Pyramids at Giza in Morning

Cairo for Chinese New Year

This is Part 1 in my series on Cairo. For the rest, continue reading via the links below!

I: Introduction: Cairo for Chinese New Year
I: Exploring the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt
II: Unearthing the History of Old Cairo
IV: A Guide to Egyptian Cuisine
V: Hotel Review: Mena House, Cairo

Egypt is home to one of the world’s most ancient civilizations and thousands of historic ruins – but more recently, it’s become synonymous with civil unrest, terrorism, and military rule due to the Pandora’s Box of chaos that opened up after the Arab Spring that began back in 2010. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Egyptian economy, but a spate of terrorist attacks in the past year have had a negative impact on the sector, and the entire country is feeling the pain. These past few years of turmoil have been sad to watch, as Egypt has always been renowned worldwide for its rich cultural heritage and the hospitality of its people.

That said, I had a feeling that Egypt’s present situation was being overhyped by news media, and I wanted to find out for myself what things were really like on the ground. I also wanted to explore and better understand a culture that has been around for centuries, and that I’d only known through history books previously.

With that in mind, I booked a cheap ticket from Singapore to Cairo on Saudia Airlines over the long Chinese New Year Holiday, connecting in Jeddah on the outbound flight and Riyadh on the return. While most of my friends headed to more balmy locales like Bali, Phuket, or Hong Kong, I was headed to surprisingly chilly North Africa, which was at the time in the heart of winter. Flying Saudia would be something of a bonus, as it was a new airline for me and it was recently rated the “most improved” airline in the world by Skytrax. In addition, Saudi Arabia is notoriously difficult for American citizens to visit, so I was looking forward to getting just a peek into this fascinating country.

Saudia Arabian Airlines in Jeddah

With my flights now booked, it was time to settle on a hotel. I already knew where I wanted to stay – Mena House, which is one of the most historic and luxurious hotels in all of Egypt. I’d read about it before in history books, and was intrigued to experience its legendary service. Furthermore, its location near the base of the Great Pyramids meant I’d be in a quiet oasis far away from the madness of Cairo traffic. Perfect. Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – it was the most secure hotel in town, with multiple layers of security protecting everyone from Winston Churchill (who stayed there during the latter days of World War II) to common hotel guests like myself. I went ahead and booked by stay for the standard $150 nightly rate – an absolute bargain in the world of luxury hotels, and largely due to the favorable US dollar – Egyptian pound exchange rate.

Mena House Cairo

Unfortunately, my time in Egypt this trip would be rather short, so I opted to only explore Cairo and the surrounding areas this time. In most cases, I strongly prefer to explore new countries solo, but for Egypt, I’d make an exception. I’d heard from numerous friends that Egypt is one of the few countries where it’s actually worth it to have a tour guide, as you’ll be able to learn so much more about its complex history and culture from someone who’s a local. Also, signage in English is pretty minimal as it is, so unless you read up on Egyptian history before your trip, I’d recommend getting a guide either way. Several of my friends who’d visited Cairo in the past recommended Memphis Tours, which has been operating in the region for decades. I booked several excursions with them for a reasonable price, and began planning the rest of my itinerary. The Great Pyramids, Cairo’s old town, and the ancient stepped pyramids at Saqqara were all high on my list of places to visit.

Camels in Cairo

Once all of the logistics were set, it was time to take off for Jeddah. As I rocketed down the runway and took off from Changi Airport, I was filled with anticipation and excitement for the journey ahead. Egypt had always been one of the countries I’d most wanted to visit, and now I was finally headed there. At the same time, I had some trepidation too, especially about the security situation there – it was hard to say how safe things would be, given the chaotic state of things at the time, but I had confidence I’d be in good hands with my guides in Cairo. Luckily, all of the uncertainty would be erased soon enough, as before I knew it, I was passing through immigration at Cairo International Airport, ready to start yet another adventure.

Next: Exploring the Great Pyramids