We rolled out of bed at 3:30am, threw on some clothes and stumbled into the lobby. Our driver eventually arrived, late, at 4:45am. We were loaded tightly with other passengers in a van for a short drive down to a passenger boat. We traversed the Nile just to jump into another van on the other side, eventually arriving at the launch site.
A mere 12 hours earlier we had no idea that we would be waking up before dawn. However, our guide from Ramasside Tours presented us with an opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. We had considered doing a hot air balloon ride in Tanzania, but the cost was too prohibitive ($675 per person). The experience in Egypt was offered to us for $80 per person through Sinbad Hot Air Balloons, so it was well within our price range and something we had to consider.
The difference between $80 and $675 for the same activity was a little worrisome. How were they able to offer this to us at such a low price? Were they cutting corners with regards to safety? Are there any regulations that the hot air balloon operators had to comply with that maybe they were overlooking in an effort to save money? These thoughts passed through our heads while deciding what to do. Ultimately we put our faith in our tour company and decided they wouldn’t put us in a potentially dangerous situation. We jumped at the opportunity and said we would gladly take lots of photos and share them wherever we could!
Soon after arriving at the launch site we were gathered into a group of ~20 people by our captain who attempted a safety briefing. He delivered the briefing in English, however, we were the only two in our group who spoke English! The others spoke Mandarin and their interpreter was doing a poor job of capturing their attention and conveying the seriousness of the captain’s instruction. Overly frustrated, the captain eventually pulled the two of us aside and gave us a private set of instructions while the interpreter did his best with the rest of the group. We assume in other countries it is of paramount importance that all passengers are aware of the safety instructions…
In any case, we waited patiently as many other balloons took off before ours — which was fine because it was fun to watch. Once our balloon was fully inflated we hopped on board and the captain made final adjustments before takeoff.
And we were off! The ascent was slow and steady and we gradually climbed higher and higher. The heat from the fire was burning Dax’s head to the point where he had to put his hood on. Nobody else seemed to be bothered by this, but he was a good foot taller than most on board so we’ll chalk it up to his height and not his balding head…
As we rose higher, the first recognizable site we could see was the Temple of Hatshepsut, and just to the left of that, the Valley of the Kings (we visited those two sites — up close — later in the day, which we discuss below).
The experience of floating through the sky via balloon in a basket was kind of surreal. Dax looked over the side a few times and felt like he was going to lose his balance and fall out. He would instantly pull back and make sure he had a tight grip on the basket. Realistically there was no real danger of falling out, but being up so high in the open air without being strapped in was a different kind of sensation. Definitely a unique experience, and an absolute blast at that!
Our total time spent in the air was approximately 30 minutes, and during that time we were privy to some pretty incredible views.
We began our descent, and all around us the other balloons were in various stages of flight. Some had landed already, some were still high in the sky, and others were hovering over the ground like us, trying to find a suitable spot to land.
As we prepared to touch down, a small army of men chased us into the field. They all pitched in to help stabilize and land the basket. As if orchestrated, they quickly deflated the balloon, rolled it up and packed it away. Our group then walked from the landing site out to the road where our van was waiting to pick us up. An absolutely incredible experience!!
Valley of the Kings
After our hot air balloon ride, we met back up with our guide who took us in for a ground-level view of the Valley of the Kings — an area where former Kings of Egypt were buried in their enormous and elaborately designed tombs. He told us that as soon as a new King was crowned, work would begin on his tomb in the Valley. This lead to some tombs being more intricate than others based on how long the King lived.
There was a 3D model of the Valley on display at the entrance that resembled a massive ant colony. There were long, intricate corridors leading underground to the main burial room for each tomb. These corridors had paintings covering the walls and ceilings, each one more beautiful than the next. Unfortunately there were no pictures allowed in the Valley — and in fact we saw two women getting in trouble for taking some photos in one of the tombs — but we did purchase a CD of images so we’ll try and supplement with those.
The tickets we purchased allowed us to go inside three of the tombs — all of which were incredible! The most intricate of the three had to be the last one we went in — the tomb of Seti I. When we entered the tomb we walked down the long corridor. The walls were covered on all sides with intricate, ancient carvings still displaying their original and vibrant colors. The corridor opened up to a couple of side chambers along the way, and eventually fed in to the burial chamber. The painstaking amount of work put in to these burial sites was incredible, and really shows how strongly the Egyptians believed in the afterlife (at least when it came to their Kings).
Temple of Hatshepsut
We left the Valley and drove a short distance to the Temple of Hatshepsut. Her temple was different from most others for a couple reasons. First, that it was a temple for a woman. Second, that it was set into the side of a mountain opposite the Valley of the Kings. It was Hatshepsut’s plan to build a tunnel connecting her temple with her tomb. Unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition — but that doesn’t detract from the awesomeness of the temple. As with the tombs in the Valley, this temple also had some beautifully preserved, colored carvings on display.
Touring the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Hatshepsut was an amazing experience — both from above and below. Seeing the two from the hot air balloon gave us great context of the size and scope of the area. Walking through the tombs underground provided another unique perspective. We left with a tremendous appreciation for the time spent constructing each and every tomb in the Valley, as well as the grandiose nature of Hatshepsut’s Temple.
We will most likely never have the opportunity to ride in a hot air balloon for $80 again — especially not one with a view like we had in Egypt. We are so grateful that the opportunity was presented to us by Ramasside Tours and that we were able to take advantage of it, all while feeling safe and secure. It was a once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget!
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