Egypt Tour (Luxor, Cairo, Aswan, Edfu, Alexandria) 2011

Egypt, the mysterious land of the Pharoahs. Egypt has been portrayed in all stories since the beginning of civilization from the Bible to movies and novels. Recently, the country is also undergoing a tremendous transformation as old political systems in the Middle East collapse amid the rising Arab Spring. We booked a tour with Chan Brothers (www.chanbrothers.com) in 2011 to visit Egypt for 10 days. This was before all the political troubles started and little did we know that shortly after the tour ended, the country would descend into chaos.

The tour started off  with the tour group flying into Luxor. We departed on a Qatar Airlines flight, transiting at Doha and finally landing in Luxor where our local guide was waiting for us.

Luxor

We arrived on New Year’s eve before 2011 and were to stay a couple of nights in Luxor. There’s something about guided tours I hate is that they will bring you on a sight seeing trip straight away after you have taken a 15 hours overnight flight and expect you to be awake for the commentary.

Luxor was once known as the city of Thebes and the capital of ancient Egypt. Today it’s a small city that depends mainly on tourism as people come to see the ancient temples that lie within the city itself. Karnak Temple  was the first place to visit after we got off the plane. This temple complex was once the  religious centre of Thebes.

Entrance to Karnak Temple.
Entrance to Karnak Temple.
Only the  columns remain of the great hall. The roof had collapsed a long time ago.
Only the columns remain of the great hall. The roof had collapsed a long time ago.
Rows of Sphinxes line the main path to the temple.
Rows of Sphinxes line the main path to the temple.
Finally we get to check into our hotel which was located by the banks of the River Nile.
Finally we get to check into our hotel which was located by the banks of the River Nile.
So this is the famous River Nile. Stories have been told about it throughout history. In the distance is the Valley of the Kings, resting place of Pharaohs.
So this is the famous River Nile. Stories have been told about it throughout history. In the distance is the Valley of the Kings, resting place of Pharaohs.
My first of many sunsets over the Nile.
My first of many sunsets over the Nile.
As it was New Year's Eve,  the hotel had a New Year's party for all hotel guests that evening. Welcoming 2011 in a foreign country was something new to me.
As it was New Year’s Eve, the hotel had a New Year’s party for all hotel guests that evening. Welcoming 2011 in a foreign country was something new to me.

We woke to a new year after the night’s festivities. Spending a new year in Egypt, and dining by the banks of the famed River Nile. What an experience!

The morning of a new year. You can see hot air balloons flying over the Valley of the Kings.
The morning of a new year. You can see hot air balloons flying over the Valley of the Kings.
Entrance to the Temple of Luxor.
Entrance to the Temple of Luxor.
The Temple of Luxor is also another large complex of temples.
The Temple of Luxor is also another large complex of temples.
Ancient hieroglyphics. I wonder what it says?
Ancient hieroglyphics. I wonder what it says?
More Sphinxes line the entrance to the temple.
More Sphinxes line the entrance to the temple.
The sun setting and marking the end of the first day of 2011.
The sun setting and marking the end of the first day of 2011.

Any visit to Luxor is not complete without a trip to the Valley of the Kings where the tombs of many Pharaohs lie. The valley  is famous because of the discovery  of the tomb of King Tutankhamun and subsequent legends about the curse of the Pharaohs. Unfortunately, tourists are not allowed to bring cameras into the Valley of the Kings, so I have no photos to share and you probably have to visit the place for yourself.

After visiting the  Valley of the Kings, we have a short stop to see the Colossi of Memnon. These are 2 massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and have been sitting there for more than 3,400 years.
After visiting the Valley of the Kings, we have a short stop to see the Colossi of Memnon. These are 2 massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and have been sitting there for more than 3,400 years.
The temple of Queen Hatshepsut, dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra.
The temple of Queen Hatshepsut, dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra.
View of the valley from the top of the temple.
View of the valley from the top of the temple.
At the top of the temple.
At the top of the temple.
Painted walls of the temple.
Painted walls of the temple.

 River Nile Cruise

One of the highlights of the tour is a 4 days cruise along the River Nile. We would stop at various towns along the river to visit the attractions. The cruise goes upriver and ends at Aswan where we would then take a domestic flight to Cairo.

