In Singapore, where I come from, “Annual Leave” (AL) is a precious “commodity”.
Some people “sell it” (better money than time off), others “burn it away” (too busy to take leave), but a good many of us use it for vacations. After all, Singaporeans are supposedly some of the most traveled people in this part of the world.
However, “Annual Leave” is rather limited. Some of us have just 7 days, others 14, 21, and I happen to be one of the fortunate few with close to 30 days of leave. So, each day of AL really counts, and we really wouldn’t waste it on just anywhere.
Yes, I get it, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Thailand, are all great places for a short get away.
But what about North East Africa? Specifically, Egypt; I’d say that makes an interesting vacation proposition with 5 working days of leave. Add in the weekends, and assuming you fly off on a Friday night, you should have at least a full 7 days (a week) of vacation time.
Egypt is not overly exotic, has enough “Instagram-able attractions” to excite the typical tourist, and on a whole, offers a very different cultural experience from the usual Japan, Thailand kind of vacations that many have been accustomed to.
With that, let’s take a look at how you can get started on your 7 day Egyptian Vacation....
1. Take Your 5 days leave from Monday to Friday.
2. Your Flight Should Depart On A Friday Night, Returning the following Saturday
3. Visit the Egyptian Embassy In Your Country (there is also Visa on Arrival) if you don’t mind the extra queue at the airport.
To get your Visa approved, you’ll need
- S$65 Visa Fee
- One Colored Passport Photo
- Photocopy & Original Passport/NRIC (for Singaporeans)
- Flight TicketsHotel Reservations
- Visa Application Form
It takes roughly 4-5 working days for the embassy to process your Visa. And that’s it, you’re good to go!
And if you're wondering, exactly where in Egypt Can You Visit In Just 7 days WITHOUT Rushing? Well, you can visit the "Tourist Route"
If you’ve more days, you can visit Alexandria (like a European Port City), Hughada and Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt’s Red Sea coast/beach town). For all of that, you’ll need 2 weeks. But if you're short of AL like most people are, here's a sample itinerary you can follow.
And there you go! An itinerary requiring 5 working days leave, totaling 8 days in Egypt, at a cost of S$2,335.
By local travel agency standards, they'd be marketing this as a 10 Day 7 Night Egyptian Experience!
- "Day 1, Assemble at Changi Airport and a begin your holiday with a pleasant flight to Egypt! "
- "Day 10, Arrival in Singapore. We hope you had an enjoyable vacation and look forward to bring you to your next destination!"
Me? I'll just keep it simple and call it a trip made possible with just 5 days of AL. So anyway, read on for a little more on how your trip will be like.
[Day 1, Cairo City & The Souks, & The Sleeper Train]
If you depart Singapore on a Friday night, you’ll reach Cairo early Saturday morning at around 8am. That leaves you with a full day for sightseeing the “non Pyramid” attractions before you catch the overnight sleeper train to Aswan at around 7:45pm in the evening.
For most of the day, you’ll want to check out “Downtown Cairo”, a district of run down French buildings which gave the Cairo the nickname of “Paris of the East”. But before that, there’s an interesting attraction to visit, the Cave Churches of “Garbage City”. Or, you could visit the Egyptian museum (near Downtown Cairo) to start building up the anticipation of what you'll be seeing over the next week.
Still, there’s no hurry to rush through everything today, after all, you’ll have a day and a half, almost 2 days back in Cairo again at the end of your trip before your flight back to Singapore leaves at around 8pm the following Saturday night.
But remember, before you head for the railway station in the evening, remember to check out Cairo’s famous night market, the Souk’s of Khan El Khalili, one of the worlds great shopping experiences, and just 10mins taxi ride away from the railway station.
Give yourself say 2-3 hours here so you leisurely explore the souks where you’ll be able to put your bargaining skills that you’ve acquired from countless trips to Bangkok to the test.
Besides shopping and sampling local Egyptian snacks, the souks are also a great place to unwind and “people watch” over a good tea and smoke. Yes, the shisha’s here are really cheap.
At around 7pm, you should start to make your way to the nearby Ramses Railway Station where your sleeper train awaits. You should get there early to check out Cairo’s main railway station and load up some snacks for your overnight train journey.
“Rail Travel” in Egypt is a fascinating experience. Stepping into an old Egyptian train is an experience in itself. The musty smell of cigarette smoke (yes, Egyptians are big on smoking) hits your nostrils the second you step onboard.
Fortunately, as a tourist, you’ll be sleeping in the “First Class” Sleeper. It’s a lot better there (for non smokers), and you’ll have a hot meal, a comfortable bed, and a washbasin all to yourself.
