“All strange and terrible events are welcome, but comforts we despise.”
– Cleopatra (the last active Pharaoh of ancient Egypt)
Egypt has always been a top tourist destination because of the only remaining 7 Wonders of the Ancient World – The Great Pyramids of Giza. When I was still in Singapore, it’s just too expensive to go here coming from there, so when I moved to Dubai in 2011, I was happy because I am now closer and would be more possible for me to go there anytime. However, 2011 is not a good year for Egypt because of its political revolution. And even it was over now, the news have never subsided, sad to say up until now.
A lot of people I know were apprehensive of me wanting to go there, so I was a bit worried too if I should go at this time. I did my own research of looking for travellers who just visited Egypt recently and asking how was it, because I cannot rely on the news or ask a local (though I don’t know one!). Fellow travellers (esp women) can give you the best feedback, and the result was satisfying to ease my mind to join another girl friend on this trip.
The only downside of this trip are the touts who won’t take no for an answer and will just ruin your peaceful walk and chats with your friend because they just won’t give up too soon. Apart from the annoying touts, if you are a female traveller, expect lots of catcalling and unnecessary loud honking from the cars! Also, perhaps my friend and I looked different or we don’t have a tour guide with us that is why we attract more attention because we perhaps look more approachable, a LOT of people (non-tourists I suppose) would like to have a photo with you! We refused the requests from teenage boys and men, but with ladies and kids we were very accommodating (at first!).
This is quite common to other places I’ve been to, I’ve experienced this too in India, China, and even in Europe too, but only here in Egypt that I’ve experienced a massive request for a photo with you and even without them in the picture, they will just take photo of you without you knowing it! It was funny at first but after awhile you’ll get annoyed because it disrupts your tour already. In the end, we had to learn to say no to everyone or just avoid and pretend you didn’t see them at all. Rule No.1: Saying NO entitles them to pursue you, just IGNORE them and walk away.
We stayed at Giza so that we are close to the Pyramids because I want to see the sunrise at the plateau. Our hotel, Le Meridien Pyramids, has a good location where we can just walk to the main entrance of the Pyramids Plateau in 10minutes or less if your walk is not distracted by touts! We booked a city view but they’ve upgraded us to a pyramids view room with own balcony access to the pool!
However, we can only see the tip of the Pyramids haha! So we have to go to the poolside to see the whole view of the Pyramids. The security was very tight (like at the airport) and staff were nice. We only encounter problems with their taxi/tour concierge, they are nice and safe but they tend to become a smooth talker and sleazy when you become too nice with them. Rule No.2: Don’t be TOO friendly.
- The Pyramids Plateau
We arrived at 2am so we still had time to sleep before the sunrise at 6am. We watched the sunrise by the poolside then after having our coffee we started walking towards the main gate of the Pyramids Plateau from our hotel as we want to be there before it opens at 8am. When you enter the main gate, the ticket counter is still quite a walk, so just ignore all the touts who will do all their “impressive” modus operandi like they are an officer showing their ID in Arabic or they are from your hotel, they even do this in front of the guards, so be extra careful and smart.
After getting our tickets, the first pyramid that will welcome you is the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the largest pyramid in the plateau. We went inside the pyramid to experience how it’s like for an additional ticket fee that is more expensive than the entrance fee to the whole plateau. If you have a child or old people with you, or if you are claustrophobic or physically impaired, it’s better to skip going inside. If you are unfit like me, just challenge yourself if you really want to see it, then you can make it just like me hehe.
The next pyramid we saw after the Great Khufu is the Pyramid Khafre. Then from afar you can already see the Pyramid Menkaure. We were fortunate that we were one of the first visitors to enter the plateau because it’s still not crowded and it’s the best time to capture photos. The disadvantage is there are more touts that will target you and they are overly “persistent”.
When we reached the Pyramid Menkaure, we knew that we were already close to the spot where you can see all the 9 pyramids in one view. Camel/Horse touts will convince you that it’s very far and unsafe, but actually it’s not. Perhaps we went on a best time of the year (November), it’s not too hot, and it’s not too cold, so walking is better to explore the plateau.
From the spot where you can view all the 9 pyramids, we decided to fold to one tout who has been following us non-stop since the second pyramid! We hired him and brought us his horse carriage to take us to the Sphinx where the exit gate is also located.
At the Sphinx, it’s already crowded, mostly with locals and students, that was a Friday so there is no school. Nevertheless, we still found a good time to explore this part. At around 12 noon, we were already starving so we decided to exit the plateau and eat at the restaurant opposite the Sphinx exit gate, but it was closed for praying time, so we ended up at Pizza Hut :D
We were supposed to get back to our hotel at 1pm for a Saqqara and Dashour tour, but we decided to walk back to our hotel and we got lost when we didn’t follow our geographic instinct and asked a local for direction >.< Rule No.3: Bring a map and do your own research, chances are you cannot rely on locals’ information.