If you are thinking that you get to sail on a luxury cruise liner, forget it. The cruise takes place on smaller river boats. Although much smaller than a cruise liner, they are no less comfortable.
If you are thinking that you get to sail on a luxury cruise liner, forget it. The cruise takes place on smaller river boats. Although much smaller than a cruise liner, they are no less comfortable.
4 days to relax on a floating hotel. This has to be one of my better tours where we are not waking up early in the morning to rush somewhere. There are cabanas on the roof deck where you can sit and relax.
4 days to relax on a floating hotel. This has to be one of my better tours where we are not waking up early in the morning to rush somewhere. There are cabanas on the roof deck where you can sit and relax.
There is even a swimming pool, but no one was keen to swim in the cold weather.
There is even a swimming pool, but no one was keen to swim in the cold weather.
Watching migrating birds from the boat.
Watching migrating birds from the boat.
Evening fell as another day passed over the ancient land.
Evening fell as another day passed over the ancient land.
A wonderful sunset with a purple sky.
A wonderful sunset with a purple sky.

As the boat travels upriver, we are going against the current and the going is quite slow. In the night we passed through the Esna Locks. The lock system is used to transfer ships from the low side of the river to the high side, and vice versa.

We approach the Esna Locks. The ship has to travel slowly to align and enter the lock.
We approach the Esna Locks. The ship has to travel slowly to align and enter the lock.
The villagers will try to sell stuff like scarfs and handicrafts to the tourists on the boats. It's a funny system of showing you their goods from the boat, bargaining by shouting, then exchange of goods and money. They throw the item to you, and you throw your money to them. I wonder what happens if someone tries to cheat each other?
The villagers will try to sell stuff like scarfs and handicrafts to the tourists on the boats. It’s a funny system of showing you their goods from the boat, bargaining by shouting, then exchange of goods and money. They throw the item to you, and you throw your money to them. I wonder what happens if someone tries to cheat each other?
These guys help to secure the boats to the shore, but they do a sideline of selling rugs. Again, the same rules of showing you the goods, bargain, then throwing goods and  money to each other.
These guys help to secure the boats to the shore, but they do a sideline of selling rugs. Again, the same rules of showing you the goods, bargain, then throwing goods and money to each other.
We can see the rest of the cruise ships waiting in line to pass through the locks.
We can see the rest of the cruise ships waiting in line to pass through the locks.
The gates of the lock opened and our boat started to enter the lock.
The gates of the lock opened and our boat started to enter the lock.
Each lock can accommodate up to 2 ships. The water level in the lock is now low since we are on the lower side of the river.
Each lock can accommodate up to 2 ships. The water level in the lock is now low since we are on the lower side of the river.
The boat behind us. That's quite a tight fit.
The boat behind us. That’s quite a tight fit.
There are 2 locks side by side, and 4 ships can be cleared at any one time. The water level has already risen inside the lock and the ship is now higher up.
There are 2 locks side by side, and 4 ships can be cleared at any one time. The water level has already risen inside the lock and the ship is now higher up.
After the gates close, water is pumped into the lock to raise the water level. The water level is now higher and we passed into the higher side of the river.
After the gates close, water is pumped into the lock to raise the water level. The water level is now higher and we passed into the higher side of the river.
After the interesting night, we come to Edfu in  the morning. The dawn was breaking as we waited to visit the Temple of Horus at Edfu.
After the interesting night, we come to Edfu in the morning. The dawn was breaking as we waited to visit the Temple of Horus at Edfu.

The tour provided us with a horse drawn carriage ride to the temple. I presume this is the usual way things are done here. Since there was a long line of carriages and tourists from all the boats were riding on them.

Riding in our horse carriage. Our carriage broke  down halfway due to a broken wheel and they had to send a replacement carriage.
Riding in our horse carriage. Our carriage broke down halfway due to a broken wheel and they had to send a replacement carriage.
The Temple of Horus. It is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. The large carving of Horus, the falcon headed god can be seen on the wall of the temple.
The Temple of Horus. It is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. The large carving of Horus, the falcon headed god can be seen on the wall of the temple.
Our guide explaining the hieroglyphics on the wall.
Our guide explaining the hieroglyphics on the wall.
Another temple near the banks of the Nile is Kom Ombo Temple.
Another temple near the banks of the Nile is Kom Ombo Temple.
This is a unique temple as it is dedicated to 2 gods. The buildings are duplicated on both sides of the temple.
This is a unique temple as it is dedicated to 2 gods. The buildings are duplicated on both sides of the temple.
The temple lighted up at night.
The temple lighted up at night.
The ship's crew organized a Galabia theme party for the guests that night.
The ship’s crew organized a Galabia theme party for the guests that night.

Aswan

We finally reached Aswan and were to spend a night there on the boat. Aswan is in the south of Egypt and is close to Sudan. Due to the unstable political situation in Sudan, security is quite heavy in Aswan and you can see military personnel and police everywhere. We were to visit the fabled temples of Ramesses II in Abu Simbel. As the temples were quite close to Sudan, we required a military escort for all the tour groups. The trip really felt like a military operation. We woke up at 4am, went to the assembly point where all the buses, military trucks and jeeps were waiting, boarded the assigned buses and the whole convoy moved off by 5am. We even had an armed guard inside the bus. After a 3 hours drive along the desert where we passed a few military checkpoints, we finally arrived in Abu Simbel.

