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.

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