Epic Journeys – Tabriz, Iran, to Istanbul, Turkey

Folks, this one was a long time ago now, back in 2004, but it certainly was one that is hard to forget. At 1813 kilometres, I think this is longest travel story I have written about in my ‘Epic Journeys’ series. These two destinations, incidentally have loads to recommend them. Tabriz is seriously a great location, with a friendly city vibe, where I met loads of locals and talked to them. Not far away is Kandovan, where people live in volcanic rock (like Cappadocia) and the qualities of the spring water there are raved about throughout Iran.

Istanbul is the city on two continents, with amazing buildings such as the Hagia Sofia, which has been a church and a mosque and a building of both faiths and now a mosque again. It’s a vibrant city on the Bospherus River and is known as the ‘Gateway to Europe’. Turkey has been through a lot in terms of terrorism and political upheaval in the last decade, but still this divine city offers a lot to the visitor.


But the journey – the journey is a serious journey, and unlike the previous couple of journeys, it wasn’t a case of going from one form of transport to another. This time, I was on a single bus for the entire journey. Yes, over 1800 kilometres on the SAME BUS. Was it fun? Well… it was okay. I don’t remember it being the ‘journey from hell’ that it so clearly could have been.

Google Maps estimates the journey as taking around 21 hours. HA! So approximately the journey I took must have been around 36 hours. There is a time difference of apparently half an hour between Turkey and Iran, which seems a bit strange considering how long Turkey is and also considering Iran is a pretty large country too. Iran being half an hour ahead of Turkey. Anyways, I left maybe 8pm on the first night, and arrived around 630am two mornings later, which is around 33.5 hours I guess.

The bus arrived much later than it should have – it had originated in Tehran. And like many buses I’ve taken in different countries the bus stop was just a spot on the road, but it did finally pull up and soon enough we were on our way towards the Turkish border.

The bus wasn’t full at all, in fact it wasn’t even half full, which meant that everyone could spread out and sort of sleep across a couple of seats, which does make a definite difference. Knowing that I had a long time on the bus, and keeping in mind this was before you could carrying around devices to watch videos and before the smart phone, I had my iPod and that was about it for entertainment. I listened and then I slept. Fitfully, not for a continuous long stanza, but I got some sleep. Outside it was night and I have no idea really what was out there. I mean, mountains I guess, small towns, there may have been a stop here and there.

Turkish Border

It was deep into the night, perhaps 3am, when the bus pulled up at the Turkish border. We were there for quite a while, probably two to three hours. The border was open though, but processing seemed to take quite a while. There were a few people crossing with us, and some of us, including myself, needed to get a visa – available at the crossing.

As we waited for the final few people to be processed and bags searched, the sun came up. It was very cold, and I saw why – we were in the middle of the mountains. Snow-capped mountains, it really was a beautiful scene indeed.

We moved on and it was a long day indeed. And this is where my memory fades a bit. But there’s probably not a lot to remember. I do know that we didn’t pass through any cities during the day. Unless I was fast asleep because I slept quite a bit. It was watching the road, listen to music, or sleep. We did stop a couple of times at roadside restaurants for meals of course. I remember the lunch stop was a typical roadside stop and there was even a large souvenir shop.

Day turned into night. It was hard to say how much I was sleeping and how much I was awake. But I guess the quality of sleep was poor. But I did sleep, and was woken by the news that we were already in Istanbul on the second morning. The sun was just rising, it was 6am or 7am at the latest, possibly even earlier.

The bus stopped under a bridge. I had no idea where I was in terms of the city I had arrived in. I had to take a crowded bus to get to the tourist area (which is near the Hagia Sofia) which was absolutely packed at peak time. Finding my hostel wasn’t too hard, although it was a bit of a walk. People were having breakfast, I was served breakfast, and then I went to bed. It was really nice of them to let me check in so very early.

I would wake up in the early afternoon and hit Istanbul, almost like the bus ride that took forever hadn’t happened. Istanbul though was a lot of fun. And a journey of 1800 kilometres was suddenly in the past. It was uneventful, especially after the mountainside border crossing, journey. But that’s not a bad thing at all!

Have you ever been on a bus journey which spanned three separate days? Please do comment below! And…. May the Journey Never End!


11 thoughts on “Epic Journeys – Tabriz, Iran, to Istanbul, Turkey

  1. Never been on a bus journey of more than a few hours but this trip of yours looks epic. Had the pleasure of visiting Istanbul almost exactly a year ago and loved the city. Hope you’re doing well. Take care!

  2. I’ve never been on such long bus routes, but it could be fun, especially if the bus isn’t too full. The same people together in a small space for such a long time, it looks like a small community and interactions between passengers might unfold. Nice story anyway, thanks for sharing.

  3. 33.5 hours?? That’s incredible! I’ve never taken such a long overnight bus before, but I’m not a fan of the ones that I’ve taken. Very impressed you managed to survive that whole ordeal! I’ve been to Istanbul, but not Iran; I’d love to go some day, though!

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