You can even pay for hot coffee and tea to wash your dinner down. And it’s here in this train, that it’ll finally hit you; that your not on vacation just anywhere, but you’re in Egypt, and THIS, is the start of the “Egyptian experience”.
Let just say that in my book, the overnight Egyptian Rail experience is a key attraction, and I wouldn’t replace it with any other form of transport to get to Aswan.
[Day 2, Aswan & The First Sightings of Archaeological Sites]
The sleeper train pulls into Aswan before 10am on Sunday.
Again, that gives you pretty much a full day in this part of Egypt. Depending on whether you like Aswan or Luxor, you’ll have minimally 2 nights in Aswan.
Aswan is a key part of the typical Egyptian tourist trail, and a large part is due to its proximity to the iconic Temples of Abu Simbel near the Sudanese Border. It takes slightly over 3 hours to get from Aswan to Abu Simbal, but more on that later, let’s take a look at what you can see & do in Aswan on your 2nd day in Egypt.
Philae Temple is undoubtedly Aswan’s key highlight aside from Abu Simbel. I won’t bore you with the history of the temple since you can get that off the internet or read about it when you’re there.
Of course, there are other smaller attractions like the “Unfinished Obelisk”, the Aswan High Dam and the Nubian Museum, but how much of an attraction those are, depends on how much you are into Egyptian history. If you’re just the typical tourist out for “instagram-able” backdrops, Philae Temple will interest you the most.
The attractions I’ve listed above will last you all the way till the evening where when it’s time for a nice dinner or if you’d like to be pulled around in a horse carriage to enjoy the lights of Aswan. You’ll need to have an early night though, because tomorrow, you’re going to be up early.
How early? 4.30am kind of early. Because you’re headed for a long drive to Sudanese border, on your way toward the Temples of Abu Simbel, the biggest attraction in all of Aswan.
[Day 3, Temple of Abu Simbel, Elephantine Island, The Nubian Village]
The time is 430am, and you’re catching up on sleep in what should be a 3 hour bus ride to the Sudanese border.
That’s how far the Temples of Abu Simbel are. Still, it’s all going to be worth it.
The Abu Simbel Temples are massive rock temples sitting in close proximity to Sudan, by the Western Bank of Lake Nasser.
The temples were carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II and are today, the most iconic attraction in Egypt after the Giza Pyramids.
Because you start the day so early, the whole “day trip” is over by 1pm in the afternoon. 3 hours from Aswan to the temple, slightly over 2 hours to explore, and another 3 hours back.
You’ll have seen one of Egypt’s key attractions and guess what? You still have the whole day in front of you.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not suggesting cramming everything into one day to save time hence the 430 am start.
It’s because 430 am (or earlier) is the best slot of visiting the temples because of how long it takes to get to and fro. And also, arriving in the afternoon will see you melt from the heatwave.
Where Monday’s are typically blue, they become colorful once you’re on vacation. Elephantine Island is a 10 min ferry ride away from the city of Aswan. The island is home to palm tree plantations, old Egyptian villages, temples, ruins, and you know, the Egyptian stuff.
There’s a great place for lunch called “Nubian Dream” (Above). It offers good and affordable food with a nice view of the River Nile. And yes, it was so good that we actually went back for dinner as well. To top it off, they sell beer, which you don’t get in typical cafes and restaurants.
Next, you can take a 15min boat ride down to the Nubian Village, where mud brick houses are painted in all sorts of colors. If you’ve visited Morocco’s famous blue city of Chefchaouen, you’ll get a roughly similar vibe here, just that in the Nubian Village, it isn’t simply blue, it’s an explosion of colors.
The Nubian village sits just under a range of sand dunes, and you probably guessed it, camels! I’ve had countless camel rides in my previous travels so this isn’t exactly a highlight for me.
But if you’ve always wanted to ride a camel in Egypt (which I’m sure all tourists do), you can get your first camel ridding experience among sand dunes here beside the Nubian Village as opposed to the rip off camel photo taking tourist trap beside the Pyramids of Giza.
[Day 4, The Old Cataract Hotel & Nile River Cruise]
A huge part of the Egyptian experience is sailing down the River Nile.
If you’ve more money, and time, I would recommend taking one of those huge “River Cruises”, something like what you’d do in Vietnam’s Halong Bay. A proper cruise with dining and bedrooms, slowly snaking down the River Nile to Luxor, your next destination. That would take you say 3 days, and a lot more money.
If you’d just like to have a mini experience of sailing along the River Nile but you’re short of money and time though, you still can, just opt for a river cruise via Felucca (traditional sailboat). Drifting down the River Nile ranks among the best boating experiences I’ve had in all my travels. That says a lot, and it is a must do.
The River Nile sailing part of the trip you can experience in either Luxor or Aswan, so it’s pretty much your call.
