We only have 2 full days in Egypt so we’re just in the Giza/Cairo area. The plan is to get in, see some big pyramids, and get out. To be honest, we were a little worried about how safe it would be, given some of what has been in the news and the political situation over the past few years. And this trip is really about visiting Morocco.
We booked an Airbnb with this great guy named Mohamed. It’s in Giza right by the pyramids. In fact, in an instance of truth in advertising, Mohamed’s place is called 3 Pyramids Inn, and you can, in fact, see 3 freaking pyramids from his rooftop deck. And not just any pyramids. The Great Pyramid (on the right).
From the moment we arrived, Egypt reminded DQ of Vietnam in so many ways. Mohamed arranged for a driver to pick us up from the Cairo airport. We cannot recommend this enough. Like the airport at Ho Chi Minh City, there are numerous drivers and hawkers that swarm you offering you rides and tours and rooms. Unless you’ve done your research, you won’t know what’s a fair price and who’s legit. Unlike in HCMC/Saigon, these guys would leave us alone when we told them we had a driver!
As our driver took us from the airport to our Airbnb, we noticed that no one paid attention to the lane markers…or what side of the road to drive on. There were pedestrians walking, crossing, and selling goods on the freeway. I think it was a freeway. It was an elevated road and cars would have been moving fast if the traffic had not been so congested. Every so often, we’d see cars pulled over to the side of the road. At first, I thought there were lots of broken down cars, but realized after a bit that they were just stopping to let passengers off….on the side of the freeway. The roads are also shared with mopeds (though not as many as you see in Vietnam), animal carts (I think these are farmers transporting their goods to town?), and sometimes donkeys or camels (though just in tourist areas). Commuting in and around Cairo/Giza is wild.
Similar to Vietnam, but more prominent in Cairo/Giza, is the presence of the military. There were regular checkpoints along roadways (we were always waived through) where drivers were asked for documents and car trunks checked. Men armed with assault rifles at the checkpoints and in armored vehicles by buildings. Many of the tourist sites we visited were all guarded by men in bullet-proof vests and guns. Sometimes just military. Sometimes military and police. No one bothered or even glanced at us. It was obvious tourists were not the target of military attention.
It was 97 degrees today. Perfect day to head out into the desert and check out large stone monuments from an ancient civilization. Because we’re only in Egypt for 2 days and don’t speak any Arabic, we hired a private tour guide from our host Mohamed. Our tour guide was a fun-loving guy named Mohamed. We also had a driver (thankfully not named Mohamed) named Sam, who drove a Toyota and kept the AC on. So we liked Sam immensely.
Our first stop was Saqqara. It’s about 25 miles south of Cairo but great to visit first because it’s the site of the first pyramid. The Step Pyramid was built around 2600 BC by the architect Imhotep for King Djoser.
There’s also the ruins of a court, tombs, and other pyramids.
We got to go inside the Pyramid of Teti and see inscriptions on the wall. It was unbelievable that we were inside a pyramid and up close to the real stuff. I mean…the dude let us touch everything. The dude was not exactly a guard. He seemed more like an old guy that, for a tip, would lead people down a steep tunnel. “Watch your head, watch your head.”
Then through an ante-chamber and duck again through a doorway and, bam, hieroglyphs on the walls. “Look, look.”
“And up, up. See stars?”
“And, here.” He seemed so proud to show us around.
Next we visit Memphis to learn about the original capital of the kingdom and see a massive statue of Ramses II. DQ was ready to cut this out of our itinerary, but MDT was eager to visit any place called Memphis. Kings of ancient Egypt and the king of Rock n Roll have that in common. *eye roll*
We head back to Giza to see the Pyramids of Giza up close. Before we get out of the car, Mohamed the guide tells us (as he does at the earlier sites) to not accept anything from anyone, even if offered as a gift. Good reminder here since the vendors are more numerous and assertive than in Saqqara. But, they’re still just as polite and friendly, stopping after we say no just once.
In fact, one seller, with a smile, responded to DoQuyen, “No, thank you. Everyone says, ‘No, thank you.’ I teach you ‘Laa, shoukrah’.” And he spent the next few minutes working with DQ so she could say no thank you in Arabic.
Above, MDT and Mohamed the guide discussing whether it’s worth it for MDT to go into the Great Pyramid. Ultimate decision was no – it cost 300 EL ($18 US) and there was nothing in the chamber when you got there. We’d already gone in a pyramid at Saqqara.
So we just explore the outside of the Great Pyramid.
And the other pyramids at the site.
And the Sphinx!!
After a shower and nap and fresh clothes that don’t look like we just climbed out of a swimming pool back at our Airbnb (reminder: wretchedly hot), we have a dinner cruise on the Nile recommended by Mohamed the host and accompanied by Mohamed the guide. The dinner was great fun with fantastic entertainment. We had a belly dancer and a guy who did this whirling dervish dance. It was incredible. He spun around for over 10 minutes straight. Mohamed the guide was pretty fun, too, he was practically jumping out of his chair dancing to the music and cheer/whooping on the dancers. You wouldn’t have known that he goes on this cruise 2-3 times a week with tourists!
We had a great day in Saqqara and Giza! The only thing we had not yet checked off our list was having some great Egyptian food. Both Mohameds had difficulty understanding (believing?) us when we told them we wanted real Egyptian food, good food. We asked about street food and they were worried we would get sick. For lunch we got a touristy restaurant with a view of the Pyramids of Giza. Which is fine except…we were staying at an inn with a rooftop view of the pyramids and were about to go visit the pyramids. So the view wasn’t as important to us. And the food was okay. For dinner, the cruise entertainment was awesome. The menu however was just basic pasta and chicken.
We had another conversation with the Mohameds about food after the cruise. We described our culinary adventures in other countries and how important it was to us to eat things we can’t get in the US. We think they finally understood – exciting plans are in the works for lunch and dinner tomorrow!