Prepaid GSM

Red sea coast, Luxor, Upper Nile, Abu Simbel, Cairo
Part 1

21.12: Munich -> Hurghada
22.12: Hurghada -> Luxor
23.12: Luxor
24.12: Luxor -> Assuan (Aswan)
25.12: Assuan
26.12: Assuan
27.12: Assuan -> Abu Simbel
28.12: Abu Simbel -> Assuan -> Cairo
29.12: Cairo
30.12: Cairo
31.12: Cairo
01.01: Cairo -> Hurghada (Sigala)
02.01: Hurghada (Sigala)
03.01: Hurghada
04.01: Hurghada -> Munich

This has been my second trip to Egypt - the first one took place in January 2001 (see the corresponding travelogue). This time I did the trip with my wife, in her fifth month of pregnancy. I have therefore been careful to stay in better places, eat in clean restaurants and travel comfortably (we used flights and private cars + drivers, avoiding to travel with (cheaper) public buses).

We didn't book tours or packages - just the return flight to Hurghada with Air Berlin. I won't fly again with this airline (only if the price is very low). We paid a 'full' price for a charter flight, but only got the service of a discount airline (flight took off at 3:15am and instead of letting people sleep, they served a breakfast at 4 am, then started a sales tour through the plane at 5 am - more here). In Egypt we enquired about tours, but received only heavily overpriced offers.

Cairo is incredibly polluted and dirty - much more than just two years ago. It's a city with an impressive cultural heritage, but with environmental problems which almost spoil the experience. If you visit the town, limit your stay to the absolute essential (two days will suffice).

Hurghada is an example of overdevelopment gone crazy. Everywhere there are building sites, some still in operation, some abandoned. It's not possible to walk along the beach as each hotel reserves for itself a chunk of beach which itr encloses in walls.

Money / Exchange rate (December 2003)
1 Euro = 7.6 Egyptian pounds (L.E.)
US $1 = 6.12 L.E.

Costs The strong Euro helped reduce our overall expense. The cheapest hotel where we stayed was the one in Assuan where we paid 65 L.E. for a clean double room with everything (see the Assuan section), the most expensive one was the five star Marriott in Hurghada (US $110/night on Jan. 3rd). The bill for a lunch or dinner for two in a restaurant ranged from 30 to about 110 L.E., with the average around 60 L.E.
The return flight from Assuan to Abu Simbel cost 507 L.E., the one way flight from Assuan to Cairo 1013 L.E., the one way flight from Cairo to Hurghada cost 759 L.E. (all prices per person, inclusive of tax). The private car from Hurghada to Luxor cost 500 L.E. one way (overpriced, we booked this through the Marriott hotel), the one from Luxor to Assuan cost 250 L.E.

Prepaid GSM cards
Probably there are, but we didn't buy any. There was GSM mobile phone coverage in all places we visited.

Internet access
Internet cafes everywhere. Rates were 5 L.E./hour in Cairo, 7 L.E./hour in Hurghada and 10 L.E./hour elsewhere. Not too fast, but fast enough.

Always sunny and dry, but colder than what I had expected (around 20°C during the day, much less at night). Colder than two years ago (January 2001) and too fresh for swimming. We always had to wear long trousers and thin jackets in the evening, even a sweater every now and then. You wouldn't believe it, but in Abu Simbel in the extreme south of Egypt it is really cold at night.

Vaccinations/ Health
We didn't bother, as we are seasoned travellers and never get diarrhoea anyway. I suspect that there is no malaria in Egypt.

VISA / Entry requirements
EU nationals and nationals from several other countries automatically get a visa upon arrival, valid for 15 days. You have to buy the stamps for about 15 - 20 Euro.

Security in Egypt was TIGHT when we visited the country in December 2003. All major tourist attractions were guarded by heavily armed police and military units (armoured vehicle with machine gun on top guarding the entry of the Karnak temple in Luxor - just to make an example). To get to the temples, museums and other tourist attractions you had to pass through several security controls with heavily armed police units and metal detectors everywhere. The tourist hotels we saw with three or more stars all had metal detector gates and own security personnel.

Sometimes this was annoying, as for instance having to pass two times through airport like security gates with metal detectors just to get into the Gayer-Anderson museum in Cairo, a pretty insignificant museum. At the airport in Assuan I had to take off my shoes and make them go through the X-ray scanner.

