Picture Above: White Desert.
For more pictures
of this trip, please CLICK HERE.
Like many people in the world, I have always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt – the history, the Gods and Goddesses, the Pharaohs, and of course, the Great Pyramids in Giza. All this time, I put Egypt as my top destination. However, I kept putting this trip off -- mainly because of the unstable political situation. All the incidents of terrorist bombing gearing towards tourists really set me back. Then, I asked myself, how long am I going to wait? This year seems to be better than a few years ago, but again, who can ever tell? If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I can either sit and wait forever, or just go. So I went through a few days of monitoring and researching. When I saw really good price tickets through Orbitz, I booked the flight 6 months in advance with Lufthansa. After a long 17 hours flight (including transfer in Frankfurt and connection time), Alex and I arrived Cairo on November 23rd, 2006.
We backpacked through-out Egypt in 14 days. I learned some Arabic, got to know the Egyptian culture, and learned its ancient history as we visited places. There is no doubt that the country has a lot to offer. There are just so much to see. I wish we had more time than just 14 days, considering my route plan was very ambitious. I’d definitely stay in the red sea area (Hurghada) for longer, and go to Ras Mohamed National Park and Dahab. We pretty much sacrificed that for the Western Desert, which offers unique scenery and an unforgettable experience as well.
During our journey, we’ve met other tourists from all over the world, and it was really nice to get to know some of them. We also encountered very nice Egyptians, and unfortunately, plenty of local hustlers as well. They made every effort to get our attention (for their service or to buy their products), and many would try to rip us off. It was necessary to bargain everywhere we go. It was a pity that these crazy hustlers, the severe air pollution, the smokers everywhere, and the fight with flies (poor overall hygiene) contributed negativity to our trip.
I have included here, again, the photos of
this trip, some highlights and memories from this trip,
plus tips + recommended route and sights, and places
Here are some
highlights and memories from this trip:
- Andy from Australia that we met in the hostel, Alex, and I got in a taxi that was supposed to take us to the entrance of the Pyramid, but ended up dropping us off at the camel rental. After 5 minutes of rejecting the camel ride, we walked to the Pyramid.
- Admiring the Pyramids of Giza and Sphix. Climbed the steep stairs inside of the pyramid. A horse carriage got pulled over by camel police.
- Took the felucca ride on the Nile River. The view of the Nile in Aswan was breathtaking.
- Alex didn't know and sat on the wrong side of the ferry, therefore becoming the only man in the front of the boat for... 5 seconds? ( got kicked out by women.)
- Successfully initiated conversation in Arabic with a Nubian woman on the ferry.
- Swam and snorkelled in the red sea. Saw beautiful coral reefs and all kinds of colorful fish.
- Tried wind-surfing for the first time. Fun!
- Got used to the Islamic calling/chanting 5 times a day. The first one at around 5am. Ear plugs worked!
- Woke up at 3am, got on the bus to Abu Simbel at 4:30am in convoy. There were at least 17 big and small buses.
- We met James from China on the train from Aswan to Luxor. He decided to travel with us. The 3 of us then visited Hurghada and Luxor together for 5 days.
- 4 hours bus ride from Luxor to Hurghada became 5.5 hours. (I guess 4 hrs regular time = 5.5 hrs Egyptian time.) "Enjoyed" funny and crazy movie in Arabic on the bus.
- We waited for the bus to Luxor from noon to 2:30PM, the bus never came. We met Masha from Moscow at the bus station. She worked as a guide in Luxor/Hurghada for 10 years. At the end, Masha, James, Alex, and I ended up crowding into a taxi with our luggage. We got picked on at the check point for stupid reasons, delaying our trip for 45 minutes. At the end, money talks.
- We met Zak from San Diego. He gave us tips for visiting Valley of the Kings. At night, Zak, James, Alex, and I ate at this local fast food place that serves really good sandwitches in Luxor. Zak understood Arabic numbers and saved us from being ripped off. From then on, I learned the numbers too.
- Saw many beautiful decorations inside the tombs of Nobels and Valley of the Kings. Climbed the mountain to get to Hatshepsut. Enjoyed the hike and the view from the top.
- Camped out in the white desert and freezed our asses off. There was no tent, only a panel to block the wind! Saw cute little foxes at night.
- Walked on sand dunes in the western desert. Man, I love it! They are so beautiful!
