Egypt is a real Aladdin's Cave for the bargain hunter, and especially since the recent depreciation of the Egyptian pound against the Dollar, the Euro and the British pound. However you won't gain any benefit if you are easily intimidated or persuaded by either outright hassle from street vendors or the more subtle, but financially lethal, charm of the skilled shop salesmen.
Always say "you'll come back" just to allow yourself time to think. Whatever the shopkeeper says, it's unlikely to be a "once in a lifetime opportunity" and if he shouts after you "Mr Come Back never comes back" just laugh politely. He's trying to make you feel guilty - it's all part and parcel of his sales skills.
Also don't accept free drinks or food if it's likely to make you feel obliged to buy something and don't enter a shop on the pretext of any complicated story, such as helping to translate a letter - it's usually part of a ruse to turn you into a captive customer.
Please bear in mind that in the hotels the shops will generally charge a lot more than in the towns. This is partly because they often have a monopolistic position with no competition - unlike other resorts, such as Sharm El Sheikh, there are few shops on the roads outside the hotels in Marsa Alam - and also because the hotel shops usually have to pay a very high rent to get such a privileged trading location whereas in the towns, with so much competition, shop rents are usually much lower.
A good idea is to ask Steven's Limousine Company to arrange for a trip to either El Quseir - the best local town for shopping - or to Luxor, home of the fabled Valley of the Kings, where there is a vast market both in souvenirs and local products.
And if you can afford the time and the air fare Cairo's Khan Al Khalili souk is an antique hunter's heaven, providing you know how to distinguish fake reproductions from genuine oriental antiques.
The discerning shopper can find plenty of opportunities - such as wonderful wood and metal chests and beautifully inlaid wooden backgammon sets. Unless you are experienced always seek advice first. For further information about any of these trips email Steven on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone Steven on +20 1010 4545 98 .
As you probably know, Egypt is the home of haggling but don't let that put you off. You can seek advice from someone you trust about the value of something or set yourself a price that would be the maximum you would be prepared to pay and start bargaining from a much lower price. Don't worry about the shopkeeper pretending to be offended and don't believe any rules about half the asking price being the correct value - the salesmen rarely work to such fixed formulas.
LOCAL (NON-SOUVENIR) MARKETS
Probably the most interesting fruit and vegetable market is the Friday market in El Quseir when the local Ababda bedouin come in to town. You can also try the small permanent souk dealing in fruit, vegetables and all manner of household items which lies hidden behind Marsa Alam's main street. Just ask for the souk. "Feyn el souk ?" "Where is the market ?" For advice on either market contact Steven at email@example.com or telephone Steven on +20 1010 4545 98.
WHAT TO BUY
ALABASTER ORNAMENTS - This is a traditional hard-wearing material used to make Pharaonic statues and figurine souvenirs. It is difficult to break and a shopkeeper may even drop one on the floor to prove that its' quality is genuine. Some shops import cheaper plaster souvenirs - often from China.
BOTTLES OF COLOURED SAND WITH PICTURES - You'll be amazed how the traders manage to make pictures inside bottles using dyed sand. This is a great novelty gift but don't pay too much as it doesn't take long to make one.
JEWELLERY - When bought carefully there are some bargains - especially of genuine antique pieces in Cairo. But be careful that you are buying genuine items of the correct quality. When buying gold a seller might insist it is 18 ct but it might actually be of inferior quality.
LEATHER GOODS - There are lot of bargain priced leather bags, belts, shoes and wallets. Some of them imprinted with tribal patterns but beware many fake designer labels.
PAPYRUS - The world's first writing material - It's light and reasonably easily to transport and framed on your wall at home can be a great way to remember your holiday. There's a great choice of scenes from Pharaonic legends and gods to Nile valley scenes. Beware however that some shops sell papyrus prints which have been imported from China and others sell prints made on banana leaf which doesn't last as well as genuine papyrus.
PERFUMES AND OILS - Egypt, home of the jasmine flower, has long been famous for its' perfumes - but today the buyer has to be especially cautious as some traders mix parafin and other items to "stretch out" their perfume supplies. Perfume salesmen are by reputation highly skilled and will often make a great spectacle of showing you how a tiny drop of perfume will sink intact to the bottom of a glass of water and other similarly impressive displays. However if you bargain well you can certainly get a good bargain. Just don't pay too much and be aware of any customs limitations in your country.
SHISHAS - otherwise known as the hubbly bubbly or waterpipe - you will see them used extensively in Egyptian coffee houses and cafes - often with the alluring smell of fruit favoured tobacco drifting from them. They are much cheaper to buy in Egypt than in Europe if you get them at the right price but remember they are very fragile and need a lot of protection when being transported.
T-SHIRTS - Much of it imported from China and very cheap although prices tend to be marked up in hotels. Often with humorous slogans and often pretending to be designer brands or authentic football club shirts. Normally easy to recognize the fakes.
SILLY STUFF FROM BRITAIN - Are you British and crazy about HP sauce, "Yorkshire" tea or marmite ? - then you need to make a trip to Arkwright's Gourmet Food in Luxor. None of it is cheap and, although this is probably the most likely place to find such items, I'm not guaranteeing that you'll necessarily find them in stock.