Sunday, 4 March 2012

What to Avoid while in Cairo ~ EGYPT

Don't get me wrong with my title because I still love Egypt - and, the people.

No one can generalize an impression of any country as all these can happen and might happen anywhere in the world.

Locals & Tourists
I remember a friend once told me, "Don't compare and don't convert.  Each place has its own character and I consider it disrespectful, particularly to its people, to compare one to another.  They can never be equal. One will stand out or one will fall short of the other.  Same is true for money matters.  The value of a currency varies from one country to another. Once you start converting a foreign price to your own home currency, either you'd end up buying a lot or none at all", Aida Gregorio says.

I have had not-so-good experiences in countries I have visited no matter how prepared and organized I was.  Did I ever learn from it?  

Local People of Egypt
I posted some of these tips, just after my trip to Egypt, to a world traveller website wherein I am one of the more than a million members who post reviews and give tips. For sure, it helped some members who travelled to this country based on their comments and feedback.  I believe it's about time that my followers benefit from what I am blogging here.

Although some might consider situations here to be nothing based on their experiences in other countries, I believe some of which, if not all,  will be good tips for those whose visit to Egypt is their first. To make it easier to understand, I presented it in detail and in layman's terms.  Read on.....


Night in el-Khalili
Wasted time Paying and Stamping of Visa in Cairo

As soon as we landed at the Cairo International Airport, hassles begin. 


We followed other tourists to a queue which is supposed to be the immigration officer. After about 5 minutes, I can see those who were at the immigration window was turned away and asked to go to another window which is a bit away and looks like a currency exchange.

I have discovered that they were asked to pay through that window the dollar equivalent for the tourist visa and then go back to the end of the line to have a visa sticker stamped by the same immigration officers. 

There are no signs or direction that paying visa is separate from stamping of visa. I seldom see this procedure in other countries. In my opinion, it is a waste of time and money. This can be done by the same immigration officer and not from the currency exchange window.

But then again, in my opinion, the trick there is....you go to that window to pay and also have to change your money from dollars to local currency. But of course, you get a lower conversion. Two birds in one shot!

In fairness to airport staff I mentioned above, I know they are just doing their job. My guess is that this procedure is implemented to avoid cheating and corruption. If not eliminated, at least minimized.


Don't Go With that Woman

As soon as we are done with the hassles at the immigration and have collected our luggages, here comes another one. A woman approached us.

Do you need a taxi? 

Thinking that she is an employee of the airport (because she is wearing an ID), I said yes. "Ok follow me", she said? We followed her to the second floor by taking the elevator. She endorsed us to the guy in one small office. And then the story goes.....


He will provide us a taxi to our hotel for such an overpriced fare which he said is cheap for 250 pounds. But he said before doing that he is offering a tour of Cairo, for another overpriced fee. 

I just did not think twice. I said no, and left with all our luggages. 

Went back to the 1st floor to find a taxi. The hassles did not end there.....See my next warning! There are too many, I tell you.




Hassle with the Taxi at Cairo International Airport 

Went back to the 1st floor to take a taxi myself. This is after a local woman took us to the second floor which really upset me for a minute because I told her I only need a taxi to my hotel. It is alright because they are doing their business but not to the extent that they are misleading visitors. 


Now, here comes the 1st floor.

I was approaching a round counter in the middle of the airport lounge to get a taxi. They saw us coming and around 10 men aggressively try to take the cart of luggages from me and at the same time offering a taxi. I ignored him and went to the counter instead. I was talking to the person and almost all the other 10 people are also talking to me all at the same time.

Now, I made the decision and have my receipt and heading to the taxi outside with a driver. Before we left the counter, the person in the counter and the driver who first approached us were arguing. I feel sorry for them but there is nothing much I can do. It is a pity. Very disorderly and aggressive. 


Cairo Vendor Strike a Pose
You need Exact Change or Else….

Yes, you need to prepare and pay exact amount if possible. If you are handing 10 Egyptian Pounds to buy snacks and refreshments in stalls on the street, more often than not - you are not getting your change. Seems normal to some vendors like the guy I posted here, he did not give my £E6 change. It happened and he still have the guts to pose for a picture. It is small amount of money but still.  

Will he do it to his next customer?  For sure, he will.

Heavy Traffic – as in Very Heavy!


I guess it is needless to say about the road rules, the local drivers and traffic signs as all these are not being followed. The traffic is something else. You have to be warned especially if it is your first time in Egypt, Cairo in particular.

There is a possibility that you will miss your flight or train because of the traffic which is extremely heavy. Although I did not miss my departure time which is 6:30AM from Cairo to Alexandria, I can figure out it would happen if my departure is later in the morning. There is too much traffic, I am telling you. Leave early from your hotel. Give ample time for the traffic.

I do not want you to miss anything to spoil your holiday.



Cairo Traffic is worst than this!
Scarcity in Parking Area

Well, parking space is not a problem if you are not driving by yourself in Cairo which of course I cannot recommend. 


This warning applies to any foreigner or tourist who have the guts to drive in this crazy road of Cairo. Though it looks normal to locals, but to a tourist, you will be shocked. If you survive the road, then the more you can survive parking.

A day before my trip to Alexandria, I requested my hired local driver to help me get train tickets for next morning departure.

When we arrived at the Ramses train station in Cairo and after passing thru a very narrow space between cars, we lined up in a queue of cars waiting for a space in the parking lot. It was full, and it was at nightfall. It was not a problem though as my driver is an Egyptian. He asked the dispatcher to ask the car driver in front of us to give a bit of space which he did. It took us more than 15 minutes to get the train ticket in the station and then went back to the parking area.

