- Middle east
2 Days in Aswan and Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel and Aswan is really out of its way and it takes quite a determination for a traveler to go down as far as the south border of Egypt-Sudan. I was that traveler and today, I am here to report that the 9 hours train ride from Cairo and a 6 hours drive from Aswan (one way) were all worth it. Abu Simbel is the father of all Egyptian ruins and lets me tell you why through my photography.
Egypt Travel Video
Getting to Aswan from Cairo
I bought a sleeper train ticket from Cairo to Aswan for 100 USD and I still woke up feeling tired. It was definitely not worth the price. If you are going to travel the distance, I would suggest you go with buses instead. I took a bus by Go Bus back and it was as comfortable but faster. They also provide a box set of snacks.
Where to Stay in Aswan
I arrived early in the morning and the heat was already unbearable. Prior to coming to Aswan, I was unable to find any hostels and so I decided to look around for the cheapest place to stay. I ended up staying at the Keylany Hotel. It was not the cheapest option but they did have a room with air-con and that was all I need. At that point it was already 40°C outside.. so what I did that whole evening. I took a nap.
I woke up at 4 PM feeling worthless because I had already spent one day in Aswan doing absolutely nothing, but I felt a little better after I blamed it on the train. :)
Getting to Philae Temple (Failed) and Sailing the Nile (Success)
As the sun was about to set, I was hoping to be at the Philae temple during the golden hour so that I'd feel better about the day and so I took a taxi to the port to get on a boat to the temple. Guess what, the last boat left as I arrived and I had to pay my taxi to take me back to Aswan. I basically wasted both my day and my money that day.
I did not give up. I decided to make the best of that day by getting on a feluca boat ride in the Nile river.
Feluca, a traditional sailing boat, is a weird instrument that allows us human to navigate the water using wind power and because of that, the boat has to move in a zig-zag manner. It is a much calmer way to travel along the Nile.
I paid the guy 40 EGP for, what he promised, a 2 hours ride but it only took us 1 hour and 15 minutes. He even asked me for a tip at the end, in which I gave him 10 EGP more.
It is hard to know if that was a great deal or not because you will never know what the real price is and I was glad to be able to get rid of him.. or so I thought!
As I was on the boat, the evening pray began across the city, echoing from one sand dune to another. It was like watching a whole city sang. It was magical!
Well, that day was not as bad as I thought. I got to sail in the legendary Nile river and that was enough for me. Since I booked a coach to Abu Simbel the next day through the hotel, and I went to bed early to catch a bus at 3AM.
Getting to Abu Simbel with an Organized Tour Bus
A small coach picked me and a few people up around Aswan and we were off.. for a little bit. We were stopped by a military right before we left the city. We weren't told that it would be a convoy and so there was a bit of a fuss from tourists in the bus wondering why we were being stalled. As I learned later, we were assigned with a soldier while the military cars led the way to Abu Simbel. I am still unsure if it was a precaution for an ambush by the ISIS or the civil war that may be spilling out from Sudan.
That said, it was a long smooth ride. The view from both sides was stunning. I also saw a lot of what seems like several failed attempts at building a pyramid. This is quite possible because one of the first pyramids were built in the Nubian region of Sudan.
We arrived at the temple 9 PM sharp, and as people were stretching out, and going to the toilet, me and a couple of friends decided to rush to the sight and got the whole place to ourselves.
There are 2 complexes in the area. The small temple was built for the wife of the Pharaoh, Ramesses III and the big one shown here who needs no introduction.
I am still amazed by how well-kept the statues are despite the earthquake that struck the area right after the reconstruction.
This is the actual scale of the Pharaoh's statues looking up from the bottom.
The Ancient Egyptian were definitely the master of their arts.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Abu Simbel is not the actual name of the temple? No one knows what the name was so the temple was named after the boy who discovered and took the archaeologists to the sight.
