Friday, April 09, 2004

Belly Dancing

Belly dancing is also called Raqs Sharqi in Arab, or Oriental Dance. As we're on the budget, we decided to go to Palmyra instead. It's cheap. Cover charge was EGP 5.5 per person. I ordered a Stella (or beer) which costs only EGP 10.5. Wei Heng ordered soft drink which costs EGP 8.5. But too bad, we couldn't see belly of any belly dancers. May be it's due to religious issues.

The show didn't start until midnight. We went a bit early, and we were the first customer. What an embarassment. Anyway, the place was lively and interesting. Guests were always invited to dance and sing together. We're lucky enough that a group of Egyptian also celebrated birthday there. They had a practise of throwing money on top of the head of the dancers, be it belly dancer or when their friends danced.

And there was no less rich Egytian too. A VIP arrived late in the night. He was obviously interested in one belly dancer only. Whenever that belly dancer danced, he will held a stack of notes and put it one by one on the head of the belly dancer. A few stacks, ya! That's scary.

Birthday celebration with belly dancer

Palmyra Entrance

Out-of-the-World Taxi Fare

While came back from Memphis, we decided to go to Pyramids Sound and Light Show. We asked the taxi driver to drop us at Pyramids, and we will go back to hotel ourself. We thought we had finally left him, for good. Yet, after the end of the show, he showed up and wanted to bring us back! What I could say was he was really 'responsible' (to his pocket) and 'friendly'.

Backed to the hotel, guess what? The Claridge Hotel owner wanted EGP 20 from each of us! That's a ridiculous price. I argued with the owner, and finally I just paid him off with EGP 20 for all of us. Later he had some arguments with the taxi driver, I don't understand Arab, so I just didn't care.

Tip: If you really have to take a taxi, know your fare beforehand. After arriving at your destination, pay and go. Sometimes there is no point for negotiation, as long as you're not underpay.

Sound and Light Spectacular of the Giza Pyramids

The show costed us EGP 44, with no student discount. The show was narrated by the Sphinx. It's quite worth it just to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx by starry night!

Tip: Visit Misr Company for Sound and Light for latest schedule and information.

The show began just before the sky was complete dark

Show and Light show

Sunset at Pyramids of Giza

Sun behind the Pyramid of Khafre during sunset


We spent about an hour in Saqqara, until we were told to leave when it closed. Later we rushed to Memphis.

Memphis was the ancient capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt from its foundation until around 1300 BC. The ruins are 19 km (12 mi.) south of Cairo on the West Bank of the Nile. The city was founded around 3100 BC by Menes of Tanis, who united the two kingdoms of Egypt. Memphis reached a peak of prestige under the 6th Dynasty as a centre of the cult of Ptah. It declined briefly after the 18th Dynasty with the rise of Thebes and was revived under the Persian satraps before falling into firm second place following the foundation of Alexandria. Under the Roman Empire, Alexandria remained the most important city. It remained the second city of Egypt until the establishment of al Fustat (or Fostat) in 641. Memphis was then largely abandoned and became a source of stone for the surrounding settlements. It was still an imposing set of ruins in the 12th century but soon became little more than an expanse of low ruins and scattered stone. The remains of the temple of Ptah and of Apis have been uncovered at the site as well as a few statues, including two four metre ones in alabaster of Ramesses II.

As you can guess, it's closed. But nonetheless, I have stepped on the land of Memphis, the oldest city of Egypt civilization, and also the largest city in the world from its foundation until around 2250 BC, with population of over 30,000.

Memphis Museum, which built around a fallen colossal limestone statue of Ramses II

Saqqara and Step Pyramid of Zoser

Saqqara, the huge cemetery of ancient Memphis, was an active burial ground for more than 3500 years. The necropolis is situated high above the Nile Valley's cultivation area, covering 7km stretch of the Western Desert. Deceased pharaohs and their families, administrators, generals and sacred animals were all interred here.

The star attraction here is Zoser's Funerary Complex, dominated by the world's first decent attempt at a pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Zoser. The mortuary complex around the step pyramid is 544m long and 277m wide and there is a lot to explore. A part of the 10m high enclosure wall with bastions survived and is restored. In the wall were many false doors, so the spirit of Zoser could come and go. For the living people is only one entrance from where you can reach the Great South Court. Further are the Houses of the South and the North, the serdab and the mortuary temple.

The Step Pyramid of King Zoser is the earliest stone structure ever built, in Egypt and also the world. The brilliant architect Imhotep, also first minister and doctor of Zoser, constructed the pyramid in 2675 BC. His way of construction was new and a break with traditions to build royal tombs as undergroud rooms. This pyramid became the inspiration and the start for the future architectural achievements and building of pyramids in Egypt.

