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Fabled Sights
Travel

Fabled Sights

Chang Theng Hwee is a middle-aged man.  He is managing director of a travel agency established in 1994 in Singapore.  Interviewed by The Straits Times, he is asked why he has selected Iran as his preferred travel destination.
“This is the heart of the ancient Persian as well as mediaeval Islamic civilizations, which ranks on par with the Chinese, Indian and Turkish civilizations as among the most sophisticated of its time,” Hwee says.
He explains how Iran’s historical cities are superbly preserved and its architecture ranks “among the most beautiful in the world.”  
Despite this, he adds, the country is still infrequently visited, which is perhaps what makes it so charming, with the commonly heard refrain that contrary to the negative publicity Iranians sometimes receive, “they are some of the most welcoming people” he has come across.
Recounting his experience, Hwee offers the highlights of his visit:
 
  Cuisine
Hwee cites the Abbasi Hotel (www.abbasihotel.ir) in Isfahan as his favorite hotel. It has been converted into a hotel from a mediaeval caravanserai, he explains, a roadside inn built to accommodate travellers along trade routes in the Middle East.
Make sure you get a courtyard-facing junior suite on the second floor, he advises. “Sitting at the arched balcony and looking down on the courtyard’s Persian Garden at twilight is a magical moment, he recalls.

  Favorite Restaurant
His favorite restaurant is Divan (www.monsoon- group.ir/divan-restaurant) in Tehran. It serves Persian cuisine with a modern twist, such as organic grilled chicken with pomegranate and plum sauce and apricot breaded rack of lamb with saffron sauce and potato cake.
“I recommend the oven-roasted quail in lemon marinade served with couscous.”
The interior design is stylish, decorated with artwork by Iranian artist Fataneh Dadkhah, and it boasts a stunning view of the Alborz Mountains. A meal here costs about $40 a person.

  3 Tehran Museums
His three favorite museums are all in Tehran. He likes the National Museum of Iran (www.nationalmuseumofiran.ir) for its excellent collection of historical artifacts and the Reza Abbasi Museum (www.rezaabbasimuseum.ir) for some of Persia’s finest art, such as Islamic miniatures, paintings and calligraphy by renowned Persian calligraphers including Mojtaba Malekzadeh and Yadollah Kaboli Khansari.

 Favorite Site
“Persepolis is one of the most impressive archaeological sites I have seen” Hwee says, adding it is equal to Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, it pre-dates and is even more stunning than the Acropolis of Athens.
It is from here that Persian emperors such as Darius the Great (550-486BC) and Xerxes The Great (519-465BC) ruled, which gives the ancient city a sense of history, he explains.

 Shopping Destination
Along with Tiananmen Square in Beijing, St Peter’s Square in the Vatican and the Red Square in Moscow, he ranks Imam Square in Isfahan as one of the four most impressive squares in the world.
There are numerous shops selling Persian carpets, miniature paintings and other crafts.
The setting is lovely, he recalls, and being there makes him feel fantastic,” as though in the story of One Thousand And One Nights.”

 Bookshop
Yassavoli on the junction of Kheradmand Street and Karimkhan Avenue, again in Tehran, Hwee explains, is one of the few English bookstores in the country.
It was here that he found some books he had been looking for a long time, such as the Shahnameh, a 10th-century epic by Perisan poet Abu al-qasim Ferdowsi. It is a literary masterpiece, he says, which represents the cultural history of Iran.

  Must-Try Dishes
“I love Iran’s Ash-e anar, a yellow split pea and pomegranate soup, fish stew and caviar. You can find these dishes at most local restaurants,” he adds.

  Best Place to Watch the Sunset
The Si-o-seh Pol Bridge, also known as the Bridge of 33 Arches, in Isfahan. As the sun sets, the hue of this 400-year-old bridge is lovely and, if the river is calm, its reflection adds more charm.
Along the riverbank, Iranian couples, families and friends relax. It is a scene not many can imagine.
Hwee advises that it will take 10 to 14 days to see all of Iran’s highlights and another week to experience the more remote destinations.

  Magical Moment
Walking through the bazaar in Shiraz one night, he recounts, their guide suddenly turned to the Ali Ibn Hamzeh Mausoleum, a shrine to a local religious figure, on Hafez Street, near Hamzeh Bridge.  
It is not very well known and is not listed in most guide books. Inside was a small room with some of the most beautiful reflecting mirror tiles. The faithful were praying and solemnly paying respect in silence.
“It was a magical moment and my most memorable moment of the entire trip.”

 

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