We visited the city of Aswan on the final day of our trip down the Nile River, which started in Luxor. For the majority of cruises, you can either start or end in Aswan. You can continue going south after visiting Aswan, but we didn’t have the opportunity to do that during our trip to Egypt. It was extremely hot during our time in Aswan, so we took it nice and slow and spent as much time in the shade as we could. These were the highlights of the places and things that we visited before heading to the airport to catch a flight back to Cairo.
The Ancient Granite Quarry – One of the first things we visited when we arrived in Aswan was the northern quarry, which contains an unfinished obelisk. Most of the granite that was used in ancient Egypt was mined from the quarries of Aswan and carried up the Nile on boats. It must have been extremely hard work to mine granite by chipping away at it with other stones. The day that we arrived in Aswan it was 114 degrees Fahrenheit (about 44.5 degrees Celsius), so we can only imagine how difficult it was for the workers in ancient time to carve out the large rocks in order to create the obelisks and other temple pieces.
Philae and the Temple of Isis – We took a boat out to Philae, which is an island with a variety of temples including the Temple of Isis. It was a very interesting site with plenty of things to see and definitely worth a half day to visit. The temples were moved to higher ground after the High Dam was built in order to save them and it was well worth the effort. Clearly the Temple of Isis is the highlight of visiting the island, but there is also the Temple of Hathor and the Kiosk of Trajan. The columns, hieroglyphs, and entrance were extremely impressive.
The Aswan High Dam – We grew up hearing about the construction of the Aswan dam, but there are really two dams, an older dam and the newer one, which is referred to as the High Dam. It was built to end the flooding that used to occur on a regular basis along the Nile River and has truly helped the agriculture business in Egypt. In addition to controlling the water, it is also a source of a lot of the power needed in the regions, so power lines are abundant across the surrounding desert landscape. One interesting side effect of the dam was that it has trapped all of the crocodiles for which the Nile is famous south of the dam, so you won’t see any crocodiles between Luxor and Aswan.
The Temple of Kom Ombo – On the evening of our last full day of our cruise down the Nile River, we visited the Temple of Kom Ombo. Although it was not the largest of temple complexes that we saw during our time in Egypt, it was still fascinating. The southern part of the temple is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek. Although crocodiles are not often found north of the new Aswan dam anymore, they used to prevalent in the area. There is even a Crocodile Museum at the site with crocodile mummies that are quite unique. The northern part of the temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus and his image can be found on many of the hieroglyphs within the temple.
We spent a few days in Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos, during our trip to Southeast Asia. Although it was a short trip to the country, it was certainly full of fascinating sights and an opportunity to gain insight into the culture. We had a guide for the entire time that we spent in Vientiane, which was great since it allowed us to learn more than we would have just visiting on our own. It also gave us the opportunity to hear firsthand stories about the changes that the country is undergoing and how the citizens feel about those changes. We’ve listed here some of our top recommendations for anyone who gets a few days in Vientiane.
Buddha Park – Also known as Xieng Kuan or Spirit City, Buddha Park is something that is truly amazing. With over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues of various sizes, the park will allow you to immerse yourself into various figures and the stories behind each of them. Even though the park is only a little over 60 years old, you will feel transported into something that could be centuries old.
Pha That Luang – Built in the 1500’s, Pha That Luang is a giant golden stupa that contains a holy relic that is believed to be the breastbone of the Lord Buddha, making it a great national treasure of the Laotian people. It is also the site of a Buddhist festival in November that attracts thousands of people to the city of Vientiane for the celebration. Walking around the golden architecture of the stupa, which is Buddhist shrine, is one of our favorite memories of visiting Vientiane.
Taking a Walking Tour of the Wats (Temples) – To say that there is a different wat or temple on every corner of the streets of historic Vientiane would not be an exaggeration. The Airbnb where we stayed was even located across the street from a wat. Most of them are open to the public for at least part of the day and each of them was unique in its own way despite some similarities. Some of our favorite wats were Wat Ho Phra Keo, Wat That Luang Neua, and Wat Si Saket, which is also a museum.
Patuxai (Victory Gate) – In the heart of Vientiane is Patuxai, or Victory Gate, which is Laos’ version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Just like the arch in Paris, going to the top of Patuxai provides amazing views of the city of Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos. The arch is made up of five levels that represent both the principals representing the coexistence of nations as well as the five principals of Buddhism. Regardless of the meanings of the five levels, today there are markets on each level as you climb to the top offering you the opportunity to buy local items and tourist trinkets.
Walking Along the Mekong River – When visiting Vientiane in Laos, one thing that should be on your itinerary is spending time along the Mekong River. There are many restaurants on the road that sits along the river as well as Chao Anouvong Park, the main park in Vientiane. There are also a few rooftop restaurants that are only a block or two away from the river that offer great views of the city as well as the river. We had been told before visiting that we should be sure to see a sunset over the Mekong River and we were definitely glad that we did. At night, the area around Chao Anouvong Park that is near the inner city, turns into a night market with street food, family activities, and vendors selling locally produced items.
The COPE Visitor Center – Although we weren’t originally planning on visiting the COPE Visitor Center, it turned out to be an enlightening experience. Part museum and part informative on the work that the COPE project does to help people who have been injured by the unexploded bombs that litter the countryside of Laos. Like visiting holocaust museums, it contains both disturbing images as well as an acknowledgement of the ravages of war.
Enjoy the Food of Vientiane – The food of Laos has been influenced by its neighboring countries as well as the French who once occupied the country. Fresh fish from the Mekong River can certainly be found on many of the restaurant menus as well as Laab, which is considered the national dish of Laos. We also enjoyed a couple of different styles of sticky rice and a variety of fried noodles with beef, chicken, and pork.
