Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jordan Egypt 2010 - Day 2: Mt Nebo

We started really in the morning on our second day.  First stop?  Mt Nebo.  Any idea what is so important about this place?

This is where God showed Moses of the promised land, and also the place where Moses died and ascended to heaven (?)

Atop Mt Nebo, the wind was strong, the mist was dense.  Yet we still braved the wind, the cold to come up to the top.

me on the way to top of Mt Nebo, beside our rental car

From the top of Mt Nebo, you can have a good view of the Valley of Jordan.  It is said that on a sunny day, you can also see Jerusalem.  But, what do you see here...

It was so misty, hazy, we could hardly see anything beyond 1km.

Hey, bro, you are not God lah.  What do you want me to see in such a hazy day?  P complained that we came way too early in the morning, and Mother Earth was still covered under her veil.  Bro, holy land leh, so easy to see meh?  :P

Then since we were at Mt Nebo, I must show you the church (which was under renovation), and also the Mosaics.

Maybe it was the low season, again there were hardly any living souls at Mt. Nebo.  We enjoyed the quietness and peacefulness of this wonderful holy place.   My solute to Moses for his and his people's bravery!

You can find my Jordan/Egypt related posts here.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jordan Egypt 2010 - Day 1: Madaba

Leaving the grand Roman town ruins in Jerash, we headed directly to Madaba, where we would settle for our very first night in Middle East.

Our accommodation, Mosaic City Hotel, is a nice little hotel tucked at one corner of Madaba's main road.  Our room was reasonable, with clean attached bathroom.  The breakfast was simple, but yet sufficient.

But one thing we were too happy was that there were sands in our bed cover.  I don't know whether it is a 'feature' in the desert, or it is a result of someone's laziness.  The price for a twin room is JD44 (S$88) a night.  It is a bit expensive, but you will know why we chose this hotel later.

Nearby our hotel, there were a number of convenient shops where we stocked up our bottled water.  The price is JD3 (~S$6.00)  for a 6-pack 2-liter bottled water.  It is a bit pricey, isn't it?

Then we went out to look for food in the dark.  We were walking in a street lined up with shops, but then restaurants were not that common.  The few that we found were mostly empty, with hardly any customers.  So, after a long search, we decided to have our dinner at a small 'restaurant', for some grilled stuff.

Here is our dinner for the night.  There was grilled chicken, grilled vegies, and grilled lamb?  I guess.  The portion was quite big and I didn't manage to finish the whole thing.  The lamb and vegie were not bad, but the chicken was a bit dry and hard to chew.

After our dinner, we went back to our hotel and had a nice sleep.  Ok, that's the end of our very first day, a very long first day.

Oh, by the way, we only came to Madaba for accommodation, not for what it is famous for, which is mosaic. The reason?  We actually wanted to stay in Dead Sea area, so that we can enjoy a swim in Dead Sea, and save time, but as we searched for accommodation, my gosh, they are all so expensive, usually a night will cost you around USD200.  As a cheaper alternative, we chose to stay in Madaba, instead.

You can find all my Jordan/Egypt related posts here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jordan Egypt 2010 - Day 1: Jerash

Jerash boasts itself as the biggest Roman town ruins outside Italy, and one of the most famous tourist spot in Jordan, I was expecting beelines of tourists flocking the place, but on the contrary, hell no!  When we arrived in Jerash, there was hardly anyone, other than the locals.

We had our first meal in Jordan at the Rest House Restaurant near the Jerash Roman ruins.  It is not the one at the visitor center, but further down, outside the Hadrain's Arch.

P was still very energetic and full of smiles because now he had food on the table.

While I was already very tired from the long long long flight from Singapore to Amman.

It was a buffet, and cost JD8 per person.  There were not too many selections, but they were all ok and not too bad.  I was not really used to their way of cooking and seasoning, but the food was still ok.  The restaurant was like a ghost restaurant, with the two of us as the only customers.  Lucky later a couple of Caucasians came too.  Business was really bad, and I didn't expect a popular tourist spot could be this quiet and 'peaceful'.

After lunch, we went straight to the Roman ruins, and being welcomed by the Hadrian's Arch.

We were there at around noon time, or slightly later, but look at the color, it was like dusk.  The sun shone weakly on the ancient stones, giving it a warm and yellow cast in a chilly winter afternoon.  This mountain turtle has never seen any Roman ruins before, the grandness of this arch really impressed me.  It is elegant.

This arch was built in to commemorate the visit of Emperor Hadrian to Gerasa in 129 AD.  Hell, I must write a complaint letter to the Chinese education authorities, as I didn't have a clue of who Emperor Hadrian was!  The Chinese education failed me!  But in this internet age, a Google search will tell you all about Emperor Hadrian.  He seemed to be one of the few good emperors in history.

