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Luxor and the Valley of the Kings

"The World's Greatest Open Air Museum"

sunny 37 °C
View Thanh and Mark's RTW Adventure 2009-10 on malmn's travel map.

The Valley of the Kings is a place I’ve been wanting to visit ever since I learned about the pharaohs’ tombs in a history course I once took in CEGEP (It was most likely one of the few classes that kept me awake). Luxor, where this ancient valley is located, is frequently called the “world’s greatest open air museum” and it certainly lives up to its name. Civilisation has existed here for over 5000 years and there are many magnificent archaeological sites around to explore like the Karnak and Luxor Temples, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the most fascinating of them all, the Valley of the Kings and its Pharaohnic tombs. Thanh and I spent three days and four nights exploring as much as we could.

We were fortunate enough to fly “business/platinum” class for this trip down south to Luxor. Unfortunately for us there weren’t many luxuries for us to enjoy. There was no queue at check in, so the priority lane was useless, we didn’t get to board the plane first, and we pretty much had regular sized seating. So much for enjoying business class. Oh wait, hold on. We did get a free sandwich and we did get to get off the plane first. LOL!

The Nile splits Luxor in two, the West and East Banks. The East Bank is the more urban part of the city and besides the many restaurants, shops, and hotels, this side has the Karnak and Luxor Temples. The West Bank, on the other hand, is more rural and much quieter, and where the bulk of the attractions are located. The West Bank is where the Valley of the Kings is found. We chose to stay at a guesthouse on the West Bank which was good for sightseeing. As it turned out, we would use the public ferry service, which was only one Egyptian Pound each (around $0.20 CDN), several times a day to cross the Nile.

We started our first day of sightseeing on the East bank. We took a full morning to visit the humongous and highly impressive Temples of Karnak Temple, and then spent the afternoon and night visiting the Luxor Temple.

The Temples of Karnak were quite something! This place is really massive. Our Lonely Planet states that it’s over two square kilometres and is the largest religious building ever built. It’s loaded with awesome ancient Egyptian artwork, hieroglyphics, obelisks, columns, and many fragmented artifacts. We basically spent the whole morning here making sure we didn’t miss a thing.

After a lunch comprised of traditional Egyptian mezes, we ventured off to Luxor Temple. This temple was smaller and a little less impressive, but it was amazing nonetheless. We actually visited this temple twice in one day. Our fiends Paul and Gretchen, whom we met in Indonesia, recommended we visit this at night when it’s all lit up. We did this and we also wanted to see what it was like during the day. While the daylight allows you to see the details of the artwork better, the lighting at night makes it a little eerie, much more atmospheric, and fun.

We then concentrated on the West Bank for the next two days. Since the tombs and temples are quite spread out, we hired ourselves a driver, and thus managed to explore many sites. Some of them were in amazing condition and others just looked like a pile of rocks. The highlights were; eight tombs in the Valley of the Kings, two Tombs of the Nobles, the Temple of Hatshesput, Medinat Habu, and the Ramessum. We did visit a several more sights but they aren’t really worth mentioning in this blog.

The Valley of the Kings. Apart from the Giza Pyramids, this is what I was waiting to see in Egypt. I was expecting to visit all of the tombs, or at least try to as there 63 of them spread out in the valley. To our disappointment one admission ticket only allowed you to visit three tombs of your choice, plus you had to purchase extra tickets in you wanted to enter the tombs of Tutankhamen or Ramses VI. Moreover, cameras were not permitted inside the site. In the end we managed to visit eight fascinating and lovely tombs; Ramses VII, Ramses IX, Ramses VI, Ramses III, Tuthmosis III, Siptah, Tawosret/Sethnakht, and Ramses I. We chose not to visit Tutankhamen’s since it was very expensive and our guide book said it wasn’t one of the nicest ones. The tombs are pretty fascinating. They are all different as some are larger than others, some more details and prettier, and their conditions vary greatly. When you enter, basically follow a long tunnel that brings you several different chambers, which are fully decorated with murals and hieroglyphics, and then ends at the room with the sarcophagus. Unfortunately there are no treasures in the tombs as they are now in museums around the world.

