Posts Tagged With: Christmas

Long weekend in Phuket

Monday is a national holiday, so Sean and I have been enjoying a three-day weekend together. Contrary to what we expected, we actually spend very little time at the beach here on the island! Take a look at a few snapshots from this weekend to see how we generally relax. (Hint: It largely revolves around food and the dog!)

It hasn’t quite felt like Christmas season even though it’s only three weeks away. That changed when our friend Amanda threw a lovely Christmas party on Friday night. We put on our red shirts, brought some egg nog, and had fun dancing the night away!

Saturday marked a recent trend in Sean’s hobbies which is attending our local ukulele group. It’s held at Anthem Wakepark and a few teachers along with other friends get together and play music. I’m working on learning the cajón but end up playing with the dogs! They’re doing Christmas music next week so I think I’ll be a vocalist.

While it’s not going to win any photography contests, this picture from out the car window as we drove home Saturday night was too good not to post. Half of Phuket feels like a tourist hub, but the backroads, oh the glorious backroads! Just a few water buffalos, storks, and palm trees….

Dinner on Saturday night was at Kruvit Raft House. We’d driven past hundreds of times but never thought to try it out. The restaurant is situated around a small lake and half of it is floating on the lake itself. We chose a bamboo hut and ordered fried rice with crab and mango salad. There were massive chunks of crab which was really surprising. I’d definitely go back!

Sunday morning was pretty rainy, so we didn’t leave the house until noon. We found a noodle shop on our way to the park that was absolutely packed with people. The dry noodle dish in the foreground was my favorite; while I couldn’t identify everything in the bowl, that didn’t stop me from slurping it down!

After filling our bellies, we headed to King Rama IX park. It’s a pretty large park in the center of the island with plenty of paths for walking. Summit liked the dinosaurs. 

With the end of the rainy season finally here I think we’ll be spending more time at the beach. But honestly, I really love the side of Phuket we’ve explored so far!

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The Iceberg of Siem Reap

Siem Reap has more hidden surprises than just her temples. She is a region of quirks—and I don’t mean the sunburnt expats with a pretty lady on their shoulder. At first glance, it seems possible to “do” Angkor Wat in a day, and then be done with Siem Reap. Which is precisely the itinerary that shapes the majority of visitors.

Upon closer inspection, if Siem Reap were an iceberg, the main temple of Angkor Wat would be the tip.

Do I sound pretentious? Probably. But a blog is less interesting without superlatives.

First off, there’s the hidden ruins of Kbal Spean.

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About an hour’s drive out of Siem Reap, you enter the region of Phnom Kulen. You park your car in a forested area, as food vendors compete for your attention. As you walk through the jungle, ropes dangle in your pathway, begging to be climbed.

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It’s a forty-five minute hike up to Kbal Spean, the “river of a thousand lingas”.

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When you arrive, you find a woman sunning herself on a rock. She’s a bit old, but has a great complexion.

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Then you begin to see the lingas. (In case you forgot, a linga is a phallic Hindu symbol for the god Shiva. As these were submerged in a river since the 11th century, you’ll have to use your imagination to get the full linga effect.)

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The river was seen as holy since it flowed into the Tonle Sap lake, passing through the temples of Angkor on its way.  (Note the more clear lingas on the vertical rock nearest the photo.)

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They were carved by hermits who lived in the area. Have you ever read a cooler sentence? They were carved by hermits who lived in the area.

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For the careful—and patient—eye, Siem Reap has much to offer.

IMG_9271While the carvings are the main facet of Kbal Spean, we were drawn to the waterfall.

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And then I went swimming, as one normally does on a warm winter day in December.

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And it felt good. (Photo courtesy of Abby Franks.)

After Kbal Spean, we visited Banteay Srei. 16 miles outside of the main temple complex, it is often overlooked in the main loop.

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They are carved out of red sandstone, which gives them a beautiful color, unique to Banteay Srei.

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Banteay Srei is Khmer for “Citadel of Women”, because it is thought that women did the carvings. People speculate that they are too delicate to have been the hand of a man.
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This was one of Sean’s favorite temples—if not his favorite. What can I say? He is interested in exquisite beauty.

What else did we do in Siem Reap, you ask? What comprises the rest of the iceberg?

1. Fish foot massages.


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Kyle is thinking of installing one in his house back in Kuwait.

IMG_9479Abby isn’t so sure.

2. Pub Street

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3. Real elephants.

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4. Pseudo elephants.

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5. Headless statues.

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6. Eating crickets.

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7. Hidden places of serenity.

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8. Counting Apsara dancers.

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9. Meeting Apsara dancers.

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10. Warrior stances.

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11. Angkor beer at Angkor Wat.

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12. Road trips and street food.