Immediately after Hadrian's Arch, the impressive Hippodrome came before your eyes.

This is where you can see the live Chariot parades.  Too bad, we didn't have the time, nor the timing was right for us, so we missed it.  Standing right there, it felt like I went back in time to the age of gladiators.  The excitement, and cheers, and the cruelty.  They were so vivid in front of me, as if I had lived as a Roman citizen once.

Jerash Roman ruins is huge place.  Even if you are not a history freak, which we are not, it will still take you about two hours just to walk around the entire place.  Take note of the sunset time, as in Winter, the sun sets at around 4.30pm, but the sky looks like dusk starting from 2.30-3.00pm.

Ok, I can't bring to every single site in Jerash, so before I go, I will show you a video of a 360 view of a small section of the Roman ruins.

You can find all my Jordan/Egypt related posts here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jordan Egypt 2010 - Day 1: Amman

Due to time difference, we arrived at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport at 9.50am local time, still 19 Dec 2010 :).

It took us quite a bit of time to clear immigration.  First, we had to change our USD to JD at the bank so that we can pay the JD10 visa fee, then we had to get our visa, then we could go to the immigration counter to get our passport stamped.  There were only a few counters at the airport, I guess they only cater to small number of passengers.

After immigration clearance, we were greeted by a staff from our car rental company.  My friend sat down with him to get the paper work done, while I went to change my USD to JD at the banks at the airport.  I changed USD500.  The rate is the same as that inside the airport, and also they charged me JD10 as commission.  :(  JD10 can buy you almost 4-5 kebahs.  Anyway, being unsure where else could I change money, I just played safe, of course, with a price to pay.  My friend only changed his later at Madaba, which he didn't have to pay any commission.

The guy from the car rental company is a very nice guy.  He sat in our car to direct us to the petrol station to top up our petrol, then directed us to the right way to Jerash.

Wanna see how it feels like driving in Jordan?  Take a look at the video below.

The landscape is mostly barren, yellow, yellow and yellow, only occasionally you can see some green.  Their lanes are a bit narrower than those in Singapore, otherwise I think their road conditions are quite ok, traffic is not chaotic.

It took us about half an hour to go from the airport to the border of Amman, then from there, another half an hour to Jerash.  The map in our GPS is not really that up-to-date, and sometimes it directs you to the wrong way.  Sigh.  This happened when we reach Jerash town.  We circled around the modern town, while where we really wanted to go is the old town, where the Roman ruins are.  After quite a bit of struggling, and asking for directions from the locals, we finally managed to the Jerash Archaeologic park.

You can find all Jordan/Egypt related posts here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jordan Egypt 2010 - Day 1: Dubai

On Dec 19, 2010, full with excitement, we took Emirate flight EK349 via Sri Lanka to Dubai, and then from Dubai to Amman by flight EK901.

When we chose our airlines, basically we only had two viable choices, one is Qatar Airways, the other is Emirates.  In terms of price, the two are about the same, but in terms of timing, Emirates has some advantage.  Flight EK901 arrives in Amman at 9.50am, with this, you gain about a day's travel.  In comparison, Qatar's flight only arrives around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, with sunset in winter at around 4.30pm, you basically lost a full day with Qatar's flight.

There is something interesting I noticed with Emirates online prices.  If you book at around 12 o'clock noon, the price is about S$100-200 cheaper than you book in the evening!  I observed this for a few days and finally booked my ticket at 12 noon, which was around S$200 cheaper than if I did it the night before!

EK349 has to stop at Sri Lanka's capital city to let passengers alight and board.  The process is quite painful as you can't get out of the plane, and have to remain seated and just wait and wait.  To make things worse, the whole activity is not that well organized and there are quite a bit of chaotic elements in it.

Anyway, we finally arrived at Dubai International Airport, the wonderful city of GOLD, host to the world's tallest building!

The airport design is contemporary, which means it looks very much like the other airports that were built during the same period across the world, including Bangkok's new airport, Hong Kong's CLK International airport, and many many others.

But just to give you a feel how rich this country is, they even have an oasis in the middle of the airport building.

It is no big deal if it is in some other country's airports, but remember Dubai is a city in the desert where water is scarce.  And you see here such lush greens and a water fountain.

However, this indoor oasis is an important landmark within the airport, if you are traveling with Emirates.  Near this indoor oasis, there is a Emirates transit lounge.  If your transit time is more than 4 hours, then you can go there to have a free meal.  It is open buffet, there are not too many varieties, but the food is not bad.