Our car was still there and nobody touch or move it. Now I realize what a local can do.


Just Right for the Money I Paid – Hotel

Nothing special at Pharaoh Egypt Hotel - other than it is cheaper than any other hotels in Cairo. 


The room is just good enough for 3 persons and the bedsheets and pillows are changed everyday.


Cairo Pharaoh Hotel/Restaurant
There is a small swimming pool at the rooftop, a gym or health club, and King Tut Restaurant opposite the swimming pool.

Staff are above average as to their personality and customer service.

The massage is a ripped-off at £E100.

Breakfast is included in the room rate although it is the same everyday. Not much choices. 


Unique Qualities: Big lobby and sitting area.
Address: 11 Ahmed Orabi Street Mohand

Comparison: about average

Price: US$80-120/night
Theme: Hotel


Cairo Taxi
Make Sure the Taxi Driver Knows the Way to Cairo Airport's  Terminal 1

I requested the front desk staff of my hotel, Pharaoh Egypt Hotel to call a taxi/van to go to the airport for our departure.

£E100 is a high price to pay a taxi for a one-way trip to the airport. I agreed anyways.

He did call a van with a driver and as soon as we are seated, I told the driver we are going to Terminal 1 for EgyptAir. He simply answered, 'Yes'.


Now here comes the problem.

He dropped us at the wrong terminal, Terminal 2 (which I did not know it is Terminal 2) and left. We went inside the airport and found out that EgyptAir does not fly from there.

We went back outside to call another taxi but cannot find one. Approached a guy with an ID and he told us that a shuttle bus is coming in few minutes to take us to Terminal 1.

It came after 30 minutes. Whewwww!

We arrived at Terminal 1 a little over an hour before our flight. Thank God we are here, I told my family as we  lined up a long queue to the check in counter.

Do you think the hassle ended there?

The answer is a big No. See my Warning about the Ground Staff of EgyptAir at the check-in counter as this particular incident is the one thing I cannot easily forget.


Cairo Food in the Hotel
Not Helpful – Egypt Air Ground Staff at Cairo Airport's Terminal 2

Our hotel driver dropped us at Terminal 2 for our departure flight by mistake....or due to his negligence or carelessness. It happened.


We were supposed to be flying via EgyptAir from Cairo International Airport Terminal 1 bound for JFK Airport New York on that day. I tried hard to calm down as we are running out of time to check in at Terminal 1.

I went around Terminal 2 to seek assistance. I found EgyptAir office and asked if they have shuttle bus between terminals. That guy looked blank....and just said, No. How in this world can this people sit there for customer service and not doing their job. I told him a very short story about the drivers' mistake and that we are flying via Egyptair and that is why I chose their office for help, but to no avail. 

Not many employees can speak and understand English - not even the security guards. 

At the Cairo International Airport, there is no room for mistakes or you will miss your flight.

I have had bad experiences with at least 5 Cairo airport employees at different occasion at a very short stay in Egypt. I do not want this to happen to you.


EgyptAir Ground Staff at Cairo Int'l Airport Terminal 1 – A Nightmare!

It was the worst that happened to me in my 4-country tour.

My trip in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus are not hassle-free, but the incident that happened at the check-in counter at Cairo International Airport - Terminal 1 is something that I cannot easily forget.


We arrived at Terminal 1 only over an hour before our flight due to the mistake of the hotel driver, and the unhelpfulness of the EgyptAir customer service in Terminal 2.

I had my/our confirmed flights ready and handed it to one of the male ground staff together with our passports and aeroplan cards. He entered all the information in the computer and gave me our boarding passes.

Although we were in a hurry to go for immigration formalities, I checked our boarding pass for accuracy.

There was a mistake!

He changed our confirmed seats.

They put my daughter on a seat at the back very far from us. I told him the mistake and asked him to give us our confirmed seat. What he did....he gave it to the other ground staff on the next counter and then later gave it to the next and ended up to the hands of the supervisor. The supervisor said to wait for few minutes as they will fix it which happened to be 30 minutes.

Do you think the 'fixing' happened? No, it didn't!

I was the third one in that long queue arguing with those EgyptAir ground staff. Before us, there was a man, and  then another husband and wife yelling for some reason regarding their checking in. And I can understand why they lost their patience. I can very well understand them.

I have been flying via EgyptAir many times several years back and have high regard on this airline. Now it all goes down into the drain.

Why is the customer service went down that low. Full of inaccuracies.

I wrote the Chairman of Egyptair in Cairo to report the incident and for him to implement remedial measures. His representative wrote back after a month and told me that it will not happen again.

How can I be sure that it is not happening again?

Do I write them again and ask for feedback?

Do you have suggestions so that same incident can be minimized, if not eliminated?

I wish there are better airlines flying over this ancient country when the time comes.

Next time, I will be writing the many good things that also happened in the same journey and the same Egypt that I revealed above. I do not want to give you a bad impression of Egypt with all the bad reviews.

Mind you, I am going back to other parts of Egypt in the future. Am pretty sure NOT with EgyptAir and Cairo International Airport. Stay tuned!

From the desk of: 
Freddie Miranda
A blogger and a Canada-based freelance writer. He shares the value of his travel experiences and discoveries with his friends and fellow travellers. Share your passion, join and visit him. Send a message @ fromatravellersdesk(at)gmail(dot)com.