2004 May 16- May 22
Iran / UAE Trip Report

(All photos/stories by Sam Chui)

I have plan the trip to Iran for a while. Main reason is to fly the Saha Air B707, possibly the last B707 in regular passenger commercial service.  The initial plan was earlier this year, but due to the timing factor and their cold winter and a earthquake earlier in Iran, I have delayed the plan on several occassions. The chance finally came when I was in Beijing in early May for some family businesses. Knowing Iran Air flies regularly to PEK, I know I have a good chance there and shall not miss it this time.

The ticket was quite expensive on Iran Air, return flight from Beijing to Tehran is USD920, I bought a ticket to Dubai via Tehran with Iran Air, because I didn't get the visa to visit Iran beforehand, Iranian embassy in Beijing will not issue a visa for me travelling on a 3rd party country passport. But by buying a ticket to Dubai via Tehran, I can get an arrival transit visa for up to 72 hours stay in Iran before going onto Dubai. The other problem is getting on Saha Air is not very easy, I have heard reports that flights are always fully booked and you have to explain your purposes to the agent, which perhaps they don't understand English or your motive at the ticket counter. Saha do not have a global CRS, the only way to get ticket is inside Iran. So there is a few doubts when I decided to go to Iran.

16 May Sunday
Beijing to Tehran
Iran Air 803 B747-SP EP-IAB
173 pax out of 305, Mach 0.86,  FL 380 
Dep Rwy 36L PEK, Arr Rwy 29R THR

The interior of the plane was not as old as one may thinks, the B747SP seems have slightly wider body than other B747 models. Very good inflight amenity bag was handed out to each passenger in all classes, it is a Mashad genuine leather bag with usual combs, toothbrush, eyelid... stuff. Flight were very smmoth. On the 7hrs 45 mins flight. 2 full meals and 1 fruit refreshment was carried out, so they serve a lot more food than other carrier, I have the choice of filet mignon and fish in creamy sauce.  I think Iran Air's catering was superior than most other large carriers (put them to shame!)

Flight past Western China, the Gobi desert, Urumqi, the Tian Shan Mountain, Kazakhstan (Alma Ata), Uzbekistan (Tashkent), a little part of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan (Ashgabat), it was very scenic enroute with deserts, snow capped mountains, lakes, flat ground, villages and plateaus.

Passenger are split in half are Iranians and half are Chinese, mostly doing trading and business between the 2 countries. I later found out that I was the only tourist on that plane. Contrary to many believes, lot of passengers are using camera and camcorders, recording in flight scenes and the window views, so I have no fear of doing what I want to do! Later, I asked the FA and one kind officer offered me the chance to visit the cockpit, on the upper deck. I gathered my chance on Iran Air is better than any other airlines in the world to visit cockpit during flight and that is Iran Air, with security guards onboard, amazing and I must be very lucky!

Stayed in the cockpit for 15-20 minutes, I filmed a little bit on my camcorder and took a few shots. Chatted to the pilots about the future of their B747SPs and the fleet renewal plans. I was very lucky to met one officer, whose brother works for Saha Air, so I told him my intentions of travel to Iran, and he called his brother came to help later after I landed in Tehran, I felt much better and relieved.

(Please click on the thumbnails for a larger version)

Over Kazakhstan, passing part of Himalayas
See those like sticker stripes usually on older plane's wings.

Over Uzbekhistan with clear views.
Lunch, Filet Mignon.
2nd serving. Fish.

The very wide 747SP cabin view from the back.
Cockpit of EP-IAB, built in 1976, currently have highest cycle in Iran Air B747SP fleet.
A view of Tehran Mehrabad Airport.

We arrived 15 mins in Tehran after schedule, despite a 30mins runway holding at Beijing. It was quite hazey and smoggy that day, so the first impression of the city was very brown! To get the transit visa was not easy either, the officer first told me it was impossible to get one, but later when I talked to him about my trip, he changed his mind! By paying USD 20 at the Bank Melli counter, I was successfully issued a visa valid for 2 days! The Iranian custom didn't check on me but checked on most Iranian back home from Beijing as they brought a lot of Chinese goods. Then I went to the bank exchange some Iranian Rials, 200 US dollars bought me 1.7 million rials, and their largest note was 10000, so my 1.7 million rials was carried in a large size envelope. (lot of notes that is and my wallet sure don't fit.) Met the Saha Air officer (name withhold for security reason) and he acknowledged my plans and I had dinner with his family. Persian minced lamb fillet and kebab with rice (Sultani and Kobideh?).

