Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Egypt hates tourists

After three nights in Luxor, we've come to the conclusion that Egypt really hates tourists. Which is odd, given that they're a significant source of revenue for the country. Well, even if they don't hate them, they certainly don't treat them very well. We've had numerous trying times dealing with people in Egypt, and although the beauty of the country is amazing, having to deal with all the shenanigans of local people is quite tiring. Beware that below is a long rant, so if you're not interested feel free to skip it and just look at this picture of us enjoying a happy moment at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor. Also, be sure to check out all our pictures from Luxor and Aswan. We'll be adding to them over the next few days.

I wrote up a longer essay on the issue, but I won't bore the readers here with the full analysis. Basically it boils down to the fact that people want to come to Egypt to see the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the numerous temples and monuments in Luxor and Aswan and various other amazing sights. There is a steady stream of new visitors that want to come here to see sights for which there is no substitute. There is only one place to see the Pyramids (Luxor in Las Vegas doesn't really count). Therefore, Egypt doesn't have to depend on repeat visitors for tourism. So, for the same reason the Space Needle restaurant in Seattle will invariably be overpriced and of poor quality, the Egypt tourist experience is poor and disappointing. Compare this with Thailand. The things that Thailand offers (good food, beautiful beaches and islands, forest hiking, religious temples) have substitutes in many places: Central and South America, Hawaii, parts of Europe and other countries within Southeast Asia, among other places. Therefore in order to lure tourists they must provide good service, which they certainly do. Think of how many people do repeat visits to Thailand; I know many. How many come repeatedly to Egypt? I don't have the exact figures, but I can't imagine it's very many.

Anyway, at least that's what basic economic theory will tell you about why the tourist experience is so bad here. The basic issues we're having here are:
  1. We're continually getting ripped off. Dahab was an exception; there most restaurants posted prices and you could decide ahead of time whether you wanted to go there or not. However, Cairo and Luxor, unless you read Arabic, it's impossible to know the prices. Ditto for taxi drivers and buses. Unless you know ahead of time what the price should be and just pay that price, they'll charge you two or three or five times what it should cost. Even ordering tea at a coffee shops turns into a bargaining session. It shouldn't be that way. It should be clear what the prices are, allowing us to make a decision ahead of time.
  2. People selling stuff will not leave us alone. From taxi drivers, horse carriage drivers, sellers of all sorts of things, street side cafe owners, hotel proprietors, kids selling stuff, beggars, everyone bothers us. We've had people approach us with cartons of cigarettes. When is a carton of cigarettes an impulse buy? Who is buying all this crap? In Luxor they were like flies. Even a short walk turned into a constant walk of saying No.
  3. Men are constantly oogling and saying lude comments to Jaimee. It is incredibly bad. Many Egyptian men (and teenage boys) are just absolute pigs. From whistling and hissing to comments such as "You're such a lucky man" (yes, I know, but I don't need an Egyptian Don Juan to tell me) or "Just one kiss". It makes me really mad.
As we mentioned before, the food has been very good (assuming you can find it reasonably priced), and the sights are amazing, but after 10 days here, we're pretty much "done" with Egypt. Currently we're in Aswan, about three hours south of Luxor, which seems a little calmer. For us the Luxor tourist experience was really bad. Hopefully Aswan will be better. We're here until Friday when we hope to catch an overnight train back to Cairo before flying to Istanbul on Saturday. Of course, even getting information about the train tickets was an ordeal. The man at our hotel told us that we could only buy the tickets on the day of the train for a price of 175 LE ($31 USD). He said he'd help us buy the tickets. We declined his offer and instead went to the train station where the ticket seller told us to just buy the tickets on board for 61 LE ($11). It turns out the guy was trying to sell us 1st Class tickets without giving us an option for 2nd Class. Why does it have to be so hard?

Update: we wrote this post at an Internet cafe in Aswan and when we were done the guy tried to charge us 15 LE ($3 US) for the 45 minutes we were on-line. This was about four times what the going rate is. We balked, including Jaimee saying that 15 was more than our lunch (which was true) so he then dropped it to 10 LE which was still over-priced. Then, after dealing with that we thought we'd grab beers on the way back, and I kid you not, the vendor tried to sell us two cans of non-alcoholic beer and pass it off as real beer! That's about as low as  you can go!


  1. I've read through most of your recent posts about Egypt and have to say I had many similar experiences to everything you said, especially with this post. If you make it to Jordan, you will notice a night and day difference between the attitudes of the people in regards to tourists. Jordan is more of a, 'meh, you'll buy it if you want to' kind of country where Egypt is 'i'm going to do anything and everything to get you out the door with this cheap piece of crap or something else'

  2. Well it is all about bargaining in Egypt and they respect the person if they bargain hard. It is like a game but can be difficult to figure out the game.

    I stayed in Egypt for five months and upper egypt is much more difficult than the oasis and lower egypt.

  3. hello friend,,
    i'm egyptian, my name is Ahmed,, and i just wanted to apologize to you guys for your bad experiences here in my country,, you know what, it's not so much different for locals, we also suffer from this terrible attitude, we are also constantly being ripped off, it's absolutely horrible,, i also cannot walk around with my GF in peace,, you have to be intimidating and tough to send a message across that: dont mess with my girl or ill mess you up,,, ! this is the only way of handling it,, it's a jungle,, and i do agree that most men here are absolute pigs,, sexual harassment is a nightmare,, every single egyptian woman suffers from this.. it's a shame we call ourselves a "muslim" country,,, it's just ridiculous,, i'm a physician and i live in alexandria, i don't run any tourist business or anything like that,, but if you ever consider coming back to egypt id be more than happy to help you guys out around here and maybe give you a better experience.. take care my friend.....
    Ahmed Aziz,, from alexandria-egy


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