The sun rising as we sat in the bus travelling to Abu Simbel.
The sun rising as we sat in the bus travelling to Abu Simbel.
The temple of Ramesses II.
The temple of Ramesses II.
Close up of the massive statues of the pharaoh.
Close up of the massive statues of the pharaoh.
The smaller temple of Queen Nefertari.
The smaller temple of Queen Nefertari.

The 2 temples were originally carved out of the mountain side, but were moved to their present location in 1968 and the artificial mountains were built. This was due to the construction of the Aswan High dam which flooded the valley where the temples were originally located in.

The shore of Lake Nasser which was created when the Aswan High Dam flooded the valley. The original locations of the temples are below the water level now.
The shore of Lake Nasser which was created when the Aswan High Dam flooded the valley. The original locations of the temples are below the water level now.

After the visit to Abu Simbel, we had to endure another 3 hours drive back to Aswan.

Later in the day, we had a felucca cruise along the Nile. The people of Aswan are mainly Nubians from Africa, and they have a village on Elephantine island and their traditional sailing boats are called feluccas. Our felucca cruise would take us to Elephantine Island to visit their village.

Boarding the feluccas. Quite modern looking I must say.
Boarding the feluccas. Quite modern looking I must say.
Our Nubian crew preparing to cast off.
Our Nubian crew preparing to cast off.
A classic sight along the Nile.
A classic sight along the Nile.
As we came up to Elephantine Island, we could see tourists on camel rides.
As we came up to Elephantine Island, we could see tourists on camel rides.
The Nubian village came up and we got off the boat.
The Nubian village came up and we got off the boat.
We got to visit one of the Nubians' home for some tea.
We got to visit one of the Nubians’ home for some tea.
Grandpa having a smoke on the shisha pipe.
Grandpa having a smoke on the shisha pipe.
A typical Nubian house.
A typical Nubian house.
View of the Nile from the village.
View of the Nile from the village.
Of course there are shops everywhere selling spices, handicrafts, trinkets, etc.
Of course there are shops everywhere selling spices, handicrafts, trinkets, etc.
Scary looking Nubian masks.
Scary looking Nubian masks.

We spent another night on the boat, although the boat was just anchored along the shore. The next day we continued on our visit in Aswan.

An early morning boat ride to the Temple of Philae, dedicated to the goddess Isis.
An early morning boat ride to the Temple of Philae, dedicated to the goddess Isis.
The Temple of Philae was also dismantled and moved to the current site due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
The Temple of Philae was also dismantled and moved to the current site due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
Carvings of Isis on the temple walls.
Carvings of Isis on the temple walls.
There is a nice cafe on the island and you can sit down and have a cup of coffee.
There is a nice cafe on the island and you can sit down and have a cup of coffee.
We passed by Aswan High dam. This is the view of the lower valley.
We passed by Aswan High dam. This is the view of the lower valley.
The unfinished obelisk in Aswan. Aswan has a lot of quarries where rocks for the many temples were extracted.
The unfinished obelisk in Aswan. Aswan has a lot of quarries where rocks for the many temples were extracted.

Cairo

From Aswan, we took a domestic flight to Cairo, capital of Egypt. Cairo is also the largest city in the Middle East and Africa and is a center of Islamic influence.

A night visit to the Khan el-Khailli bazaar for some shopping.
A night visit to the Khan el-Khailli bazaar for some shopping.
Some of the stuff for sale in the bazaar.
Some of the stuff for sale in the bazaar.
A shopkeeper sitting in front of his shop.
A shopkeeper sitting in front of his shop.

Finally, we also get to visit the most famous sight in Egypt, the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx.

Pondering on ancient history in front of the Pyramids.
Pondering on ancient history in front of the Pyramids.
Visitors can climb up the Great Pyramid to see the burial chamber.
Visitors can climb up the Great Pyramid to see the burial chamber.
It's only right that the policeman should be riding a camel in Egypt instead of a horse.
It’s only right that the policeman should be riding a camel in Egypt instead of a horse.
We drove round to another side of the Pyramids and got a better view.
We drove round to another side of the Pyramids and got a better view.
A camel ride was also included.
A camel ride was also included.
Trying to take photos on the back of a camel is very difficult with all the jostling.
Trying to take photos on the back of a camel is very difficult with all the jostling.
The Great Sphinx in front of the Pyramids.
The Great Sphinx in front of the Pyramids.
Impressive looking.
Impressive looking.
Next we visited the Stepped Pyramid in Saqqara. This is the first pyramid built in Egypt. Its uses a stepped design instead of the slope.
Next we visited the Stepped Pyramid in Saqqara. This is the first pyramid built in Egypt. Its uses a stepped design instead of the slope.
There were lots of security guys with hidden MP5 sub-machineguns patrolling around.
There were lots of security guys with hidden MP5 sub-machineguns patrolling around.
Watching the Sound & Light Show at the Great Pyramids.
Watching the Sound & Light Show at the Great Pyramids.
The Great Pyramids with the crescent moon.
The Great Pyramids with the crescent moon.
The Citadel of Salah Eldin and Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha.
The Citadel of Salah Eldin and Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha.
Inside the Citadel.
Inside the Citadel.
The interior of the mosque.
The interior of the mosque.