A hairy incident happened to me while we were exploring the Tomb of Tawosret/Sethnakht. It is forbidden to bring a camera into the Valley of the Kings. We didn’t know that until we got there but we still managed to smuggle ours in. While we were in one of the tombs, I attempted to change a setting on the camera when a turban guy (see below) saw me fiddling with it. Quickly, I put it away in my pocket and tried to pretend I was doing something else with my hands. Eventually the turban guy confronted me and asked me for my camera. I played innocent for a bit and managed to remove the memory card before showing it to him. He snatched it out of my hands, confiscated it, and told me he was taking me to the Tourist Police. I was pleading my innocence but he was having nothing of it. Eventually he tried to bribe me by letting me know that he wanted a little baksheesh to settle the whole thing. I surrendered 20 LE (less than $5 CDN) and got my camera back. As we walked towards the exit, I was still pleading my case that I hadn’t taken a picture. In front of the other employees and guards, I turned on the camera and showed that my camera was empty. At this point, he had no proof that I was guilty of breaking the rules. In the end, he gave me back my money while I had actually taken several pictures….he he he.

Holy s**t! The amount of hassling you encounter in Luxor is mind-boggling. Apart from the touts selling souvenirs, or taxi, motorboat, and caleche drivers wanting your business, we had to deal with the exceptionally persistent “employees”, or as Thanh likes to call them, the “turban guys”, at the sites. These turban guys, who I assume are supposed to act as some type of security, are very aggravating and really, really, exhausting. They are always following you at every step, trying to get your attention and talk to you so they can point out the obvious to you so that they can earn a tip, or as they call it in Egypt, baksheesh. They will also invite you to enter a no trespassing zone so they can get a tip from you. As well, if you are caught doing something disallowed, like taking pictures in a forbidden area, they will attempt to bribe you. These guys are really scandalous and I hope one day the Egyptian government will do something about these guys. They really got on our nerves and they took a lot of pleasure away from the whole experience. To add to this, every time, and I mean every time, an Egyptian would ask where we were from, we would answer “Canada“, and they would say “Canada Dry”, thinking they were so cleaver. It was funny the first time, but not the hundredth! LOL!

Anyways, the Tombs of the Nobles are similar to the ones of the pharaohs but are not as elaborate nor as large, but the wall paintings are largely intact. There are over 400 of them and again we had to chose which ones we wanted to visit. We chose the tombs of Menna and Nakht and they both had very beautiful and colourful artwork. The artwork here was in much better shape than those in the kings’ tombs, most likely because less tourists visit these ones (humans create humidity while breathing and sweating. more humidity = more damage). We could not take pictures inside the tombs.

The architecture of the Mortuary Temple of Hatshesput, in Deir al-Bakri is, simply put, amazing! It’s not like any other of the tombs we visited. The temple was built into the mountain hills, has three levels, with lots of stairs. The place looks like something you might see in Indiana Jones.

Ramses III’s memorial temple is called Medinat Habu and it slightly reminded me of the Temples of Karnak. It was in decent condition and had several walls (pylons) still up and many chambers to explore. We should have and would have stayed longer, but the strong sun and especially annoying turban guys were too much to handle here.

I’m sure the very large Ramessum, which is Ramses II’s memorial temple, was once an impressive complex, but today it is not in good shape. This temple is pretty much in ruins.

While we greatly enjoyed the ancient ruins, we were a little pharaohed-out by the end as each site started to look the same. Besides having seen so much in little time and being harassed so much, the sun in Luxor was quite strong, the air was very dry, and the temperature was somewhere in the mid to high thirties, plus the air quality is also not great in Luxor, which added to our fatigue and desire to move on. All that said, we were itching to return to Cairo and catch our flight to Paris.

Speaking of moving on, our next blog will be about our four nights and three days in Paris, the City of Love!!!

A bientôt chers amis!

Mark& Thanh

Posted by malmn 09:08 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Paris...La Fin.