I would suggest doing it in Aswan though, because that will give you time to chill out for a beer and high tea at the “Old Cataract Hotel”, a 5 Star British Colonial Hotel by the banks of the River Nile. This hotel was made famous by writer Agatha Christie, whose Best Seller, “Death on the Nile” had portions of her book based on it.
Trivia aside, the "Old Cataract Hotel" does offer the best views of the River Nile in all of Aswan and is not to be missed. Stay till the evening for views of the sun setting over the river.
[Day 5 & 6, Luxor. Temples & Yet more Temples]
Yes, when you booked a trip to Egypt, you knew you’d be signing up for Temple overdose. Just book a taxi for the day, tell the driver exactly which temples you’d want to visit, and he’ll drive you around for the whole day, entrance fees not included.
While there are many temples in Luxor, the 2 nearest ones to the main city are Luxor Temple & The Temple of Karnak. There is also a souk here, but it’s no where as impressive as Cairo’s Khan El Khalili.
The especially famous attractions of Luxor are Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and The Valley of the Kings, basically the burial grounds of previous Egyptian Kings.
I wasn’t impressed by the temples I saw, but the Valley of the Kings was an eye opener.
It’s a surreal experience to walk among the tombs where ancient kings lay. And as you walk through them, you can admire the colorful hieroglyphics inscribed on the walls. The hieroglyphics here are perhaps the best preserved in Egypt, and are a must see.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much more about Luxor because a day after I arrived, Egypt was hit with massive storms not seen in over a decade.
Sand was flying everywhere, making it impossible to actually enjoy the attractions. After getting sand in my eye for the umpteenth time, I gave up, spent my time exploring the unimpressive Luxor souks instead before finally heading back to the hotel to seek refuge in the bar with a nice cold beer.
The storm was so bad, that the sleeper train I was on the Cairo was closed because there had been a train collision. Cairo, where I was headed next was flooded, and Luxor where I was at, was in the center of massive sandstorm.
Because this post is more on how to plan a trip to Egypt, I won’t go into full details how the storm threw up multiple curve-balls which I had to deal with just to get out of Luxor and back to Cairo and eventually home. For that, you’ll have to read this other post (below) instead.
(Traveling During The Coronavirus Pandemic Could Be A Disaster. Here’s What Happened To Us)
[Day 7 Finally, the Pyramids]
Sandstorms aside, you should reach Cairo on the overnight sleeper from Luxor early morning. With a flight at say 8pm out the next day, that leave’s you with pretty much 2 days to thoroughly enjoy Cairo & the Giza Pyramids.
I suggest staying in a hotel in Giza, right beside the Pyramids. Yes, literally beside the Pyramids, the entrance of it at least. If you look at the picture above, that’s just how close the hotels are to the last remaining “Ancient Wonder of the World”. Another reason to stay right beside the Pyramids are also because you can catch the “Light Show” from the terrace of your hotel. So that’s one more activity you’ll get at night for free.
Visiting the Giza Pyramids plus the obligatory “camel/tourist picture” would probably be a half day event. The Giza Pyramids are the most “famous” pyramids, but they aren’t the only pyramids.
If you don’t mind a shot “pyramid overdose” since you’re probably only going to visit Egypt once in your life, spend the other half of your day visiting the “Bent Pyramid & Step Pyramid”. They are a little off the way, and it’ll be a bit of a squeeze, but nothing you can’t solve with a taxi and still get back in time for dinner and the “Light Show” at night.
[Day 8. Enjoy “Pyramid-less Cairo”]
You don’t have to reach the airport till 6pm, so after breakfast, you can spend the day visiting more of Cairo’s “non pyramid attractions”, an extension of “Day 1” of your trip.
There are a couple of interesting mosques to check out, as well as “Old Cairo”. I mean, when you go to Europe, part of the attractions are a visit to a European “Old Town”, why not do the same in Cairo?
And if you’ve got any last minute shopping, just head back to the souks of Khan El Khalili to wrap up any purchases and get your last dose of the “Egyptian experience”
With that, it is finally time to head to the airport for your flight home.
So, there you have it; 5 working days leave scores yourself a relaxing, unhurried 8 day vacation to across a good number of Egypt’s tourist sites. Now you’ll have some place else to go besides Japan on your next trip.
Of course, if your idea of fun is shopping at Don Don Donki, reliving the anime’s you’ve been watching, and stuffing yourself silly with Sushi, don’t let me stop you. All I’m saying is, 5 days leave doesn’t have to spent in the usual locations. After all, you can enjoy cherry blossoms when you’re 60, but at that age, you might not want to be scrambling over piles of rock and archaeological sites.
So yes, plan your vacations right.
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