- Saw the incredible treasures and sarcophagus from the tomb of Tutankhamun at Egyptian museum.
Tips + recommended
route and sights:
IIf I were to change anything to my original route but still going to the same places, I would go to Hurghada from Cairo on the 3rd day instead of the train down to Aswan on the 2nd night. I will then miss the 13 hours of sleeper train ride from Cairo to Aswan. (which was quite fun; dinner was good too.) However, considering how difficult it is to travel from Hurghada to Luxor vs. how easy it is to travel from Aswan to Cairo, this is probably a better way. A few things I recommend based on my experience:
1. Be sure you bargain and agree on the price before sitting inside a taxi. Be very clear about your destination too.
2. If you are a teacher or a full-time student, make sure you apply for the ISIT/ISIC card BEFORE you go. It's totally worth it, and it will save you a lot of money. Just about every entrance fee and some train tickets are half price.
3. November is a very good time to visit Egypt. The weather is mild and comfortable in Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan; although it might be cold at Hurghada (red sea), and the desert.
4. Plan your route and do research before going. Be sure to have your guidebook with good maps at all times. I found backpakcing in Egypt a bit more difficult and required more energy than backpacking other places, such as Europe, India, and Japan. (but traveling on your own is still 10 times better than going with a big tour group) This is partially due to many hustlers on the street, and tons of local business men trying to rip the tourists off. Soon, you will either feel sick and tired with having to deal with them all the time, or you will get used to it (and actually get good at it). A lot of time, hotel owners that seem friendly cannot be trusted.
5. The sleeper train from Cairo down to Luxor or Aswan is excellent. Cabins are clean with wash sink; dinner was very good. Booking ahead is recommended although if you email them ahead, you might never get an answer. I heard it’s best to fax them your reservation. If you go during off season, it’s usually no problem to buy your ticket on the same day. Cost at the time was $65 USD per person. If you want to save money, you can buy the 1st class seat for $15 USD, but it doesn’t really live up the standard for 1st class, and the ride to Aswan is between 13-16 hours.
6. You can travel by buses between Cairo, Hurghada, Luxor, and many other major cities. Upper Egypt Bus Co. seems to be the only company serving Luxor ~Hurghada. Keep in mind that, the “Egyptian time” is usually 1-3 hours longer than the scheduled or estimated time. Here is abus schedule, but I wouldn’t trust their accuracy.
7. Obviously, check to see if you need a vaccine before you go. Always keep your eyes on the most updated health and safety information.
Below are my recommended Routes and Sites.
2 days in Cairo and Pyramid of Giza
Cairo is a busy and crowded city. There are tons of places to eat, shop, walk around, and sleep. The guidebook usually suggests Islamic Cairo , which we thought was over-rated. It might be interesting if you've never been to Asia or Mexico city. It has many small streets and alleys with tons of shops. Shop owners are very eager for your business; some might be aggressive. A must see in Cairo is, of course, the Egyptian Museum, where impressive collection of Tutankhamun's treasures are kept.
Pyramid of Giza is about 45 minutes away by car from central Cairo. Getting there by taxi is easy and inexpensive, if you can share rides with other people. Be sure to agree on the price and destination before getting into the taxi. Visiting the inside of the pyramid requires separate tickets. I suggest going into the biggest pyramid (Khufu or Cheops), but it's also the most expensive of the 3. There's not much to see inside but the experience is one of a kind. The climb is pretty steep and the air is very stuffy.
I can’t give any star rating to Saquara because I didn’t go. The guidebook and hotel owners will suggest going there, but I’ve talked to about 5 people that went, and they all had the same reply – I didn’t miss anything.
1 2 days in Aswan and Abu Simbel
Aswan offers beautiful Nile River scenery. Definitely take a felucca ride. It’s nice and relaxing. Go around Elephantine Island; ask to stop by the hill where you can hike up the sand and see a very pretty view of the city along the Nile River. You can also take the EL 1 ferry to get to Elephantine Island and visit the Nubian village and the Aswan Museum with Ruins of Abu behind it. Aswan Museum is small but the entrance fee includes Ruins of Abu so it’s quite worth the visit.
