Whilst arguably it may not be the most ‘cultural’ activity, you cannot go abroad without going shopping. Well, you can’t if you’re me anyway. Not only is there the necessity of buying gifts for people at home but you will want something that reminds you of your trip away. It is also a great opportunity to hunt for a bargain.
On Sundays, Mauer Park plays host to many goings on. If the weather allows it, there is a big karaoke session at the amphitheatre and across the grass there is the flea market. Here you can find all sorts of goodies, including bags, clothes and stationery. You can also find some great food stands as well, where you can treat yourself to stonebaked pizzas or currywurst.
Favourite buy: my ring which started life as a teaspoon.
Around the corner from our flat in Kreuzberg, there was a Turkish food market a couple of days a week, down by the river. Had we not been on a budget, it would have been the perfect place to do our weekly food shop, with an array of meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables along with other delectable treats. Even though we couldn’t afford to buy more than a few bits, it was still a nice activity. On the sunny day we went, we found a sitar player at the end of the row of stalls and sat down to watch with the juice concoctions we’d just bought. I don’t know how often street performers frequent the market but it was a lovely afternoon.
Oh and obviously, if you are in Germany during the winter, don’t forget about the Christmas markets. You can’t beat them.
Singapore was my first experience of Asia, so obviously I had to go shopping immediately. Bugis Street was recommended to me and if this wasn’t my first stop, I probably would have bought more. I did treat myself to a bag though and started my souvenir shopping. There was also lots of jewellery and clothes.
Favourite buy: a fabric bag covered in pictures of vintage adverts.
Shopping at Marina Bay Sands probably isn’t a spot for backpackers, but the centre does have a canal running through it so it is at least worth a visit and a photo.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
Central Market is the perfect place to go for all your souvenir-needs, whether it’s jewellery, incense, harem pants or bits and pieces to decorate your room with on your return. After all that retail therapy, you can also treat yourself to some fish-foot therapy to soothe your aching feet.
If you wander down the road, you’ll find Chinatown. During the day, there are several market stalls lining the walkway, but at night the stalls increase exponentially and the walkway seriously restricts. Between these two places, you can do all the shopping you could dream of doing. This may get the prize for the best shopping I have experienced.
Favourite buy: a cream and floral maxi dress from Central Market.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam:
I have to admit that Ben Thanh market did make me go a little crazy. With so much choice and such reasonable prices, it inspired a sense of generosity and I bought presents for every friend and family member I could think of. In fact, I had to send a package of things home to fit all my buys in my backpack. Having said that, I couldn’t find any harem pants.
Favourite buy: a kimono, now used as my dressing gown.
Luang Prabang, Laos:
The night market proved to be a good source of souvenirs, including flip flops (a necessary buy for me after I broke my sandals whilst biking), bags, tea, T-shirts and harem pants. We also found some reasonably priced food that made for a very good dinner option.
Favourite buy: some elephant print, orange harem pants
Khao San Road is the hotspot for all backpackers in Thailand. It generally seemed to have people milling around during the day but at night was when things seemed to reach their peak. More market stalls popped up, perfect for buying all your souvenir T-shirts, and there are plenty of places for drinks and food. You’ll also find a hoard of tuk-tuk drivers making popping noises at you, trying to tempt you to see a ping pong show.
Favourite buy: multiple Chang beer vest tops in various colours and styles, because you can never have too many
MBK is like a market but in a shopping centre. There are masses of things to choose from, including bags, tops, harem pants, jewellery and various knick knacks.
Favourite buy: even more elephant print pants
The souks of Marrakesh, next to Jemaa el-Fna square, is an inevitable and very necessary tourist attraction. During the day, the square itself is filled with orange juice stands which provide excellent refreshment after you’ve been standing in the Moroccan sun. When the sun goes down, the square packs out, with entertainers arriving and food stalls being set up. Personally, after dinner on the square, I preferred to observe the goings on from the peace of a nearby sky bar.
The market itself is full of noises and smells, mainly of leather and spices. You can find belts and bags decorated with carpet-like, actual carpets, beauty bits, clothes, jewellery and patterned crockery. You can also enjoy a bit of a haggle.
Favourite buy: my Aztec carpet, brown leather bag
During my teenage years, I spent many a Saturday exploring the market around Camden Lock. When I didn’t have the money to get away, it proved a great alternative. The food court provides extensive options for cuisine from around the world and the smell of incense emitting from the stalls makes you feel as though you are somewhere more exotic. I managed to buy an elephant print throw for about £10 after I came back from travelling; I’d seen what may have been the exact same style whilst away but I couldn’t fit it in my bag. I also spotted the same style of bags and belts that I’d seen in the souks of Marrakesh. The prices might not quite match those you find abroad but you can certainly justify treating yourself sometimes.