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As I am a keeper of promises, this concludes our trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

Will I go back? Absolutely. Will  it be the same? Never.

That’s why I have to build a school on the banks of Kbal Spean and promote Abby and Kyle to executive directors.

UP NEXT: Ten103 Treehouse on Koh Ta Kiev….

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The Best Of Angkor Wat

IMG_9647A very belated Christmas and a Happy Chinese New Year! Friday, January 31 marks the transition from the year of the Snake to the year of the Horse within the Chinese tradition. The city of Phnom Penh is deserted; everyone is out in the provinces celebrating with their families.

As a consequence, we don’t have school today. In case you were wondering, this is what a day off in Phnom Penh looks like:

8:00-11:00, Drink coffee, blog, plan upcoming trips
11:30, Early lunch at the Russian Market
12:00, Get a massage
2:00, Head back to the Russian Market to get ingredients for dinner
4:00, Go for a swim in our pool
6:00, Dinner at home
8:00, Watch a movie of some sort

This weekend we are also renting bicycles and attempting to visit Silk Island—the real one this time. We also met up with friends for a drink last night; we went to the Irish Pub on the riverside for the first time. I had my first Kilkenny in over a year. Yum!

Anyways, this post is about the best of Angkor Wat. I’m not going to do a “Top Ten”, but I want to tell you what makes Angkor Wat simply spectacular. What makes it the stuff of legends. The reason I am dying to go back.

The trees.

Honestly. The trees in Angkor Wat are the pulse of the ancient temples. They are trees like I have never seen.

Let’s begin.

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They completely envelop the ruins, stretching so high into the sky you have to crane your neck. I cannot believe they can support their height simply on a jumble of old stone.

The most famous temple with astounding trees is Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider Temple. Rember:

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Not going to lie, I might have pretended I was Angelina Jolie a few times. All I was missing was the black spandex and acting skills… right?

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More of Ta Prohm. The trees command the attention of your eyes. I can’t even fathom how they take root.

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Sean pretending he is the one and only Jolie himself.

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And it’s not like there is one famous tree. When you get there, you think to youself, “Oh, that must be THE tree.” Then you walk five feet and see another one. Then you pass through a crumbling archway and see one even greater than the last.
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One reason why I love them so much is that they completely humble the human existence. We are dwarfed in the massive, timeless presence. They have existed since before I was born, and will last long after I am gone. They bring life to dead civilizations. They own the place.
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Some of these photos aren’t even from Ta Prohm. Other temples had trees just as grand. We lost ourselves in wonder countless times.

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This one was in Ta Prohm for sure. The roots have grown so incredibly large that they need contemporary scaffolding.

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The best part is that all of the temples are in protected areas; it feels like you are driving through a national park in the states. The trees dwarf the car everywhere we went, leaving us under a gorgeous canopy.
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Abby and I climbed a hill that was built onto the side of a temple, and got a bird’s eye view of the road—and our car. There were a lot of swampy areas with trees coming straight out of the water.
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Then we found yet another spectacular tree. This one wasn’t even at Ta Prohm, it was at another temple complex.

IMG_9650The trees are not only decorative, but they are functional.

I have one more post devoted to Siem Reap to share with you. Then we head to Cambodia’s coast!

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Christmas At Angkor Wat

Normally people dream of escaping to exotic, distant locations for their winter holidays. Palm trees swaying overhead, an iced drink in their hand, and pathways of foreign land to explore.

We dreamt it. And we didn’t have to board a plane to do it. We played host this year to friends and family who came to visit. We saved Angkor Wat until we had company—it’d be awesome to visit twice, but it’s one of those non-negotiables when you have family passing through, so we figured we’ll be up there more than once.

Our friends Kyle and Abby flew out from Kuwait, where we worked with them last year. Abby taught middle school with me last year, and Kyle teaches in the high school. My dad and sister flew out after the new year, and stayed for January. But that’s too many stories for one blog.

When Abby and Kyle arrived we headed straight up to Siem Reap. I promised Sean three days of temple-touring, and I promised Abby and Kyle an exotic vacation with ample beer, tank tops, and swimming pools. It wasn’t hard to satisfy everyone.

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Our first stop in Siem Reap was Phare, the Cambodian circus. It was amazing! Based out of Battambang, Phare helps kids from poor homes enroll in a fine arts school that teaches them art, dance, music, and the like. If they decide they want to be professional, then they join Phare in Siem Reap, and could even travel to other parts of Cambodia after that. It was like Cirque Du Soleil combined with a great music and storytelling.

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The next morning we headed straight for the temples. It was overcast the three days we were there, but we finally managed a hint of blue sky for a photo in front of Angkor Wat.

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The storytelling walls surrounding the main temple complex. A jumble of arms, legs, and spears. IMG_8961

A baby monkey asks permission to play with his friends. His mother’s stern reply disheartens his eager plans.