If you join the tour in Awan, it’s actually pretty good. Most of them include a visit to High Dam and Philae Temple . Most importantly, book the tour to go to Abu Simbel to see Temple of Ramses II and Temple of Hathor. They are absolutely amazing!!! It’s not really a tour you are booking, but a means of transportation. Everybody going to Abu Simbel needs to travel by police convoy. You wake up at 3-3:30am; they pick you up between 3:30am to 4am, and all the buses leave at 4:30am. The trip takes about 3.5 hours. It might seem a pain in the ass but it’s really not that bad. You end up going there early and coming back early enough to enjoy other activities in Aswan.
2 + days in Hurghada
Needless to say, the more time you have, the longer you should stay near Hurghada (Red Sea area) to enjoy world class snorkel and scuba diving. It’s a pity that we gave up Dahab, and the Sinai area to go to the desert (not that the desert is not fun). I really wish we could have stayed longer and hit more snorkeling spots.
With the short amount of time we had, we just went with our hotel’s snorkeling tour. It was from 10am to 4pm including lunch; cost was $25 USD. Places visited include Giften Island and Megawish Islands . The beach at Giften Island is very pretty, but there’s not much to see under water. Lots of coral reefs and all kinds of fish can be found near Megawish Islands. There are plenty of better spots around the area. Any guidebook will list recommended dive sites. A man we met from Denmark went out on a whole day snorkelling trip (further into the sea, of course) and saw dolphins and sea turtles.
2 days in Luxor
I’ll say, if you can only visit one city in Egypt, Luxor has got to be it. There is a lot to see in both east bank and west bank. 2 days should be the minimum time in Luxor. We spent our first day visiting the west bank: Valley of the King, Tombs of the Nobles, Deir Al-Bahri (Hatshepsut), and Medinat Habu. All of them are worth the visit. The major thing we left out in the west bank is the Queens’ tombs. If the tomb of Nefertiti was open, obviously we wouldn’t have skipped out on that.
Your hostel owners and many people by the ferry might tell you that you have to book a taxi for the entire day to tour the west bank. The truth is, you don’t. You can totally get a taxi from one spot to another. It will save you $$ if you are by yourself. If there are a group of you, say, 3-4 people, then sharing a designated taxi for the entire day is quite inexpensive. Do bargain with the taxi driver. We got ours for EL 80 that took us around to 4 major spots. Originally he wanted to charge us EL 130.
There are many tombs in the Valley of the Kings , but you are only allowed to visit 3. We wanted to see Merneptah and Amenhotep II but they were closed, so we ended up going into Ramses I , Tuthomosis III , and Ramses III . They were all excellent, especially the latter two. No photos are allowed inside.
After visiting the Valley of the King, do the hike that LP guidebook recommends. It was good exercise, and the view from the top was rewarding. You get an aerial view of Valley of the King on one side, and Dier Al-Bahri on the other. Descending the mountain on the opposite side leads you to the next spot: Dier Al-Bahri, or Hatshepsut , the famous female Pharoah that ruled Egypt for 15 years.
After visiting Hatshepsut, take the taxi to Tombs of the Nobles, which offer some of the best preserved wall paintings and hieroglyphs. The place is not regulated as well as Valley of the Kings, so you get a lot of hustlers trying to get you to hire them as guides; you can usually tip the guards and then they will let you take photos/videos. We visited Tombs of Ramose, Userhet, and Khaemhe.
The last place we visited in the west bank was Medinat Habu. The carvings on the wall were very deep. Much more than all the other temples and tombs we’ve visited.
We spent the next day visiting the east bank. Major spots are Luxor Temple, Temple of Karnark, and Luxor Museum. I was going to skip out Luxor Temple and I was glad that we didn’t. I love Luxor Temple! It is smaller than Karnark and some might similar to Karnark, but no matter what, it's totally worth the visit. Temple of Karnark is a must see. The giant columns are just amazing. The temple is so big that you can easily get separated with your own group. There are tons of tour buses there. If you want to avoid the crowd, visiting the temple in the afternoon is a better option. Make sure you allow enough time though (at least 2 hours). Luxor Museum is a lot smaller than the Egyptian Museum but it's much better organized and it's got a pretty good collection. Check the hours before you go. The museum is closed between 3-4pm when we were there.
Our favorite place to eat in Luxor is this place pretty close to the old bus station, called Amun Restaurant . They will give you discount and free drinks if we wonder around there and looked indecisive as to which restaurant to eat at. The grilled fish dish is excellent. We ate at this place twice.
