If you're the kind of traveller who saves extra space for holiday purchases - or even dumps old clothes and toiletries to make room for impulse buys - you'll want to check out some of these unique shopping experiences from around the world. From carpets in Turkmenistan to jewelry in Dubai, we've rounded up some of the best shopping holidays from Rough Guides' Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth. Start saving now...
Shopping at the mother of all markets, China
They call it the “Mother of all Markets”, and so they should: every week, 100,000 nomads, villagers and traders from all over Central Asia converge on Kashgar, the last sizeable place you’ll come to in China if you’re heading northwest along the ancient Silk Road. They’re here to take part in the Yekshenba Bazaar, the Sunday Market, which fills the teahouses and dusty lanes of this Muslim city with a blur of noise and smells that went out of fashion elsewhere in the world after the Middle Ages.
The heart of the market is a trampled area to the east of the city, where customers and traders haggle with melodramatic flair over the merits of horses, sheep, camels and donkeys. Beyond all this horse trading is the covered market, a maze of shaded stalls better-stocked than a Western shopping mall, whose owners sip tea, chat with their friends, and do their best to catch your eye so that they can beckon you over. They are masters of soft sell; each in their friendly, persuasive way makes it hard to escape without buying something.
Kashgar’s Yekshenba Bazaar takes place every Sunday about 2km from the city centre off Ayziret Lu.
Shopping in the City of Gold, United Arab Emirates
Dubai’s nickname, the “City of Gold”, is well earned: gold jewellery is sold here at some of the world’s most competitive prices, and shopping among the constant flow of customers, many here for their marriage dowries, is an exceptional experience.
The Gold Souk is a fascinating warren of tiny shops and stalls clustered together in the old quarter of Deira. Visit in the cool of early evening when the souk is at its best, with lights blazing and window-shoppers out in force. Every corner is crammed with jewellery of every style and variety; spotlights pick out choice pieces and racks holding dozens of sparkling gold bangles and chains dazzle the eye.
Buying is a cagey but good-natured process: treat it as the chance to have a friendly chat with the shopkeeper, talking about family, work, life – anything but the item you’ve got your eye on. When the time comes to discuss money, bear in mind that the gold price fluctuates daily – and every shopkeeper in the souk knows the current price to several decimal places. It takes a cool head, amidst all that glittering gold, not to be dazzled into paying over the odds, but the experience is more than worth it.
Most shops in the Deira Gold Souk follow similar hours (daily 9am–10pm).
Retail therapy at Otavalo crafts market, Ecuador
Otavalo’s spectacular indigenous artesanías market is one of the largest crafts fairs on the continent and one of the most enjoyable experiences to be had anywhere - perfect for a shopping holiday.
Up for grabs are handicrafts of every description – ceramics, jewellery, paintings, musical instruments, carvings and above all a dazzling array of weavings and textiles, for which the Otavalo Valley has long been famous. Looms in back rooms across the countryside clatter away to produce chunky sweaters, hats, gloves, trousers and tablecloths, while weavings of the highest quality, indigenous ponchos, blouses, belts and tapestries are still made by master-craftsmen using traditional means in tiny village workshops.
The Plaza de Ponchos is the epicentre of the crafts melee, a blazing labyrinth of makeshift passageways and endless ranks of tapestries, jumpers, hammocks, cloths and shawls, amid which Otavaleños dressed in all their finery lurk at strategic points to tempt potential customers.
The Plaza de Ponchos market in Otavalo is open every day, but is most impressive on Saturdays.
Shopping for carpets at Tolkuchka Market, Turkmenistan
“Water is a Turkmen’s life, a horse is his wings, and a carpet is his soul”. A proverb from days of yore it may be, but it’s difficult to over-egg the role that carpets play in modern-day Turkmenistan. The national flag features the carpet guls (rug designs) of the country’s five major tribes, Ashgabat’s most popular cultural centre is the Carpet Museum and on the last Sunday in May, the whole country grinds to a halt to celebrate Carpet Day. In short, nothing gets a Turkmen going like the perfect weave.
The museum shop is a good place to start your browsing, but for the finest designs, join the locals at Ashgabat’s Tolkuchka Market, a sprawling bazaar on the outskirts of town at the edge of the Karakum Desert. Soft kilims lie alongside beshirs and kerkis, huge yomuds are splayed across the floor (the more knots in their finely trimmed ends, the pricier the pile), and Teke rugs tower in neat, folded rolls. But the finest of all, the carpet of connoisseurs, are the stunning Akhal-Teke, intricately designed wefts that dazzle in their symmetry. Mostly woven with a red background, the rarer blue designs can sell for several thousand dollars.
The carpet museum is open daily except Sun 10am–6pm; the market takes place on Sundays.
Shoppping at Chatuchak Weekend Market, Thailand
Want to feel like a local on a weekend in Bangkok? Then you need to go shopping. Specifically, you need to go to Chatuchak Weekend Market and spend a day rifling through the eight thousand-plus stalls of what some claim to be the world’s biggest market. It’s certainly a contender for the world’s sweatiest and most disorientating, with a quarter of a million bargain-hunters crammed into an enormous warren of alleyways, zones, sections and plazas.
Alongside the mounds of secondhand Levis and no-brand cosmetics you’d expect to find in Southeast Asia’s most frantic flea market, there’s also a mass of traditional handicrafts from Thailand’s regions. Fine silk sarongs from the northeast, triangular cushions and mulberry-paper lamps from Chiang Mai, and hill-tribe jewellery and shoulder bags are all excellent buys here. But what makes Chatuchak such a shopaholic’s dream is its burgeoning community of young designers. Many of Asia’s new fashion and interior design ideas surface here first, drawing professional trend-spotters from across the continent.
Need a break from the achingly fashionable? Then wander through the pet section, perhaps lingering to watch Bangkokians’ poodles getting their weekly grooming treatments, before enjoying a blast of natural beauty among the orchids and ornamental shrubs. You can treat your tastebuds for a handful of change at any number of food stalls specializing in everything from barbecued chicken to coconut fritters, and there’s even a tiny jazz café for that all-important chillout between purchases.
Chatuchak Weekend Market (Sat & Sun 7am–6pm) is in north Bangkok, near Mo Chit Skytrain and Kamphaeng Phet subway stations.
Top image: Sunday market in Kashgar, China © Bildkonzept/Shutterstock
Where in the world do you like to shop? Which country is the best for bargain-hunting? Let us know.