Thursday, September 30, 1999


Originally published in The Cutting Edge Magazine in 1999.
I was sitting at my desk bemoaning my lost summer. The first summer of my life where I didn't sport a real tan or spend most nights partying hard because (now) I have one of those "job things." Then I got THE call. An opportunity to go to Cairo courtesy of my mother!

Faster than you can say "chance of a lifetime" I was at my boss' feet, begging for some time off. I was fully prepared to sweeten the deal with a fruit basket. This was EGYPT after all –pyramids, the sphinx and, um, camels as far as I knew. The days between the time he said yes I could go to the exact hour I boarded the plane for my 15-hour trip passed in a haze. And of course, I couldn't not write about it when I got back. Allow me to prepare you for your future Egyptian adventure.

Here are a few hard-learned tips I picked up during my trip:
(1) Slather on the SPF, wear a cap and tote bottled water wherever you go. Egypt's heat is dry and searing. Even the early morning sun can be scorching.
(2) The daylight lasts a lot longer (at 8 p.m. it can still be pretty bright outside) so all meals are taken at a slightly later time.
(3) Tipping is a way of life. And if whoever you're tipping doesn't think you've given him enough, he won’t be shy about telling you.
(4) Be careful who you give your cameras to for "group shots" because whoever takes your pic will most likely ask for some cash before he gives your camera back. Your best bet is to ask a fellow tourist to snap some memories for you.
(5) Banks stay open 'round the clock but close on Saturdays.
Armed with that, you are ready to take in the sights.
The best way to get around is by taxi. A more expensive yet infinitely more convenient method is to hire a driver from your hotel to take you around for the whole day. A six-hour tour is usually $38 plus tip. (Pls note: these were the rates back in 1999)
Things you shouldn't miss are:

Saqqara. This is the oldest pyramid site, complete with courtyards, sandy dunes and small sarcophagi. (Relive scenes from EP1!)
The Pyramids of Giza are located half an hour away from Saqqara. This is where the biggest pyramid ever built is located, and is often called "The Great One." One look and I knew why this trip was worth the begging. The "Great One" and the eight other pyramids of Giza are awe-inspiring. Then I saw the Sphinx (also found in Giza). One word: Wow (Relive scenes from Prince of Egypt.)
The Egyptian Museum is where they've put everything they've ever found inside all of the pyramids. Needless to say, it is a majorly impressive hoard. Among the archived treasures are the contents of King Tut's (the child pharaoh) tomb. A really close tour will take you 4 hours but even just an hour inside is worth it. (Relive scenes from The Mummy.)
Carpet Schools dot the road between Saqqara and Giza. A free tour of the facility will end up at the main showroom. Carpets woven from silk, wool or camel wool cover the floors and ceilings, lending a new face to the term "wall-to wall carpeting." Prices depend on the material used, design, quality of artwork, size and how long it took to make it. (I've run out of movie references)
Khan El Khalili puts your budget on a tightrope. This is Cairo's grand bazaar where intricate blown-glass bottles, silver jewelry, authentic Bedouin trinkets and more are spread out before your tempted eyes. A must buy for any visitor are the cartouche (car-toosh) pendants –silver or gold pendants with your name engraved in hieroglyphics. Remember, all prices are negotiable.
The Ramses Hilton Shopping Center (across the Ramses Hilton Hotel) is for more convenient shopping if only for the air-conditioning. The trade-off is there aren't too many choices and the traditional Egyptian wares you'll find are also more expensive. I suggest a trip to El Khalili first then jet to this mall for any last-minute purchases
Take a morning tour of the Catholic monuments if you're into that kind of sightseeing. Among the more notable spots are The Living Tree where Joseph and Mary stopped for a rest on their way out of Egypt, the Cathedral of Saint George where they sought shelter for an evening, and Mary's Hanging Church and Saint Barbara's Church.

Cairo in the
evening is not a dead city. There are several things you can do to further appreciate the beauty of this ancient place. Some of them are actually a little outside Cairo but are worth the drive. Most involve dinner so you can kill two birds with one stone.
Do not pass up the chance to go on a Nile River Tour. This two hour boat ride down the Nile at night includes dinner, dancing and a show (usually belly-dancing). There are a multitude of boats to choose from. Call ahead for reservations through your hotel's front desk.

The Cairo Tower also affords you a bird's eye view of the city from its revolving restaurant. For a fee (full dinner included) it is worth the long lines. Once again, make reservations through the hotel's front desk before heading out to ensure yourself a table. The view is spectacular even if the food is unremarkable.

Go back to Giza for the Light and Sound show, which shows the history of Egypt against the backdrop of the Sphinx. Check the time tables for the English show, unless you don't mind sitting through it in French or Arabic. After the show, head over to the Oberoi Hotel and dine at Mina House. This restaurant sits beside a pool with colored fountain lights setting off the magnificent pyramids in the background.

That said, I hope your trip to the purported center of civilization is as enriching as mine was.

Getting there:Singapore Airlines has almost daily flights to Cairo with two short stop-overs at Singapore and Dubai. Flight schedules may vary so call your local travel agent.


Post a Comment

<< Home