Although Laos and its capital, Vientiane, might not be on everyone’s typical itinerary for visiting Southeast Asia, it certainly worth spending time there. We definitely enjoyed seeing all of the fascinating sights that were in or around Vientiane. It was just a short flight from Hanoi, Vietnam where we were staying, and three days seemed like a perfect amount of time to spend there.
Egypt is a destination that is on almost everyone’s wish list to visit at least once in their lifetimes. With so many incredible sights to see across many different cities, you will want to plan as many days as you can to make the most of your time in Egypt. We found our trip to be ideal in many different ways, but with any destination, if we had more time, we would have seen even more. What we have here are the locations and sites that we chose to make our priority during a full seven days in Egypt. Due to the length of air travel, the total trip was twelve days, but much of that time was spent in transit. Although we landed in Cairo, we left early in the morning to fly to Luxor and begin a cruise down the Nile River to Aswan and then flew back to Cairo where we spent the remainder of our time in Egypt. It would be easy enough to flip the trip around and start in Cairo, but we found that it worked out well to finish in Cairo. Here was our itinerary starting with our arrival in Luxor:
Day 1 – After arriving in Luxor, we headed directly to the docks where we checked into our cruise ship, had some tea, and put our bags in our cabin before starting our adventure. We quickly left for the Karnak Temple Complex, which was an absolutely amazing way to start our time in Egypt. After spending several hours with our Egyptologist guide touring the temple complex, we walked amongst the lines of sphinxes that once lined a river connecting the Karnak Temple Complex to the Luxor Temple Complex. After another couple of hours touring the Luxor Temple Complex, we returned to the ship for dinner. Our day wasn’t done as we returned after dinner to the Karnak Temple Complex where we enjoyed a lighted show that took you through the history of the temple and gave you a view of what it must have been like thousands of years ago.
Day 2 – After a good night’s sleep, we rose early to have breakfast and start our day. Most days started early in Egypt due to the heat of the afternoon, so it is definitely a place where getting up early pays off. Overnight the cruise ship had made its way from the east bank of the Nile to the west bank. Our first stop of the day was at the famous Valley of the Kings where many of the pharaoh tombs are located, including that of King Tutankhamen (King Tut). Truly an incredible experience. After visiting the Valley of the Kings, we went to an alabaster factory where we saw how alabaster products were made and we were able to buy some items to take home with us. We then continued on to the Hatshepsut Temple at the base of the mountain. Finally, we went to see the Colossi of Memnon before returning to our cruise ship to enjoy an afternoon on the water as we headed towards our next destination.
Day 3 – Overnight our cruise ship had arrived in Edfu. We started our day taking a horse-drawn carriage through the town of Edfu to see the Temple of Horus, which is another amazing temple. After a couple of hours touring the temple, we were back on the cruise ship where we continued down the Nile to visit Temple Kom Ombo. We spent the late part of the afternoon walking through the temple grounds and learning even more history from our guide who was with us throughout our cruise. We were then back on the ship for the final leg of our cruise where we saw amazing sunsets on the Nile River as we made our way towards Aswan.
Day 4 – Our first stop of the day was to visit an ancient quarry where the giant obelisks that we had seen in Luxor had been carved in single pieces out of the granite. There is even an obelisk still in the stone that had broken and therefore been abandoned, but it remains there in the quarry even after thousands of years. We then took a boat out to the island of Philae and the Temple of Isis. At this point, all of the temples were starting to blend together. Finally, we went to see the High Aswan Dam and learned about the alligators that are famous in the region. We then flew back to Cairo to start the next part of our adventure.
Day 5 – Our first full day in Cairo was certainly memorable as we went to see a variety of pyramids in the Giza Plateau. Our first stop was in Dahshur where we saw the Bent Pyramid and were able to climb down to the burial chamber inside of the Red Pyramid. We were pretty much all by ourselves, which made it an even more incredible experience. From there we went to the Step Pyramid in the Saqqara Necropolis, which is another interesting architectural site where we were able to climb down to the burial chamber. We then stopped for lunch before heading to the Giza Plateau to visit the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx. Seeing the Great Pyramids is certainly the highlight of any trip to Egypt and to Cairo. We also rode camels around the pyramids, but that was more touristy and not actually our favorite part.
Day 6 – We spent the morning exploring the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, which is quite impressive with all of the historic relics on display. We then went to the shore of the Nile River where we boarded a felucca to leisurely sail around the heart of Cairo. It was a relaxing way to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city. We then visited Abu Serga Church where the Holy Family stayed in what is referred to as the Cavern Church. We also visited Ben Ezra Synagogue, which is located on the site where legend states that baby Moses was found. We then visited the Church of the Virgin Mary, also known as Hanging Church, which is one of the oldest churches in Egypt.
Day 7 – Originally it was our intention to take this day and just relax before heading home, but we decided to take a tour of Old Cairo and see the important Islamic mosques. One of the highlights was visiting the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hasan where our guide explained the history of Cairo and the influence of Islam on the region. From the historic mosques, we went into the heart of Old Cairo where we visited one of the oldest Ottoman houses in Cairo. Finally, we visited the famous bazaar in Old Cairo, which is quite busy with hundreds of vendors selling everything from silk to hookahs.
Needless to say, it was a very busy seven days with exciting and fascinating sights on every day. There are certainly more places to visit in Egypt if you have more time, but if you are limited on time as we were, these seven days will not disappoint you. It took us months after returning home to truly absorb everything that we saw and learned during our time in Egypt. It is definitely one of those trips where you need to plan and prepare in order to make the most of your time.