Thursday, March 03, 2016

Giza, Egypt

Giza, Egypt
6 - 7 Feb 2016

It was a last minute decision as Partner In Crime's CNY leave was approved just a week before. We were looking for a destination with weaker currency than Ringgit (as MYR is already at its all time low) and do not celebrate CNY (as the shops / places of interest would be closed!). Cairo it was!

Flight ticket was booked 3 days before, via Kuwait airways. Etihad and Emirates were also having sale at the time, but since we booked slightly late, we missed the lowest promotion fare ticket for both airlines and made do with Kuwait air with KUL-CAI return ticket costing RM 2250. It would be an early morning flight at 3.30 am and transiting at Kuwait City before connecting to Cairo and arriving at 12.50 noon.

However, our connecting flight was delayed 1 hour to 11am and we arrived in Cairo at close to 2pm. Due to the delay we were given a juice drink. It was a nice gesture, after enduring a long haul journey without in-flight entertainment. Kuwait Air's A340 from KUL-CAI seats were reminiscent of the flights one would encounter in the 80s. Heck, it still had a cigarette tray on the hand rest, small individual screen (heck, the in-flight entertainment didn't work at all!) and the remote control cannot be detached from the armrest.  Fortunately, the in-flight meal was not bad, we had chicken briyani and pasta for lunch.

small screen, didn't work

non-detachable control, ashtray

breakfast pack

in flight lunch

Malaysian citizens do not need visa to enter Egypt for a visit not more than 14 days, so we breezed through immigration. We brought USD and changed them at the airport for some Egyptian pounds. 1 Egyptian pound is about half a ringgit. We read about taxi touts so we looked out for white taxis with meters outside the airport, but none was using them. We walked around and finally agreed to take a taxi for EGP 100 to Giza. (We checked earlier, Uber rates to Giza was EGP 90, so it was not too far off).

Cairo airport

Cairo was chaotic. Cars changed lanes haphazardly at high speeds without giving signals. Dust permeated through the air, rubbish strewn around. It felt like the city was still reeling from the continuing political upheaval. We did check on any security warning prior to travelling - Cairo and its surrounding areas were rated medium risk or relatively safe. We purchased travel insurance just to be sure. We were harassed at the tourist spots, touts cheated us (more on that later); there was seldom a moment we were left in peace. Based on our experience, we don't recommend travelling to Cairo on your own (we don't know about the other cities like Luxor and Aswan as we did not travel there). If you must see the pyramids with your own eyes, then it'd be best to get a tour package so you won't be hassled.
A few roads leading to Giza was closed that day, making the traffic worse so our taxi driver demanded for extra fare. We agreed on EGP 130.We finally arrived at Sphinx Guest House at 4.15pm

Cairo traffic

saw a pink taxi for women with female driver

Our Sphinx Guest House is a budget accomodation, the room was just so-so, but the location was excellent, offering an unobstructed view of the Pyramid from the rooftop. Our room costs 30 USD / night (excluding 10% tax, 12% service charge and 1% city tax) with breakfast. The room with pyramid view would cost higher. We would be catching the Pyramid Sound and Light Show that night from the rooftop for free!

Sphinx Guest House
our room
view from rooftop - unbeatable!

common area, pyramid is visible, if it's too cold to view from the rooftop at night

After settling down, we made our way to the rooftop to view the Pyramid Sound and Light Show. The show started at 6pm in Arabic, so we watched a bit, then halfway through made our way to KFC next door for some takeaway, then caught the second show in English at 7pm. It was really cold that night, luckily we were at the rooftop, otherwise we would be freezing in the desert night!

Pyramid Sound and Light show

The next morning we woke up early to catch the sunrise view of the Pyramid from the rooftop, but apparently the sun was rising from a different direction. Alas, it was still great to get a view of the deserted Pyramid against the vast desert early in the morning before the flock of tourists come over, and of course do some silly poses! We had a nice breakfast of bread with cheese and jam, and falafel, an Egyptian vegetable fritters (seemed to me like the Indian vada), filled with vegetable and fried. The guesthouse owner, Mr Gouda joined us for breakfast and reminded us to be careful at the Pyramids. He warned that if we booked a ride on the horse carriage / camel, the touts could raise the price once we were already riding. So we decided against taking any rides and would walk instead. The area seemed to be walkable, not too big.

