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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
HomeIraqBaghdadBaghdad, Iraq Day 1: Over Stimulation

Baghdad, Iraq Day 1: Over Stimulation

Baghdad Day 1 is part of the Iraq Homecoming Trip Report.

What do you do when you have 3 nights in Baghdad? The answer is everything and nothing. I say everything because that’s plenty of time to become familiar with the city. I say nothing because it will be stimulus overload, making you wish that you had opted to stay in a nicer hotel with a pool retreat (see Baghdad Day 2 & Baghdad Day 3).


Arriving in Baghdad was a surreal experience. I imagined the US armed forces using the airport as a base during the US occupation of Iraq. I imagined my parents leaving Saddam Hussein International Airport in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness in 1981 during the Iran-Iraq War.

a plane on the tarmac


Americans can pay for visas on arrival. The cost is $77. Exact change is useful (see Iraq Visa on Arrival: Take a Seat, Hand Over Some Cash, Then Exit).

a group of people sitting in chairs and a blue suitcase


It took a moment to comprehend that I was actually in Baghdad.

a large airport with many people and luggage

a parking lot with palm trees and a parking lot


I paid $2620 for a private guide and driver for my 8-day tour of Iraq. My driver was waiting for me when I arrived and kindly greeted me by offering a cigarette.

a man walking on a walkway

Hotel Prices

Included in the price was my accommodation. I was told that it was $60 a night for all my hotels throughout Iraq. I don’t know how every hotel was exactly the same price, but I had haggled enough for the tour price that I did not press for further details. I did check online and it said ‘contact hotel for rates.’


Imagine a guesthouse in Cambodia or Laos. That’s a three-star in Baghdad. The room smelled like smoke, the bathroom was dirty, and the furniture was well-dated. The bed, though firm, was surprisingly comfortable. While breakfast was included, it was not the big spread my mom would make on the weekends. They kept it simple: eggs, vegetables, and tea.

a bed with a pillow on it

a room with a tv and a chair

a bathroom with a shower and sink

a room with tables and chairs

TPOL’s Tip: While a luxury hotel would have provided an oasis from the hustle and bustle of Baghdad, I am glad I did not pay $300-$400 a night to stay at an underwhelming 5-star.

Sleep In

After a full day at the Turkish Lounge in Istanbul (see Why I Still Don’t Like the Turkish Lounge in IST ) and a 2AM flight to Baghdad (see This Flight Is Bound for Baghdad: IST to BGW Turkish Flight Review), it was foolish to think that I would have enough energy to start my tour at 8:30 AM. I told the driver to give me until 9:30 AM. When I woke up at noon, I was met with angry messages from the guide who scolded me for my tardiness.

TPOL’s Tip: Take half a day to rest, lest you want to start off your tour on the wrong foot.

Espresso Needed

With the drama somewhat resolved, we began the marathon tour of Baghdad. The first stop of the cradle of civilization was the espresso shop for much-needed caffeine. It’s 5000 ($3.82) dinars for an espresso. Whoever said Iraq is cheap was only partially accurate.

a cup on a table

Martyr Museum

Propaganda is an effective tool to keep authoritarians in power. It dupes the masses into believing that things are the way they hope them to be rather what they actually are.

The Martyr Monument, erected in 1983, pays homage to those who died in the Iraq-Iranian war. Inside, the names of the deceased are inscribed on the walls.

The government has since repurposed the museum to pay tribute to those who were killed for rising up against Saddam and those who were killed by ISIS. There is a photo of Saddam with a noose over his head with the word ‘tyrant’ written below.

Processing it all is challenging. Ultimately, the museum showcases the worst in humanity, a reminder that evil can be perpetrated no matter who is in charge.

a large building with a dome on top of it

a two large buildings in a desert

two large round buildings in a desert

a man standing in front of two large buildings

a large blue and white building with a large blue and white structure

a flag on a pedestal

a building with a dome

a large white room with columns and a staircase

a display of photos on a wall

a wall with writing on it

a man standing on a staircase

a road with palm trees and a building

Palestine Hotel

I vividly recall the start of the Persian Gulf War and CNN’s coverage with Bernard Shaw. I remember the Baghdad skyline being lit up by bombs, speaking of propaganda, ‘patriot’ missiles.’ I also recall the Palestine Hotel where journalists and diplomats have stayed throughout the years. Seeing it in person was surreal.

a large building with many balconies

a large building with many windows and trees in front of it

One Thousand And One Nights

Do you know the stories from One Thousand And One Nights? Monuments from the fable are all over Baghdad. The soft side of Iraq wasn’t something I thought I would see.

