A cleaning staff of the ladies’ washroom of Cairo International Airport touched my hair and said “You Indians have beautiful hair quality!” I do not take much care of my hair, so was surprised, still felt good. I smiled her back, said ‘Thank you’ and in no time, found her demanding ‘Baksheesh’(tip) for this appreciation!!! I got that! my struggle has been started. I am in Egypt.
Not everyone is like her. Mostly, you would find the common people of Egypt close to your heart for their warmth & hospitality. But sorry to say that very often the numbers of scam artists, pushy dealers & tip mongers may make the foreigners rethink over whether they should visit Egypt all by themselves or under the protective shield of any tour operator! But having an independent trip for a couple of week, I must say that these things are not at all beyond anybody’s control. A smart, confident and careful traveler can easily save himself from getting ripped off. Here are some tips on how to identify and avoid those tricky people during your trip to Egypt and make your enjoyment stress-free.
Touts are everywhere looking for you, not only in the popular tourist sites, even in the bus-stations, metro-stations or on the footpath of touristy cities like Cairo, Luxor or Aswan. Everywhere you will find people approaching towards you with sociable smile. That does not mean all of them are touts, but most of them actually are. The common people of Egypt are sociable in nature, but usually, people, not related to travel business are not good English speakers and the ancient temples, tombs and pyramids have nothing to do with their daily living, so they usually don’t start conversation in fluent English with the mention of those touristy references. Touts do exactly the opposite! That’s a clear indication of whose intention is what. These people mainly work for tour companies and do all these attempts to make you buy their service. It is best not to answer them, even not to make eye contacts, but still you will find them following you and trying to talk with you. Keep avoiding. They will give up at last. Remember, touts are everywhere and keeping eye on you from every corner of the city. If you need any help from local people and you tend to ask them, touts will rush to you and misguide you to make their own profit. Therefore, a sound pre-trip research is the best thing you could do. Download offline maps in your smart-phone; use navigator while finding a place and keep yourself away from getting trapped.
The Pyramid Complex of Giza is the Mecca of the scam artists. If you hire a private car to be there, the driver will start a story just before arriving there. The story would be like that “The car will not be allowed in front of the gate. The parking zone is 2km away. Only horses, camels and animal-carts are allowed. You can walk these 2kms, but after that, remember, the pyramid complex is very big. I will suggest you to hire a horse or camel from outside. I know the best man, who can provide those animals or carts.” In that situation you are left with two options; either accepting his offer or starting on you foot from where he stops the car. If you choose the first one, then they will make you enter the complex through a backdoor, so that you cannot find the actual scenario. And the actual scenario is that the parking zone is very close to the front gate and you have to walk a negligible distance to be there after getting down from your car.
The best way to avoid this situation is not to hire a private car. To be there, use public transportation, which will drop you just in front of the gate. For your help, you can check my blog on this topic : Pyramids of Giza : How We Came?
Well, the Pyramid Complex is no doubt big, very big. If you are interested to encircle those three pyramids, you have to walk a lot and I must say that it will be extremely tiring to walk so long on a hot desert. So it is better to hire animals. There, inside the Pyramid Complex, you will find boards mentioning the fixed prices for hiring horse, camel or animal drawn cart. If you hire any of these services from outside, being instructed by your driver, then you would be charged no less than double of the fixed price.
Unfortunately, the boards are very few in numbers, so visitors mostly miss to find them in that vast area; therefore the animals and cart-owners roaming inside the complex charge whatever they wish. If you have planned to walk, they will come to your way and push you as much as possible to make you buy their service; and will not let you get soaked in the romance of those ancient colossal structures by doing all kind of presumptuous activities.
The similar things would happen even while walking on city-roads or markets. You will see taxi drivers following you with repetitive and non-stop nagging; shop-owners chasing after you. Often, the shop-owners may put a shirt upon you and demand that you have bought it, so you have to pay. If your nationality is apparent in your look, then they will try to impress you by mentioning some popular references of your country, like, identifying us as Indians, they were shouting ‘Raja-Maharaja’(Indian words for kings & emperors) and names of Bollywood actors. After that, they used to announce “Special discount, only for you.”(As if I am privileged for being Indian!) Now what to do with them? Politely, but firmly say ‘NO! I AM NOT INTERESTED!’ If that does not work, then raise your voice. I felt bad to do so, but had to. In fact, that worked. “I did not disturb you. Why are you shouting on me… bla bla bla…”- They often said, before leaving.
“I did not disturb you!” Seriously!!!
Whenever you are making any deal with someone, by repetitive asking, be sure whether the price is in EGP or USD, as it’s a common scam that they start the deal in EGP, but in time of payment, force you to pay in USD. Another type of scam happens, when fixed price is written in Arabic (Though mostly found in English). If you do not know Arabic and the dealer can assume that, then he will read, needless to say, a higher price for you! If you have a smartphone, then you can easily check it with the help of google translator.