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Baby monkey receives consolation from aunt and uncle monkey. He can play with his friends when he gets a little bit older. For now, just entertain the tourists, little guy.

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We climbed all over these temples! This is still in Angkor Wat, the main temple complex.

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Sean imagines he is the great Angkorian king, looking out over his kingdom.

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Kyle doesn’t have to work hard to imagine he is king, he receives worship from the Angkorian goddesses, Abby and Kim. Sean is reduced from Angkorian king to photographer.


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After our game of make-believe, we took a break for lunch. Abby claims these were the best fried noodles she had in Cambodia, and she ate a lot of fried noodles! In the parking lot of Angkor Wat. It was tough to decide which vendor to pick, but we went with the one who said, “I give you half-off on anything on the menu.” You can’t go wrong with a competitive salesperson.

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After Angkor Wat, we drove out to Angkor Thom, which is pretty much the headquarters of the ancient empire. It is a huge complex that stretches nine square kilometers. You can drive your car between towering trees, stop anywhere you like, and climb around ruins.

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Bayon was a temple full of mystique—how many smiling faces can you spot? (Hint: There’s more than you think!)

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After Bayon, we played hopscotch around some temples scattered in a field. Abby’s hopscotch techniques had great form. Maybe I should start ‘temple hopscotch’ as an after-school activity… We’d get to take lots of field trips.

IMG_9123As the sun sunk lower in the sky, the views got more and more beautiful. (Note to self: Always travel with photogenic friends.)

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We are ready to make our next album. We’ve got the picture for the cover right here.

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Angkor Wat is yet another place outside of America that you can literally climb over all of the ruins pretty much undisturbed.

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Sean and Kyle were feeling a bit like our tour guides at this point. Now if only I could get them to talk in cool accents.

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We find a modern-day shrine, and Abby sits pretty. (Did you know it’s sacrilegious to be photographed with your back facing the Buddha? I tried to tell her, but she is a natural-born rebel… Can’t you see it in her eyes?)

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And then we found elephants. And pensive mahouts.

At this point, the sun was setting on our first day, so we headed back into town for dinner and a night out. The next day we got up early and began out next adventure…

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Early morning at East Mebon temple.

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Abby and I playing inside East Mebon. I wonder who used to pass through that doorway…

These pictures all speak for themselves, don’t they? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these have to be multiplied by the thousands of years and stories they contain.

I’ve got one more post about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for you, and then we headed down to the Cambodian coast. I think I could start a business, “Tours By Kim”. I need a catchier name, though. I think I’ll just stick to friends, family, and my husband. They keep my hands pretty full as it is.

Check back soon for more on Angkor Wat!

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The Pyramids

When planning this blog, I thought to myself, “Perhaps I should condense some days in Egypt. I could combine the pyramids with… no, I can’t. It’s the pyramids.”

You really can’t “share” the pyramids with anything else. They need to stand alone in all their glory. We hired a guide and driver to help us see the pyramids, and I am glad we did. We didn’t only see the Great Pyramid, but we saw Giza, Memphis, Saqqara, and Dashur! I used to think that there were only 3 pyramids in Egypt, and they were alone in the desert, far from the city. Little did I know that there are still hundreds which border the city of Cairo, and you can even explore the interior of a few of them!

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Our first stop was the Bent Pyramid. It was built by the Pharaoh Snefreu around 2600 BC. It was the first “true” pyramid. (We will see one pyramid that came earlier, but it was built in a series of ‘steps’, rather than with clear linear sides.)

The reason it is called the “Bent” Pyramid is because, as you can see, the angle of the sides is bent about halfway up. Sneferu most likely wanted it built too steep, and when the builders were constructing it they realized they had to taper it off earlier than anticipated to avoid collapse. To this day, it still retains a lot of the original limestone casing; the pieces that make the sides smooth, not choppy like Lego blocks. Another cool fact? This pyramid has two entrances, not just one!

 

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Here is Emily with the Red Pyramid in the Dashur area. (The Dashur area is where the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid are located.) This is the third largest pyramid in Egypt. It is called the Red Pyramid because when seen from a certain angle and in a certain light, the pinkish limestone appears red to the eye. This pyramid was also built by Sneferu.
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Our lovely guide Mohammed held my camera while we explored the INSIDE of the Red Pyramid! He snapped a few cool photos of us making our way to the entrance. The Red Pyramid is the first successful attempt (in history) at building a smooth-sided pyramid. What was it like inside? Really hot! The heat gets trapped in there. Other than that, it is eerily “perfect”. The angles inside are perfect, the chambers are perfect, the chutes and channels are perfect. It is difficult to fathom that such perfection was achieved 5,000 years ago, and is still “perfect” to this day! I don’t have any photos inside the pyramid, as cameras were prohibited, but with a simple Google search you can see the inside for yourself 🙂

 

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After Dashur we went to the ancient city of Memphis. (No, not in Tennessee.) It was the capital of the Old Kingdom (when the Dashur pyramids were built), and is famous because of all the statues that were found there.  The above photo is my sister and I with the Alabaster Sphinx. Yes, made completely out of alabaster!

