The Princess Souq

The Princess Souq in Riyadh! Sounds like a souq for Saudi princesses right? Glamour, glitter and gorgeous gowns?
Not exactly.
This is actually a second hand souk located in Riyadh’s Batha, the infamous “ghetto” of Riyadh.
It’s like a huge open area marketplace, fleamarket, garage sale, whatever you call it, it’s worth a visit!

At first visitors might be taken aback by the set up, looks like a shack village with all the ugly metal sheets, dirty carpets, and general uncleanliness of the area.
But this is a place where women (and why not some adventurous men!) can make incredible bargains and make some surprising finds.

princess souk riyadh

The name of the souq comes from rumors that the clothing was donated there by royal family princesses. This might be partly true judging on some of the items that can be found there but the majority of the clothing is normal everyday brands (not saying real Princesses wouldn’t wear such but..) also some of the evening gowns are just..so interesting. Take a look at the pics below and you will see what I mean. Would an Al-Saud Princess step out to a gala dinner in something like this for example:

I highly doubt it, although, you never know. Check out the dude in the right lower corner. I will tell you about him later.

Princess souk is open everyday but the best days to go are weekday mornings. Not too much of a crowd and you can actually see the clothes! Sometimes at night the whole area might be out of electricity and even if they do have it, the lamps are ridiculously bad quality! The shops start opening at 9-10 am and close at Dhuhr prayer sharp. Muttawa roam this area frequently so shopkeepers will promptly close their shops in fear of getting arrested. Next the shops open after Asr and then close after Isha’a prayer. On Fridays the souq is closed in the morning.

The Princess souq is also called Haraj bin Gassem and most taxi drivers will know it by this name. If you want to venture out there on your own vehicle, be prepared to get lost a few times as the area can be confusing. Take the exit 22 ask for Haraj or carpet souq which is next to it and you will be pointed to the right direction.

When you get to the souq the amount of clothing will be overwhelming. It’s good to ask the salesmen who are mostly Indian and Pakistani and speak some English to point out the best evening gowns for you, if that’s what you’re looking for. Many of the nicest gowns hang from the ceilings and might be hard to spot. But there are some stunning evening gowns out there! This is also an indication of how many parties Saudi women attend (gown can only be used once then thrown).
The vast styles Saudi ladies wear to weddings and parties is really interesting. There are simple elegant ones and way over the top ones with the motto of “you cannot put too much lace, satin, bows, beading, crystals, ruffles and embroidery on one dress”. It’s amazing what women will actually wear! Reminds me of Christmas somehow..hmm..

Browsing the souq you will come across the weirdest things. Here some pretty raunchy panties hanging among other underwear. I will leave it to your imagination what else can be found there..

One of my favorite things to search for are children’s clothing and little girls party dresses. They will go for as cheap as 5-10SAR a piece and the more you purchase the more discount you will get! I bring these back home to my nieces who love to dress up as little princesses. In Finland raw silk and handmade gowns like this would cost anywhere form 100 euros up, so getting them for a mere fraction of the price is totally worth the hassle.

^^Saudi Haute Couture anyone?

There he is again! The down side to shopping at Princess souq are the perverts. I also call this place Pervert Central. I would not advise women to go here alone but always in groups or preferably with husbands. If you absolutely must go alone then take a trusted driver to walk around with you. I have been groped here in full daylight by men walking past and just taking a go. Another tactic they use is lurking behind the clothing stands.

One of my friends actually caught a guy masturbating behind the racks. My tactic is to take their picture and shout at them. Sometimes they need serious actions! The above creepy creepers were following us around on different occasions.
The first guy pretended to be purchasing something. I told him to take a hike and he started asking if we were Russians and wouldn’t listen to me telling him to piss off, he just continued his game.I finally shouted at him very loudly and he shouted back F**k you Russians! He left cursing us.

The perv #2 was just staring at us. I tried to take his pic but he kept turning around. So next I told the salesman about his behavior (they know these guys sometimes) and he just picked up and old shoe from the ground and threw it in the perverts direction! The slimeball ran away.

So if you find yourself in these situations it’s best to make a big deal to expose him and do ask the salesmen for help, they are very friendly and polite.

For once the Hai’a who are strongly present in this area would come in handy but guess what? They only concentrate on shouting from their megaphones for women to cover and men to close shops for prayer and go pray. Sometimes they even beat people to go pray. One of my Asian colleagues got shouted at and beaten on her legs for wearing an abaya that had small butterflies on it. She was forced to cover it with a plain black one from the souq.
That’s the priorities of the religious police for you..