17 May

Woke up and it was a beautiful clear Spring day! First thing went to Iran Air office, to get a domestic ticket to Shiraz later on 19 May. Went to the wrong office but the officer made it easy for me to issue a domestic ticket in their Int'l ticketing office after knowing I came to Iran as a tourist! During my travels, it was amazing I turned things around many times, perhaps that was my ability to negotiate or just pure luck! Later of the day, I went to Mehrabad airport, were managed to get on the Saha Air to Kish Island on the evening flight.

capacity 180
Mach 0.80, FL270
Price paid (one way) about 35 USD, 1 hour 35 mins flight.

Took a bus to the highly anticipated remote stand to meet my B707 flight! From outside, it was in a great condition and the paint job was lovely blue with SAHA title on the front fuslarge and the tail!  About to record a little video, an Iranian passenger told me to stop, he told me it was against the safety regulation so I stopped without arguing. Went onboard, the interior was not as old as I thought, at least most seats were in good order and air con, reading light, call buttons were all functional! We left 4 mins early from the gate and took off right on the departure time with a good long takeoff roll to Kish. I was able to record the takeoff video with no inception on takeoff. We arrived also on time and during the 1.5 hrs flight, Saha served a snack and hot tea, which is better than most major airlines in my opinion!

Interior of EP-SHU
Climbing out of Tehran Mehrabad , Rwy 29R.
Continue turning away from Tehran.

Tuning final over the water.
About to land in Kish Island, looks like a desert there!

Mach 0.80 FL280

Kish is a free trade zone, there is no need for a visa just to visit Kish from anywhere. But the officer will check your Iranian visa if you take the flight to Tehran from Kish. The flight this time looks full, the captain recognize was me again so offered me a cockpit visit and I was allowed to stay in there until engines start to run and leave the apron. I was then giving a VIP treatment to sit with the security guard behind the cockpit and later back to passenger seats. Lot of Iranian looked at me strangely but I don't blame them! This is all about the fun of travelling. We touch down smoothly after 1.5 hrs in Mehrabad Int'l Rwy 29R, Rwy 29L is closed for maintainence I found out later. So that was my first roundtrip flight with Saha, and most importantly on the B707! The plane was overpowered for a short flight like that, inside the cabin, I didn't feel very noisy, as the engines are unhush kitted but I know it is a different story outside the aircraft. The flight was so smooth that I gave my thumbs up to Iranian pilots!

18 May
IR659 EP-IBO A310-200

Departure to Dubai at 0600am, so checked in at 430am in a very sleepy mood. The plane is an ex-Turkish Airlines flight, and the interior is quite old and doors are painted brown, the old Airbus way I believe. An uneventful 2 hours flight.  Dubai Airport is a big "wow", but I know when they have the money, they sure can built a grand airport. Went straight to the JW Marriott hotel, relaxed for a while and gone up to the roof terraces and swimming pool, the JW Marriott have one of the best view of Dubai airport and approaches (if they use Rwy12, approaching from the city). Unfortunatly they were using Rwy30s when I was there, and the sky looked quite hazey and white, I didn't stay too long under 40 degrees (110+ F). Later of the day I took a desert safari and dinner belly dancing tour, 10 or 15 mins out of Dubai, it was just all desert, there's nothing but sands! I was also disappointed the belly dancer was not Arabic, but was some girl from Russia.

Desert Safari in evening!
Of course there is Camal farm!

19 May

That day I went to Sharjah airport, to do my photography there. Lot of Russian planes there as expected plus a few rare exotic gem from Africa. Cost on the ramp is 350 UAE Dirham. You can walk around most of the planes and aprons yourself with no escort. Lot of IL18s, An12s, An24s, 707s, few DC8s, L1011, B747...Weather was extremely boiling at 42 degrees, so I consumed 3 or 4 litres of water just on the ramp for a few hours. Air Arabia have 3 A320 running, to many Middle east cities.

