5 things I wish I’d known before traveling to Pakistan

Jan 9, 2021

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I threw myself out of my comfort zone and traveled to Pakistan in 2019. The main reason for the trip was to review the country’s flagship airline’s best product on a premium route. You can read my disappointing — but amusing — experience here.

I’ve been to more than 70 countries, but Pakistan was unlike anywhere I’d ever visited. I did quite a bit of research for the trip but there were a few quirks to my experience that I didn’t come across in any forums, blogs or travel advice.

Here is what I wish I’d known before I arrived.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

1. Visa processes are frustrating

I expected my e-Visa to take around five days, as it seemed to for other applicants. After about 20 days, when it had still not arrived, I tried my luck landing at Lahore International Airport (LHE) and hoping it would have been processed by the time I landed.

It hadn’t.

I had all the required information with me — dozens and dozens of pages printed out. While the immigration officers were very friendly, welcoming and apologetic for how absurdly slow their embassies had been, there was absolutely nothing they could do on the spot despite me having everything I needed for a visa. I was sent back to Istanbul (IST) immediately on the same plane I arrived in.

You can read more about exactly what happened after that here.

Read more: 3 reasons why you should visit Mumbai

2. Wearing shorts is considered inappropriate

I visited Pakistan in September while it was still a scorching 98 or 100 degrees Fahrenheit every single day. While the sunshine was nice, it was extremely hot to walk around outside. I packed four pairs of lightweight shorts to wear in this weather and only one pair of jeans.

When I landed and took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, I noticed every single man, woman and child on the street was wearing long trousers or long robes down to their ankles. In the hotel, the same thing — all staff and guests were wearing long trousers and robes in the heat.

I was going on a tour with a guide the following day so happened to inquire about where wearing shorts would be acceptable. The guide was shocked at the suggestion and insisted that while appropriate on the streets it was forbidden to wear them at the historic and religious sites he was taking me to.

The shorts remained unworn for the duration of the trip while my jeans radiated the heat every time I stepped outside. Lesson learned — take lightweight, loose trousers.

Silly me in jeans in Pakistan. (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

3. You’re a tourist attraction to locals

I saw around five other tourists during the five days I was in Lahore. The city seemed to receive very few foreign tourists, which meant I got a lot of interest from locals when I ventured out.

I received plenty of friendly greetings as well as requests for selfies on their new, top-of-the-range mobile phones. This wasn’t unexpected or unusual as I’d experienced this in parts of China. What did surprise me and did make me initially feel a little uncomfortable at times was that groups of locals would start following me down the street.

4. Alcohol is illegal but available

I did know before visiting that alcohol was not sold in most of Pakistan except in a few very high-end international hotels. With the searing heat, I was dreaming of an ice-cold beer. I was browsing the hotel directory when I found an odd footnote that said, “If you wish to order alcohol please ask staff”. I wandered down to reception with the directory and asked about this. They seemed surprised and offended that I would ask and insisted this was not available or possible.

I wandered back to my room, dejected but not very surprised — after all, I was in a conservative, predominantly Muslim country. However, less than 30 seconds after closing the door to my room there was a knock. A bellboy was standing there with a big plastic bag. He said, “You want beer?”

Surprised, I nodded and invited him into the room. He started pulling 16-ounce cans of beer from the bag, which oddly, were brewed in Pakistan. He happily offered them to me for around $3 each, but insisted I pay him cash on the spot rather than billing my room.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

5. Hotel pool hours are divided by gender

I specifically picked a hotel with a pool, as I knew how hot it was going to be each day. It was suprising to learn only when I arrived that there were only a few hours a day I could use it. The opening hours are divided between men, women and families (meaning you had to have a child with you to enter). I organized my days around the small windows I could actually use the pool.

And don’t expect sunbathing — the chairs were kept under cover.

Bottom line

Traveling is exciting and educational, but make sure you read up extensively on the country and not assume things. Forums, blogs and of course The Points Guy are great tools.

Featured photo by Muhammad Owais Khan/Getty Images.

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