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Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Travel in Egypt by Bus: Sharm El Sheikh by bus from Turgoman (Cairo Gateway) Bus Station

I went to Sharm El Sheikh by bus for a few days, here are some notes about the journey. The journey took about 6.5 hours going and about 7 hours returning.

From Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh

My travelling companion and I met outside the Ramses Hilton where he had already ascertained that the next bus to Sharm from there was a couple of hours wait, so we taxied up to Turgoman (old name) Bus Station. It is in the centre of Cairo, and is now part of the Cairo Gateway Plaza - a new shopping mall, still being constructed. So if you are looking for it, follow signs for Cairo Gateway.

I haven't been able to find an accurate map of the location, but I think the nearest metro station is Orabi on the Helwan/El Marg line. It looks to be about 5-10 minutes walk - but don't quote me - I didn't walk it!!

Here's a link to a photo of the front of the bus station:

Photo of front of Turgoman (Cairo Gateway) Bus station

Its a very modern bus station and I was rather impressed - it reminds me a bit of the done-up Victoria Coach Station in London. You have to pass your bags through the usual scanners on entrance and the ticket windows are right there in front of you - to the left and right hand sides. The left hand side seemed to be focused mainly on Cairo / Alex / Delta, Siwa, and on the right hand side on Suez, Sinai (Sharm, Dahab, Nuweiba, Taba, St Katherine) and Upper Egypt. Destinations are labelled in English. There are two different bus companies (at least) so some duplication of destinations with different prices.

We took the East Delta bus as it was the next one due out - they seem to be every 2.5 hours - we just missed one so we had to wait until 1.30pm for the next one. My Egyptian companion paid 70LE and I paid 80LE.

We had a long wait down in the bus station waiting area which has departure gates and quite a lot of seating. It didn't get very busy at all. We were travelling on a Friday midday though which possibly makes a difference.

There are a couple of cafes on the entrance floor to the shopping mall, the ones you see first are quite expensive and not particularly good. At the far end, though, there is a traditional Egyptian food - much to my companion's relief! We got 2 fuul sandwiches for about 2.5LE.

When time came to board the bus, the destination was called - Arabic only so listen out. Bags go in the side of the bus as per standard, and a sticky label is put on the bag and on your ticket. Sit in the seat indicated on your ticket. In my experience, Egyptians rarely deviate from 'their' seats even if there is room elsewhere - whether its a bus or a cinema.

The bus was reasonably comfortable, the airconditioning functioned well for most of the trip and there was a w.c. on board (good because that guarantees you don't need it )

The bus departed exactly on time, and we picked up at Abbassiya and another location in Nasr City eventually exiting Cairo after about an hour.

There were 12 passengers in all.

There was a single rest stop at about half way (3.5 hours in to the journey). This rest stop is after Suez Canal and before Ras Sudr. Its not beautiful, but any loo is a palace in a time of need.

We had 3 police checks en route - 1 just for foreigners (going in to Suez Canal), 1 for Egyptian men, and the third for everyone on entering Sharm.

Two films were shown on route, on each portion of the journey. Both in arabic - something called A Lion and 4 Cats (slapstick comedy) DVD of Lion and 4 Cats - even though it was in arabic, it was so obvious that you could follow it without understanding the words! And a rather blacker film called Casino (can't find a link anywhere on line).

We arrived at Sharm (East Delta Bus Station) about 8pm where our friends met us. If you are not getting met, you can get taxis, and if you walk out to the roadside, there are microbuses available. I don't know where they go or the cost though - I am told that fares around there on microbuses should be around 3-4LE.

If you haven't been to Sharm before, it is very long - stretching up the coast for many kilometers so unless you know what you're doing, its probably best to take a taxi but haggle well for the fare as they will try and rip you off big time.

IMPORTANT NOTE IF YOU ARE TRAVELLING WITH AN EGYPTIAN AND YOU ARE A FOREIGNER if you are travelling and planning to stay with an Egyptian friend of the opposite sex to whom you are not married: my friends are renting their home and it is ILLEGAL for unmarried Egyptians to share bedrooms with persons of the opposite sex (in any case my companion is "just a friend" so from our point of view this wasn't an issue). My friends had to show the security at the place they live that my companion and I were on separate floors and bedrooms well apart. Landlords knowingly letting unmarried Egyptians of opposite sex share a room could be in trouble with the police.

From Sharm to Cairo

On the whole this was a rerun of the outward journey, but there were some differences.

We took the bus from East Delta bus station, prices the same. Departed exactly on time again. The bus was rather more full than on the outward journey. The toilet 'filled up' - apparently someone shoved lots of paper down there. The driver cleared it, then the same guy went to the loo again and it all backed up again. After half way it was not possible for women to use it because of the height of the water in the pan so take full advantage of the single facility for women at the rest stop.

There is a passport check for foreigners before leaving Sinai - this is because foreigners can be on Sinai without a full Egyptian visa, but if you want to leave Sinai you MUST have a visa.

Also note that we ALL had to get off the bus near Suez and get our bags out for a sniffer dog check - presumably for drugs or explosives.

The film 4 Cats was shown again, and another slapstick film called KatKoot Katkoot movie info

The bus reached the edges of Cairo around 445pm but as it as rush hour took about another hour to get to Abbassiya bus station where it terminated (I think this bus station is referred to as International Bus Station in "Cairo Maps". If you are meeting people off a bus coming from Sharm or anywhere, CHECK WHERE IT TERMINATES!!!) There does not appear to be a nearby metro station. You can get buses outside to Ramses and presumably other destinations. Another note - the ladies toilets at Abbassiya bus station are both 'squat' style.

Personally, I would avoid travelling on Sinai by bus at night - the roads are treacherous, many Egyptians drive very fast, without lights and not keeping to one side of the road. Also, the edges of the road as it encroaches in to the desert are not particularly clear.

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