Hello Dear Reader!
On any Google search of “Top Things to Do in Cairo” you will always find that a visit to Khan El Khalili is deemed absolutely necessary for souvenir shopping. And if you’ve never been to a bazarre in the East like that, it is quite enchanting, reminding you of story books like Aladdin and Sindbad with all it’s small, cramped, and winding streets; shops almost on top of each other filled to the brim with scarves, Egyptian Galabeya dresses, lanterns, perfumes, spices, and pyramid paper weights just to name a few treasures! You’ll be beckoned with offers as you walk down the streets, being sized up as the local sellers try to guess your country to speak your language, with high hopes that you’ll come into their shops and buy something.
The description can be quite charming, but I’ll try to paint you a realistic picture of what to expect, with the good and the bad. Let’s start with the positives.
As mentioned at the outset, there is nowhere else where you will find such a wide variety of exotic gifts! THIS is the place to find that piece that will be a conversation starter for years in your living room. They literally have everything you could possibly imagine! Silver, and gold jewelry, houseware, leather goods, shoes, and so much more! (Hey PSSSSSST! Did you know it’s really useful to have a guide going through Khan El Khalili to help you bargain, and protect you from punk sellers? By special request, it can be included in your tour package with us.) If you enjoy bargaining, then you will love this place! If you are patient, and can do it, you can get decent prices on the things that you buy if you are willing to bargain.
If you like music at all, they have live music on the side of the streets with live performers playing traditional Arabic instruments such as the Oud or the Tabla. Oud is the Arabic guitar, and the Tabla is the Arabic drum. This is a really cool experience, but if you interact with them, and request songs, they DEFINITELY expect you to buy them drinks and give tips.
Another positive is that there are some historical sights within Khan El-Khalili itself. They have some mosques from the medieval period that ooze history, and speak of long ago. Even the way the area itself is structured is very archaic and interesting to see. Cramped, and narrow, with many things built with old stone.
Now onto the downside of things that can be quite a surprise for westerners. Probably one thing that is obvious is the fact that the first price you are told will be 3 or 4x the price of what it actually costs. The reasoning on this is because it’s assumed that as a foreigner you are rich, and can afford it. Another reason is that these sellers are all in tough competition with each other to provide for their families. They can be quite……aggressive with their efforts to get you into their shop, and are persistent.
In addition, if you are a person who likes to mind their own business and keep to yourself without much interaction from others, this is absolutely NOT the place for you! You simply will not be allowed in any way NOT to interact with people in a very close context.
My suggestion for dealing with this is to say thank you again and again as you walk by the sellers. Try not to get irritated even though it can be annoying. Here are some phrases to help you in the market:
- “I don’t have any money.” This is one that will make them laugh when they understand you. “Mafeesh faloose.”
- Another one when they are beckoning you into the shop is to say: “I’ll go and come back later.” (whether it’s true or not) “Haleef wageeluck”.
Also you will be treated like a rare, and exotic creature, maybe like a unicorn? You come from a mystical land far, far away and therefore they NEED a picture with you for their friends on Facebook to see their new unicorn friend. So expect small children and teens to mob you for selfies. ( I know, I didn’t believe them either when they told me this, but it is true)
If you have a soft spot for animals, Cairo and Khan El Khalili have many stray, starving cats and dogs that sniff through trash and look sick. It’s very hard to see, but their sad reality for now.
You also have to be careful of scammers who will try to sell something as “real stones” “real alabaster” “real silk” etc. How do we know if it’s real? We don’t.
So there you have it! Those are the pros and cons of Khan El Khalili! I think it’s worth going at least once as long as you know what to expect, and you can definitely get some unusual photos!
Thanks a lot for your time and take care and be safe!