Tip: Admission fee is EGP 20 (EGP 10 for ISIC holder)

At the entrance to the complex Hypostyle Hall, part of reconstructed Enclosure Wall

Rear of the Hypostyle Hall entrance

Step Pyramid of Zoser

A stone structure in front of the pyramid, Serdab contains life-size, lifelike painted status of Zoser within a slightly tilted wooden box with 2 holes drilled into its north face.

Two sets of semi-circles, shaped like our letter B, are positioned at some distance from each other in the south court. They symbolize the boundaries of Egypt. During the Heb Sed festival, the King would run between the two structures, thus confirming his reign over everything that lay between the boundaries of his country.

One of the shrines around the Heb-Sed (Jubilee) Court

The Scamed Hotel Tour's Scam

By the time we returned to the taxi from the Pyramids, it's already half past 3. The supposedly tour guide (who never brought us around) and the driver blamed us for so late, and warned us do not complain if we didn't have time in Saqqara and Memphis. Yet they never blamed themselves for wasting so much time when touted us in the morning!

The trip to Saqqara took about half an hour. Another surprise in place. We were asked to pay for the taxi entrance fee to the Saqqara compound. I thought we're on a tour? Although it's just EGP 2, but it's a cheat.

Tips: It's important to avoid the scam from the beginning. As you can see, more scam will fallen on you. From dropping you on overpriced shop, inferior quality tour to hidden costs.

No More Camera Charges

As what we had learnt before the trip, the camera fees have been scraped for most site. Anyway, it's ridiculous for them to charge fee for the camera, which as a tourist, of course will take along with them.

Solar Barque

Solar Barque Museum

Solar Boat

Admission ticket to Solar Barque Museum costs EGP 30 (EGP 15 for ISIC). Before entering, visitors need to don protective footwear to keep sand out. Make sure you get the proper size, if not will make you walking hard.

There are several boat pits near the pyramid of Cheops, 5 to the east and 2 to the south. The designers of the pyramid complex designed it all as a port for the Netherworld. The boats would bring the pharaoh and the royal family on the eternal journey of the sun, which they embarked upon in the world beneath the surface of the world. The solar boat which now is exhibited in the Solar Boat Museum was discovered in 1954 in 1224 separate parts. It appears that the boat was deliberately dismantled. The reconstruction took 14 years, but was helped by U-shaped holes allowing for the boat to be stitched together by ropes or vegetable fibres. The boat is an impressive 43 metres long and 6 metres wide.

The Great Sphinx

Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops)

Close Up of Sphinx, with the battered face

To me, the Sphinx was not as great as I had imagined. May be because it's smaller in size compared to the pyramids, and we couldn't get too close to it.

The Sphinx is one of the best known monuments on Earth and dates back over 4,500 years to the Old Kingdom and the time of king Khafre - builder of the second largest pyramid on the Giza plateau on Cairo's outskirts. The head of the Sphinx probably depicts Khafre, while the body is that of a recumbent lion.

The Sphinx is about 73.5 metres in length. It was originally sculptured from a limestone outcrop and, for most of its history, the Sphinx has been at least partly covered in sand. The first recorded clearing took place in the 18th Dynasty when a prince, who later became the pharaoh Thutmose IV, ordered that the sand be removed. This happened after he supposedly had a dream in which he was told that he would become pharaoh if he cleared the Sphinx.

In front of the Sphinx is its temple, while adjacent to it is the better preserved Valley Temple of Khafre. A causeway, behind the Sphinx, connected Khafre's Mortuary Temple next to his pyramid with the Valley Temple.

Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the last surviving member of the Seven Wonders of the World. There are in fact three main pyramids in Giza; the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops), The Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) and the smaller Pyramid of Menkaura (or Mycerinus). Each Pyramid is a tomb to a different King of Egypt.

Trivia: Only the Great Pyramid of Khufu, not all three Great Pyramids, is on top of the list of Wonders.

The Pyramids of Giza - Right is Pyramid of Khufu and left is Pyramid of Khafre

Giza is located only a few kilometers south of Cairo, several hundred meters from the last houses in the southernmost part of the city proper, where a limestone cliff rises abruptly from the other side of a sandy desert plateau. The ancient Egyptians called this place imentet, "The West" or kher neter, "the necropolis".

Village so close to the Pyramids

To enter into Pyramids area, admission fee of EGP 20 (EGP 10 with ISIC) is applicable. Inside, to enter into each monuments will cost additional admission tickets again! The Pyramid of Khufu costed us EGP 50 each, and that's with ISIC card. Without discount it's EGP 100, a steep increase from EGP 40 previously, very expensive! I don't think it's worth the price, as there is nothing inside! Just an empty chamber. When I entered to the Pyramid, a woman sang some ghostly song, it's scary if I'm alone, but did provide some entertainment after a hard climb inside the pyramid.