Photos of the inside are "strictly prohibited".. unless you give them tips. :/
The inside of the Abu Simbel temple consisted of a few rooms, big and small. Most Hollywood movies like to depict the inside of Egyptian temples as a large complex of maze but that is not the case in reality. Most temples are mcuh smaller than what were depicted in the movies.
When walking through Abu Simbel, you just have to wonder what it would be like to live during the time?
Abu Simbel is situated right by the lake that connects Egypt and Sudan. The town itself is not worth staying for a night in my opinion and I suspect it would be crazy expensive as well.
This was the closest to Sudan I had ever been.
We had 3 hours at the temple and I spent half of it just staring and marveling at the monuments. After midday, we took the coach back to Aswan. It was the most uncomfortable bus ride ever because it was 45°C outside and the driver did not feel like we deserved his air conditioning. Imagine a moving oven, and the imagine the wind that blew into the car as from a hairdryer. I still slept though but it was still fucking hot!
Anyway, we got back around 4pm and me and a couple of people I met decided to meet up again for a sunset climb to one of the sand dunes across the river in Aswan.
We got a lot of mixed information about the possibility of climbing the dune during sunset. Some said that there won't be any public transit during that time, some said that we have to pay to get into the temple complex, some say we have to rent a felucca to get there. I had been traveling in Egypt enough to know that none of that was true so we decided to go for it and improvised.
The trip went without any hiccup. We got a local boat to the across the river to the dune. We walked up the dune on the other side to avoid going through the temple complex and we were met with a beautiful view of Aswan from the top and a stunning sunset.. all free of cost.
Some incidents happened here (read below) but we got down around 8PM and we were able to get a local boat back just fine.
I broke my 2-months old camera here..
It was all fun and games when suddenly a gust of wind came out of nowhere and knocked my camera from my tripod and hit a rock right on the ground. The lens took the biggest blow and the compartment pierced inside the metallic camera body. I was unable to turn the camera off so I had no choice but to force pull the broken lens out. After several tries, I was able to pull it out and turned off my camera successfully.
Now, the problem was the lens' lid no longer opens automatically and I ran out of option but to use a tape to yank the lid open. Michael, a friend I met on my way to Abu Simbel helped me "mummified" my camera and I could not thank him enough. When the camera broke, I was hopeless. I thought I wouldn't be able to make travel videos for all the countries I'd be going after but with his help, I was able to continue capturing moments as I traversed through the middle east.
I also have to give props to Sony for building such a durable camera. With that blow, the lens could have cracked open but everything was intact except for an ugly dent I got and a dysfunctional lens lid. Kudos Sony, kudos!
All in all, I believe Aswan and Abu Simbel are really worth your visits. There is nothing like Abu Simbel out there in the world and so don't miss out otherwise you might regret your decision forever.
The next day, I woke up early in the morning, walked to the train station, and somehow found myself on a train going to Luxor. As a tourist, I did not have to buy the ticket from the ticket booth, I just got on the train and paid the ticket inspector. Stay tuned for the next article where we will learn why Luxor is dubbed the land of palaces.
Further Reading for Egypt
I have plenty of articles to help you more with your trip planning in Egypt. Here is a selection of articles about Egypt you might like:
- Looking for a complete itinerary and travel guide for Egypt? 2 weeks itinerary for Egypt.
- There’s art in scamming people, and there’s also art in avoiding them. Here ishow to avoid getting scammed in Egypt.
- Cairo is the first place you will likely land when traveling to Egypt. Here is a complete guide on things to do, how to visit the Giza Pyramids and more.
- Luxor is the land of palaces with a ton of majestic things to see, you would need at least 3 days to see them all. Here’s a complete travel guide on how to spend 3 days in Luxor.
- My praise of Egypt isn’t convincing? Why not let photos tell the story. Check out 22 photos that will inspire you to visit Egypt.
- You can also watch my travel video here: The Only Egypt We Have.
- To see all articles about Egypt, visit Egypt Travel Guide page.
- Looking for more travel guides for the Middle East? You can find more on my Middle East Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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