Good morning!
Rise and shine!
business starting up in the morning
breakfast. falafel is on the right

We bought the entrance ticket for EGP 80/ person and EGP 20 for our tripod (I am old fashioned, I don't prefer selfie sticks) and had to scan our bags. A man pretended to guide us right from the scanner into the Pyramids compound and brought us straight to the horse carriage parking area. I didn't believe he was a guide, I kept asking if he was doing this for free. He answered yes, he wouldn't lie then told us the horse carriage ride would cost us EGP 80. I thought it was reasonable, so we agreed and hopped on the carriage. But once seated, the carriage driver demanded EGP 80 for each person, so this riled me up. Suddenly Mr Gouda's warning came back to mind. I immediately said no, and walked off from the carriage. The earlier 'guide' (tout rather) was trying to persuade me to get back on, telling us the driver had got it all wrong. But I was having none of it.

Map of the Giza pyramids near the entrance
the man on the left in white shirt is the tout, with his accomplice in blue

We left the scene and quickly went to the entrance near the Sphinx, not wanting to bump into the tout again. Luckily we hadn't paid anything yet. More touts were waiting inside, trying to persuade us to get on their camels or horses. One was probably trying to trick us by asking us to take a photo of him on his camel for him to see later; another was trying to give us his arabic headgear that he was selling to us for free as souvenirs because he 'likes Malaysia'. Of course we declined, first politely, but since they didn't budge, I had to be stern and told them off. Not long after the second stunt, a man claiming to be a policeman approached us; he showed us his ID card (I wasn't sure whether it was authentic); first he asked whether we had the ticket for our tripod. Then he asked for our cameras to look at the pictures on it. I was sure that he didn't have the right to look at our cameras as we didn't do anything wrong, so we just ignored his demands and walked away. The policeman and his gang shouted for us to come back; of course we didn't, luckily we were not apprehended (they didn't have the grounds to anyway).

another man tried to trick us, he's on the left

The drama happened at the smallest of the 3 pyramids- the Menkaure pyramid. We continued to walk to the biggest pyramid - Khufu pyramid. There were more tourists here, so we were not bothered by the touts here which is a welcome respite. People were climbing on the walls of the pyramid, totally disregarding the signages warning against doing so. So many people were doing it that the guards didn't have enough hand to shoo them off. Oh dear.

people climbing and stepping on the blocks

We planned to enter the pyramid- at the time of our visit, only the Menkaure pyramid was opened (and the tombs next to the Khufu pyramid). We walked around the Pyramid complex for 3 rounds but couldn't find the ticket booth for the pyramid entrance. We went back to the main entrance from where we entered this morning and asked one of the person supposedly manning the counter but was told we could just use the 80 EGP ticket. This wasn't true as we did show this ticket when trying to enter Menkaure and was shooed away; even when we tried to buy the ticket at Menkaure. From the Giza pyramid map, we saw that there are 2 entrances, but we just couldn't find the other one. We finally gave up after our stomach began to growl begging to be filled.

Grouses aside, not to undermine the importance of the Giza Pyramids- it is indeed a marvel for an ancient civilization to create such a superior technology in its time to quarry and transport the rocks from the Nile river (some were transported from Aswan which is 800km plus away) and stack the blocks together, each weighing tonnes without modern machinery. There is an alternative view to who actually built the pyramids and for what purpose, but this has yet to be verified. The common understanding is that the pyramid was built as a tomb over a 10 to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC for Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu or "Cheops". The second tallest pyramid -Pyramid of Khafre or Chephren is the tomb for the pharaoh Khafre (Chefren), who ruled from c.‚ÄČ2558 to 2532 BC. And the smallest pyramid- Pyramid of Menkaure was built in 2510 BC as the tomb for pharaoh Menkaure. The Sphinx is a statue with a lion's body and a human head. he face of the Sphinx is generally believed to represent the face of the Pharaoh Khafra. The Giza pyramids is part of Unesco's Wold Heritage Site. Info extracted from here and here

stalls selling souvenirs near the Sphinx entrance
the 3 pyramids of Giza
view from the corner

Menkaure pyramid

The Sphinx is rather small compared to the pyramids

Sphinx side view

the desert of Giza plateau
Another interesting point is that we saw many Chinese tourists from mainland China at the pyramids and in Cairo, it was the Chinese New Year holiday after all. But I was surprised that they decided not to celebrate it in their hometown, and even more surprised that they chose Egypt! (because of the language barrier - but then again, we didn't speak Arabic too, but we could understand a few words).

For lunch today, we had rice with beef and chicken kofta from a nearby restaurant (3 chefs restaurant) for EGP 50 for 2 dishes. We devoured our lunch on the rooftop again against the backdrop of the Giza pyramids. We retired early today, as Partner In Crime had to finish his work (!)

kofta with rice lunch. yummy!



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