Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cairo - Shopping

There are a lot of places where you can go shopping and a lot of stuff to shop for in Egypt.
Aside from the usual papyrus, perfume and miniature pyramids and statues, they also have pretty patchwork (leather or fabric), crystals (at al-Asfour) and costume jewellery (silver or otherwise). Their carpets are not as famous nor elaborate as those found in Turkey and Iran, but if you like simple beduoin artwork, you might like them. Egypt is also famous for its cotton, but somehow most of the cottonwear I found at the every day markets were made in india.. I wanted to check out the linens, but instead of quality cotton, I found they were made of cheaper synthetic material, and was made in china. Perhaps I did not shop at the right places for these items?
Anways, here were the places I did manage to shop/browse at and the stuff I found there:

Khan El-Khalili

Khan el Khalili is a huge maze of shops. If you do not have a chance to shop anywhere else, I would suggest that you do all your souviner shopping here. Most shops sell almost the same stuff, so use that to your advantage by comparing prices and bargaining.
Bargaining is a must! They usually start with a ridiculously high price, so you have to start your bargain with a ridiculously low one and move up to a price which you feel is reasonable. Be firm, and don't be afraid to walk away if you don't get what you want. Most of the time, the guy would offer to lower the price for you if he sees you walking away. Be polite when you decline, say "La, Shukran" (No, Thankyou).
Don't rush yourself, be prepared to spend at least 2 hours in Khan El-Khalili, first browsing around and looking at the amazing architecture, then comparing prices and bargaining.
Don't be afraid to venture into small alleyways. You might just be rewarded by a coppersmith working on his wares. Or, you might encounter a group of art students making sketches of the archways and shopfronts.
Try to remember corners and junctions, so that you dont get lost.

What to buy
Copperware - price ranges between LE100 to LE500, depending on size and workmanship. Multi-colored ones may cause more. Make sure to check whether they are really handmade (the coppersmith actually hammer multicolored metals on the plate) or just printed. you can tell the difference.
Leather patchwork poufs - they may start the price at LE250 each, but I managed to get mine for LE85 coz I bought two. Check to see if they are really leather (The smell would be a dead giveaway).
Silver trinkets - keychains, stuff to hang on your door knob. Price between LE5 to LE20

granite/marble/glass items - from statuettes to mini pyramids. If that is your thing.. i'm not sure about price coz we didnt buy any.
Them hanging copper lights - we couldnt figure out how to bring them back, so we didnt buy any and didnt even bother to ask.
Miniature gambus - small, fat bodied traditional guitars. i dont know the price.
Sheesha pipes - they are really pretty and they have lots of different designs. You just have to figure out how to carry them home.
What not to buy
Pashmina shawls - They come from India, and look like the same stuff sold in Khobar, and get this , on the streetmarkets in Italy. If you still want them, make sure it's at most LE30, because they are SR25 over here.
T-shirts - the ones we bought had such a stiff collar that we couldnt even get Izani's head through! Buy these at the mall, or check the elasticity of the collars.
Papyrus - be aware that some papyrus sold here are actually made of banana fibre and not really papyrus. You can tell real papyrus by the finer grain, softer feel and its sturdiness (does not crack, break or peel off that easily). Guidebooks suggest going to Dr. Ragab's Papyrus Institute, but because the institute is a little out of the way for me, I just bought mine at one of the many stores in downtown Cairo. But again, bargain like crazy and don't back down. I got mine for 20% of its original price.

Tentmaker's Market

The Tentmaker's Market is just a small row of shops and they all sell the same things - fabric patchwork and tents.
The fabric patchwork are amazing! You can also see some men sewing these patchwork by hand in their shops. Keep this in mind when you are bargaining. I felt a little bad about suggesting a lower price for these items because I knew it took a lot of effort to make it. Once you've settled for a price though, be content, because you have just bought a handmade heritage item, made 100% in Egypt by egyptians, and they are simply works of art.
Here, you can also buy tents of all shapes and sizes. The normal tents are really huge and you can't possibly fit them in your suitcase, so they have tents that are 1metre by 1 metre (perfect for kids, LE250), and they also have miniature ones, really small (for army action figures, LE20), medium (for barbie dolls, LE30) and large (for teddie bears, LE40). These tents are made of plain canvas, with trimmings of multicolored fabric.