The only way to travel overland between towns was by police escorted convoy - two years ago I could manage to find taxi drivers willing to travel from A to B for some extra money, but not this time.

It is quite obvious that the Egyptian authorities are taking the security situation very seriously and do their best to avoid a terrorist attack on tourists which would cripple the tourist industry, so vital for the economy.

From a petty crime perspective we had the impression that Egyptians don't steal (although they will try to cheat you and harassment is entirely another issue). I didn't feel uncomfortable running around with large amounts of cash in my wallet (paying with cash from ATMs is cheaper than paying by credit card, as the rate is better).

21.12: Munich -> Nürnberg airport -> Hurghada
Marriott Beach Hotel, Hurghada, US $ 60/night (= 48 Euro at the current exchange rate) for a double room with bath, A/C, TV, telephone, balcony, well furnished - good value because of the strong Euro

Weather: surprisingly fresh in Hurghada; perhaps 20°C or less, strong wind; sunny the whole day, no rain; too cold to walk around in shorts and T-shirt
GSM coverage: MobiNil Egypt

After packing everything we leave home at 10:37pm and drive to Nürnberg airport. The flight leaves at 3:15 am Sunday morning and the drive should take approx. two hours - so we should arrive around 12:30pm and still have some reserve in case there is a traffic jam on the motorway. The motorway is pretty empty on this Saturday night and the temperature hovers between 3°C and 6°C, which means that there won't be ice on the motorway. It rains for about one hour, then it stops. We reach Nürnberg airport at 12:20pm and leave the car in the P2 parking (54 Euro for two weeks).

The Air Berlin flight leaves more or less on time at 3:15am. It's a very old Boeing 737-800 plane, with rows of seats tightly packed next to each other. Next to me an oversize lady whose bottom part occupies one and a half seats, leaving me half a seat available. After taking off, around 4am a breakfast is served (actually even an eatable one). But do they realise that people might prefer to sleep rather than eating ? Then at 5am, after all eating is over and you would think the night peace might begin, the internal loudspeakers start blasting a huge "buy our special offers" message. These people are sick - don't they know that the night is made for sleeping ? Overall service is very bad.

Never mind we make it on time to Hurghada at 8:30am local time. The airport is relatively small and not too impressive. We pay 20 Euro each for stamps for the VISA (which seems a bit expensive) and then go through immigration. The officer at the counter probably has never seen a Malaysian tourist and first has to check if Shirley needs a visa, then lets us through (after checking, he tells Shirley "...Mahathir Mohammed is a good man"). By the way, Malaysian nationals are allowed to enter Egypt for up to 15 days without a visa (the same holds for EU nationals).

It is quite fresh (and windy) in the morning in Hurghada - so cold that I keep on wearing my sweater. The sun is shining (and keeps on shining for the whole day).

After changing some money at the bank counter in the airport (at the rate of 7.5 Egyptian pounds per Euro), we take a taxi (5 Euro - surprise, it is possible to pay in Euro here) to the Marriott Beach Hurghada hotel. The hotel is very nice and the rate is good (48 Euro, i.e. 60 US $ - luckily the dollar is devalued at the moment).

After we take a rest and sleep until 2 pm. When we go out we realise that it is actually quite cold in Hurghada, too cold to walk around comfortably in shorts and T-shirt. I go back to the room and put on long trousers and a long sleeves shirt. After a mediocre lunch in the Shorouk restaurant of the hotel (110 L.E. for lousy food) we take a walk outside. The hotel has its own small beach, packed with chairs and tourists. It looks like the hotel is quite isolated from everywhere here.

In the evening I ask at the reception desk about buses or private cars to Luxor. They quote a price of 500 L.E. (one way) to go to Luxor, which seems expensive. After some discussion and evaluation we accept the proposal (Shirley is pregnant in the 5th month and we are not in the mode to take a public bus). We'll leave at 8am tomorrow together with the convoy with the police escort and should arrive in Luxor at 1 pm. There should be enough time left to visit the Karnak temple complex and then the Luxor temple in the late afternoon/evening.

In the evening we have dinner in the Shorouk restaurant, and try the buffet dinner for 69 RM. This time the food is very good.

Copyright (c) 2003 Alfred Molon