glad you republished this story from your travels last year. It’s a real story full of compassion and honest writing. Most importantly it shows a different side to the biases we often have of the countries and cultures we don’t know. Kudos! Looking forward to more!
@Steph: The more we travel and see places firsthand, the more we realize that so many of our stereotypes and impressions of a place are completely off base. Often, it has to do with the coverage of a country only focusing on outliers or disasters instead of ordinary people and daily life. We’ll be publishing a few more stories from our travels in Iran soon, but if you haven’t checked out our previous pieces you can do so here: https://uncorneredmarket.com/travel/iran/
Wow, this train looks very luxurious. How much is one ride? I haven’t tried riding a train such as that.
@Nancy: We always try to highlight stories of people from a place we visit to try and create a personal connection with the place. This helps put a human face on that blog on the world map. Like you, we’re also hoping for peace and that calm heads prevail.
Thanks again for such a moving story. It’s too easy to hear headlines about Iran and just picture a blob on the world map… Good to be reminded of the names and faces of the people who are actually affected by those news stories. I pray for peace!
Sounds like an awesome trip. A whole journey in itself! And I’ve loved hearing about how hospitable and friendly was to you!
You can’t beat a train journey to meet fascinating people. I love the guy with the gas burner, great smile!
Love the blog, kind regards, Si
Looks like a fun train ride; Surely it was worth your time and money.
@Turtle: Our whole visit to Iran was great, but this train journey was the icing on the cake. Really was a fantastic way to end our visit because of all the people we met on the train.
@Si: Abbas (the guy with the gas burner) was our guardian angel on this train journey. He negotiated with the conductor to let us stay on until Istanbul (our tickets were only to Ankara) and was always checking in to make sure we were OK. We were very fortunate to meet him.
@James: I’m thankful that prices are still low for this train journey, but I would have paid much more to have this experience 🙂
I took the exact same trip last June! I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!
I’ve met so many generous people on my travels like Abbas, who generously shared his food. What a heartwarming journey from Iran to Turkey!
@Tim: Good to hear you had a similarly great experience on this train journey!
@Laura: Each time the news gets me down. I think of Abbas and all of the other people who have given us so much when they have had very little themselves. Both humbling and inspiring.
After reading this, i am more tempted to travel to Iran, any tips you can suggest, like cheap hotels to stay at. Is it better to book my hotel stay upfront? or just wing it… by the way you have an awusome job!!
@Nigel: Glad this piece helped get you closer to visiting Iran. It’s a fascinating place.
I’m not sure of your nationality, so my answer to your questions are nationality- dependent. If you are American you’ll need to book a tour or guide and they will take care of your accommodation. More information on traveling to Iran as Americans here.
If you are not American and have the flexibility to travel independently then you can make arrangements as you go. I would probably book a hotel in Tehran for the first night, but as you travel around the country you can find things as you go – I can’t imagine you’re going to face full accommodation. I would also look into Couch Surfing – Iran has an active community of Couch Surfing hosts and the Iranian people are incredibly hospitable.
Good luck and let us know if you have other questions!
Looks like a great trip! i had a great time in Iran…wish id have thought about the train though!
I’m really looking forward to visiting around. I love the idea of grand overland journeys too, especially by train. The reality is that I have a small child who doesn’t like being confined for more than four hours or so. Were there any points on the journey which would make for a decent stop? Anyway to construct it into a few overnight trains rather than doing it all in one go? Would love some ideas! Now, off to read everything else you’ve written on Iran!!!
@Aisleen: You can always return to take the train 🙂 It was a great train journey.
@Bethaney: The train system around Iran is supposed to be quite good, so you could definitely put together several internal train trips with stop off points. For this particular route from Tehran to Istanbul, it would be a bit more difficult to hop on/hop off as it only goes once a week. But, here are a couple of ideas to piece together a similar journey into segments.
Travel around Iran and then have Tabriz be your last stop in Iran and spend a couple of days there (the Armenian church near the Azerbaijani border is fantastic). Tabriz is where we picked up the train in the morning. Then take the train over the Turkish border and you could get off around Lake Van to explore eastern Turkey or go all the way to Ankara and get off there to explore that area. Then you could stop again before Istanbul. Once you’re inside Turkey it will be easy to hop on/hop off routes as they are more frequent.
If you have any other questions about Iran, just let us know!
I have some questions because I’ll probably be making this journey from Van to Iran this summer. How much did it cost to you and is there really only one train per week going from Tehran to Turkey?
Daniel and Audrey , such generacity, clear vision ,free heart and nice complements about Iran and Iranians are much amazing to me.I utterly personally appreciate your attitudes toward us. No other person or institute or administration (for example Iranian department of tourism )has ever could be more helpful to show the true Iran and it’s culture to US citizens and rest of the world.