 

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Sean and I with a statue of King Rameses II.  He is one of the most well known Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. He is seen here wearing the false beard, signifying royalty, with his left foot forward, also a stance of the royals.

 

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Inside the museum at Memphis is a giant statue of Rameses II. It is around 10 meters long, and is carved out of limestone. My favorite cool fact about this one is all of the cartouches he had carved on it. A cartouche is an Egyptian hieroglyph; you can see one on Rameses’ shoulder in the above picture. A cartouche is an oval with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the name inside the oval is royalty.

So, when Rameses II had this statue built, he had at least ten of his own cartouches carved into he statue. Why would he have it carved so many times you ask, when once would have clued us in just as well 5,000 years later? Well, archaeologists found hundreds of cartouches of other Pharoahs all over Egypt that Rameses had defaced and replaced his own name on. Therefore, when he had his own statues made, he ensured that nobody like himself could cover up his name in the future! What audacity!

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Here is the Step Pyramid, the oldest pyramid in all of Egypt. It was built for the Pharoah Djoser by the famous architect Imhotep. If you’ve seen the film The Mummy, then you know that the whole movie was based around Imhotep himself. While he was a famous, historically-significant architect, his body remains undiscovered, which makes him the perfect candidate for a mysterious blockbuster film…

Anyways, the Step Pyramid was the first pyramid of Egypt. Before pyramids, simple “mastabas” were built. A mastaba is a flat-roofed structure with sloping sides. Well, Imhotep began stacking mastabas and adding more to the layers as he went along, and ended up with the first pyramid ever.

The tunnels beneath this pyramid for a maze about three and a half miles long. Wow.

 

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Imhotep was also famous for building the first columns ever in history. Sean loved this fact, seeing as he is has a major in ancient Greece and Rome, the “kings” of the columns. Here we were in Egypt, looking at the birth of the first columns ever!

The funny thing was that when Imhotep had these columns built, he didn’t believe they could stand on their own, so he had a small brick “supporting wall” for each column. As we now know, those could have been removed and the columns would have functioned just as well. Pretty neat!

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After all of this build up, we finally visited the Great Pyramid of Giza. One of the Seven Wonders of the World.  The Great Pyramid of Giza was built for the Pharoah Khufu (Cheops) around 2560 BC.  It is aligned perfectly with true North, and scientists to this day still cannot replicate the engineering that took place to build such a monument.

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The view looking out over Cairo from the steps of the Great Pyramid. (It was so sad to see such a small amount of tourists, on Christmas day!)

IMG_3717This is a shot of the Grand Gallery inside the Great Pyramid. Can you believe the engineering that had to have taken place for this to work?! The stones are laid at a slightly steeper angle with each layer starting up from the floor, so each stone fits into a perfect slot cut in the roof of the gallery. Each block supports the others around it, not only by the base of the block alone.  I can’t believe they were able to build such cavernous interiors which still exist today!

Once you walked through the Grand Gallery, you were inside the King’s Chamber. It is entirely faced with granite, and the original sarcophagus is still inside.

IMG_3731Sean and I on Christmas day, looking out over the Pyramids of Giza.



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This boat was what blew my mind the most out of everything we saw that day. No joke. This is called the Solar Boat, and was discovered buried next to the Pyramids of Giza in the 1950’s. They dug up a pieces of wood perfectly inscribed with numbers for reassembling the boat  – imagine “attach piece 145 A to 145 B”.

After fourteen years, they had reassembled a cedar-wood boat 143 feet long.

The cedar wood was brought from Lebanon almost 5,000 years ago when the boat was first built.

That’s right. You’re looking at a five-thousand year old boat. I can’t believe it either.

It is called the Solar Boat because it was built for Khufu in the afterlife. When the Pharaoh died, he was going to sail through the sky with the sun, thus the need for the Solar Boat.

Further, they tested the wood while they were excavating, and determined that it had been, at one point immersed in water. Therefore, they can conclude that the boat was built for Khufu’s death, then sailed from Cairo (Memphis) to Aswan, the city of the dead and then back again. Aswan is the city of the dead because it is the home to the god Osiris, the god of the dead. I love this stuff.

 

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Lastly, we finished our day with the sun setting over the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids. It was a perfect day. I think I may quit my job and go into Egyptology…

Stay tuned! There is still lots more of Egypt to discover!

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