A visit to Cairo would not be complete if you did not visit the Egyptian Museum. Again, no photos are allowed inside the museum. Inside you will see relics from ancient Egypt like the gold mask of King Tutankhamen, the sarcophagi of the pharaohs, and of course the mummies. Unfortunately, you would need to pay extra to view the mummies (100 Egyptian pounds). We decided to skip it as the crowd to view it was quite large with a long waiting time.

Alexandria

The city founded by Alexander the Great is the second largest city in Egypt and located on the north coast along the Mediterranean Sea. This was a day excursion and we left early in the morning.

Montazah Palace used to be the residence of the monarchy In Egypt. At the time of our visit, it was the residence of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Montazah Palace used to be the residence of the monarchy In Egypt. At the time of our visit, it was the residence of former President Hosni Mubarak.
We passed by the Great Library of Alexandria. The original library was destroyed long ago and this is the modern incarnation.
We passed by the Great Library of Alexandria. The original library was destroyed long ago and this is the modern incarnation.
The Fort of Qaitbay was an important defensive structure for the city of Alexandria and was built in 1477AD.
The Fort of Qaitbay was an important defensive structure for the city of Alexandria and was built in 1477AD.
Fishing by the fort on the Mediterranean Sea.
Fishing by the fort on the Mediterranean Sea.
Looking through one of the windows in the fort, we can see the city of Alexandria.
Looking through one of the windows in the fort, we can see the city of Alexandria.
We went for lunch at a restaurant along the coast and had a good view of Alexandria.
We went for lunch at a restaurant along the coast and had a good view of Alexandria.
From the top of the building we can see Fort Qaitbay on the right hand side.
From the top of the building we can see Fort Qaitbay on the right hand side.
A brief stop at the Pillar of Pompey. This is a Roman era column and is made of a single piece of granite. It is more than 20m in height.
A brief stop at the Pillar of Pompey. This is a Roman era column and is made of a single piece of granite. It is more than 20m in height.

General Tips

Most visitors need a visa to enter Egypt, but this is done on arrival at the immigration. You just pay for the tourist visa (US$25) which is like a sticker, stick it on an empty page in your passport and go to the immigration counter to get it stamped.

We changed our money at the airport. Only major currencies like US dollars, Sterling pounds and Euro are accepted.

Food was mainly middle eastern with a lot of beans and vegetables. Just be careful on the hygiene as a couple of people in our tour group got diarrhea after eating some unclean food or un-boiled water.

The biggest peeve is that a lot of the locals at the attractions treat every tourist like a walking ATM and make it their national duty to try to hustle some money out of you. Public toilets are usually free, but someone will stand outside and try to demand that tourists pay to enter the toilet. It’s up to you to give, but to avoid any unpleasantness, we usually give the fellow 1~2 Egyptian pounds, which is basically 15~30 cents. As we were on a guided tour a lot of the tips and fees were taken care of by the local guide. If you are on your own, it would be better to bargain and agree on all costs before paying for anything.

Weather during December was perfect. It was around 15°C to 20°C in the day, and cooler at night. A jacket was all that was needed to keep warm. I heard that it’s very hot in summer.

As we left Cairo through the international airport, we could see that the situation was already getting chaotic. There were long lines of locals and tourists trying to enter the airport, and the airport security was busy X-raying and examining every piece of luggage. There was a certain amount of tension in the air. It would have taken us hours just to clear the initial checking, but the local tour company arranged to have a fast clearance for us. So it took us only around an hour to have our luggage checked in, and our boarding passes issued. We left Egypt on the 9th of January 2011 and the revolution that was to topple President Mubarak started on 25 January.

One thought on “Egypt Tour (Luxor, Cairo, Aswan, Edfu, Alexandria) 2011

  1. are the glyph in the ancient temple original or replicas from modern time? After 4 – 5000 years of harsh Egypt weather I don’t really expect to see such well-preserved carvings.

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