3 days in the Western Desert
The views in the western desert changes from one location to another. We travelled from Luxor to Cairo. Along the way we visited Al Kharga Oasis , one of the biggest oasis in the western desert; Dakhla Oasis , where beautiful sand dunes can be found; Farafra Oasis , which leads us to White Desert and Black Desert .
From Luxor to Al Kharga, it's pretty much deserted and you can drive miles without seeing any living creature. Al bagawa , the oldest coptic church, is one place not to be missed. Pasha Hindi is close to Al Dakhla and is worth the visit if time allows. Al-Qasr is the abandoned ancient Islamic town. It's mysteriously beautiful.
In Farafra Oasis, don't miss the famous Badr's Museum . The artist has all kinds of sand artwork, wood sculptures, and watercolor paintings.
Camping in the White Desert was very fun but extremely cold! This is partially because we camped without a tent... Most likely you will see cute little foxes at night because they are attracted by whatever delicious dinner you are cooking. The scenery in the white desert is stunning. You'll need a 4x4 to go into the white desert though. Black Desert is a few miles north of the White Desert. It's very interesting to see two entirely different desert view in such a close distance.
BACK TO TOP
Recommended places to stay:
Obviously staying in hostels (or budget hotels) in Egypt is dirt cheap, but be aware that they don't usually live up with their standard. I used www.hostelworld.com and my Lonley Planet book as my guides for researching hostels. Unfortunately, I don't really agree with many comments posted on hostelworld nor the LP book. I think the biggest reason for differences in the reviews is that there are different types of rooms in the same hostel/hotel, and depending on which room you get, the opinions can be very different. Perhaps it's worth the money to pay for a mid-price range hotel. In Hurghada, however, I think you should go for the 4-5 stars. The cost is very similar to budget ones (maybe $5 USD more per person) but the quality, service, cleanliness is way superior. Anyway, I've listed the places we stayed in our entire trip and my truthful opinion about each place.
Here is a list of hostels we stayed at and my ratings for them:
|Name of Hostel
||I picked this place for 2 reasons: 1. the review on hostelworld is pretty good. 2. they will pick you up from the airport if you stay with them for 2 or more nights. We booked the private double room with ensuite shower. It was a very good size room and has a very clean bathroom. The location is excellent. Staff is generally friendly, and the security seems alright. So why did I give it 3 stars only? The shared bathroom and the other rooms look pretty old and definitely not as clean as ours. Most importantly, the owner will try to persuad you for tour packages to Aswan, Abu Simbel, Luxor...etc. That is the BIGGEST NO NO. Do not book any tours with them. You will get ripped off and the tours are not good. Also, breakfast should be included but if you don't book thru hostelworld.com or if you don't ask them ahead of time, they might charge you for EL 5. It's only bread with jam, hot tea, and cheese.
||Nubian Oasis Hotel near the train station should be a better option, or pay a little more and stay at Ramses. Unfortunately, Nubian is under construction when we got there. I am not very happy that LP gave Menon Hotel a pretty okay review. The truth is, this hotel needs some real make over. Walls are dirty; shower, sink & toilet don't work very well; rooms with view to Nile are very noisy (but they are all like that; it's not the hotel's fault.) The only positive things are that the bedsheets seem clean and the breakfast is not bad.
||Not Hilton Plaza, not Hilton Long Beach, but Hilton Resort in the north part of the resort strip. Don't get confused. I highly recommend it! A great hotel with excellent service. (And you say, of course, it's a five star... ) Book ahead. Price is so good for its value. Includes full buffet breakfast.
||Recommended! If you get a room with hot shower and the water drains. The staff is very polite and professional. The location is very good. I really want to give this hotel more stars and positive comments, but the first night we've had problem with our shower - hot water ran out after 5 minutes, and water didn't drain... That is very annoying. After we complained, they switched us to a different room. I like the breakfast and the ovreall atomsphere. We also booked the western trip with them. (refer to the western desert trip on top) Book ahead because it's usually full.
||Beir Elgabal Camp
||Recommended! This place is very very cute. The mountains around it are beautiful! I really like this place. Though there might be problems with hot water/lights. What can I say, we are in the oasis.
||Recommended! A pretty cool experience, but make sure you bring a lot of warm clothes. Most tours do not provide tents.
Visit the 14 days backpacking trip in Egypt! photo album
BACK TO TOP