Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Friday, March 26, 2010

The pratical side of Egypt

I'm not even sure where to begin - but I think I'll start with an overview of the logistics side of it in case anyone else is interested in going.

Price breakdown:
  • Airfare+visits*+transfers+7 nights on a 5 star boat w/full board (no drinks) cost us 499€ each (purchased via Expedia.fr). The same deal was going for as high as 769€ during the school vacation or on other websites.
  • There were several optional excursions, including Abou Simbel for 90€ extra, a visit to a Nubian village for 20€, a 1 hour camel ride for 15€ and a 2 hour carriage ride of Luxor for 20€. We did the Nubian village and the camel ride.
  • We only drank water while on the boat, buying a 1L bottle at lunch and dinner, which came to about 20€ for the week. (Note: Coffee, tea & juice were included as part of the breakfast at no extra cost). Our table mates however were Bretons and drank copious amounts of alcohol at every meal, so they walked away with a drink bill of a couple hundred euros per couple at the end of the week. Which is fine if that's what you want to spend your money on - just don't forget to include it in your budget!
  • Total for everything: 545€ each (+ about 50€ spending money)
(*Included visits: Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo Temple, Karnak Temple, Hatshepsout Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the Assouan Dam and a ride in a traditional Egyptian sail boat.)

General tips:
  • It pays to shop around - prices for our some cruise varied by over 200€ according to the website. We found the best deals on promovacances.com and Expedia.com, especially for the 5 star boats.
  • Read the fine print - make sure you know what is included (ie. pension complète does not usually include drinks, some excursions cost extra, etc)
  • If you know the name of the boat, it's also a good idea to google it and see what comes up on the various forums out there. It'll give you an idea of what to expect.
  • A 5-star Egyptian boat is not the same as a 5 star boat in Europe or the US - it probably corresponds to about 3 stars here. Our boat was pretty decent overall, but the bathrooms were extremely tiny (think: Paris hotel small).
  • Bring earplugs just in case- there are inevitably rooms that are close to the motor and are thus very noisy. When we booked, we included a little line in the comments box asking for a room on the upper deck if possible, and we actually ended up getting upgraded to a suite on the top floor. Our room had great views the entire trip and was silent as could be. Whether this was just by chance or because we asked for it, we'll never know - but it is definitely worth a try!
  • Drinks on the boat were pretty expensive - about 8€ for a cocktail and 20€ for a bottle of wine. Water was about 1,25€ for a 1L bottle.
  • We were lucky and our boat had a private docking quay everywhere we went, but that's not the case for most boats. Most end up docking next to other boats, so you could end up having to cross through several other boats before getting to land. The average ones had maybe 3 or 4 together, but we did see one with 8 boats attached!
  • I thought most people would speak French, but there were actually more that spoke English instead. I still tended to speak French with people if possible though, because the Egyptians think the French are cheap and thus the starting negotiation prices are lower.
  • Don't bother getting Egyptian money - we did, and pretty much everyone refused our big bills. Bring 1 or 2€ coins instead, everyone wants them and they are great bargaining tools.
  • If you go with a group, your guide will bring you to several different stores "at the request of someone in the group" - usually a perfume store, a jewelry store and a papyrus store. It's okay to buy here, but just know that prices are a bit higher and your guide will get a nice kickback from everything that's sold during the visit.
  • For big purchases (jewelry, sculptures, etc), they take credit cards - just don't let the card out of your sight during the payment process!
  • Speaking of big purchases, you have to haggle prices on EVERYTHING. If they quote you a price, automatically divide it at least by 50% and then counteroffer. Negotiations can take ages, and if things aren't going the way you like, just move on - there will be someone else with the exact same wares farther along down the line. In fact, if you're looking for something specific, it's a good idea to just do some light haggling in a few stores first before actually buying, just to get an idea of what the true price range is.
  • Prices will also depend on how naive you look - an elderly French couple on our boat paid 40€ for an outfit that another couple paid 6€ for. At the exact same place. And the elderly couple had thought they'd gotten a good deal, since the vendor had originally started at 80€!!
  • Clothes-wise - avoid skirts, shorts and revealing tops. Cropped pants are okay, and so are tank tops, but you may want to cover your arms/chest with a scarf when walking in a public place.
  • Bring snacks with for the plane and for the excursions, as well as small water bottle for the day trips. Our room had a fridge, which was nice since we could keep stuff cold.
  • Internet cafes are popping up every now, and some boats even have one PC available for use. Prices are still high though, expect to pay 5-6€ per hour for the privilege.
Things to watch out for:
  • When getting change back, make sure to double check - some vendors will try to substitute 1 pound coins for Euro coins because they look very similar (but 1€=7 E£, so it's not a mistake you want to make).
  • Along the same lines - if you do have both Euros and Egyptian pounds - watch carefully if you hand them a 20€ note. A woman in our group got conned this way - she gave him the bill, looked down quick at the change to make sure he hadn't cheated her using the scheme above, and by the time she looked back up, he'd swapped it with a 20£ note, which looks very similar. He then insisted she'd made a mistake and had given him 20£ instead of 20€, so she took the 20£ note back and gave him 20€ instead. Meaning she'd just given him 40€ instead of 20€.
  • There will also be people in the streets wanting to exchange euros coins for euro notes - I was really suspicious of this at first, but then we learned that it's because the Egyptian banks won't exchange euro coins for Egyptian citizens - they will only take Euro notes. So the vendors are constantly looking for people who need change. A lot of people in our group broke their bills this way and I think it's a good method to do so as long as you're aware of the two common scams above.
  • Only buy water from your hotel or boat - many of the street vendors refill used bottles with tap water and then reseal them, and it's not always safe for tourists to drink.
  • Everybody gets kick backs here - from the taxi driver to your tour guide - so the less middle-men you can deal with the better, as it will only raise your prices. Example: We paid 55€ for our visa plus "service charges", but when we got to the airport, we found out the visa really only cost about 12€ ($15) - and that our guide had pocketed the other 40+ euros. But everyone gets their cut of something, and expect to have to tip a lot as well, from the doorman to the person who cleans your rooms.
  • Avoid taking taxis or carriage rides for roundtrips if possible - they will quote you one price and then actually charge you double or triple to take you home. Others will offer to take you to the Souk and then will really take you to their family's store, and will drive off and leave you if you refuse to buy anything. It can get pretty cutthroat at times and several couples in our group got scammed this way.
Overall, I'm really glad we took the time to talk to others who'd been and to do some research online - it helped us have a better idea of what to expect and what traps to avoid. I also feel like it helped us get the most value for our money - I don't know about you guys, but I think that 550€ for an 8-day, 7 night vacation including food & visits is a pretty good deal.

