Up the Nile: Luxury Cruise

Up the Nile: Luxury Cruise

There are many kinds of vacations—the relaxing island vacation, the adventutuous trip up the mountains of Peru, the majestic splendor of old churches throughout Europe, and then there is the Middle East. A term coined in the 1850s by a British India official, it is composed of 18 countries, 60+ languages, and nearly four million people. It is the birthplace of most of the world’s religions and “has been a major center of world affairs; a strategically, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously sensitive area.”

So, let’s just say, it’s not Hawaii.

Our journey began in Cairo and ended in Russia. An overnight trip to Aswan by overnight train was a unique experience. Waking early in the morning, a rattling train is now alongside the Nile River, a country with a long history that hasn’t seen, in these parts, enormous change. Men still pull carts with cattle, and horses carry cane sugar. In one brief moment, a dead cow carcass can be seen in a small pond by the side of the road. Time has stood still. Aswan is a smaller version of Cairo. To be sure, there is a McDonalds, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and likely any day, a Starbucks, but for now, it is a popular city that sits on the Nile with a substantial amount of river boats. A four-night Nile cruise provided by Sanctuary Tours put us on Boat IV (there are four cruises), which begins in Aswan and ends in Luxor. It is a luxury tour—everything is provided, including all meals, tour guides, and entertainment. This particular cruise is an ode to the Art Deco style with its lavish interiors. It is an approximate 112-mile journey that makes numerous stops along the Nile.

4 nights/5 days, the Nile River Cruise from Aswan to Luxor!

“Wait, that long?” you might wonder, considering the distance between those two ancient cities is only about 150 miles. Well, there is so much to see at both the departing port of Aswan and the arrival port of Luxor that the boat stays docked for about 36 hours in both cities while you get to see cultural and archaeological treasures. After all, Egypt is home to one-third of the world’s antiquities, while Luxor is referred to as the world’s greatest open-air museum.

“Boat, Sanctuary Boat IV.” 

The Nile cruise was luxurious and personal. As soon as we boarded, the host, Aylian, and the entire staff came to greet us as we boarded. We were offered drinks, making us feel welcome and in good hands. Each staff member always paid attention to our personal needs, smiling and bowing. Polite and friendly. (The host, Aylian Liahlioud) The first activity of the cruise was an Egyptian Felucca (a typical Egyptian sail boat) as we sailed around Elephantine Island, Lord Kitchener’s Botanical Gardens, and the Agha Khan Mausoleum. This is a wind-driven boat. It is mostly silent until the boat crew sings a native folk song. The ruins on the Nile river bank and the crystal blue no-wave flat water on the Nile are surreal.


Going up the Nile, from Aswan to Com Ombo, Eduf, Esna, and Luxor, our guide, a trained Egyptologist, took us to many temples and tombs and explained the histories and meanings of everything we encountered. If you are expecting to see a series of pyramids along the Nile like I was, you will be in shock because there were none! Pyramids are in the Cairo/Giza area, built with sole Egyptians’s architectural products made possible by their own technology and wisdom, with of course the aliens’ help. On the other hand, the ruins in Upper Nile were built with Greek and Roman influences, a unique mix of Arabian, Islamic, and Mediterranean influences. OK, in other words, Greece and the Roman Empire invaded Egypt, banned any more pyramid-making, and built what they liked.

Just like many other places, the most popular and sacred places are prohibited from taking pictures. In these tombs, you need to buy an extra photo ticket (USD $10). Only with that are you allowed to take photos. Our tour group decided that not all eight of us needed to buy it. Only one person in the group should take photos, and we can call and share the photos. I’d say it’s a smart plan. However, inside the very long tomb, where virtually no one is, one would attempt to take some pictures. I know I was. And I took some pictures. And some videos. And some more. Then I got caught by the guard and was asked to show him the photo ticket. I had to lie for my life. I said I wasn’t taking photos and was just texting. Then he took my phone and showed me all the pictures I took. That was the end of my life. I would spend the rest of my life in a corrupt Egyptian jail where even the American consulate couldn’t barge in. I might as well take my life here in the tomb and lie dead next to the mummy. Then, my fellow traveler, an Egyptian lady, came along and found me in trouble. She started to talk Egyptian with the guard, probably tipped him off, and in the end, I was released. She was an Egyptian miracle! When I thanked her, she had these sad, disappointing eyes full of shame. I carry those shaming eyes in my heart every day so that I don’t cheat the system and live an honest life with a humble spirit.

On the boat, there was always something happening. They had an Egyptian cooking class, tea time before dinner every day, movie night (Death on the Nile, of course) a dress-like-an- Egyptian party, and opportunities to mingle with your fellow boat travelers. I especially enjoyed the disco night, dancing with other travelers, all while in costume.

Fellow Travelers

So much of travel is about the people you meet—and on this cruise, we met many people from many lands. An Egyptian oil queen, A Brazilian Opera singer, and Indian family from England with a son who would perform the musical  song from “Hamilton” on demand.

Looking back— this may well be the trip, so far, of a lifetime. There was a moment in Caro at the Giza Pyramid Complex where if one stood very still, listened intently, (hard to do with all the tourists, guide, and traffic) you sensed the history, felt some connection to history—more than Europe, more than Asian, a sense of history well-preserved and stunningly unique.