Sharjah Terminal
Ex Mandarin Airlines B747SP
Ex British Airways B747-200

An124 open his mouth
Gears of a L1011 from Sierra Leone.

For more photos of Sharjah, please see my airliners.net photos as I will upload most of them in the future.

On my return to Dubai, I was lost in Deira and couldn't get back to my hotel, JW Marriott to pick up my bags, I asked about 10 persons and non of them know the way to the hotel. I found Dubai have way too many foreign workers (mainly from India and Philippines I believe) and there is very little sense of belonging there. I missed my Iran Air flights due to the taxi driver (an foreigner) mistaken my flight's terminal and there was a big traffic jam due to the road construction.  Later, I was able to buy an Emirates ticket at USD149 one way to Tehran. Not fun when you missed your flights that's for sure!

20 May 2004
A330-200 A6-EKU
Dep 0115 Arr 0345

As you can see, the timing was very bad! I had little sleep as EK served a full meal during the short flight at 2am! Very impressed with the takeoff and inflight camera and the touch screen entertainment, but I seen it on All Nippon (ANA) before, the Y class seat were a little tight. Otherwise a smooth and uneventful flight again.

Arrived in Tehran and cleared custom, the arrival area at the terminal was already crowded like a zoo as few other flights from Europe made their way into THR, such as Alitalia, Austrian, Aeroflot etc. My friend were expecting me and took me to the domestic terminal for my flights to Shiraz.

280 pax full load

We had a mechanical problem so pax were stuck in the plane for about 1 hour, I was so tired after no rest the night before so I fell to sleep while they fix the plane. Another interesting thing in Iran, you have to board the airplane from the very back via the stairway, if your plane do not have an aerobridge attached to.  They do that, so the security personel onboard can have a good look of the passenger, see if any suspicious case out there. So even I sat in Row 3, I have to walk all the way from the back to the front. During the flight, my next seat starts to talk to me, I have told him my travels and my plans in Shiraz, later the whole front section of the plane heard my story and many came to help and shook hands with me, the Iranian are extemely friendly and great hospitality!

After getting a tour guide in Shiraz, the first stop is Persepolis. Founded by Darius I in 518 B.C., Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where the king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models. The importance and quality of the monumental ruins make it a unique archaeological site.

For more info on Persepolis, please visit:


The Gate of All Nations, Takt-e-Jamshid (Persepolis) Above view of the ruins.

The palace with 100 statues.

This is the symbol of Persepolis! I am not quite sure how you describe this.
Carvings on the wall still showing.
Homa, is the symbol of fame and fortune. The mythical story reveals that whomever “HOMA “ alights on, he will have fame and fortune.

"Naqsh-e Rostam"

Other sightseeing in Shiraz, Iran

A beautiful Mosque (name forgot)
The wall is covered by reflective and shining glasses!
Dome decorated by glasses.

A holy man's tomb inside the mosque.
Famous Persian poet, Hafez tomb and garden

B9985 Iran Air Tours
Seat 9A

After a day tour in Shiraz, I boarded the Tu154M of Iran Air Tours back to Tehran, I was sitting in the front section of the cabin, so it wasn't noisy at all. (in fact, pretty quiet), the whole flight was smooth, as usual a good snack with juice and tea is served. The ceiling on the Tu154 is slighlty shorter than other Western aircraft types, I slept most of the time onboard due to I didn't sleep the night before..Later, I realize the pilots and mechanics were all Russians on the TU154s. No wonder no pilot in-flight announcements was made.

At night in Tehran, my friends took me to a B707 restaurant, it was converted from a former Iran Air B707! Amazing! It situated in a high point with some views of the active airport. We were later invited to an Iranian wedding, the men and women were separated, it was a nice culture exchange. We had dinner in the B707! Fantastic, not I only flown a B707, even had Persian crusine on a B707!