If you speak French, I'd also recommend checking out the report that the French show "Enquête Exclusive" did a on Egypt back in February - the first 20 minutes or so talk about the Nile cruises. It might be on their website as well, but I found it on YouTube a few weeks ago by searching for the title "Egypt: la face cachée d'un rêve". It's a bit dramatic and over-exaggerated, but still gives a fairly realistic idea of what it was like.

I think that about sums up the practical side of things - but if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to ask away:

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4 Comments:

Blogger Anne said...

This is all really useful info. I think you definitely got a good deal there - I'll look into similar things when I get back to Europe! I remember during our (brief) trip to Egypt everyone assumed I was Egyptian. Complete strangers would walk up to Jonathan and congratulate him on scoring an "Egyptian wife"!

March 26, 2010 at 1:14 PM  
OpenID pinklea said...

Lots of awesome info there! Very timely for me - thank you! Our upcoming trip covers most of what yours did, but since ours is 12 days, Cairo, Alexandria, and Abu Simbel are included. We're only on the Nile cruise for 3 days, as well, and travel by train, plane and coach the rest of the time. It's a little more expensive for us, coming from Canada, but I've wanted to see Egypt for a long time now, so I'm not too worried about that!

Don't bring any Egyptian money at all? I know they won't take my Canadian dollars, so I'll have to change currency anyway, but I've been told that American money is fine. Any thoughts on that?

That whole tipping culture is kind of a concern to me. I've been told that you have to tip for almost everything, usually about 5 Egyptian pounds at minimum. On an excursion, I suppose you have to tip the guide. How much per person, generally? Does everyone in the tour group contribute to make one large tip for the leader?

I was hoping to wear skirts, just not skirts above the knee, since our trip is in July, so it will be quite a bit hotter than it is now. And tank tops are okay? That's surprising - and a relief, because I have loads of them! I can add a scarf as necessary quite easily, I think. Can you wear anything you want on the ship (swimsuit, shorts, etc)? What about footwear? I was told that walking sandals were a bad idea because the hot sand will get into them, but I wore them (and flip flops) all over the ruins of Greece last year and managed just fine. What do you think?

Thanks for any insights you care to share with me, Sam!

March 27, 2010 at 6:41 AM  
Blogger Madame K said...

After reading your post I can only imagine how the "Enquête Exclusive" makes Egypt look. I love that show! They are total drama queens.

Still, it sounds exhausting! I don't think I'll be going to Egypt anytime soon.

March 27, 2010 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger Ksam said...

@Anne - that is funny! I bet it meant you guys got harassed a lot less in the streets. C got lots of "Lucky man, lucky man" because I'm blond.

@pinklea- I guess if you really want to bring Egyptian money, make sure you get small bills (like 10 & 20 pound notes). We had 50's and 100's and no one wanted to take them. Everyone wanted to be paid in euros or dollars - so American money would definitely be fine too. If you do have both currencies, maybe consider having two coin purses to keep them separate (and be on the look out for the scams I mentioned when getting money back).

And about 5 pounds sounds about right for any kind of service person (doorman, baggage carrier, etc). We had the same guide the entire trip, and he handed out envelopes at the end and each couple chose how much money to put in there. We didn't give a ton because our guide wasn't exceptional (plus I thought he'd gotten enough already from all the places he'd made us stop at).

I saw very few women wearing skirts - most of the women were wearing long linen pants or cropped pants. One day, one girl wore very short shorts out and it caused quite the ruckus, and I guess I'd been told that skirts had the same effect. On the boat or at the hotel it would be fine though - there were women in bikinis and whatnot with no problems. Most of us wore tank tops/sleeveless shirts though, and it was fine as long as they weren't low-cut/v-necks. It wasn't necessary to cover my arms/chest with a scarf, but I usually did to 1)protect from the sun and 2)at least somewhat limit all the comments from men in the streets.

As for footwear - I brought two pairs of sandals and one pair of shoes. It's true that the sand was pretty hot already in March, so it might be absolutely burning by July!

And I was just thinking, maybe an umbrella might be good too? There isn't really much protection from the sun when you're visiting the temples and whatnot, and I saw a lot of Asian women with umbrellas, which I thought was a pretty smart idea.

@MadameK - I think C found it quite exhausting as well, especially the haggling. He says he's happy he went, but that he doesn't have any desire to go back.

March 27, 2010 at 11:20 AM  

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