Cairo is a city of incongruities! The Nile, the Sahara Desert, Pyramids, the Sphinx (half man, half lion), high rises and buried cities. This massive city embraces it’s ancient customs yet craves advancement in modernity.
I arrived via Egyptair from Jordan thinking that I would have 3 days in Cairo. This was a total plan fail! I arrived in the evening and had to leave the hotel at midnight my last night there. I had 2 full days to see what I could so, through my awesome hotel manager, I hired a driver to take me to Giza to experience the Pyramids and Sphinx.
Driving to Giza, I began to see how huge this city of Cairo was! My driver was wonderful, stopping to allow me to take photos of the Nile as we crossed it and giving me a history lesson as we went. As we drove, I saw heavy smog hanging over both the ancient and the new Cairo and the amount of trash littering the highway was appalling! I finally asked my driver if there were street cleaners and, as he threw his soda cup out of the car window, he said yes.
When going to Cairo, be prepared for the salesmen! I bought a ghutra, oil, papyrus art, and paid probably too much for a camel and my Giza tour. I tried to decline but not only were they persistent but I felt for their situation. Tourism is down due to terrorist threats so income for them is as well. Also, if you are there in the summer, be prepared for the heat!! It IS the desert, after all!
I requested my same driver to take me to a dinner cruise down the Nile. It was a fun night and part of the fun was watching how happy and important he felt accompanying me! The food was okay, the entertainment was better! It started with a band, then a belly dancer and moved to Tounura dancers, an Egyptian folk dance. It was actually a lot of fun!
The next day, I walked around downtown Cairo and the Egyptian Museum. I’m not much of a museum person anymore as I’ve been to so many of them. They tend to bore me now. This was no exception. I had decided to go because…well, it holds the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities. Where else are you going to find Pharaohs?
I couldn’t believe the seeming disorganization! Unopened crates shoved into corners or just left where they would possibly later be opened. Dust on anything that wasn’t a tourist draw. Children played chase, running unattended throughout this place of history! I decided that maybe the attendants were so used to antiquities, in the museum and out of it, that it was like home.
Though my friends questioned my safety in going to Egypt, I had no fear before or after arriving. The people of Cairo that I encountered were all very welcoming and happy that I was there. Tourism is down so that was part of it but the people of Cairo that I encountered are good, giving, and decent human beings! Except for thinking I was going to die from the heat, I enjoyed my short time in Cairo!
All of the photos in the world can’t prepare you for the wonder that is Petra. This “rose city half as old as time” truly has to be seen to be believed!
I arrived in Jordan and, after a couple of hours of aggravation (which I won’t go into), I finally hit the road in my rental car. After losing my way a few times, I got on the right track and made my way to Wadi Musa which is the small town on the outskirts of Petra. It was late afternoon but, having only 2 nights there, I bought a 2 day ticket and began exploring!
The entry ticket allows for 1 free horseback ride to the beginning of the Siq (the Shaft), a narrow gorge of soaring, rose-red sandstone walls stretching almost a mile long. It is the main entrance into Petra and ends at Al Kahzneh (the Treasury). I took advantage of the horseback ride and ended up getting a number of free rides both days in Petra…by horse, donkey, and horse drawn carriage. I paid a very cheap price for a camel ride as well.
There is no other word but “awe” to describe the feeling on first sight of the Treasury! It’s massive! Of the more than 800 monuments in Petra, the Treasury is by far the most dramatic! As you step out of the Siq, you are humbled by the sheer size and beauty of the façade, carved directly out of the rock face! Even though it is called the Treasury, no one knows for sure what’s its function was. The most common speculation is that it was a tomb or place of worship. It was featured in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, among others.
Continuing on into the valley, there are so many tombs and monuments to see and explore! I certainly can’t recall the names of all of them! There are also trails to hike into and out of the valley (you need much more time than I had in order to do that, though!). There is a Roman-style amphitheater, a Byzantine church, colonnaded streets, temples, and a killer amount of rock cut steps (800-900…I didn’t count them!) up to the Monastery (Ad Deir), the 2nd most impressive building of Petra. If you’re not up to climbing or descending by your own steam, you can pay to ride a donkey. Beyond the Monastery, you can climb to viewpoints higher still. There were souvenir stands here and there throughout Petra as well as Bedouins offering rides.
Needless to say, I could have wandered this amazing wonder of the world a few more days but I think 2 days was good! I certainly got a workout! It blows my mind that about 85% of this ancient Nabataean city is still untouched underground.
There were other towns and sights somewhat nearby that were recommended to me to visit but I wanted to make sure to get the car back on time so spent a little bit of time driving around Amman, Jordan’s capital, then made my way to the airport. If you EVER get the opportunity, do yourself a favor and visit this “lost city”!
Arriving in Bangkok, I found myself immediately bouncing off to another Thai destination! I arrived from Phuket only to spend the night then take off to Koh Samet (or Koh Samed or Ko Samet, depending on where you look) with my friends, Gene and Ethel!
Prior to our departure, though, I was introduced to a little bit of the crazy Bangkok nightlife. Not something you see everyday, for sure! I was informed that Soi Cowboy was the PG rated red light district so I count myself lucky! Hahaha!
Koh Samet is a small island about 4 hours travel time by car and boat from Bangkok. Upon arrival, we hopped into a taxi (ie. small truck bed), which took us to our beachfront hotel room. It was an absolutely gorgeous beach! While in Koh Samet, we led the lazy beach life, rented scooters (this was the first time I’d driven one in 39 years!), rode all over the island, ate and drank very well, and I even parasailed for the first time! The people were amazing and it was a wonderful visit!