In case you want to have a stop-over trip in Dubai, they have a strange rule that if your total transit time is less than 8 hours, they don't allow you to go out of the airport!  Oops, that goes our Dubai day tour :(

You can find all my Jordan/Egypt related posts here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Awaken The Giant Within

Title: Awaken the Giant Within
Author: Anthony Robbins

I have long heard of Anthony Robbins and his motivational talks used to be so popular in Singapore, especially in time of crisis, such as the Asian Financial Crisis.  Too bad the seminars were too expensive for a fresh grad, and never did I have the chance to attend one.  Plus, some people had some bad comments, which further pulled me back.  Until I read his book today, did I realize how wrong I was.

His book is truly inspirational, and I regret I didn't read it earlier.  He makes a seemingly confusing world a lot more clearer, just like some one with short-sightedness sudden have his glasses on.

In the book, he first tells you what affects a person's behavior/actions, don't expect a lot of factors, just two: pain & pleasure.  If doing something brings you pleasure, you tend to do it again and again; but if doing something brings you pain, esp a lot of pain, then you tend to drag if you have to do it again.

The the author continues to tell you why some people are forever unhappy.  What is the relationship between a person's values and rules and his life.  Do you expect a person with conflicting values & rules will ever be happy in his life?

What is more important is of course how to change your life for the better.  The author details the steps you can take to make permanent changes to your life, a better life, a more enjoyable life.

It is a book everybody should read at least, if not more.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jordan Egypt 2010 - Tips and Essentials

Instead of starting my blog about my Jordan/Egypt trip with all the daily activities, I would like to first share with you the travel essentials and some tips I learned from my own experiences.

1. Money Exchange

In both Jordan and Egypt, you can change money at a)Banks; b) Money changer; c) Western Union.  The rates between banks and money changer are almost always the same, the only difference is that banks charge you a commission, esp in Jordan, but money changers don't.  In Jordan, they only accept local currency which is the Jordanian Dinar (JD in short), so you must have JD ready to pay for everything, including the entry visa fee.  There is a bank branch at the Amman airport where you can do the money exchange, but they charge you commission, and the commission is steep.  So it is advisable that you change a small amount of money first, enough to cover you the visa fee, cost of buying some basic food and water and petrol, if you are renting a car at the airport, then change the large sum later when you find a money changer.

In Egypt, the banks don't seem to charge you a commission in general, and money changer is quite rare.  The common practice is to change your money at the banks.

Then we come to our darling Western Union.  Obviously Western Union plays quite an important role in people's daily life in Jordan and Egypt, as you can see it very often.  Western Union does not charge you a commission, but the rates are generally slightly worse than that offered by banks and money changers.

2. Food and Water

Neither Egypt nor Jordan is like your friendly Singapore where you can easily find food and water at wee hours of the day.  Restaurants are not so common, most people eat either at home or at their local eateries which we don't know where.  We more than once went without food for almost one whole day.  In many areas, what you see is just barren land after barren land, there is no kiosk where you can just stop and top up your food and water supply.

It is advisable that you stock up your water and food.  In Jordan, the price of water is quite reasonable, 6 pack of 2-liter bottled water is only JD3 (~S$6.00).  Well, we are tourists there, so the price is obviously higher than the locals.  At some places, such as the airport, JD1 for a 750ml bottled water, you know those are the rip-off places, so it is expected.

In Egypt, especially when you are in the Nile Valley region, water can cost you as much as LE10 (~S$2.50) for a 1.5-liter bottled water.  That price is way inflated.  The normal price is around LE3.00 (S$0.50)  per bottle.  If you want to avoid being ripped off, just walk a bit farther away from tourist attractions, and buy from the local convenient shops.  The price I suspect is still higher, but definitely not as bad as LE10!

Food-wise, you can walk into a busy local bazaar with hundreds of stalls, selling all kinds of stuff, but then always no food!  If you have problems with your stomach, make sure you always bring some biscuits or something with you.

The price of food can vary very drastically.  A medium size pizza at Giza area, which is near the Grand Pyramids in Cairo, costs you only LE18.00 (S$4.00), but if you order the same elsewhere, it can cost anywhere from LE35 to LE60.

3. Tipping and Taxes

In Jordan, it is quite straightforward, there is no tipping.   Taxes are usually included in the price, if you want to be sure, just ask.

In Egypt, it is a complete different story.  In Sinai peninsular, or Dahab in particular, it is still not so bad.  You need to give tips to your tour guide, your driver.  In general it is not too much.

When you go to other places, then tipping becomes very tricky.  Someone at the airport will come to help you with your luggage, and then ask for tipping in Euro, or USD.  1 Euro is LE 7.70, 1 USD is LE 5.80.