In popular tourist sites, scam artists pretending to be ‘licensed guide’ appear with fake i-cards hanging from their necks. Even, some common local people, or staffs of those sites may come to you and without being asked would start to help you by providing petty information like ‘This is Khufu’s pyramid. This is 146 mts tall’ et cetera! Firmly refuse their ‘help’, as at the end they are going to demand ‘baksheesh’(tip)!
‘Baksheesh’ is something that will make you crazy during your trip to Egypt. Here are some common trends:
- In public toilet, someone will be there to push the toilet door for you, or hand over toilet tissues. Refuse their services, because they are going to demand ‘baksheesh’ (tip) from you. It’s better to use your own toilet papers.
- While you are trying to capture photographs of an ancient structure, some local people in traditional attire may appear in your frame and start posing. They may put their turban on your head without your consent and ask money thereafter. If you are not interested to feed those tip-mongers, then be alert, resist them from doing so and tell them to move away.
- While visiting popular tourist sites, never give your camera or smart-phone to anybody, not even your guide or your horse-handler. They may not return it until you tip them. If you wish to take your own photograph, then either use selfie-stick or ask help from other foreign visitors.
- Like the airport staff, as I stated earlier, any official one can ask for tip, even on duty. In Valley of the Kings, you have to choose any three tombs to go inside among many of them. If you ask which three are most worth-visiting, the guy on the ticket counter will help you gladly, followed by a demand of ‘Baksheesh’!! It’s better to do some pre-trip research, so that you would not need anybody’s guidance.
- There are some particular points in Giza complex from where you can take photographs like placing palm over the top of the pyramid, hanging two pyramids from both hands or kissing the Sphinx. Never ask anybody to find those points for you, as you will be charged ‘Baksheesh’ for that ‘help’. If you are not interested in these types of photo-shoot even after that some people will run after you offering their ‘help’. The best trick to find those photo-points without losing money is a silent observation on other visitors who are taken to those points by their guides or animal-handlers.
- There are many tombs in the complex of Saqqara and Giza. The visitors coming with tour operators are not usually taken there. You will find many of them kept locked, but a tomb-guard will appear each time. He will open the tomb for you in return of sufficient tipping. These tomb-guards try to convince the visitors how worth-visiting those tombs are and how would you miss if you do not go inside. In reality, some of them are really good to visit, but inside most of them, there is nothing to see. You may visit my blogs to find which tombs are worth-‘tipping’ and plan accordingly. (Saqqara : From Where the Journey Begins… … , Pyramids of Giza: Here We Come!!! And don’t forget to bargain hard before fixing the tip-price.
- Photographing inside any tomb is prohibited in Egypt. But here, everything can be done if you are ready to tip. The tomb-guards themselves will suggest you to do so, rather force you. If you don’t show any interest, they would get offended. Obviously! How dare you NOT to break the rule! They behave like this way!
If you are too alert not to create any opportunity for anybody to ask ‘Baksheesh’, even after that, you will be asked! Yes! Without any reason, you will find tip-seekers running after you. But keep in mind that these people may be tip-hungry, but they are not harmful. A firm refusal is enough to resist them and it is stupid to lose mental peace for them. Take it as a fun. We applied some counter-tricks on them, for example, whenever people asked for ‘Basheesh’ for any silly ground or without any ground, we also used to spread our palms in front of him and said ‘Baksheesh! Baksheesh!’ Often we answered them in our mother-tongue or started reciting any childhood poem of our language. These are quite unexpected reactions for them! Being totally confused, they used to stop for a while! And we used to run away from that place before they could re-start.
Tipping is a token of gratitude. If you really feel good to do so, then do it. In Aswan, we were strolling aimlessly in a Nubian village and a lady asked us to visit her home. We entered in a Nubian house, saw few glimpses of their lifestyle, met her family members and were offered Hibiscus Tea. Yes. I know they did it for money, but I did not feel bad to tip her.
Egypt is one of the favorite destinations for the travelers from all over the world. It is bad to see that day by day, the country is losing its goodwill for some greedy people. But don’t judge the entire nation for those few ones. During our trip to some off the beaten tracks of Egypt, our experiences differed a lot. We were impressed by the knowledge and dedication of a tomb-guide of Zawat-el-Mayiteen and we ourselves offered him tip, but the man refused us. On that day, we were traveling through a politically sensitive zone of Middle Egypt and a group of tourist police were escorting us for the entire day. We did not have to pay for that. They never thought to demand money in return of our security. Hamouda, the driver of our Western Desert camping trip also refused to get ‘Baksheesh’. During that trip, one day we ate countless dates in an oasis-village, but the owner of the trees did not ask for a single penny. Also the men, in charge of the hot springs where we used to take bath during our desert days, did not think to spread their palms before us. Even in the popular tourist destinations, where every night we loved to visit any of the local cafes and have ‘sheesha’, we met so many local people, chatted with them, and had wonderful times together. None of them tried any fraudulent attempt on us. I always look for good things to happen in my life and love to preserve only those memories. Though the caption of the blog is ‘How to Handle the Tourist Scams while Visiting Egypt’, but at the end, I am attaching the pictures of our bonding with few of those golden hearts who made us believe that there exists an Egypt, which is beyond all kinds of tourist scams.
Wander with Reshmi & Saikat