A Souvenir-hunter’s Guide To Sharm-el-Sheik’s Old Market

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Old Market at Sharm El Sheikh

There’s always lots to discover and enjoy wherever you go in Egypt, and the beautiful resort of Sharm El Sheik is no exception. The opportunities its white sandy beaches offer for swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling and other water sports are justly famed, but there’s far more to the resort than that.

You’re spoilt for choice as to where to stay- many major hotel chains run five star establishments in Sharm, the classiest of which may be the 5 star Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh hotel. With its 471 rooms, 12 restaurants, outdoor pools, a water sports centre, kids’ club and even its own shop- Souk at the Hyatt, complete with authentic Bedouin entertainment- it’s tempting to say that you could probably have a great time in Egypt without ever leaving the hotel! But if you did, you’d be missing out on so much else.

Many of the Sinai Peninsula’s major religious and historic landmarks lie close at hand, along with coral reefs and the Ras Mohammed nature reserve. Sharm’s nightlife is also legendary, and available leisure activities range from golf to camel riding. And, of course, there are the town’s shopping facilities, which let you to combine retail therapy with seeking out those all-important gifts for the folks back home and a chance to encounter the local culture- foremost among them, the town’s Old Market.

Sharm El Sheikh has four main shopping areas- Naama Bay, IlMercato, SOHO Square and the Old Market. And it’s the Old Market that’s usually rated as the best- unlike Il Mercato and SOHO Square it hasn’t become too corporatised, while the hassle of the hard sell, though inevitable, isn’t as excessive and as wearing as it can be in Naama Bay.

The Old Market is in easy reach of the Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh. A series of shops, narrow streets and alleyways filled with kiosk outlets, it offers plenty to look at, but you can get around the whole place in about an hour. Painted papyruses, jewellery, vases and water pipes are always popular, as are rugs, silk shawls, perfumes and leather goods. It’s also the place where many of the town’s fish stores are based, so if you enjoy seafood you’ve come to the right place. If it’s your first time there, it can come as a bit of a culture shock, but keeping a few simple tips in mind will reduce the stress and make shopping in the Old Market a fun and memorable experience.

The first and most important thing is to haggle. Don’t be shy about doing this, as it’s standard practice- if anything, shopkeepers are likely to be offended if you don’t! As a general rule of thumb, if a shopkeeper’s asking for 100 LE (Egyptian pounds) for something, you shouldn’t be paying more than 30 or 40 LE.

Sales tactics include asking you to sign their guest book, translate a letter from a relative or write a postcard in English- all ploys to get you in the shop. Just say ‘no thank you’, or ‘la shocran’, and keep walking. Again, you’re unlikely to cause offence- you’re just showing you understand their sales tactics.

In the very, very rare instances the hassle gets extreme, threatening to phone the tourist police is usually enough to deter the most persistent sellers.

So there you have it. Sharm El Sheikh and the charms of the Old Market await you. Happy haggling!

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