Photo: Calvin Sun
Calvin Sun travels the world on a tiny budget, but cobbles together the most amazing journeys.As a full-time medical student based in New York, he also runs the blog Monsoon Diaries, showing people that it’s possible to see the world in an incredible way even if you’re not rolling in cash.
“Everyone makes excuses they can’t travel. I’ve been to 40 countries in the last 2 years, not skipping a day of school. And my bank account has remained the same.” He’s figured out a bunch of secrets to make this happen.
He explains, “There’s a trick to travelling. I gave it a shot. I have to show it to you.” A big part of Calvin’s travels is the people who journey with him —anyone can join him on his next trip. And he’s always making friends along the way: “More than an aquaintance, pen pal, or potential tour guide.” He’s formed a network across dozens of countries.
His latest trip took him to the seat of the former Persian Empire.
“I can’t believe I was just in Iran,” he tells us after he got back. The visa application process for Americans is lengthy and you’re never sure if you’ll be approved, he says.
After seeing his photographs, we had to share the sights he captured.
It's always nice to browse through a city that doesn't demand your attention — let things happen to you and you'll be rewarded for your curiosity
That's what happens in Shiraz — it's a city of simple pleasures with photogenic sights that don't overwhelm — life takes its time here
The Persians believed that stained glass would confuse mosquitoes and prevent them from coming indoors — making this the prettiest mosquito repellent out there
After lunch we bought a bit of hookah tobacco called shisha — smoked — took a nap and waited for dinner
It all started with sneaking around Shiraz after dark and seemed innocent enough, but they aren't kidding about foreigners wandering around unescorted at night — the police caught us and he had to head back to our lodgings
Our next adventure took us to Persepolis — this was the seat of the Persian Empire that fell to Alexander the Great — some remnants of a once glorious temple leave us feeling surreal
This reminded me of middle school history — King Darius the Great and his son Xerxes I are buried here in the Necropolis, or 'city of the dead'
All the history I learned when I was young and naive suddenly made sense – travelling does that to you
Eventually we headed to Isfahan by bus and the cinematic scenery kept me awake (nearly) the whole time — I wish I could adequately describe it but there's no way
It's the breathing life force of the city, with students and families strolling along the river, riding on paddle boats, having a picnic, smoking the shisha, or just taking in the energy of the city
The atmosphere is totally different in this part of Tehran — we approach the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini with caution 'cause you do not f--- around when visiting the grave of the present country's revered cult of personality — Read below* for our experience with the security guards
Hours later in the Martyr's Cemetery we see miles of graves — they all belong to children, young adults, rarely anyone over the age of 25 — all those who died in the Iraq-Iran war, a brutal conflict that involved massive use of chemical weapons
The memories of the massacre brings out mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends, paying their respects by offering sweets and then offering us the same when their visit is over
We visited the abandoned and defaced U.S. Embassy, which was taken over during the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981 — our guide tells us it's now the headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard (although Wikipedia says it's a museum…we're pretty clueless who's telling the truth anymore at this point)
Photography is banned and there are cameras everywhere watching us — all I can say is, there's are creepy paintings all over the place
We had an extra day and wanted to explore even though you're supposed to be guarded by an MFA-approved tour agency at all times and following a strict itinerary
Almost everything closes on Fridays, but not if you open up shop 'old-school' style like these vendors on the floor
It was total chaos inside, but the best place for cheap shopping — I managed to get things that would normally go for for 40-50x the price in countries that, well, aren't' under intense sanctions
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