Our final stop on our 9 month RTW trip and it ends with a bang in Paris.

sunny 15 °C

We’re ENGAGED!!! We’re ENGAGED!!!

Ok, so it happened on our first night in Paris. We have grown so much as a couple and it just seemed perfect to end this magical nine month trip in the City of Love. As soon as we arrived, we dropped our bags and hurried out to soak in all the charm that is Paris. We started with the amazing Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and were so fortunate to be there for Easter mass. It was beautiful and so moving. On our way back we caught sight of some piglets roasting outside of this crammed restaurant and decided to have our first Parisian meal there. It was our first taste of fois gras, chèvre chaud, roasted piglet and French wine in Paris and it only left us wanting more. For a perfect way to end our first day, we headed to La Tour Eiffel to get a glimpse of it all lit up. And that’s when IT happened. Please keep in mind that not in a million years did I think it was going to happen that night or in any near future for that matter.

It was a pretty chilly and windy night and Mark had insisted on finding just the perfect spot to take the perfect picture of the Tower. The whole quest for the perfect spot was making me rather annoyed and impatient since I was freezing and also exhausted from our long day. So finally we found the location and Mark asks me to take a picture of him standing at that exact spot, which I did. Then he tells me to switch places with him and he’ll take one of me, which I did.

Mark: “Thanh, what’s that velvet pouch at your feet?”
Thanh, looking at the pouch and annoyed: “It’s nothing, just take the picture?”
Mark: “Well it looks like something.”
Thanh, cold and more annoyed: “Mark, it’s just trash, just take the picture.”
Thanh now kicks the bag away: “Here, it’s gone, now just take the picture.”
Mark: “Do you think there’s something inside?”
Thanh: “No”
Mark: “Maybe you should check.”
Thanh now steps on the bag feeling it with the sole of her shoe therefore digging the bag into the dirt: “Mark, there’s nothing in there, I’m freaking cold can you take the picture.”
Mark: “Ok fine let me check”
Mark comes over, picks up the now dirty velvet bag and pull out this magnificent ring
Thanh, still oblivious to the whole thing, thinks to herself: “OMG, we just found this expensive ring, maybe we can sell it and make some money to recover the cost of this trip”
Mark: “Will you marry me?”

Then there was a lot of OMGs, tears, kissing, disbelief and one very meaningful YES. I was so excited and happy that even found myself skipping in excitement.

Nothing can go wrong from this point forward, and nothing did. During the next three days, we covered many very popular Parisian sites. We went to Le Musée du Louvre and even after spending four hours there, we only got to a fraction of all the expositions. The museum is magnificent but huge! We did make sure though to see the Mona Lisa painting, the Aphrodite sculpture and Napoleon’s apartments. DSC02458.jpg

After we left the Louvre, we went to see the under-renovation Arc de Triomphe and strolled down the Champs Elysees while enjoying all the luxury shopping.

Paris is such a beautiful and romantic city. Everwhere you look there is something spectacular to see. We did cover the popular sites such as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. However, our best findings have to have been the many sites we stumbled on just by strolling around and getting lost. During those strolls, we saw the beautiful Église St-Paul de St-Louis, Place de la Concorde, the very attractive Pont Alexandre III, the impressive Hotel de Ville and the oldest Parisian square park of Place des Vosges. We also walked on Rivoli street area which always kept our interest with its many shops, chocolateries, patisseries, supermarkets and friperies with brand name handbags for 20$. Walking along the Seine was very soothing and romantic and the long St-Germain boulevard offered us an endless arrays of tempting Parisian bistros and restaurants to discover. We also made the trek to Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise to search for the graves of Edith Piaf, Frederic Chopin and Jim Morrison. La Rue Mouffetard had so many fromageries, charcuteries, boulangeries, chocolateries, wine stores and cafés. Everything looked so tempting. Our favourite area though will have to be L’Ile St-Louis which was just absolutely charming with its many quirky shops and rustic restaurants.

