10 day trip to Egypt- report

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Dec 13th, 2005, 08:10 AM
  #1
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10 day trip to Egypt- report

Firstly, a big thank you to everyone on the board for great advice and travel tips. I planned our Egypt trip based on what I read here..

Our tour operator was Egyptonline EOL (aka Orbit tours) and we flew Egyptair both of which have very mixed reviews here so I was a bit nervous. Happily, everything worked out fine. In retrospect, had I been a more seasoned traveller, I could have tweaked more out of it, but thats just me being greedy!

About us- we are a young Indian couple from New York City, late 20s, travelling to Egypt for the 1st time.
We picked Egyptair because it was a direct flight. The flight back and forth was pretty comfortable and shockingly, dead on time. My fiance was able to talk our way into upgrades both ways so we flew Business class. I can't speak for Economy but the seats did look rather cramped in the back. Even B-class was not quite the same standard as other international airlines but we were grateful for the extra leg-room. Service was great, food was rather bad though..

We started and ended our trip in Cairo- 3 days at the Mena House during the 1st stay and then 1 night on our way out at the Sheraton on the Nile. Both were wise choices. The Mena House is very close to the pyramids and so gorgeous. We love staying at historic places with old-world charm. Unfortunately they had no Palace rooms left so we had to stay in the Garden annexe. Rooms were quite tatty and oldish even though this is supposed to be the new wing. We were able to see a palace room before we left and it was way better. So beautiful and totally worth the higher price. Don't stay in the garden annexe if you can help it. We spent as much time outside or in the hotel's facilities.

We had our best meal of the trip at the Moghul Room in the Mena House. We usually never eat at Indian restaurants but since I read such great reviews about it, we had to try it. It was better than any Indian restaurant I have eaten at in NYC and that says a lot. Reminded me of the best places in Bombay and Delhi. And there was a lovely singer with a couple of accompaniests that performed traditional Indian and mujra songs.

We visited the pyramids, Memphis and the Sakkara step pyramids the 1st day. Aside from the Pyramids and the Sphinx (which felt almost surreal to actually be there!) our other favorite was the tomb of Mere-Roka in Sakkara. This was probably because we such an excellent tour guide in Cairo who came in with us and explained many stories in the carvings and hieroglyphics. It gave us so much insight in the lives of ancient Egyptians, how organized they were and also that they had a sense of humor. On our own, we would not have been able to appreciate it as much..

The 2nd day was for the Museum, Coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo. There's a lot to see and the Egyptian museum needs at least 3 hours minimum, if not the entire day.

The entire trip, we couldnt get over how many relics and antiquities there were scattered all over the place, unprotected. You can touch and even sit on them if you want (we didnt!). Our guide had some disparaging comments on the way the government took care of their ancient artefacts but I guess it is very expensive and laborious to be able to protect everything they've got..

We took the overnight sleeper train to Aswan. That was not too bad and we were able to get a good night's sleep with my handy Dramamine. I think domestic flights are not worth the extra money you pay because they tend to be at odd hours and you dont really get to enjoy the hotel room either that you end up paying an extra night for. (or so I was told by several people)

We spend one night in Aswan at the Isis Island Hotel. Supposedly 5 star but that rating may have something to do with the fact it is owned by Mubarak's family. Looked much better in pictures, the rooms were large but so tastelessly decorated with badly made furniture and barely any amenities. We found the staff very helpful and polite though. You have to take a private motor boat to the mainland but the boats ran frequently enough that we had no problem with that.

We did the 3am trip to Abu Simbel and it was totally worth it. My fiance grumbled the whole previous day and nearly stayed back (perhaps if Isis Island was not so unappealing, he would have slept in!) After we got there, he couldnt stop taking pictures and said that it was his 2nd favorite sight after the pyramids/sphinx! The roadtrip there is not for the faint hearted though.. Hordes of tourist buses leave at the same time with the police escort and at 3am they expect little traffic so everyone speeds up and you have these huge buses hurtling down the highway, overtaking each other like maniacs. We were in a large van and slept through most of it but the few times I dared look out, we had several close shaves. Its a wonder there haven't been more serious accidents. Maybe flying there is not such a bad idea!

In Aswan, we spent one entire afternoon in a felucca and saw Elephantine Island (with the very dismal Aswan Museum) and Kitchener's island. We were so tired out by the end of it, we opted out of a trip to Philae temple the next day and instead made a short visit to a Nubian village. We should have probably seen Philae over the little islands but we didnt know any better until it was too late. Kitchener's island is not worth the visit unless you have a lot of time in Aswan or you're a horticulturist.

