There is an old, historic shopping area of Jeddah called Al Balad where you can wander through old buildings and shops full of hookahs, traditional dress, and jewelry. It's a fun place to go when the weather is nice because other than the shops, it's mostly outdoors, so as you can imagine in the height of summer, it can get really hot - even at night.
In keeping with the late night Arab culture, the place gets increasingly busy as the evening goes on, so even if you aren't a night owl, it's best to go at night. The earlier you go, the more likely you'll find shops and restaurants closed. Plus there's just more to see and do at night.
The few times I've been to Al Balad have mostly been for sightseeing and the atmosphere, but people go there for shopping so I'm told. I've never been to any of the gold shops in the area, but it's apparently a good place to buy gold, and there are textile shops at every turn. The atmosphere is fun, and if you're learning Arabic, it's a good place to practice speaking it.
We recently went to Al Balad with some friends who were getting ready to return home, and one of them wanted to purchase a thobe (the traditional Arab garb for men). This is a great place to do that as you can find tons of shops selling all the pieces you need to make the full ensemble - the white thobe, the red and white checkered shemagh, and the black egal that goes on top. You can purchase ready-made thobes or you can have them tailor-made, but regardless, you have lots of choices when it comes to purchasing everything you need.
Since our friend was purchasing one, Eric decided that he wanted to get a thobe to have on hand for the rare occasion he might have to wear it. It was quite an entertaining shopping experience.
Not really having any idea which shop to go to, we just picked one. The guys walked in and explained what they wanted. The men in the store were really excited to help them. They got them all set up, and made sure they had everything they needed.
The funniest part was the stir they caused outside the shop. The shop didn't have a door, so it was open to the public. People stopped and took pictures of the guys trying on their thobes, and they offered their sincere comments about how good the guys looked. I know they were amused that these two blonde guys were purchasing traditional dress, but they were really nice and genuinely pleased by what they saw.
As we left the shop, the guys kept the thobes on, and a number of people stopped to take pictures with them. An older man and his granddaughter stopped to ask us where we are from, and then he welcomed us to his country.
Though we certainly don't blend in when we go out, it's not every day that many people talk to us. But on this particular occasion, the guys attracted a lot of attention, and it was a really entertaining experience.
What do you think? They look comfortable, right?