So what about the prices? It’s an absolute MUST to haggle here! Prices range according to the color of your face. No joke! Western women might get asked 100 SAR for something Indians or Filipinos might get for 10 SAR. I never paid more than 50SAR for an evening gown and that was only once! Usually they will go for 20-30 a piece, children starting from 10-20 a piece.
Normal clothing is much cheaper, you can get three shirts or skirts for 10 SAR. If you find an expensive brand name don’t mention it to the seller, sometimes they are not even aware. The above blue evening gown cost me 15SAR and it’s flawless and looks stunning! If you are not getting results with your bargaining skills, simply WALK away. 90% of the time the seller will run after you and sell for the price you asked.

You will not want to buy anything with a stain on it, but sometimes some stains have slipped my attention. Some do come off in laundry but the salesmen will try to convince you everything comes off. I always take the evening gowns to the dry cleaners in Saudi because it’s really cheap here and they will iron the gowns for you too. The rest of the clothes I just wash in the washing machine. It’s always a good idea to check that the zippers are working.

You can find the most beautiful wedding gowns here as well. Most of them have been custom made. The above dress came down from 750 to 220 SAR. It has intricate lace and beading detail and is high quality silk, the veil is simply breath taking! Below one of the beautiful gowns more my style that I found for 20SAR:
So is it worth the dust, traffic, perverts, sometimes heat and all the hassle? In my opinion it’s a definite YES! But I like little “adventures” and don’t mind a few setbacks. This place is surely not for everyone. I took my mother and sister there when they were visiting Saudi and they really liked it.
Here are my little nieces fascinated by their new REAL Princess dresses :)

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  • HudaFebruary 22, 2012 - 3:23 pm

    Aww the photos of your nieces are too cute!

    An interesting post – are there many shops such as these in Riyadh or in Saudi in general? This is the first of its kind which I’ve heard of. I was always under the impression that a shop like this would be hard to find given the notion of always buying new things, wearing once and throwing it out, and that the idea of a well to do Saudi woman shopping at a second hand store would just be ridiculous. Who are the main types of customers? Could the store be possibly run by women?

    I think its a great initiative actually, its a good way to give back to the community and to encourage others to donate their things.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 24, 2012 - 8:12 pm

      Huda-there are not many "shops" like this anywhere in Riyadh. This is actually a huge area with maybe hundred shops.
      Saudi women do shop here, but they are the poor ones..You would NEVER see any other Saudi woman here that's for sure.
      Only buy brand new stuff.
      Main types of customers are the poor Saudis, Pakistani, Indian, Filipino and other Asian expats..SomeReplyCancel

    • AnonymousDecember 13, 2012 - 4:03 am

      Those countries are a complete mess because of essentially being robbed by European colonizers for over 200 years. Everyone was out looking for India cause of its wealth, resources, education, and the legendary beauty of the women to marry. Now after all these time it is recovering from a history that people from countries such as Europe and the Middle East have not experienced. The practice of not using recycled clothes comes from the Victorian era through which these countries were occupied, as some of these habits were introduced by the European colonizers.ReplyCancel

  • FarooqFebruary 22, 2012 - 4:43 pm

    mashallah very cute neices. easily the best pictures of the lot.

    Interesting to know of such a place. There are bargains to be definitely made in such places. Though as you suggested, women do have to be careful when they visit these markets. Preferably in the morning on a weekday when there are lesser crowds. My wife had a very bad experience in Batha once in the evening of a weekday even though I was with her. Not that I came away unscathed, my wallet got pick pocketed as well. But that’s another story :-)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 24, 2012 - 8:14 pm

      Farooq-Please do tell us what happened! Strange things happen in Batha sometimes! It's the city of men so women usually feel VERY intimated there, plus the muttawa are just horrible there.ReplyCancel

    • FarooqFebruary 26, 2012 - 6:22 am

      Well I was in Batha trying to buy some stuff with my wife, who was about 5 days old in the kingdom. Looking back on it, I realise it was extremely stupid but well I learnt my lesson. Everything was ok while we walked along the shops in the main street for Batha. Suddenly there was a big rush of people selling something and in that hustle, i lost my wallet with all my cards etc and she got groped.ReplyCancel

  • flying finnFebruary 22, 2012 - 9:55 pm

    I´m moving from Finland to Riyadh 3 March and will working KFSH :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 24, 2012 - 8:15 pm

      flying finn- How cool!! Where will you work there? Do you know some Finns here in Riyadh already? Let me know if you need any help :)ReplyCancel