We spent one evening at the Old Cataract Hotel and enjoyed their evening tea and beautiful views of the Nile. They obligingly showed us a few rooms and we wish we hadn't listened to EOL's suggestion and stayed there instead. If you like colonial Edwardian/Moorish stylings, this is the place to be in Aswan.

We took a 4day/3 night cruise from Aswan to Luxor, M/S Carneval. We paid about $270 extra to be upgraded to a suite which was very spacious. I wouldn't say it was very luxurious but comfy enough. The service was good, food variable. We had some good dinners on board and a lot of average meals. My main grouse was that our tour operator put us on a ship that caters mostly to Eastern European tour groups so there were very few English-speaking guests on board. Friends that have travelled on other ships said they had larger American/Aussie/Brit groups and had more fun with the company..

We spent only one day in Luxor- checked out of the cruise and took the overnight sleeper train back to Cairo that same day. So it was probably the worst possible day to be ill- despite all our precautions, my fiance had a bad case of 'mummy tummy' and spent much of the day running to toilets and sleeping in our van. Not all bathrooms were clean- most were awful, so my advice to sick travellers is- go whenever you see a relatively clean one, don't wait assuming you'll find something better at the next site. And carry your own toilet paper, lots of water (with a little salt added) & try to stay in the shade as much as possible.

In Luxor we packed a lot into one day. Unfortunately, our tour guide was not as organized or insightful as our Cairo guide. He chose to start off on the west bank with the Valley of Kings/Queens, Queen Hatshepsut temple etc. and kept Luxor and Karnak temples (East bank) for the end of the day. By the time we reached the East bank, the sun was setting. Of course it looked pretty, all lit up but you can't appreciate the details nor can you take good pictures. The Valley of the Queens is not as grand as the Kings so you can give it a miss if you run short on time. Also, all tombs are different and some have less to see with more climbing/walking so again if you can't see everything, pick wisely. Our guide started off with the least accessible tombs so we tired out faster.

Luxor train station must be the worst I have ever been to- it looks like they just laid down tracks and a few walls on the sand. Policeman walk around with rifles pointing all over the place, I had to hope they had their safety catches on.

Our last day in Cairo was at the centrally located Sheraton which was great because we had the day to ourselves and it was close to everything. Mena House is a good distance away from the city. The Sheraton was really nice and we had a great view from the Nefertiti Tower. I believe the Cleopatra tower is not as nice but if you have Starwood Preferred Guest status, like we did, you can get the nicer rooms and also complimentary breakfast. Our room was large, nice bathroom and the most comfortable bed we slept in, our whole trip. I wish we could have spent another night there.

We spent much of our last day in Khan-el-Khalili market buying gifts to take back home. Its very tiring having to haggle with shopowners over prices. Be wary of what they sell- a lot of it is fake from the perfumes to the papyrus to the inlaid boxes. I think fake papyrus breaks when you bend or fold it. And if the inlaid box is real mother of pearl, it wont burn if you put a flame to it. There are so many stores and you get accosted as soon as you walk in. Look around before you buy- we bought stuff early on and then walked around and saw nicer stuff for the same price.

Overall, EOL did a pretty good job. Mr. Ahmed was readily available by phone whenever we had an issue and they make an effort to please you. The 1st day, we had a rickety old car with no A/C come pick us up from the airport. My fiance complained and demanded that we also get a good guide. The next day, we had a brand new comfy car with an excellent driver, tour guide and tour 'coordinator'. I'm not sure why we needed 3 people but they took good care of us and shepherded us everywhere. We had our own private guide in Cairo. Ask for Ahmed Chalaby for a tour guide if you use them (tell him Rishi and Ashita said hello!) He talks a lot about other stuff too like Egyptian politics, history, Islam etc but he gave us a real feel for the culture and we liked that. He was also very protective of us and a really nice person.

Our guide in Aswan and Luxor, Waleed was not as good- had we known that he would be with us in Aswan as WELL as Luxor we would have requested Mr Ahmed change our guide. He mumbled stuff straight out of the guide books and would tell us not to take pictures until he had finished his spiel (so he could walk off for a smoke or tea while we clicked away). He also told us everywhere how much to tip people which we and the American couple we had to share the car with, found rather offensive. He would walk far ahead of us at sites which may not seem like a big deal but the other woman with us who was a pale blonde, would get harrassed by shopowners with no local by our side to tell them off. Our Cairo crew was much more watchful of this. My point is, a good guide makes a HUGE difference to your stay so don't be afraid to ask for the best & expect it.