Camel walked past Great Pyramid of Khufu

Pyramid of Khufu - The Great Pyramid

Khufu (2589-2566 BC) was the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza. In ancient times, this pyramid was known as "Khufu is the one belonging to the horizon". His father Sneferu, had in fact built the first ever true pyramid, the "north" or Red Pyramid at Dahshur, near Saqqara.

Like all pyramids, Khufu's was part of a complex, of which the three small pyramids known as "pyramids of the queens" are the most obvious part. There is a ruined temple on the east side, and the causeway leading out to the valley temple has been lost beneath the modern settlement of Nazlet el-Simman. Several boat pits surround the pyramid, and boats have been found in two of these. Khufu's pyramid is unusual because the burial chambers are built within the structure, as opposed to the more usually underground chambers found in most pyramids.

Originally the pyramid would have been covered by a layer of smooth white limestone and possibly crowned by gold sheet at the apex. This covering was stripped away in medieval times, but some still remains on the apex of the neighbouring pyramid of Khafre.

Pyramid of Khafre

Khafre (2558-2532 BC) was the builder of the next great pyramid at Giza. The site of this pyramid is on a slight eminence and retains some of its limestone casing at the apex, and it therefore actually appears larger than that of Khufu, and is often mistaken as the Great Pyramid. In ancient times this pyramid was known as "Great is Khafre", and is more typical of Old Kingdom pyramid design in having an underground burial chamber. The Great Sphinx is carved from an outcrop of rock in a quarry beside the causeway to Khafre's pyramid, and this famous sculpture is usually assigned to Khafre's reign.

Pyramid of Menkaure

Menkaure (2532-2503 BC) has the smallest of the three pyramid complexes at Giza. His valley temple was not of granite but finished of mud brick instead. Menkaure's pyramid had its burial chambers below ground, just like that of Khafre, but unlike the others the interior walls were carved. In ancient times this pyramid was known as "Menkaure is Divine".

A Little Hassle

This guy was so friendly, showed us the nice spot to take photos, even offered to take photos for us. Even wanted to give us souvenir! I fell into the trap, took one stone, and later had to pay him EGP 1 as baksheesh.

Baksheesh Everywhere!

After the shoot was taken, you guess what the tourist police did? Yes, asked for baksheesh! (or tips in English)

'Friendly' Stable Scam

Instead of dropping us at the entrance to the Pyramids compound, our tour guide and taxi driver dropped us at a specific stable. They were very friendly, offered us drinks, and chatted nicely with us. The slowly they pushed us to took up their horse or camel. They started with price of USD $20 and kept dropping it until USD $8, a hefty 66% reduction.

Tips: Beware, even if you think it's cheap, once you're on those animals, they might just bring you to no where and request for more baksheesh (Arab word for tips), or simple money.

Yet, I still insisted on 'No'. We eventually walked up after an precise hour, but the tout still followed us until we got into the Pyramids compound. Scary! But the story hadn't ended here.

Later in the night we came back for Sound and Light show. Again, the stable tout was at work again, tried to convince us to took their animals to the another side of Pyramids to took perfect photos. They even suggested to let us watch the Sound and Light show from their rooftop to save us money. I was completely not interested, I never went to watch the view even though they offered it. My other partners went, and quite disappointed that the view was not nice.

At last, we walked to the ticket office, and chatted with other tourists there. Only now that the tout stopped chasing us, but he still managed to threw me some words, said I'm difficult (for him to make business). We met a nice family from France while waiting.

Pyramids Road

Pyramids Road or Sharia al-Haram

It leads to Pyramids of Giza

Bring your ISIC Student Card

Tips: In Egypt, most admission tickets will be reduced by half if you're student, and ISIC International Student Identification Card is the most widely accepted. Every place that you go in Egypt will need an admission ticket, so you will save a lot with the student card. If you don't have, just tell your hotel.

We got our ISIC card on the way to Pyramid of Giza. I was not a student anymore, but just simply told them an university, and they didn't require any proof. The fee should be EGP 50, or USD $9, but it was included in the USD $65 we paid.

Before we came to Egypt, I had tried to get the ISIC card in Malaysia. I prepared a fake letter of certification with a photocopy letterhead, and a fake student card. I went to MSL Travel, and they're quite strict and need other proofs. I nearly got it done at STA Travel, but at the end, because the institution name didn't have the word university or university or institute, they said they could not proceed with the application.

Overpriced Papyrus Shop

On the way to Pyramids of Giza, we had been dropped at Egypt Papyrus Museum. It was not a museum, instead a shop that sells papyrus and pays commission to the those who brought us there, and that's our tour guide. They claimed their papyrus was real, but I am not too sure about that. To be safe, buy at the shop introduced by guide books.

Egypt Papyrus Museum

Demonstration of Papyrus Making

Out of convenient, I did spent EGP 60 to buy 2 pieces small papyrus. Luckily too, as we hardly have any time during the rest of the trip to do serious shopping.