a fountain in a park

a statue of a man and woman in a park

a statue of a woman and a man sitting on a bench

a statue of a man and a woman sitting on a bench

a path with palm trees and bushes

Baghdad Tower (Formerly International Saddam Tower)

It’s no Burk Khalifa in Dubai, but Iraq also has a burj called the Baghdad Tower.

a building with a tower in the background

Al-Rahman Mosque

Following the second invasion of Iraq, Al-Rahman Mosque was not completed. It can be best seen from, of all places, a shopping mall.

a man taking a picture of a city

a large building with domes and a green lawn

a city with palm trees

40th Birthday

I have symbolically landed somewhere interesting on my birthday to write a story that begins with, “On my X birthday I landed in Y.” I used this strategy when I landed in Shanghai in 2010 to launch my career as an international attorney. Specifically, I wrote… ( a full account of what happened can be found in my book Everyone’s Advice Is Wrong . . . Including Mine). I tried it again in Shanghai 2018 in the Tahiti Triumph Trip Report. I had a visa issue then (see Visa Blunder Part 3: China Visa-Free Transit Disaster (again)) and ended up having to go to Hong Kong for the day (see Visa Blunder Part 5: An Unexpected Birthday in Hong Kong).

Thus far the artificial idea of creating a prologue has not been parlayed into anything extraordinary. Not one to give up, I arrived in Baghdad on my 40th birthday, my first time visiting the country since my parents left in 1981. The official celebration happened in the mall restaurant, just as it would have had I been born here.

a man sitting at a table with a plate of cake

Shopping Mall

There are no designer boutiques that you would find in the massive malls in Dubai. It wasn’t the fake market from Shanghai (see Fake Market Shanghai: 2019 Pricing Guide), but it was bootleg nonetheless.

a man riding a scooter on a road with cars and buildings
Imagining if I lived here and this being my neighborhood mall.

a building with a sign on the front

The Hands of Victory

The war between Iraq and Iran that lasted from 1980-1988. It devastated the country but Saddam declared victory nonetheless. To commemorate this ‘achievement,’ he built Victory Arch, also known as the the Swords of Qādisīyah. It is said that the hands that brace the swords are exact replicas of his hands.

Unfortunately, the Hands are in the Green Zone which is off-limits to tourists and civilians. The only photo opportunity is driving by slowly and hoping to snag a few photos before the armed guard became too upset. I had two runs at it and am happy with the results.

a sign on the grass
You don’t have to read Arabic to know what this means.
a group of trees and a street sign
This guy shouted it out to remind me.
a white fence with green and blue designs
The fortified Green Zone.

a building on the side of a road

a road with palm trees and a building

a palm trees and a road sign

a gated area with a metal structure and a sign

a large arch with two large statues

a sculpture of two crossed bones

a large cannon in a desert

a large sculpture of two heads

Signs of Saddam

One of the reasons I came to Iraq is because of my fascination with Saddam Hussein. I was disappointed that there are figuratively and literally no signs of Saddam in Baghdad. His omnipresence, both figuratively and literally, was everywhere during his reign. Now, it’s as if he never existed. The square where his statue was famously pulled down and stomped with sandals, an insult in Arab culture, stands empty except for a few fountains. The currency which also bore his face is a novelty souvenir that can be purchased for pennies on the dinar.

It makes sense that public displays would be removed but like in the US, artifacts of our past should be in a museum. History should be scrubbed from the public domain.

a group of flags on poles
Even the Iraqi flag was changed.


There are liquor stores in Iraq. The stereotype in America is that Chaldeans, Catholic Iraqis, own liquor stores. Many do or did. In Iraq, it’s the same with the Christians who are the proprietors of such establishments.

To continue the Baghdad birthday, I went to a small Italian restaurant and had some meze and a few beers. That was the only time I drank alcohol in Iraq.

a table with plates of food

a man holding a glass of beer

a piece of paper with writing on it
Tourist prices or is Baghdad expensive? $57 total.
a paper with numbers and numbers on it
Should’ve gone with the arak

TPOL’s Tip: There are bars in Baghdad but most restaurants are dry.


It was an indescribable feeling to walk around Baghdad. The personal history, the media’s portrayal, and what it is now all came together and left me speechless.

a street with palm trees and buildings

a green and white tower

a man in a car
Happy 40th: My face summarizes Baghdad, day 1.


  1. Fascinating! Thanks for posting this trip report. Your trip reports are always interesting and I like your unique writing style. Michigan sucks though!

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