We felt very safe during our stay. Perhaps because of our ethnicity we got harrassed less. We mostly got locals calling out Bollywood actors names after us! White tourists get chased after more by shopowners and blondes/redhead women get a whole lot of attention. Nothing thats too much to handle if you keep your cool and learn a few Arabic words like " La shukran" (no thank you) and " Fil mish mish" (in your dreams). Speaking a little arabic goes a long way in convincing the locals that you're not an easy target. I think you mostly need to protect yourself against being overcharged by shops and taxis. We used 'Rough Guides' and also checked with the hotel staff for taxi rates before we headed out. Never ask how much a fare is, just have it ready in your hand and give it to them like you know the rates. Most good guide books will give you a run down of which places are safe and which are avoidable so go with that.

EOL arranged everything from start to finish so all we had to get were our NYC-Cairo air tickets. They are good but you should get everyone's contact info if you need to call with any issues. They help, but you need to tell them in advance.
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Dec 13th, 2005, 11:31 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
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Thanks for the report! I was returning from a 2 week trip to Egypt this time last year so it brought some fond memories.

Seems like a running issue with all tour guides in Upper Egypt not being nearly as good as the guides in Lower Egypt. We had the same issue and it was compounded by the fact our guide in Upper Egypt had very limited command of the English language...not a good thing when your clients are from US/UK/Australia. I was with 11 friends and unfortunately 10 of them (1 of which organized our trip) didn't have the balls to demand a better guide for Upper Egypt...1 friend and I complained to our friend that arranged everything each day we were in Upper Egypt but he said "let's just give him the benefit of the doubt that he will improve"...didn't go over real well with my other friend and I as this was probably the only time we'd get to Egypt. Fortunately for us, our guide in Lower Egypt was so good that he gave us info on what we'd see in Upper Egypt and how it related to Egypt as a whole that we could piece info together and make lists of questions for him upon our return to Lower Egypt.

Our itinerary was pretty similar to yours with the exception of us flying out to Sharm for 4 days after Luxor. It was nice to have 4 days to lounge around on the beach and explore the desert without a schedule to follow.

Again thanks for the report and glad you had a good time!
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Dec 13th, 2005, 12:22 PM
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Thanks for the details. I'm looking at doing a similar trip in 2007.
It's nice to have a look behind the scenes rather than relying on company ads and descriptions.
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Dec 14th, 2005, 07:13 AM
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travelgirl_67, you're right, you experienced the same thing we did. we suspect that lower egypt is more competitive among tour guides since that region is more populous. luckily, we started in cairo, our guide there had already laid down very good groundwork about some of the significant icons.

upper egypt also seems to have a more laidback attitude.. and yes, their accents were harder to follow. i was forced to read my guide book thoroughly before any visit and then explain it to my fiance as we walked about.

we thought our guide in aswan would only cover that and edfu-kom ombo, thats why we didnt kick up a fuss. we called the tour manager while on the cruise and asked for a better one in luxor (since that had the bigger attractions anyway) and were dismayed to learn that it would be the same person.. by then it was too late since he was already on the boat with us. we didnt want to be rude but felt the same way you did- who knows when we will ever come back so we wanted everything to be perfect!

too bad we didnt have time for sharm el sheikh. would have done us some good to relax before we got back to the grind.. we got home exhausted!
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Dec 15th, 2005, 03:58 PM
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Yes, having the time in Sharm was great...a friend and I went to the Ritz and each got 2 1/2 hour spa treatments for $90USD!!! You can barely get a massage for that here! After the 2 weeks with friends in Egypt, I went to Germany for a week of solo travel so the time in Sharm was a perfect start to the relaxation. If you do go back, the climb up Mt. Sinai is fabulous!! Just watch out for the camels!!
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Dec 18th, 2005, 06:30 AM
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We are about to head off to Egypt on Thursday for 2 weeks. Thanks for sharing your trip with us-yet another contributer towards my own trip. Can you give me some suggestions for clothing/weather and tipping on our trip. We are doing a similar trip to you but are also doing the white desert.
Thanx
Karen
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Dec 18th, 2005, 08:16 AM
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Glad you enjoyed your trip - it's always fun to read of others' experiences after you have been.

Skitrees - you will love the white desert - we dithered back and forth about doing this, but now it is the first thing my husband talks about when describing the trip to friends.
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