For people doing some medicore service such as handing you your tissue paper, I only tip LE1.00, max LE2.00, that's all.

In Egypt, there is a government tax of 16%, service tax of 10%.  In general, they are all included in the price.  If you are asked to pay for such taxes, you know you have been ripped off.

Be very careful with people who offer you services for free.  The trick is the service is for free, but you have to show your gratitude by giving a tip.  The tip may well be more than the normal cost.

At Cairo's Giza Pyramids, if you want to get up and close to the Pyramid to take a photo behind those 'off limit' ropes, you can simply give a tip to the guard there.   And also if some camel boy asks you to take a photo of him, be prepared to be asked to pay him a tip as well.  In this case, LE1.00 will do.

4. Getting around in Cairo

In Cairo, traffic is very chaotic, but at least they have something for the normal tourists to survive.  They have a not so extensive Metro system.  The cost per trip is wonderfully low, LE1.00, anywhere.  If the places you are going to visit is near a Metro station, then it is worth to take the Metro.  Their Metro trains are modelled after some European countries, no frills.

In Cairo, they have the WHITE Taxi service.  You can flag down a white taxi on the street and such white taxi goes on a fare meter.  Just to give you some idea of the taxi fare.

From downtown Cairo to Giza, it is about LE20.00.  The actual fare should be even lower, but Cairo's traffic jam added quite a lot to the taxi fare.

From downtown Cairo to airport is about LE25.00, including the parking fee at the airport of LE5.00.

5. The Burning Sun

If you are a guy who don't use sun blocks usually, please think again.  I seldom use sun block but I really regretted that for my trip to Egypt.  Jordan is not too bad, but when it comes to Egypt, better get your sun block with the best claimed protection.  The sun is ruthless.  Just imagine, during winter, the temperature at Luxor, the Valley of Kings and Valley of Queens is still close to 30C, and it will reach 50C in summer.

It is also advisable to bring a hat or the Arab turban that can give yourself some shade to hide into under the burning sun.  Drink plenty of water even if you don't feel thirsty to avoid dehydration.

6. Crossing Borders

There are two ways to go from Jordan's Aqaba to Eygpt's Sinai peninsular.

1) Take a ferry by abmaritime, or
2) Get through the land border between Jordan and Israel, and then get through the border between Israel and Egypt.

We met a Canadian family in Jordan, and they took the abmaritime ferry, according to their feedback, it was not too bad.  The ferry was delayed only for half an hour, and the ferry journey takes about 4 hours.

There are other comments from the internet telling very bad stories about this ferry service as being unreliable, and sometimes you can end up waiting for hours, or even days.

For us, we took the land route and it turned out to be not so smooth either.  First, Israel unilaterally closed the border for many hours.  We waited at least for 4 hours at the Jordan side of the check point.  Then Israel security got interested with my Canon DSLR.  They screened thoroughly my camera before letting me go.
My travel buddy was lucky at the security, but not so at the passport control.  They took his passport and asked him to wait.  Half an hour later, he was asked to go to a room for an interview.  Luckily, 10-15 minutes later, he came out with his passport, but then the Israel immigration stamp is big and stamped on his brand new passport!  You don't even have a chance to ask them not to stamp on your passport!  For me, as they already interviewed my buddy, so they just let me go.  Of course, again, by the time my passport came back to me, the stamp is already there.  Not a chance!

7. Bargaining

Bargaining is a MUST in Egypt unless you enjoy being ripped off.  To give you some idea of how much 'discount' you should ask for.

I bought 10 pieces of so-call papyrus book marks, asking price LE80.00, I got them at LE20, and it is just a less ripped-off price.

I bought an Arab scarf made of Egyptian cotton, asking price LE180.00, I got it at LE70.00, but I think it is still a very ripped-off price.

Full body massage fixed price at LE200 for 60 minutes, but lots of Ang Mo's got it at LE120.00.  Don't believe those listed prices, just ask for a discount, and most of the time you will get some, at least 10%, easily 20-30%.

Bargaining is part of life and the only place you can't bargain is the admission fees to places such as the Pyramids, or Valley of Kings/Queens, etc.

You can find all my Jordan/Egypt related posts here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jordan Egypt 2010

It has been quite a while since I last updated my blog, as I was on a trip to Jordan and Egypt, my very first trip to the Muslim world and the Middle East.

I will use this blog entry as a central point for all my blog entries related to my trip.  Please do come back from time to time to check for new updates :)

1. Tips and Essentials
2. Day 1: Dubai
3. Day 1: Amman
4. Day 1: Jerash
5. Day 1: Madaba
6. Day 2: Mt Nebo