Thankfully, the VIP passenger buses are ridiculously cheap within Iran, although no one at the stations speaks much English.
I had two rather contrary experiences during my trip.
I first travelled from Esfahan to Shiraz for 300,000 rial. I made the mistake of taking the 11:45AM bus, which really ate up my day, but I also didn’t want to be getting into the hostel too late. I was waiting at the bus platform at 11:45, and started freaking out because there was still no bus. When I went back in, they told me to sit down in the VIP lounge and stay there until I was called. Guess I’m not used to being a VIP!
As VIPs, we received an apple, a banana, a cucumber, and a plastic knife (which I realised after I’d already eaten my cucumber unpeeled.) The lady I sat next to was incredibly sweet despite speaking no English; a man a row ahead of me had lived in Florida for twenty-two years and was excitedly rediscovering his homeland; and I met a really interesting girl from Shiraz who was studying to be a doctor in Esfahan. These three all adopted me; when we stopped for lunch and everyone had to get out, they all sat down at my table and offered me various food items.
Outside the windows, I saw Sofa Mountain and a lot of very red, dry rock, and it felt eerily reminiscent of my Greyhound bus ride to Zion.
The ‘six’ hour bus ride thus turned into just over seven, but thankfully I knew when I was in Shiraz.
My bus from Shiraz to Tehran was pretty miserable, though the lady at the counter seemed to take pity on me and gave me a discount–the ride was only 500,000 rial. I was in a good mood as a lovely man from Kish Island had spent a good half hour talking to me about his work in an oil field.
I waited at the bus platform again. There was a bus leaving for Tehran at 10:00PM, but it was from the platform next to the one I was supposed to board at, so I figured I should just wait until I was called or go find myself a VIP lounge to stay seated in. But when nothing had happened by 9:58, I went up to the conductor and showed them my ticket, just to get hurried onto the bus–apparently I was late.
The bus made several restroom stops, waking me up each time, but I still managed to sleep on and off until my phone with music died around 3AM. From then, I was wide awake with everyone around me asleep. I assumed that since the ride was supposed to take ‘twelve’ hours, I’d get in around noon, or maybe 11AM if I was lucky. So when everyone got off the bus around 9AM, I was very confused as to why their bladders were suddenly in sync. “Tehran?” I asked someone getting off. “Yes, yes, Tehran!” Well, okay.
Still, if taken at the right times, these buses were very efficient monetarily. I had wanted to take a train as they apparently have quite nice overnight passenger compartments; however, when I tried to book online, I never received an invoice or confirmation. It’s very easy to reserve a seat on a bus in advance by calling (or having someone fluent in Farsii call for you) and there seem to be buses at almost every hour to the more popular location.