It shows that you both have a heart and wisdom.
I read most of the other people’s comments trying to seek the truth about Iran and you as true ambassadors of America let them to find facts and figures about a place mostly bombarded with rumors false information and terrorizing ideas.
I live in the north section of the country named Mazandaran Province.
In the next trip we will be so glad having you as real guests or better say real friends of ours.
In our place the Caspian Sea is great.Maybe not greater than Santa Monica beach or riviera of France, but quite calm and fascinating.
All I see in this blog : Very Nice people and generous in thoughts and believes about My country.
Thank you for all you shared in this blog and also lots of nice people who commented positive thoughts about my country.
As Chris Brown says:
Every where everywhere I go , I see beautiful people.
We will be so pleased to have you here again.
I have done this myself, taking the train from Damascus through Turkey and on to Iran – what an unforgettable experience! Loved the food they fed us, especially on the Iranian train. Made some friends who fed me as well. I remember eating all the time, and taking pictures. No one could understand why a lone girl goes to Iran. But no one opposed either :-).
@Robert: Our tickets were around â‚¬65/person back in November 2011, but the price might be different if you are buying them in Turkey. Last I checked there is still only one train a week from Tehran to Istanbul. If you ask a local travel agent in either Van or Tehran, they can probably confirm the current situation. There are daily buses, however, if you do need to get back on a different day.
@Hossein: Thank you for your kind comment. We hope that by sharing our experiences from meeting Iranians and traveling through Iran that we can provide a more personal and different perspective than what is seen on the news. The more we listen and try to understand each other, the more peace we will have.
@Katka: Sounds like you had a great experience traveling by train through the Middle East. I can imagine many people feeding you and wanting to take lots of pictures. Iranians show great hospitality.
Sounds like a fantastic journey! I’ve always found train journeys to be such wonderfully social experiences.
I’m curious though. As Americans we have to travel on a tour, but you were able to get on the train without a guide escorting you?
@Aaron: We are complete train buffs, so when a friend mentioned this train journey from Iran to Turkey it became one of the focal points of our whole trip to Iran. It is kind of an odd thing that Americans require a guide, but we were able to travel from Tabriz to the border (and on to Istanbul) without a guide and without the Iranian immigration authorities asking any questions. If you were to start the train journey in Tehran, it might be a bit different (i.e., they might want you to have a guide until Tabriz). Best thing is to ask the tour company arranging your visa what is required for this train journey.
@Hossein: I’m glad that you found our words open and generous. We’re glad to be ambassadors of America and to places around the world, Iran included. We aim to be fair and honest about our experiences and the people we meet.
Thank you for your invitation to have us as guests. When we return to Iran, we’d be glad to take you up on your generous offer!
In the meantime, everywhere we go, let’s see beautiful people.
Thank you for your comment.
@Katka: So great that you had a chance to experience this as well.
“Made some friends who fed me as well.” If I had taken all the food offered to me in Iran, I’d be twice my current size.
I’m especially glad, and not at all surprised, that your experience as a lone woman in Iran was a positive one and that no one opposed. Iran struck me as a bit of a paradox in terms of the attitude towards women. Views towards women and their role in productive society seem — under the surface — more advanced than the requirement to wear the hijab might suggest.
Daniel – I never said I didnt come come twice as big as I left for Iran :-). The food was amazing, and I was fed by Lebanese pilgrims – Shias that went to visit the holy site. Very interesting experience indeed.
Yes, we might thing of it as paradox, but actually I always felt “better” as a woman in the Muslim countries. I feel like I am more respected, more treated like a woman. Less danger – even in countries where tourists are often bothered, like Egypt. But Iran was the best in this respect as I was never bothered and I always felt very, very safe.
Thank you for that interesting, insightful and well-written article on Iran. I used to live in Tehran (I’m American) and I would also recommend Iran as a great place to experience.
Audrey, you’re an inspiration for living an authentic life !
Thanks for telling the real story …
@Rosemary: Thank you so much for your kind comment! We try to tell what we experience so others may hopefully learn from it as well.
I cannot believe I have only just discovered your blogs and adventures on Iran! I have just read through them all and have enjoyed every second of it. They took me through an adventure in Iran, eventhough I have visited Iran many times in the past I was still captivated by every word. As an Iranian who has grown up in the UK it has always been my dream that someday the rest of the world would see the true Iran, and realise that there is no reason to fear Iran/Iranian people. Your blogs sum up everything I tell my English friends about Iran, and all I wish for them to experience themselves one day. There is so much to do and see in Iran in the form of food, culture, arts, history, and lovely people. Articles like yours will help to uncover that for people in the UK, US, and the rest of the world. Your articles are so honest, genuine, and inspiring. Thank you!