Once back in Bangkok, Gene prepared for a week away for work and Ethel and I did the same but for a few days away for pleasure! She and I were off to Chiang Mai. The airfare from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was crazy cheap at only about $17 USD roundtrip! We walked for miles while in Chiang Mai and I’ve never seen so many temples in my life! There are over 300 temples in this city of about 1.5 million. It is a nice city with large markets for shopping and a lot of different dining options. We hired a taxi to take us around to see some of the temples and we shopped.
Our second day, we took a tour that delivered us in Chiang Rai, among other places. We visited some hot springs that weren’t impressive in the least but then found ourselves at the jewel of the tour, Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple! Privately owned and designed by its owner, its other worldly appearance is awe inspiring, to say the least! The best word that I can find to describe it is phantasmagorical!
From there, we were driven to the Golden Triangle. It is so named for its tri-point borders of Thailand, Myanmar, & Laos. In case you didn’t know, it is the second largest opium production & trafficking location in the world, next only to Afghanistan! We boarded a boat which took us along the Mekong River to a small island in Laos where we paid a small “entrance” fee. Any other entry into Laos would have required an expensive VISA. There was only a small market to explore but we only had 30 minutes anyway. Free tastings of the local whiskeys (scorpion, cobra, and tiger penis, among other “flavors”) were offered of which I sampled two. I also tried some of the local beer and then it was time to cross the Mekong back to Thailand.
Our next stop was a very memorable one for me as it was not only educational but disturbing. Disturbing to me because women of this culture accept the pain they are subjected to for the sake of beauty. The Karen Longneck Villages in Thailand continue the traditions they brought with them from Myanmar with pride and dignity. From the age of 5, the girls are fitted with their first brass coils which are removed primarily to be replaced with new, longer coils. The coils create the appearance of elongating the neck but, in reality, the weight of the brass pushes their shoulders and ribcage down. They also wear them on their forearms and shins. As women, we tend to joke about the things we do for beauty but I can’t see altering my bones, breathing capacity, and freedom of motion for it! I met a 52 year old woman with 28 brass rings around her neck! She didn’t move around very well. Just outside of this village, I also met women of the Akha Tribe. They originated in China and have distinctive, colorful traditional clothing.
Bouncing back to Bangkok, we did some shopping at Chatuchak Weekend Market, one of the world’s largest weekend markets. I’ll just say that I kept a few vendors in business! We also visited Train Market one night and I very much recommend it!! Great shopping, live music, food, and drinks!
I had a week left so Ethel became my Thai tour guide! Their condo was perfectly situated for the train services to all Bangkok destinations, including the international airport. We also had the use of a private car and driver. We took public transportation to Asiatique one evening for a nice dinner and to wander through the many shops along the riverfront. There were amusement rides available and a beautiful river view as well.
Another day, we rode the ferry around to all stops along the river before deciding which stops we wanted to explore. As it was getting late, we only hopped off at 2 stops: Traimit Temple, in which resides a massive, solid gold Buddha, the world’s largest, in fact, weighing in at 5.5 tons! Khao San Road which is popular with the backpacking crowd as food, shopping, and lodging are cheaper! The Alex Garland book, The Beach, christened it “the center of the backpacking universe” but that doesn’t necessarily hold true now as tourists and locals alike converge on this lively neighborhood. Besides dinner, we indulged in massages…mine was the best EVER!
Another day, we took advantage of the car and had the driver drop us at several locations. The Tiger Temple was one of them. Since my visit, it is in the process of being shut down due to tiger trafficking. Since government officials moved in on the “temple”, the extent of tiger abuse and slaughter that they found is deplorable! As many other people before me, the prospect of being able to spend time with the big cats, pet them, and be photographed with them was thrilling, but I also wanted to see for myself if they were sedated or not (the temple still denies that they were sedated), and how they were treated. My experience can’t be related to please everyone so I won’t try. Just please do what you can now to help these tigers (147 of them) who are struggling to survive the changes they’re now faced with (raw food, proper vitamins, and new surroundings). I’ve been unable to find any site asking for donations or volunteers and the news and refuge websites are graphic and not what I want to convey here. It, unfortunately, looks like few culprits will actually be charged and tiger trade from Thailand will continue. Please follow their story and do whatever you can to help make a change!
I couldn’t miss a trip to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market where you pay a small fee, board a longtail boat and cruise past shops both on land and in boats (you can purchase the same items elsewhere cheaper but the experience is worth the trip there and the boat fee). The Grand Palace and Wat Po (where the famous Reclining Buddha resides) were must visits although overpriced. We also wandered around Ayutthaya Historical Park, the ruins of a once great Siamese city. In the ruins, you’ll find an iconic figure…a Buddha head that was lopped off of its sculpted image centuries ago and is entwined in the roots of a tree.
Soon enough, it was time for me to move on…backpack still heavy thanks to the fabulous clothing and prices in Thailand and despite shipping all of my camping gear home! As you can see, there is much to see and do in Thailand and I’m sure I left some things out!
I did learn an expensive lesson when I arrived in Bangkok that I thought I would share. Never take a taxi from the airport that isn’t from the taxi queue!! Upon arrival, a man ran up to me and offered a taxi and I accepted. Once I was settled, he got in the passenger seat, and the driver drove a short way from the airport before stopping to tell me that it would cost the equivalent of $30 USD!! I thought that was high and it was! I should have only paid about $3 USD! I was extremely tired (it was after midnight) so I agreed. Lesson learned!!
Bangkok offers an abundance of activities and sights and has an excellent public transportation system to get you there! The taxis are cheap too (when you’re paying attention!). It’s a massive city with a crush of diverse people and traffic so is not for everyone and certainly something to consider before visiting.
I have to thank my friends, Gene and Ethel, for their hospitality and making sure that I got to see and do all that I did! Kop kun ka!!