In terms of food, Paris is truly heaven and never left us hungry. We would start every single day with a delicious crepe jammed with either banana and Nutella or ham and cheese. So simple yet so yummy. Anywhere you choose to go during the day, they’ll always be irresistible fine pastries and chocolate shops to keep your sweet tooth satisfied. And for lunch or dinner, there’s really an endless number of restaurants to try. Aside from the piglet, foie gras and chevre chaud, we also tasted French classics like escargots, steak tartar, terrines, duck and pot-au-feu. And of course, since we’re in Paris, every thing is accompanied by fantastic bread and wines. And contrarily to popular belief, French food does not come in tiny portions, they were very hearty and generous.

Though all our meals were delicious, the most memorable has to be at La Taverne du Sergent Recruteur. Mark had spotted this restaurant on a previous stroll around L’Ile St-Louis and we made a point to try it on our last night. As soon as we walked in, we were served a wonderful Kir then sat down at a huge table with massive baskets of sausages, dried meats and fresh vegetables. After sampling all those meats and vegetables, the feast continued with all-you-can drink wine, soup, terrine, steak, confit de canard, a gigantic cheese platter, crème caramel and fondant au chocolat. The food was amazing and the service so friendly but the most unbelievable is how I managed to fit all that food and wine in my stomach.

Paris is a very pleasant and comfortable city to visit. There’s not too many annoyances but even if there were, it couldn’t trouble me too much. The engagement left me on cloud nine so nothing could really bother me, not even these:

- Parisians pretending not to understand our French. Can you believe Québecois movies are sub-titled in Paris?! It’s the same freaking language!!?

- Those 4 billions tourists which made for long line-ups and major crowds everywhere we went.

- The subway system was so dirty and confusing, and you don’t really know if the train you’re on will stop at your station or skip it. DSC02969.jpg

- Parisians are very concerned with their fashion. Anywhere and everywhere. Mothers will take their kids to the park wearing white pants and stilettos. I don’t think they are planning on playing with their kids.

- Parisians are very uptight, you rarely see one burst out in laughter.

- Owning a fake designer item will land you in jail for 3 years. Maybe that’s why we didn’t see too many Chinese people in Paris. I kid, I kid.

- Beggars in Paris have better clothes than me and wear expensive jewellery and handbags.

All I can say is: “What a perfect ending to a perfect trip”.

Our nine month RTW trip ends here in Paris (3 days in Paris is not enough!) but we are excited to go back home to our friends and families, and the comfort of our own bed! :)

We plan to write one final blog entry after we get back home so it's not goodbye just yet.




Posted by thanh13 08:07 Archived in France Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Looking back on a fantastic 9 month RTW adventure

We've been back home for 5 months now. I think it was finally time to close this thing out.

overcast 18 °C

Bonjour de Montréal!

It's been 5 months since we've been back from our RTW trip and I’m back sitting in the exact same spot where I wrote the very first blog entry to Bloggin’ N Globetrottin’ well over a year ago.

Since we've returned we got ourselves reacquainted with our apartment which we had sub-let, my beloved Canadiens surprised everyone and fought their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, my parents moved away, Thanh came through as her cousin’s maid of honor (picture below), Spain won an exciting World Cup, my good Finnish friends Eeva and Juhis came to visit, I turned 34, we’ve had no luck job hunting and fall is fast approaching.

It’s only now, after all of this, that I’ve finally accepted the idea that we’re grounded and that there will be no new chapters added to this blog. So since we’re not going anywhere I figured it’s finally time I write the last entry and close this thing out properly. I’m going to look back on our trip, share some highlights and other tidbits, and finally say goodbye.

Looking Back

We began traveling on July 25th 2009 and unpacked our backpacks for the last time on April 8th 2010. One of our main goals of this trip was to, for once in our lives, avoid the cold and snow of the winter. We can proudly say that that our mission was accomplished! At the time of writing, Thanh and I haven’t faced winter like conditions for the past 19 months! That's pretty good for Canadians! :)

Throughout this entire 9 month round the world journey Thanh and I have travelled to 17 countries and territories, visiting 56 different destinations. We took a total 22 flights, 11 train rides, and a countless number of ferry, boat, subway, bus, tuk-tuk, shuttle, and taxi rides logging over 60,000 kilometers and settling into 46 different beds.

