Believe it or not, it gets cold enough in Saudi Arabia for wearing winter coats! Although admittedly, for a Finn such as myself, the +24C temperatures feel more like the perfect summers day weather, whereas in Saudi Arabia you will start seeing people in wool coats around then. Did you know that in Saudi-Arabia’s Northern areas it sometimes snows during the winter?
The traditional Saudi winter coats, the farwa and the bisht, come especially handy when out in the desert where temperatures can quickly drop close to freezing after the sun has set.
A Bisht is a traditional Saudi cloak which is normally seen worn over the thobe at important occasions and celebrations such as weddings. These bishts are a very thin, sheer fabric. There’s also a type of winter Bisht made of thicker fabric perfect for the Saudi winter.
A Farwa is an even warmer and thicker winter coat, especially great to wear out to desert camping trips. Whereas the Bisht fabric is normally more rough to touch, the Farwas are soft and snuggly. Some farwas are incredibly heavy and thick, I swear you could wear these out to an expedition of Antarctica and survive!
The two best places to find these coats in Riyadh are the Al Owais souk and the Bisht souk (which I just coined btw) in Deerah.
I actually bought some Bisht and farwa for myself and family as gifts, which I’m going to take with me to our winter holiday in Finland! This also means the Saudi farwa will be going through vigorous testing in extreme Finnish winter weather conditions, ya’ll. I promise to report back how they perform. You can check out some pics from our previous winter holiday in Lapland here.
The Farwa coats range in price depending on where they are made (KSA vs abroad) and what materials have been used. Farwa Handmade in Saudi Arabia will cost more but is also harder to find. The most expensive ones will have the real lamb skin as lining and can go up to 2500 riyal in price such as the below examples of an exceptionally high quality Bisht found at the Bisht Souq in Deerah.
Tips for buying a farwa or bisht:
1. Always bargain from the price given and then bargain again. If the price doesn’t move then move your business to the next shop and you will see how the prices suddenly drop.
2. Find out where the coat is made and what materials were used, always support local produce if possible.
3. Try it on! Don’t be shy even if you’re a woman to try the coat on top of your abaya. I have bought several traditional farwa for myself in the “men’s” style. They are way more attractive and better quality than the ones aimed at female customers and quite frankly I don’t care if people think I’m wearing a “man’s coat”. You will find with the gold trims and embroidery some men’s designs are actually quite feminine.
4. The farwa and Bisht are both supposed to be very lose when worn so you can wrap it around, so don’t buy one that’s too small, the sleeves will be too short.
5. Check prices from several shops before buying to see the price range.
6. They have sizes for babies and toddlers too, don’t pay more than 100sr for those.
7. Yes a woman can wear a Bisht and farwa too. You will love it.
8. If you like the Bisht size but it’s too long they can normally fix this for you on the spot at the Bisht souk, they have many tailors there, expect to pay around 20 sr for adjustments.
9. For the cheapest, thin version of farwa which are usually made in India you will expect to pay from 100-300 riyal. The thicker and the more decoration it has the more it will cost.
10. The farwas don’t have buttons, you’re supposed to wrap it around and hold it closed with one hand. The bishts will have strings to close it lightly.
Location of Bisht Souk in Deerah
GPS coordinates: 24.629248,46.712315
GPS coordinates: 24.737758,46.661482
Have you bought a farwa or bisht? Did you ever wear it outside Saudi Arabia?