Do you know what a “souk
” is? A souk is a traditional Arab marketplace that you'll find in the Middle East and North Africa. There are even many of them in famous cities like Dubai
, Abu Dhabi, Marrakech
, and more. They're a fascinating part of this region's culture and heritage, one that they've retained since ancient times. As such, shopping in a souk is one of the best things to do in these countries. But when you do, make sure to follow a few tips. You'd do well not to buy anything on your first visit, for instance. It's also important to know what to buy in souks and learn how to haggle properly.
The first thing you really ought to do is to learn Arabic. You don't have to be fluent in it, but learning a bit beyond the basics will help a lot. Don't forget that most, if not all the vendors in a souk are locals. They may have met tons of tourists over the years, but they've never had to speak different languages themselves. Some may speak a few English phrases, but for the most part, they only know Arabic. And so should you too!
Arrive Early in The Morning or Late at Night
Don't underestimate how busy souks can get. Even though there are many souks in Dubai
, for example, each and every one of them still gets crowded. That's why it's better to arrive at the souk either early in the morning or late at night when there are fewer people around. For reference, most souks open at 9:00 am in the morning and close at 21:00 (9:00) p.m., so these are the best times to go there too.
Ask Permission Before Taking Photos
Souks are so traditional that they're often the best places to take pictures. The kind worth posting on a travel inspo Instagram account
. To truly show off the culture in Middle Eastern or North African destinations, taking pictures of souks is your best bet. Not only do they sell authentic antiques, crafts, and delicacies, but they also show the local hustle and bustle of the city. But before taking your camera or phone out, make sure to ask for permission first. It's good manners, after all.
Prepare for Eye Contact
When you go to malls in Dubai
, Abu Dhabi, or practically anywhere else in the world, the sales process begins the moment you talk to the shop assistant or vendor. In souks, however, it begins the moment you lock eyes with the vendor. Even if your eyes simply wandered and stopped when they met theirs, they'll still use it as an opportunity to begin selling their items to you. And in an instance, you're stuck having to haggle or trying to get out of it. So always be careful with your eyes in souks!
As souks are traditional marketplaces in the Middle East and North Africa, regions dominated by the Islamic faith, you need to dress conservatively. Women especially have to be as covered up as possible, even though souks are usually hot and crowded. But they're also usually located in the Medina, the old quarter of cities where people are a lot more conservative and traditional. You don't have to wear a hijab or anything like that, but as much as possible, you should cover your shoulders and avoid wearing mini shorts or skirts.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
Souks are retail labyrinths that'll have you on your feet for as long as possible. There are rarely any benches on site and the bustling energy of the place will have you moving from one stall to the next. So what should you do? Wear comfy flats. No matter what, your feet will get the brunt of all your physical pain in walking around souks. But with comfy flats, you can lessen the degree of pain your feet will inevitably experience.
Don't Expect The Local Price
Don't underestimate these vendors. They know a tourist buyer when they see one! And the moment they do, they'll give you what is commonly considered the “tourist price.” As you'd expect, these prices are considerably higher compared to the prices they'd set for locals. Expect the difference to be double or even triple to their original “local” prices. Don't blame them! After all, this is the retail game! Flea markets in Paris
, food markets in New York, and the like do the same thing.
Get Ready to Haggle
So when you get the “tourist price,” what do you do? Haggle, of course! Haggling is the name of the game, after all. Even when vendors unapologetically sell their items at a much higher price to tourists, they don't expect that you'll just accept it willy-nilly. Use your negotiating skills and haggle your butt off! A good rule of thumb is to start with one-third of the price they give you and work it up to reach an agreeable compromise.
Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
Unfortunately, souks are rife with pickpockets. It's to be expected, considering that these places are often so busy and crowded that they make for the perfect arenas for petty thievery. As such, you'd do well to keep your valuables close to you and to stay aware of your surroundings. Leave your shiny designer accessories in your luxury home
and come dressed as simply as possible. And for bags that are so secure, not even the most experienced pickpocket can rob you!
Keep Calm & Stay Confident
Finally, you should remain as calm and as confident as possible when you explore a traditional souk. The more you look stressed, the more the pickpockets will target you. At the same time, the more the vendors will try to scam you too. Try to keep (or look) as calm as possible so that people will leave you alone. And if you remain confident all throughout, vendors will know not to even attempt to scam you when you go to their stalls.
Shopping in souks are an absolute must when you travel to the most popular destinations in the Middle East or Africa. But before you do, learn these tips to ensure that you'll have a good time and won't get the short end of the deal.