This voyage was, without a doubt, the trip of our lives. We lived out a dream. We experienced so many great things. We went around the world learning about different places and cultures at our pace. To our delight, we ate some of the most amazing food on this planet! Not only did we have a blast but it allowed us to come closer as a couple and made us stronger.

Highlights of our trip

The highlight of our trip is obviously our engagement night in Paris, but that’s pretty much a given and needs no real explanation. So other than that fantastic life changing moment, Thanh and I have countless other highlights. Some of them are;

The Phillies-Cardinals Sunday day ballgame in Philadelphia, slurping freshly-picked oysters with my family in Grande-Digue, recording a rock music video at the Experience Music Project in Seattle with Sarah & Pat, the night I shaved my head at Ed’s place in Vancouver, eating the freshest sushi and sashimi on earth in Tokyo, going to a baseball game between the rival Giants and Tigers at the famous Tokyo Dome with my buddy Shuhei, our romantic one year anniversary dinner in Kyoto, Shoe and I hanging out in the same VIP area as Aaron Kwok at a HK night club, being forced to rent a room at the MGM Grand and gamble the night away in Macau because a typhoon, the ten days spent living the Chinese life at Thanh’s father condo in Zhongshan, climbing the Great Wall of China, cutting in line to see Mao’s body in Beijing, enjoying all kinds of Chinese food, drinking copious amounts of bia hoi in Hanoi, spending a night on a junk in the middle of Halong Bay, discovering black chicken with Rachel and Jamie in Sa Pa, living the slow and quiet Laotian life for a week in Luang Prabang, tubing in Viang Vieng, returning to magnificent Angkor for a second time in less than a year, falling upon that “Vietnamese” style restaurant in Phnom Penh, stuffing our faces off at the hawker stalls in both Malaysia and Singapore, slowly having the Muslim call to payer cast a spell on us, learning to surf in Bali, chilling out with Paul and Gretchen on a beach in Lombok talking about home, loving the Thai boxing in Bangkok, experiencing Varanasi’s weirdness, admiring the Taj Mahal up close, stumbling upon a temple festival in Varkala, Thanh’s birthday supper with Lara in Mumbai, leaving India, the historic city of Constantinople, spending a beautiful sunny day on the Asian side of Istanbul, the lazy late afternoon felucca ride along the Nile with Ang & Rob and their friends Sam & Dave, climbing the Pyramids of Giza, Easter mass at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and finally our lunch at Café Louis Philippe.

Thanh and I both agree that our highlight of all highlights, other than our engagement, was the month spent living the beach bum life in Mui Ne, Vietnam. It was by far the most relaxing and most satisfying moment of our trip. We had found ourselves a wonderful and very modern looking serviced apartment that was right along the beach for a bargain. We were pampered there. We spent a lot of time working on our tans and swimming in either the pool or the ocean. What added to our fun was having a full kitchen which allowed us to take advantage local market and its exotic products.

The Lowlights

While our trip was a fun and happy adventure, there had to be some lows as well;

The perverted men who would stare at Thanh or harass her, especially in India and Egypt. The horrid air pollution in countries like China, India and Egypt was barely liveable. The awful case of car sickness I got when we took a 5-6 hour mini-bus ride going through a mountainous part Lao. We both got pretty sick in Indonesia which confined to our bed for a couple of days. Thanh left a bunch of her favourite clothes, including a cute dress she had bought in HK, behind at the Gili Islands in Lombok. My digestive system was not stable for 5 out of the six weeks we were in India. The intense poverty and despair in Kolkata and India in general could be hard to deal with. The incessant demands for baksheesh in Egypt. The rude Parisians LOL!