Photo of the B707 Restaurant:

Air Restaurant
Interior of the 707 restaurant.

 21 May

Last day in Iran. Early morning went to the airport ready to fly on Saha Air to Mashhad this time.

EP-SHU B707-3J9C

It was EP-SHU again, the only 180 seater in Saha's fleet. I have not much complaint though given any 707 flight would be good to me, no matter about the registration.  Same long take off roll but was very stable during the flight and with only 1 hour flying time to Mashad, located at NE of Iran.

Rwy 29R take off from Tehran, you can see a ex-Iberia A300 there.
Flaps setting on landing in Mashhad.

EP-SHU B707-3J9C

A full flight return from Mashhad to Tehran. Very friendly and efficient crew again. Thanks to allow photo taking onboard.

A Beautiful Mosque outside of Mashhad airport.
Take off from Mashhad.
Passing Mashhad city.

B707 EP-SHU on the ground in Mashhad.
Interior of the B707 EP-SHU.

Tehran, a huge city with 12 million population!
A strip of tall buildings in the center of the city.
View from the boarding stairway!

In the afternoon I went to sighseeing in Tehran after another delicious Persian lunch in one of the best restaurant in Tehran, visited the home of the former supreme leader Imam Khomeini and the mountains in North Tehran. Later in the evening I was also able to take a few airplane landing pictures near the airport, but the sun was getting very weak then. I bought a nice small carpet, a stunning jewellery box, Persian music CD and a few books and postcards at the duty free shop in the airport before takeoff back to Beijing.

Tehran City.
A Mahan TU154 (hybrid of ...?)

78 POB / 305
STD2300 STA0935

I was very tired on the flight, and was able to occupy a whole middle 4 seater row by myself, so I slept during most of the flight. Flight time was shorter due to the prevailing trade winds, only 6 hr 40 mins in total.  Beijing was very sunny with clear visibility, we flown past the Great Wall in close distance, and I was too tired, no photos was made. I missed a great chance, Ahhh!

Interior of B747SP of Iran Air

Map and the flight sectors of the whole trip

From To Distance A/C
Fare Paid
PEK (40°04'48"N 116°35'04"E) THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) 3500 mi 747SP
THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) KIH (26°31'36"N 53°58'54"E) 651 mi 707-300C
KIH (26°31'36"N 53°58'54"E) THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) 651 mi 707-300C

THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) DXB (25°15'18"N 55°21'51"E) 758 mi A310-200
DXB (25°15'18"N 55°21'51"E) THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) 758 mi A330-200
THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) SYZ (29°32'22"N 52°35'22"E) 430 mi A300B2
SYZ (29°32'22"N 52°35'22"E) THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) 430 mi TU154M

THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) MHD (36°14'07"N 59°38'27"E) 468 mi B707-300C
MHD (36°14'07"N 59°38'27"E) THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48"E) 468 mi B707-300C

THR (35°41'21"N 51°18'48" PEK (40°04'48"N 116°35'04"E) 3500 mi B747SP

Total: 10 sectors

11614 mi

After thought of the trip and Iran:

I am so gladed and thrilled that I was able to visit a great country like Iran (even without a visa!) and I knew my decision to go there was a right one! The people, the sights, the city, streets, flights...and everything have an unique quality embodied in them. In Iran, it was like travelling back in time of 20 some years! The car, city, hotel were quite old but not without its charm! In fact, I like the way the old cars, the crazy traffic, small shops in the street, the way people dress... it really all adds up to the characteristics of the city. I feel very grateful and lucky because of the great hospitality of the Iranian people which came from their heart! I have to specially thank all the people I met in this trip, my travels usually relies heavily on meeting the right people and connection, and is even harder for me to go to a country like Iran. Without those lovely people I met, my trip will not be as successful as it is.
Iran has many great historic sites and scenes, I didn't have enough time there, I would definity re-visit again. I urge you to consider about your next travel plans, it is not a dangerous country by all means in my opinion. Also the Persian carpets are absolutly fantastic, next time when you go to Iran, don't forget to buy a few in the Bazzar!

Sam Chui
June 04