  • NoorFebruary 22, 2012 - 9:56 pm

    OMG I can not believe what women here have to deal with and us Western women have to deal with it times 10000. This is why I always take my husband with me. My husband and I went through Batha but I was like ugh lets get out of here lol. And now after hearing this and the above comment I am scared even more. BUt wow that blue dress is really nice mashAllah I may have to go there. Actually now that I think about I think we did go there but we never got out of the car. It was all men and like you said they seemed weird and I did not want to deal with their crap that day.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 24, 2012 - 8:17 pm

      Noor-I understand that feeling! Sometimes you just can't be bothered and other times I could kill those staring men, I can't tolerate the rude behavior AT ALL! That's not a good time to go of course..ReplyCancel

    • NoorFebruary 28, 2012 - 10:01 pm

      I think it may be somewhere else we went is there a place called hamam or something?ReplyCancel

  • mrsbawazirFebruary 25, 2012 - 8:31 am

    Salammualaykum,

    Laylah, I loooove your blog.

    bigstik1, I happened to wander on your blog and I find that you seem to have a strong prejudice towards anything Saudi,Islam and Muslim men? U boldly stated Abrahamic religions are enemies of women? That all Saudi men are women-oppressing barbarians? The Quran and its problems? Certainly I can safely say that you are a veryReplyCancel

  • HudaFebruary 25, 2012 - 10:12 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyCancel

  • DanielletriniFebruary 25, 2012 - 5:06 pm

    This place sounds great. My god daughter would love those dresses. And so cheap too!ReplyCancel

  • HeliFebruary 25, 2012 - 10:03 pm

    Hei Leylah! Sinulle on blogissani hyvän mielen haaste :)ReplyCancel

  • mrsbawazirFebruary 26, 2012 - 8:31 am

    Bigstick1, I must say you are a very arrogant person, hailing proudly that you will continue to speak your mind EVEN if it offends other people and their beliefs. My 'sack' is something i am proud to wear without pressure from anybody but myself and the need to obey my God. Sometimes I do wear other kind of clothing besides the abaya (I live in Malaysia, a Malaysian married to a Saudi)ReplyCancel

  • mrsbawazirFebruary 26, 2012 - 8:32 am

    Islam teaches not only women but men to guard their desires and to lower their gaze among other vast yet simple commands. Combine and obey all the teachings of Islam and we will see no perverts, alas that can only happen in a perfect world. You stated that you have "read" all the Islamic books yet you are not convince. I pray Allah give you hidayah. Yet, millions of reverts will chooseReplyCancel

  • Sandy :)February 26, 2012 - 7:02 pm

    I would like to point out that part of why men would harass the more uncovered woman is because they’ve been TAUGHT that her dressing that way indicates availability. In the quest to encourage women to where black sacks they have created an understanding that women that do not do this are choosing not to in order to indicate availability. Also if they see a westerner doing it, after all their remarks about how western women all sleep around they assume what they’ve been taught is true.

    Bigstick as a Muslim I don’t find your calling abayas “black sacks” at all. That is pretty much exactly what they look like and you are under no obligation to respect them. Personally I think women have the right to wear them to the same degree they have NOT to wear them.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 27, 2012 - 8:22 pm

      Sandy-Some men that grow up in certain cultures will always think the western woman is “easy” no matter what she wears. But I still think her walking around in abaya vs in tight jeans would generate a different response from such men..ReplyCancel

  • mrsbawazirFebruary 27, 2012 - 4:22 am

    Hi Bigstick1

    About the University of Missouri studies on sexy images and its impact on the human mind, exactly my dear bigstick1, once the men where told that they would have no problem in establishing relations with these women, their self conscience were not affected. Now tell me, would you say those PERVERTED men out there are in any way near to being understanding? Women are never to be blame in any sexual crimes against them but as I said, I cannot control those men but I can control myself.