@Dariush: Really glad to hear it. It’s been our goal from the beginning to tell real life adventures that show another side to the places and people we visit, Iran included, than our readers might otherwise find in the media. Please share with your friends, near and far. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Thank you very much for this very informative and lovely written post. I am thinking of going to Iran this year and now I am definitely thinking of going one direction via Turkey with the train.
Could you tell me how it is for a couple to travel together there, and as a woman how was it to travel in the train? Did you feel safe to do so?
Thank you very much for this story!
@Caroline: I definitely recommend taking the train one way to/from Iran! Traveling as a couple in Iran was extremely easy and I found that people approached the two of us quite a bit, so lots of engagement. As for traveling on the train as a woman I felt completely safe. Dan and I were together for most of the time on the train, but I never felt uncomfortable anywhere. In fact, I found that the Iranian women kind of “adopted” me and watched out to make sure that I was doing the right thing at immigration control, etc. The sleeper cabins have locks on the door so you don’t have to worry about people coming in at night unexpectedly. Hope you have a wonderful journey!!
So glad to read your story, amazing journey you had. I am Iranian,I am going to take the train to turky , I want to apply for refugee status, Its very hard for religious minorities to live here! I dont think my trip will be as fun as yours, but I hope it will be safe.
The way you told your story was fascinating, I feel way more optimistic about my trip next friday.
@Nader: Thank you for your comment and glad that this article helped make you feel more comfortable about your own upcoming train trip. We met several people on our train trip who were on their way to Embassies and UNHCR to apply for refugee status. I hope that your train journey goes smoothly and that your application for refugee status goes well.
plz advice me how can i travel from tehran to astambol by train and what is the fair of one person in doller us thnx
@Hasan: My suggestion would be to go to a travel agent in Iran or Turkey to have them book the train ticket for you (what we did) or go to the railway station and purchase it directly. I do not know the current price for the train ticket, but in 2011 the cost was around $75/person with a sleeper car. Good luck!
Great article! Loved the bit about the border crossing, would have loved to see the border guard’s little smile as you talked about your trip.
Thanks for a great read! Looking forward to visiting Iran this fall.
Glad you liked it Nathan. We have quite a few posts on the site about Iran on the site. Any questions, just let us know. Have a great trip!
Wow – what an amazing journey! How can you ever beat this?
This trip and experience is in good company. As a form of transport, trains definitely add to the sense of adventure.
One of our readers asked a question that I thought was relevant to this article and thread: “How can I go from Iran to Antalya by train and how far is it? From there how can I go to Istanbul?”
The train we took to Istanbul originated inTehran. We picked it up at Tabriz and entered over the border with Turkey. One possibility is to take that train from Iran and get off either in Van/Lake Van or Ankara, then catch other transport from those locations to Antalya. To return to Istanbul from anywhere within Turkey, a train might be possible, but buses are always available.
I do not normally leave any comments for any web/blog posts, even when I found them very useful. But your post is extremely remarkable! They way you share story, it’s just downright real! As if we are in front of you with set of cameras shooting every bit of scene throughout your journey 🙂 Love it!
Levi (instagram : princerelevi)
Thanks for your thoughtful compliment, Levi. That was our aim — to make it real, and also to do justice to the experience. Glad we could bring you into the train car with us!
Dear Daniel and Audrey,
I’m gathering all about Turkish trains at Rail Turkey Travel, and would like to give link to your post about Tehran train by quoting a few words, using one photo and giving link to this post.
Hope this is ok with you.
Thanks in advance.
Not a problem to include a link to our post from your site and use one of the photos. Hope it helps others enjoy the same train journey from Tehran/Tabriz to Istanbul!
I took the train from Istanbul to Tehran in 1972 and I believe it was the first run after the last leg of train track had been laid. We were told it would be a 3 day train ride but it actually ended up taking 5 days. Some attributed this delays to it being the first trip and there were some rock slides. I was wandering it it was the first full run to Tehran. Do you know when the first run was?
Wow, that must have been such an incredible experience. 5 days instead of 3? Our train was a bit delayed, but nothing like that! I’m afraid I don’t know when the first run of this train was to Tehran.
I took the train in that region too but from Istanbul to Teheran, Tabriz, Meshed and Afghanistan in 1970 but my memory eludes me a bit as to if the train connected all the way from Istanbul to Teheran back then or if there were other connections on that last stretch from the Turkish- Iranian border to Teheran. Would you know anything about that?
It is part of a memoir project, which is why I am trying to find these details. Thank you!