Egypt - Off the beaten track
The wannabe Koh Samui of the Middle East, Dahab is 85km (53mi) north of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Gulf of Aqaba, near the southern tip of Sinai. Dahab was once a sleepy backwater, but these days there are more backpackers than Bedouin, and the town has become something of a lazy layover. There's dirt-cheap accommodation virtually on the beach and inexpensive restaurants and hotels, and the swimming and snorkelling in the Gulf of Aqaba are magnificent. Buses connect Dahab with Sharm el-Sheikh, Cairo and Suez each day.
Centred around the town of Mut, this oasis is nearly 200km (40mi) from Kharga Oasis and more than 250km (155mi) from Farafra Oasis. Mut is a labyrinth of old laneways and mud-brick houses clinging to the slopes of the hill. Atop the hill are the remains of an old citadel that once was the town proper. The views from this hill over the medieval town and the empty backdrop of cliffs, dunes and desert are quite fantastic. There's an old Islamic cemetery near the new town centre, and several hot sulphur springs around the town.
Nearby, Al-Qasr is an ancient little town with much of its traditional architecture still intact. The medieval atmosphere is accentuated by the narrow covered streets (built to provide shelter from the summer sun and desert windstorms) and the animals that roam through them. Many of the houses and buildings have lintels above their front doorways inscribed with the builder's name, the home-owner's name, the date and a passage of the Quran - the earliest of these dates from 924. There are three buses daily from Cairo to Dakhla.
Marsa Alam is a fishing village on Egypt's Red Sea Coast 132km (82mi) from Al-Quseir. It sits on the T-junction between the Red Sea Coast road and the road from Edfu, 230km (142mi) inland on the banks of the Nile. There's really not much here besides an odd-looking shopping arcade, a school and a telephone office. Swimming and snorkelling in the area are magnificent, but you have to be careful - much of this southern coastal region is mined and sometimes there's nothing to indicate the danger. A daily bus from Aswan passes through Marsa Alam.
About 145km (90mi) southwest into the desert is the Tomb of Sayyed al-Shazli, who was an important Sufi leader in the 13th century. His tomb was restored earlier last century, but you may not make it through the checkpoints.
Sidi Abdel Rahman
Sidi Abdel Rahman is a lovely waterfront town on the Mediterranean coast that's free of the hordes of tourists who flock to other Mediterranean towns. Fine white-sand beaches abound along this stretch of coast and it's easy to find your own deserted bit of paradise. The town is a centre for nomadic Bedouin who sometimes congregate at a small village nearby. The government is actively trying to settle these tribespeople and many have traded their mobile lifestyle - living in tents and herding sheep and goats - for government-built houses of concrete. Buses from Alexandria heading for El Alamein can drop you off, but there's not much happening after the early afternoon.