We got lost and experienced all the catcallings and unnecessary loud honkings from cars, plus we absorbed all the dust and dirt in the streets of Giza! We arrived back our hotel around 2pm already and feeling too exhausted from our misadventure. So we cancelled our tour and just decided to see the sunset along Nile River whilst riding a Felucca. The hotel’s concierge told us to be back at the lobby around 5pm. We forgot Rule No.3, so we ended up missing the sunset :(
- Felucca Ride along Nile River
We still went on Downtown Cairo to do the Felucca Ride as we don’t have any other plans anymore for that night. It was a relaxing ride but not as impressive as we expected it to be. It’s a bit dark to take good photos, and Cairo doesn’t have great skyscrapers lined up anyway. Maybe it is still best to do this before sunset. The only rewarding experience we got from doing this is it was relaxing and you are cruising along the longest river in the world – Nile River.
We ended the night with a sumptuous Egyptian dinner at the restaurant we went to that afternoon that was closed. We sat at the second floor, so we were lucky to watch the Sound & Light Pyramid Show for FREE! However, you will not hear the sound, you will just the light transition which is just good enough.
- Perfumery “Museum” and Papyrus “Museum” (it’s actually shops and not museums)
The next day, we arranged our driver to drive us to the Egyptian Museum and Citadel first before dropping us to the aiport for our 6pm flight back to Dubai. We checked-out quite late, around 10am, because we didn’t know that the driver will still take us to the Perfumery Shop and Papyrus Shop. Even if we have wasted a couple of our time allotted for that day, those 2 visits on these shops were quite interesting too. Having said that, we had to rush our time going around the Egyptian Museum because of this. Rule No.4: Don’t let your driver/guide decide for you where to go, where to eat, and how much to pay.
- Egyptian Museum & Royal Mummies Museum
The location of the Egyptian Musuem is the central area of Cairo, this is where the protests used to happen, so again, we were fortunate that we were able to visit it as you can find the best Egyptian artifacts you can find in this world. There is an additional fee again to enter the Royal Mummies Museum inside, as this is one of the highlight of the Egyptian Museum, it is still worth to visit. We saw the mummy of Ramesses II, the mightiest and longest ruling Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, he was the pharaoh of the Exodus and the adoptive brother of Moses.
- Cairo Citadel
Our last stop was at Citadel. It’s the medieval city of Egypt with the best view of Cairo including the Pyramids from a distance. It is often included in some lists of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World. At Citadel, there are a lot of museums like the police, military, and carriage, but we just went around the Alabaster Mosque.
It’s only around 45mins to go to airport from Citadel, so we arrived just as we planned – 2 hours before our flight. But the airport was not busy so we were checked-in quite quickly and had too much time to wait for our boarding. This is one proof that not too much tourists are traveling to Egypt lately.
Tourism is a major industry in Egypt, a country that struggles with poverty. So after the political unrest in 2011 and again in 2013, Egypt struggles to lure back the tourists once again. All the travel bans have been lifted up and so far there are no more protests after 2013, but even I was hesitant to go at first but I still went because I asked first-hand travellers rather than relying on the news.
If you read the news, you’ll believe it’s unsafe to go because there is a “war”. But what Egypt has is not even a civil war, it is a civil protest against their government. However, it’s still better to stay safe, wait for all the conflicts to subside before you take the risk. And I believe, on this recent trip we had, this is already that time.
Egypt’s tourism have suffered long enough because the media tend to exaggerate their current situation, because that’s what entertains people. People tune in more for strange and terrible events, than watching or reading a comforting good news. I hope Egypt’s tourism could recover soon if media will also help ease the mind of the people who wants to travel there., but that’s impossible to happen knowing the business of media world. So I guess, do what I exactly did too, find people who lives there and who just visited it recently and know first-hand experience.
If you want to know my own experience, travelling as a lady “tourist” with a female friend too, was overall fairly safe. Of course, we avoided to be too adventurous by spending more bucks – to stay in a good hotel, hire our hotel’s drivers to see around, and be extra vigilant.
Accidents happen unexpectedly so this tip is not 100% sure that you’ll be unharmed. Because no matter how safe we try to do things, we still got lost on our way back to our hotel because of the fear of getting a taxi from the street which is not from our hotel. We got lost even if we asked the most smart-looking person we saw on the street. That was the “longest walk” I think I had in my life, I was scared even if it happened in broad day light. When we finally reached our hotel, I told my friend, after what happened to us, it’s indeed safe in Egypt, but I strongly believe, our faith have protected us from harm.
I remember the story in Exodus about the plagues that God had sent Egypt so that the Pharaoh (Ramesses II) will set the slaves (Israelites) free, the last plague was to strike down every first-born, but if you have the blood at your doors, God will pass over you. Blood is your faith with God. His blood protects you from the worst harm and can surely safeguard us from lesser dangers. We live in perilous times in a dangerous world. God’s protection from harm is a reassuring promise in the face of the dangers we face.