The Grandeur of Luxor

From Aswan, getting to Luxor was easy. The cheapest way is to take the train so I chose to take that. There are 5 trains running daily, and the cheapest ones leave at 7:40 AM and 4:45 PM. There was nothing left for me to do in Aswan so I chose to take the morning train. A first class ticket only costs 53.29 EGP, while a second class ticket costs 31.45 EGP. That’s less than 3 USD for a first class ticket! The trip lasted for about 3 hours which practically flew by because I just slept. You can take a direct bus as well for about 30 EGP but it won’t be much faster.

Another popular way to travel from Aswan to Luxor is by taking a river cruise for 2-3 nights on the Nile. I never considered this because I felt that I’d get real bored staying on a boat for 2-3 nights. Also, I wanted to get the entire touristy trail over and done with. I ‘d just be wasting time if I go on a river cruise. I’ve met travelers who’ve done this though and they liked it. The cheapest rate seemed to be 50 USD for 2 nights. That might seem like a lot, but once you consider the fact that 3 full meals per day are included, it doesn’t sound like a bad deal at all. They also make several stops in between.

I’ve been told by locals and visitors alike that when it comes to touts and scammers, Luxor is actually worse than Cairo. To avoid dealing with them, I chose a hostel that was really close to the train station. It’s called Bob Marley Peace. It was ridiculously cheap (the cheapest dorm bed only costs 6 USD a night!),  it was only 5 minutes away from the train station by foot, and it had excellent reviews. It seemed like a no brainer really.

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The Luxor Train Station

The minute I got outside the train station, I was hounded by touts as expected. They were handing me flyers, some were practically shoving em to my face. Some cab drivers were trying to grab my bag while offering rides. I told them I had no need for them since the hostel was only 5 minutes away. When I managed to get rid of them, several horse drawn carriages approached with their drivers offering me rides. When I ignored them, they said the ride was for free, they just wanted to talk about the tours that they were offering. Free? I didn’t trust them one bit so I continued walking. They still kept following me. Imagine that scene– I was walking with two huge backpacks and there were 4 horse drawn carriages following me. I would have found it funny if they weren’t so annoying.

The hostel was easy to find because there were several signs posted on the main street and to the side street. The coachmen tried to distract me by saying I’m going the wrong way and that they’d take me there. Seriously, with all the signs pointing to the direction of the hostel, they still think people would fall for their bullsh*t? If I relied on my map app then they could have fooled me (for some reason the hostel’s location is wrong on both Google Maps and Maps.me). Good thing there were signs everywhere.

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The rooftop at Bob Marley Peace Hostel

Once I went inside the hostel I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. The guy at the reception asked if I got scammed. lol. I said no, thankfully. I looked outside and the carriages were just parked in front. Maybe they were waiting for me to go out again, or waiting for any of the other hostel guests to come out. He saw that I booked the cheapest room that had no air conditioning. He asked if I wanted to upgrade to an AC room, it would only cost an additional 30 EGP per day, and it would also include breakfast. That sounded like a good deal so I said yeah. If you booked a room with no breakfast included, you can just pay an additional 15 EGP for it. Selections were quite limited, but you can get as much food as you want. That’s practically a steal for only 15 EGP. There’s no way you’d find cheaper breakfast outside.

After settling in, I asked about tours. So the most popular tours in Luxor were the East Bank Tour and the West Bank Tour. All the tour agencies I’ve seen offering these tours have the same itinerary. The East Bank tour runs in the afternoon and they’d take you to the Karnak and Luxor Temples. The west bank tour runs in the morning and they’d take you to 4 different sites on the West Bank, including the Valley of the Kings. Technically you can do both tours in one day but I decided to split it. I imagine it would be really tiring being out in the desert all day. Since the East Bank tour is shorter, it only costs 50 EGP for private transportation with a guide. The West Bank tour on the other hand costs 70 EGP. I’ve compared these rates with the ones offered outside and the hostel offered the cheapest rates by far. After lunch I signed up for the East Bank tour that afternoon.

Technically I could have done the East Bank tour on my own. It only includes the Luxor Temple and the Karnak Temple. The Luxor Temple is right inside the city, it’s only 5 minutes away from the hostel by foot. The Karnak Temple is also within walking distance. When I checked my map apps it would only take around 40 minutes by foot from the hostel. Alternatively, I could take a mini van/ microbus from the main microbus station (it’s behind the train station) for only 1 EGP each way. But then I recalled my experiences doing these tours on my own. If I joined a tour, I’d be traveling with a group of people. Also, those touts won’t bother me as much. Besides, 50 EGP isn’t much at all! I think the added convenience would be worth spending the extra money. If you plan to ride one of those horse dawn carriages to Karnak Temple, a fair price is 20 EGP each way. That’s a total of 40 EGP for a round trip transfer (as long as you don’t get scammed). To me, joining the group tour seemed like a much better deal.