Sharia Muizz Li-Din Allah

This street starts from Al-Ghouri Complex and ends at the Tentmaker's Market. The stalls along this street sells clothes and bed and table linens. It's almost like a pasar malam, looking at the quality of the items, but they also have quite nice abayas. Abayas here have elaborate embellishments of colorful and glittery embroidery or sequins, and with the most expensive ones around LE200 (About SR150), it is quite a bargain.
Also along this street we found a shop that makes and sells fez, something that you dont see worn that much in egypt. The Fez were made popular during the turkish Khedive administration and most stereotypes of egyptians are potrayed with a fez on their heads (think old P.Ramlee movies). Nowadays it is very difficult to see anybody wearing the fez and is mostly sold as souviners. Ilham bought one for LE10. ;)

Lehnert and Landrock
This is my favourite bookstore in Cairo. There is a branch right in front of the Egyptian Museum (You can't miss it, it has a statue of Anubis, the god with the head of a jackal, at its doorstep), and there is another branch in Sherif Street, closer to the Windsor Hotel (This one is pretty easy to miss among the numerous other small stores on this busy street). The branch near the museum is understandably busier than the one on Sherif Street, so I prefer the latter coz I can browse with ease.
This bookstore sells lots of postcards and pictures of Egypt. It also sells books and prints of lithographs and sketches of Egypt. What they are most famous for are the collection of photographs taken between 1905 till 1925 by the German Rudolf Franz Lehnert. He established the bookshop in Cairo together with Ernst Heinrich Landrock in 1924 and it is still revered by egyptians and foreigners alike till today. Some photographs are sold in tasteful frames (Prices start from LE50), but they also sell reprints in postcard size.
Be prepared to spend at least an hour to go through all the postcards, prints and pictures. They are not really categorized and may be overwhelming at first, but when you find one that you really like, you'll see that it's all worth it, because you wont find them at the other souviner shops.
We bought a few prints of watercolor and ink drawings of mosques and khan el khalili here.

Whatever you do, do not buy souviners at the airport, coz they are priced in US dollars and are waaaay more expensive than the ones sold outside.

More (and clearer) pictures on flickr.


  1. Salam Elisa, your photo shots turn out very well. Can you tell me what kind of camera you are using and how much it cost you.

    Like I have said before you should keep your travel stories and I can introduce you to a publisher so you can publish your travels.

  2. Mak teh,
    We are using a Nikon D40, cost about 2k+. Mahal amat, but very very worth it, when you look at the quality of the pictures, and it's flexibility (can change settings based on the situation to get the best shots). Ini once in a lifetime purchase lah ni.. dah tak mampu nak beli lagi :)

    I am so segan about publishing my travel stories, sebab, bukan berjalan kemana pun... *malu*

  3. seronoknya pergi shopping. Tapi macam kena spend banyak aje tu..
    More or less dah dapat idea about the price, next time kalau neeza pergi, boleh lah bargain gitu jugak..

    Neeza selalu bargain 1/2 dulu.. hehehee. tapi of courselah tak dapat kan..

  4. Neeza,

    Actually tak beli and spend banyak pun. Sebab exchange rate was LE15 = SR10, so bila convert it was not that expensive. Banyak benda yang I tulis, I tak beli pun.. I cuma bought a few items yang senang bawak because Taufik malas fikir about packing and bawak banyak bags.

    Eh rugi tau if you start at 1/2 price! With the papyrus, I started at 5% of the original price, pastu tawar2 sampai the guy turun to 20% of the original price. Can you imagine how much I rugi if I start at 50%?
    Tapi tengok barang lah kan.. handmade things macam patchwork and tembaga tu, sebab you tengok dia buat sendiri and how mmetek it is, jadi tak sampai hati nak tawar murah sangat.
    And kalau shopping ngan Taufik, memang senang nak dpt harga murah, sebab dia akan buat muka tak suka and cakap tak nak tak nak tak nak... kekadang sampai orang pegang tangan dia begging suruh beli.
    I pulak, memang terrer berlakun buat muka blurr dan blank... ha ha.