Thursday, April 08, 2004

Cairo Downtown at Night

Cairo Downtown is the commercial heart of Cairo, and this was evident when we had a walk at Sharia Talaat Harb. The traffic, motor and human became heavier when night grew darker.

Midan Talaat Harb at Night

The night was cold. We didn't prepare for such a cold weather, but I liked it. But I still couldn't stop coughing and running nose.

Once in the trap, be prepared for More...

The Claridge owner had came to our room for more than 5 times. He was keen to know if we want to accept the 12-days tour of Egypt for USD
$250. The tour was exactly according to our plan, plus felluca from Aswan to Luxor, but not included admission tickets and foods. I had no intention of joining it, but Sing Wei and Herman did. He later lower the price to USD $235 if 4 of us joined.

I was not going to took the bait. I had read that it's a way of profiteering from uninformed tourists. I didn't want to bother with being dropped at their designated shops for them to earn commision at later part of the trip. After intense negotiation, Wei Heng and me finally took up trip to Giza Plateau, White Desert, Bahariya Oasis, 2 nights stay at the hotel and also application of ISIC Student Card for USD 65.

I was very tired to deal with this kind of technique. They acted very friendly, they made you felt very hard to reject their offer. To be fair, the hotel owner did treat us to a nice koshari for the dinner.

Cairo Hotel Scams

So said Lonely Planet:

"The most common scam of all in Cairo is one in which a local convinces a newly arrived traveller that the hotel they are heading for is closed, horrible or very expensive and leads them off to another 'better' place, for which your self-appointed 'guide' earns himself a commission."

That was what exactly what happened to us. We planned to stay at Sun Hotel. While searching for Sun Hotel, an Eygptian came to us. He was very friendly, and offered to bring us to Sun Hotel. Before we could see any Sun Hotel, he led us to another guy with the Sun Hotel name tag, who then told us it's fully booked at Sun Hotel.

Then the 'Sun Hotel guy' offered to bring us to another hotel, at exactly the same price, 'not so far away'. Until now I still could not believe how can we fell into the trap. All the guide books had warned about this scam. After walking for quite a distance, we reached his recommended hotel, Hotel Claridge. The condition is not so good, but partly because of tired of finding another hotel, partly also because the Singaporean guys already decided to stay there, we booked in for 1 night, hoping to change hotel the next day.

Bus to Cairo City Centre

Tips: Never believe those who said there is no bus to Cairo from airport.

Stepped out of the airport, quite surprise the weather in Cairo was quite cold. We're unprepared for the cold weather, as it was in start contrast with impression of Egypt which full of desert! Luckily it's going to summer soon.

The bus stop situated at a corner of car park in front of the Terminal 2. The bus fare is cheap (EGP 2.50), and what surprise me more is the pretty excellent road condition, and the traffic jam is not as scary as the Lonely Planet described. The bus dropped us right behind Egyptian Antiquities Museum.

Bus 356 took us from airport to Midan Abdel Monien Road

An Hour Wait at Cairo Airport

After another 3 hours flight from Bahrain, we finally reached Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The view of Cairo from the sky was not spectacular, and it was hazy. But if you're on the lucky side of the plane, you can viewed the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara. We did, but it's too late for me to take any shoot.

Nile River and Unattractive Cairo from the Sky

The Cairo airport is very small and sub-standard, especially when I am so used to grandness of Kuala Lumpur Sepang International airport and effectiveness of Singapore Changi airport. And here, worse still, Wei Heng and I had another scare. We submitted our passports, and the immigration officer just pushed it aside and retained our passports! Finally we waited more than 1 hour just for our passports, despite constantly went to the immigration office to 'harass' them.

It seemed like the officers randomly chose whose passports are retained, and those on left side lane more likely been victim. Both Sing Wei and Herman were able to clear the immigration within minutes.

And also, never believe the imigresent officer. He promised us that within 10 minutes we supposed to get back the passport, yet it turned out to be an hour. This is the first time I tasted what so called as "Egytian time".

Cairo International Airport

Lucky Met

We had a little more than two hours transit time in Bahrain before continuing to Cairo, Egypt. It's here that we first met with Sing Wei and Herman, when Sing Wei came and talked to us. Actually we noticed them while on the flight from Singapore, as most of the passengers are bit of like Westerners with hardly any Chinese. They took a lof of pressure out of me, as I didn't have to crack my head all the time.

Bahrain Scare

The Gulf Airways aircraft that brought us to Bahrain, the transit point, was big and comfortable, with personal LCD. No more such luck on other 3 more flights. Anyway, didn't have much time to enjoy it too, as most of time I was sleeping.

This picture of military helicopter nearly caused me trouble from security guard

At Bahrain airport, I had a little scare. The incident happened when I saw a military helicopter hovered around the airport. I took several shoots of it. A security officer saw and came to said cannot take photos inside airport and worse, asked me to follow him. He brought me to a departure gate nearby and made a phone call, presumably to his superior. A miserable 5 minutes wait, but eventually he let go me, obviously because of unable to reach his superior. This incident certainly didn't leave good impression of his country in my mind.

Sleeping in Changi Airport

Had since long time ago heard that Changi airport is the best airport in the world for sleeping. I wanna try that out, firstly because I afraid I couldn't wake up in time for the odd 5 a.m. flight, and secondly also to save some taxi money. So I reached Changi airport by 1 a.m., hoped to utilize a facility called 'early check-in' to get into the departure lounge, to sleep, of course.

I checked on the Changi Airport website, and it said that I can check-in from 10 to 2 hours before flight departure time. What I didn't notice is, it's only applicable from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight, and it's for off-airport check-in. :( So no choice, had to sleep on chair. Not comfortable, but the airport was so quite, that even the cleaner won't disturb you.

Wee hour of early morning at Changi Airport

Finally checked in. Facilities in Changi Airport simply superb. There was free internet access, sofa with alarm clock, satellite TV and of course, rest area with sleeping chair. :) We grabbed one of these, and had just 1 hour of haste sleep.