    Next about our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW. If you take the time to study a little bit about the history of the tribes in South America, Middle East, Africa, India and the far eastern Oriental countries 1400 years ago, you would find that many TRIBES even until today allow the marriage of females at a very young age.Child brides were common among the Byzantine emperors and nobility. It is important to know that girls during the Biblical and Islamic days used to be married off at young ages when they either had their first periods, or their breasts start showing off. In other words, when they turn into “women”, then they get married.The culture back then and in many third world countries today (NON-MUSLIM ONES TOO) is quite different than what you live in today.In Ancient Rome, it was very common for girls to marry and have children shortly after the onset of puberty.The American colonies were also not exempted. For example, Mary Hathaway (1689) was only 9 when she was married to William Williams.We all need to understand the culture that we are talking about. Life in the rural Middle East is a very simple one. It is a lot simpler than what our brain can imagine, because the simplest to you in America may be a very difficult or complicated thing to those folks who live in tribes in the rural areas where they don’t have TV, electricity, or any electrical equipment. They live on natural water and survive on what they have available from fruits, vegetables and animals as food.
    Parents look at the girl’s physical appearance when they prepare her for marriage. They don’t care about her age. She could be 9 or 13, it doesn’t matter. Now, I am not saying i agree with the matter, simply stating the facts and their circumstances. Pertaining to today’s Saudi Arabia society, the Justice Ministry is working on new regulations to control marriages involving very young girls. Many members of the Shoura Council are calling to make the marriageable age to 18. Gradual efforts alas still an on-going effort. Many Saudis agree that setting an age of consent is very important in the modern age.ReplyCancel

  • mrsbawazirFebruary 27, 2012 - 4:38 am

    The other statements you made are just too ridiculous (Bachi Boy, selling daughters, etc) because perhaps they are being done by “Muslims” but no way are they associated in the teachings of Islam. Again you prove to show difficulty in differentiating between Islamic teachings, culture and individuals. “And their business is (conducted) through consultation among themselves.” (Quran.42:38)

    You stated that you dislike all religion. I believe once we dislike something, it hinders us from seeing anything good that thing has to offer. I for one do not dislike any other religion or culture as I believe tolerance is vital. Once we start to dislike, we end up being disrespectful, arrogant, narcissistic and we become blind to everything else except our own narrowed mindset. The only things I truly hate are lies, exploitations of any kind and child abuse.

    I do not know so much about other religion but I could safely say that you are on the err when it comes to Islam. You mention once that Islam encourages killings, raping, oppression, apartheid. Please show me one verse in the Quran to support your claims and please play nice (do not skim the Quranic versus by taking some parts and leaving other parts). Islam clearly abhor these issues-
    1) Killings – “And do not kill any You shall not kill any person – for God has made life sacred – except in the course of justice, and whoever is slain unjustly, We have indeed given to his heir authority, so let him not exceed the just limits in slaying; surely he is aided.” (Quran.17:33) “And if you punish, you shall inflict an equivalent punishment. But if you resort to patience (instead of revenge), it would be better for the patient ones. You shall resort to patience-and your patience is attainable only with God’s help. Do not grieve over them, and do not be annoyed by their schemes.”Q. 6:126-7

    Rape/oppression – “… and do not aggress; God dislikes the aggressors.” (Q.5:87)

    apartheid – “.., we decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people. ..” (Qur’an 5:32) “O mankind ! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Q.49:13)

    Again I ask you, please re read the Quran without prejudice. Therein are history, lessons and a teaching for a complete way of life. May Allah give you hidayah.ReplyCancel

  • FarooqFebruary 27, 2012 - 5:55 pm

    Funny how a blog post about a secondhand clothes market can turn into a big debate about the evils of religion.

    Someone earlier mentioned about the Prophet marrying an underage girl. I wanted to share a very well written article about this. I suggest that everyone reads it with an open mind.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-liepert/islamic-pedophelia_b_814332.htmlReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 27, 2012 - 8:34 pm

      Farooq-ya I know it’s funny! I’m too tired to participate fully as sometimes it seems like fighting against a windmill ;)ReplyCancel

    • NoorFebruary 28, 2012 - 10:09 pm

      LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL this cracked me upReplyCancel

    • Don SolanoJune 14, 2012 - 10:31 pm

      indeed, just like Don Quexote ;)ReplyCancel

  • Greetings from Texas!February 27, 2012 - 10:31 pm

    It looks awesome, with the exception of the masturbating perv. WTF!!!! Not expecting that when I started reading this post! =)ReplyCancel

  • YazzieFebruary 28, 2012 - 11:47 am

    This looks like a great place to treasure hunt! Do you know if there’s a used books section?
    It’s a good idea to take pics of the men who harass women if you can do so safely. This is what some women in NYC have started doing.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/search-results/search-results-7.113?q=subway+pervs&selecturl=site

    I grew up in NYC and have encountered my fair share of gropers and flashers on the subway but I would’ve been too shocked or scared to even think about snapping a pic.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 28, 2012 - 9:38 pm

      Yazzie-It certainly is! Nearby there are so many other used stuff souqs like furniture, other home stuff and appliances. But now that I think of it, never saw books. Next time I go I will ask someone and try to find out!ReplyCancel

  • ♥ααℓiα♥March 13, 2012 - 11:10 am

    Layla, you’re awesome :-D

    BigStick1 all I got from your long @ss comments was “Pastafarians” and “bat sack” something X-DReplyCancel

  • BobMarch 24, 2012 - 3:09 pm

    Went there yesterday to buy more weights for my home gym. I was with a friend who is quite buff from being a gym rat. HE got groped by a young Arab man while we were trying to get through a crowd, so yeah…lol. However, that was a first for both of us.

