For those who get bored by the large and modern malls that are all over Riyadh, I recommend to pay a visit to the Suq (pronounced souk). It’s a mostly open market place with either several market stands or small shops that stand right next to each other. These little shops make me think of the ones I saw in Kosovo. At least just a little bit.
There are even local women, sitting next to some stores, selling some small things like toys for kids and what I call Saudi Arabia fan articles. These are usually Saudi flags, Saudi badges, hats etc. Very lovely if you ask me.
So basically, on a suq you can find pretty much everything from oriental perfumes to old silver jewelery, to Oriental furniture, to abayas. And sometimes you may even find Arabic sweets.
As opposed to the shopping malls, on a suq you have to bargain over the price of an object, which is also true for jewelery stores even outside of the souqs.
Today I went to the Kuwaiti Souq in Riyadh, which is not far away from the ministry of water and electricity to get me a new abaya.
If you are a woman and are looking for a new abaya, the suq is just the right place for you to go. Based on my experience you may visit a suq on your own as a woman and not necessarily need to bring a male guardian with you while walking around. However, make sure that you do have a driver waiting for you in the parking lot and beware that some suqs are for men only. Also very important: If you go to a suq, put on a headscarf, since there are mostly locals around. You don’t have to cover your face entirely or put on the hijab like you may have seen Turkish women do it but just cover your hair with it as well as you can. For your own safety.
There were abaya stores pretty much everywhere and surprisingly these things seem to be sold mostly by men.
The image of the abaya seems to have changed over the last twenty years. Twenty years ago, as I have been told, abayas were simply black and if there were any decorations on them, they were black, too. Today however, there are some very pretty abayas. There are some with different colored stones and patterns made with different material. Who said that black has to be depressing and boring?
Depending on into which store you go and most likely depending on whether you have a man with you or not, the price of an abaya starts somewhere at 250 Saudi Riyals, which is something like €50. You then have the chance to bargain with the salesman and if you are lucky you can bring the price down quite a bit.
When I picked this gorgeous thing today,
the initial price was 310 Saudi Riyals. My mom and me managed to get it down to SR 280 for me. For some reason I got a bigger discount than my mother did. I wonder why that is but I guess that business is something I will never fully understand.
The people in the store were quite friendly which surprised me after what I have read about the treatment of women in the kingdom before I moved there. Surely, the only reason why the salesmen are being friendly is because they want to make money but I think this is quite an advancement for this kind of society.
If you try on an abaya and it happens to be too long for you, in most stores the salesmen will adjust the length for you without extra charges. Even exchanging it seems to be no problem at all. I had to come back later and get me a bigger size. The European size 36 or S corresponds to a 56 in Saudi Arabia.
As I came back to the store and asked to change my abaya from a 54 to a 56, it worked out without any trouble and without any extra bargaining.
So for the cultural shopping experience, I can only recommend to visit some of the suqs here in Riyadh. It is way more interesting and (if you are a skilled bargainer) less expensive than in the shopping malls and you can even find some very unique things at some of the stands.