It turned out to be a mixed group of people who were staying at different accommodations, but I didn’t mind because 2 people were also from the hostel. I ended up talking to some of the other people in the tour. There was this couple who paid 50 USD for it. They were shocked when we told them we only paid 50 EGP. I felt bad for them, but I have to admit it felt good that I wasn’t the one who got scammed. The first stop was the Karnak Temple. Entrance costs 120 EGP. There were loads of people when we got there— it made sense, since most of the tours practically start at the same time. If you want to avoid crowds, then going on your own in the morning would be a better option. There were areas with barely any people though since the entire complex was massive. And even in the crowded areas it didn’t feel suffocating. The most impressive part of the complex was the area with the massive columns. I liked the fact that our tour guide actually was a tour guide. The guide we had in Abu Simbel basically just told us where to go and left us on our own. Our guide told us all about Luxor during those times we were inside the van. And once we were inside the Karnak Temple he was telling us details about the place.

After about an hour we boarded the van again and headed to the Luxor Temple. As soon as we got off we got surrounded by touts selling their wares. Our guide got in front of us and shooed them away— just like that. That’s probably the best thing about going on a tour with a legitimate guide. The touts left us alone.

Luxor Temple is quite small but it’s every bit as impressive as the Karnak Temple. It’s worth the 100 EGP price of admission. It was almost sunset so we decided to stay and not take the van back to our hostel like the others. They light up the monuments and statues at night and the place looked different and arguably more beautiful.

 

The next morning, most of the people who signed up for the West Bank tour were staying at the hostel so I already knew them beforehand. Unlike the east bank tour, I think it would be difficult to do a tour of the west bank on your own since the attractions are far from each other. All the West Bank tours I’ve seen around included the same four stops: The Colossi of Memnon, The Hatshepsut Temple, The Valley of the Kings, and Medinet Habu.

The first stop was the Colossi of Memnon. Basically there’s just two massive nondescript statues of Amenhotep III— that’s it. Good thing the entrance was free. It would have been amazing if the statues were better preserved. We only spent 10 minutes at this place. It really seemed like something that was only included in the itinerary as a filler so as to create the impression that we’re making more stops and seeing more attractions.

 

The next stop was the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. It costs 80 EGP to get in. Part of the complex was obviously restored— some parts really seemed new no matter how hard they tried to make em look old. Still, the entire complex is breathtaking. The architecture is amazing, and most of the hieroglyphics were intact. Hatshepsut was also an interesting figure in Egyptian history. You’d appreciate the temple more if you’d read up on her a bit before visiting this place.

The next stop was the Valley of the Kings, which was smaller than how I imagined. I thought it was gonna be one sweeping valley with tombs far apart from each other. That may be the case, but the area where visitors can roam around was pretty small and the tombs were close to each other. The basic entrance costs 160 EGP and you can enter 3 tombs that are included in a list. If you want to take photos, you’d have add 300 EGP for a photo ticket. Sadly, the most popular tombs are not included in the list. For instance, if you want to enter the Tomb of King Tutankhamun, you’d have to pay another 200 EGP. And if you want to take photographs inside his tomb, you have to pay 1,000 EGP which is outrageous lol. I didn’t enter King Tut’s tomb. People were saying it’s really small so it’s not worth the price of admission. His mummy is inside though, so paying an additional 200 EGP may be worth it  if you want to see his mummy.

Most tombs had about two guards— one by the entrance, and another one roaming around the inner chambers. So yeah it’s quite easy to take photos incognito, especially if there are lots of people around. One Chinese girl in our group got caught taking a picture in the first tomb. She panicked and just handed 50 EGP to the guide. I was stupid enough to get caught in the second tomb. I swear the guard appeared out of nowhere. He was at the far end of the chamber before I took the picture, then he was right behind me after a second. I was caught red handed so I told him I’m just gonna delete the picture. I showed him my phone and just as I was about to delete the pics I took, something funny happened. He told me not to delete it. He said I should just give him 10 EGP and I could take a couple more pictures lol. I told this to the Chinese girl and she got annoyed. She paid 50 EGP for taking one lousy pic, and I only paid 10 EGP for a lot more haha. I can’t really blame these guys from trying to earn some money on the side. Obviously they aren’t paid much to stand guard all day, and I doubt they get anything from than 300 EGP photography fee. Not all guards were this nice though. On the third tomb one guy got caught and the guard asked for 250 EGP! He might as well have paid for the photo ticket! One other guy seemed to have found the perfect way around this. He talked to one guards saying he changed his mind and he wanted to take pictures. But since the main entrance is so far, he asked if it was possible to pay the guard directly. They agreed on 100 EGP and he was able to take as many pictures as he wanted. This is a good way to gauge the guards too. If they say no, there’s no harm done— well except for the fact that they’ll keep a watchful eye over you since you’ve explicitly made your intentions known.