Some More Tidbits

Most surprising country; Malaysia. A predominantly Muslim country that still manages to be quite diverse, that has really tasty food, great shopping, pristine beaches, and modern cities. Highly recommended!
Most disappointing country; Egypt. This country hasn’t produced anything great in over 2000 years and it shows. Sorry Egypt.
Countries we plan to go back to; Japan, China, France, and of course Vietnam.
Countries where we could see ourselves living; Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, France.
A country where you couldn’t pay us a million dollars to live; India. It’s just too crazy there.
The country with the best overall value; Vietnam. The lodging prices throughout the country are relatively low and of good quality which really helps the budget. The food is also very yummy and real cheap.
A country that's more expensive than you would think; Accommodation in India turned out to be more expensive than most countries in South East Asia and even China. When it comes to lodging in India you really pay for what you get. Yes there are tons of budget places but they are generally pretty awful, so forget that. There isn't much in the mid-range category so the everything gets booked up fast and prices are higher than they really should be.
Best food cities; Vancouver, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Hanoi, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown (Penang), Singapore, New Delhi, Istanbul and Paris.
Just some of the strange things we ate; Sea urchin sushi, raw shrimp, chicken & whale sashimi, goose intestine, pork stomach, various kinds of chicken's feet, chicken heart soup, massive tasty fish head, fried fish stomachs, fried duck head, fried scorpion, stir-fried eel, black chicken, spicy entrail soup, ABC Special, fish head curry, papdi chaat, roasted pigeon, and much more.
Best shopping cities; Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Istanbul and Paris.
The following products are things you are guaranteed to find all around the world: Coca-Cola, Kit Kat, Mars and Snickers bars, Pringles, Oreo cookies, Ritz Crackers and bottled water.
Total spent on trip (257 days, 17 countries); $44,857.76 (Canadian Dollars).
Total amount of cash withdrawn from ATMs around the world; $15,232.29.
Average cost per day, per person (not including airfare & accommodation): $46.89.
Total amount spend on all 22 flights; $9,754.85. Just one RTW ticket with Star Alliance (11 segments and 7 stopovers) would have cost us around $6600 each! We saved over $6,000 buying tickets as we went!
Total amount spent on accommodation; $9,601.10 + approximately $2,000 spent in cash, so we'll round up and say we spent something around $12,000 for all of our accommodation. The average cost per day, per person for accommodation is estimated to be $21.40.
Our most expensive meal (for two people); $240.48, Imahan, Tokyo, Japan. A sukiyaki meal with melt in your mouth Wagyu beef.
Our cheapest meal (one person); 35 rupees (less than $1 Canadian) thali in Kolkata. Here we're talking about a full meal at a real restaurant with service, not street food.
Number of pictures taken; 15,099! We would have finished with over 17,000 of them if we hadn't lost our Laos and Cambodia pictures to a virus.

And here are a few pics of the passport I used :) :

Final Words, Thank Yous & Goodbye!!

We started writing this travel journal to keep in touch with our friends and family. It was not long into the trip that we realized we really enjoyed doing it. Hopefully those who have read our blog found it interesting and entertaining. We are not gifted writers and it wasn’t always easy finding the motivation to do it, but in the end I think it’s OK and we’re proud we did it. It certainly be a great thing for Thanh and I to look back on and reminisce.

We want to thank our friends and family that we got to share moments of this experience with; Thanh’s family, my parents, Jody & Kozue, Patrick & Sarah, Ed & Laura, Julia & Joel, Shuhei, Mark A.K.A. Shoe, Thanh’s Dad, and Angela & Rob. Everyone was very supportive, generous and hospitable

This fantastic experience also allowed us to meet some new friends. All of these encounters were to short but remain special to us. Thank you Eli, Rachel & Jamie, Beth & Pierce, and Gretchen & Paul, for the good times we shared.

I also want to thank my good friend Lionel for looking over our apartment for us. You were really helpful. Thanks again.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who followed us and read our blog. We really appreciate the interest and support.

The end of this trip is the beginning of a new life for Thanh and I and we have some exciting times ahead. We plan to start new jobs, buy a home, get married, start a family…and travel again one day! :)

So that’s it. The trip is over. This blog is done. We’re outta here!

Mark and Thanh

Thanh and Mark on Christmas Night in Mui Ne

Posted by malmn 09:49 Archived in Canada Tagged the end of world trip you goodbye round_the_world costs thank Comments (0)

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