    I would suggest going in the morning after 8:00am or after Asr on a weekday as quite a lot of the market is open air. Come MhagribReplyCancel

  • Saadia MirzaSeptember 8, 2012 - 11:16 pm

    I’m so fed up of these groping perverts!!! They scare the shit out of me. Please do a post about dealing with these sickos.ReplyCancel

  • drtaherMay 26, 2013 - 7:32 pm

    Dear Laylah,

    The more I delve into your blog, the more I am in complete love with it. I stay alone here in a small village about 600 km away from Riyadh on the route to Jeddah. I visited Riyadh last week for an exam that I gave there. I have thoroughly enjoyed this post, as well as some of the others. My own blog is drtaherofarabia.blogspot.com, and you are welcome to visit it. I am greatly inspired by your writing – the content as well as the tenor of your comment and your brave renouncing of the negatives of this country.

    P.S. The comments section on this post was too good. I enjoyed the sparring between the American guy bigstick1 and the lady who replied to her so bravely. Kudos to you!ReplyCancel

  • LaylaJune 3, 2013 - 11:44 am

    drtaher- Thanks so much for the comments and sorry for not getting back to you earlier!

    What village is it that you live in? That must be very challenging, but also sounds very adventurous to me! Are there any historical sites near you? What do you do there if you don’t mind me asking? Sounds os interesting :)

    Hope to hear back from you soon,
    LaylaReplyCancel

  • UnknownAugust 18, 2013 - 8:07 pm

    I would definatelly go to the souq,I need gown for a wedding party! As revealing and flashy the better! hahahhaa!ReplyCancel

  • คอกกั้นเด็กNovember 5, 2013 - 5:56 am

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent web site. I stumbledupon
    it ;) I’m going to return once again since I book-marked it.
    Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.ReplyCancel

  • Saudi Wedding ExtravaganzaNovember 25, 2014 - 5:42 pm

    […] In preparation I had tried to “Arabize” my appearance a bit ie had Arabic eyebrows done, colored my eyelashes black and had some extra lashes installed at the spa. I’d found a beautiful evening gown at the “Princess souq” for 15 riyals! However the tailor I took it to for adjusting managed to do the opposite I was asking for so I had to choose another dress last minute. My friend wore the princess souq dress and she looked stunning! Check out the dress here it’s the blue one: http://blueabaya.com/2012/02/princess-souq.html […]ReplyCancel

  • bushraMarch 20, 2015 - 11:21 pm

    Well i went there with my husband just one week after arriving saudia.he was already shopping there for used furniture.yes there arr thousands of varities of everything u can imagine. i also donot prefer wearing used clothes.so we bought ikea wooden chair and table set in 150sar which was of 800 sar in awsome confition.kitchen cabinet set.and amzingly we found curtains which were i guessed newly sewed and not even washed or dry cleaned just in 50 rayals. Strange thing we observed that so many ladies were selling the stuff and they were nt ready to bargain at all.
    we went after asar but as soon as rush increased yes poeple were trying to touch me.i tried to swope in and run away from there.when some one called my husband and told him to stay with me. he has observed some guy chasing me.
    my husband felt so bad he never took me again there.ReplyCancel

  • […] The Princess Souq (blueabaya.com) […]ReplyCancel

  • Donations for MuslimsJanuary 23, 2016 - 2:29 am

    I went this place last month and it was amazing. You can find any type of long dresses over there at reasonable prices.ReplyCancel

  • rebeccaDecember 6, 2016 - 2:05 pm

    have you read bickstick comments??how can you not feel offended by the way he speaks about islam in general and about the prophet(saw)and Aisha(ra)
    i dont understand
    we have the right to disagree and to not hold the same belief but im sorry his or her comment isnt appropriate at allReplyCancel

    • Arabian LauraDecember 9, 2016 - 3:17 pm

      No, I hadn’t read all of them. I simply don’t have the time to read all comments on different platforms and when they get older then you just forget about them. I have deleted them all because I still don’t have time to read :D so it was easier. Noticed his blog didn’t exist anymore either.ReplyCancel

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