Before the last stop, we passed by some Alabaster store. Man, I hate it when they include such stops on tours. It’s a way for guides to make extra money though so there’s no escaping such stops anywhere. The served some free tea which was great. They assigned one guy to every visitor and that was so annoying. I couldn’t look around the store in peace. To be fair though, the stuff they were selling were great, I would have bought some if I wasn’t backpacking— those things would surely break if I carried them inside my backpack.  They’re quite cheap too. Well, all the merchandise is expensive at first. But once you’re about to leave and tell them you’re not interested the prices would start dropping until they become unbelievably cheap.

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Around noon we finally arrived at Medinet Habu. There’s not a lot of people when we got there, and I really wondered why. It doesn’t cost much to enter (only 60 EGP), the entire place is massive, and everything is remarkably well preserved. The hieroglyphics were unbelievably well maintained, the ones I’ve seen earlier in the day looked corroded in comparison. There was barely any crowd, it seemed like I was inside one of Luxor’s hidden gems. Out of all temples we’ve visited that day, this one was definitely my favorite. Since there’s not a lot of people, it’s easy to wander off away from others. Whenever I wandered off on my own some guard would pop out of nowhere, offering to open blocked off passages for a fee. They were only asking for 10-20 EGP but I didn’t feel any need to. Everything that was readily accessible to the public was already spectacular.

Basically doing the usual East Bank and West Bank tours is just a preview of Luxor. These may also be viewed as a kind of a “Best of Luxor” tour for those who don’t have enough time since these tours already take you to the main attractions. Obviously, we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s a whole lot more to see in Luxor, I doubt if a week would be enough for everything. However, you’d have to ask yourself if you’d want to see all the attractions. You’d have to think about costs. Sure, going inside one temple doesn’t cost much. But costs do add up. And mind you, not all temples are cheap. For instance, the Nefertari Tomb alone in the Valley of the Queens costs 1000 EGP! There’s also a huge chance that you’d get templed out. Through the day, all the monuments and structures would begin to look the same. At the start of the tour one guy was telling us about his plans for the next 2 days. At the end of the tour he decided to scrap all plans and just head elsewhere in Egypt because he got already got templed out lol.

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I can see how Luxor seemed worse than Cairo to some people. In Cairo the touts and scammers were pretty much concentrated in several areas. In Luxor it seems as if they’re everywhere. I may not have been bothered much by them because I was walking around the city with fellow travelers who were already jaded like me. It really helps when you’re walking around as a group, you won’t get hounded as much. And even if you get surrounded by touts, it would be easier to say no when you’re in a big group.  Scams do exist, and they’re pretty widespread. I just didn’t get scammed because I’ve already learned how to deal with scammers at this point. I’ve spoken with people at the hostel who got scammed in Luxor. Remember those horse drawn carriages? One brought them far from the hostel then proceeded to bring them to different shops– similar to those tuk-tuk scams in Bangkok. One driver asked for 500 EGP for a one hour carriage ride. One couple thought they got a bargain when they only paid 200 EGP for that carriage ride— they didn’t realize that’s still too much. Another couple paid 200 USD for a hot air balloon ride one morning— I’ve seen prices as low as 10 USD per person. One girl paid 50 EGP for pastries that only cost 15 EGP. Many times locals would quote you in Egyptian Pounds, then later on they’ll say the price is in US Dollars. The list goes on and on, yet I found Luxor more bearable because I was in the company of like minded travelers. The staff at the hostel were also incredibly helpful and they were very hands on. They kept giving us valuable tips on how to deal with the touts and scammers. Most importantly, they made me realize that a lot of Egyptians are actually good people. I probably won’t be hating Cairo as much if I stayed at a hostel but what’s done is done. To many people, Luxor is worse. I guess it depends on each individual’s experience. Even if it is though, it’s still definitely a must visit place. If you’re interested in Egyptian history and you want to see a lot of ancient Egyptian structures, Luxor beats any other place in Egypt hands down.

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