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Yemen souvenirs & shopping

Almost everywhere you look, you will have the chance to buy the curved dagger (jambiya) worn by local men. This purchase can be  simply of the dagger and its accompanying sheath.

However handmade belts and silver pouches are also for sale, with many tourists opting to purchase each item separately. Traditionally, handles were made of animal horn or even ivory.

While it is doubtful that the handles sold today as being made from either of these products are the real thing, a wooden or amber handle may be a better option Necklaces and jewellery are also common souvenirs, and many of these will in fact be made of the semi-precious stones the souvenir sellers claim. Nevertheless, a healthy grain of salt should be added  to any belief that one is actually purchasing a necklace of lapis lazuli or anything like that.

Bargaining (even with village children) is expected and worthwhile. If you are with local guides, a common approach is to have them ask for the "Yemeni price", however any bargaining on the part of the tourist will result in discounts.

Bear in mind, too, that what may seem an absurdly cheap price for an item in Western terms will still be a great return for many locals.

In tourist sites, there will be souvenir-sellers everywhere you look. In some mountain villages, such as Kawkaban, their technique involves almost trapping the tourists with wheelbarrows full of souvenirs. There is an art form to firmly turning down the goods on offer.

Traditional crafts make great souvenirs: Samsarat Al- Nahas, an area of Suq Al Milh on the road that leads north from Bab Al-Yemen, sells wide range of traditional arts and crafts. Go there to buy brass and copper pots and trays as well as the traditional drums that are a particularly good souvenir for children.

Antique Attraction: Silver jewellery, once the main component of  a bride's dowry, is often sold by Yemeni women to the antique dealers in the Suq (gold is preferred now). Silver jewellery shops will have both old and new items for sale. New jewellery mostly comes from India and is much lighter than the older, heavier, Yemeni-made jewellery.

Gold Suq will put glitter in your eye: The best gold Suq in Sana'a is at Bab Al- Sabah. The gold here is mostly 18 or 22 carat, much purer than what you get in the west.

Colorful table speared: The colorful veils worn by San'ani women to cover themselves are called muckmug. Still tie-dyed by hand in Suq Al-Milh, Sana'a, they are worth searching out as they can be used as tablecloths back home.

Souvenir houses: Among the many excellent souvenirs of Yemen that you can buy are ceramic models of typical Yemeni houses. The original tall townhouses are built with a mix of stone, mud, plaster and paint, some of them are hundreds of years old. The ceramic reproductions are exquisite in detail and are hand painted - larger models have actual wooden features with deep set window frames.  

Taiz Silver sparkles brightest of all: Silver is one of the best souvenirs to buy in Yemen for which Taiz is reputed to have not only the cheapest but the best Suq. Go to the old Suq and enjoy a cup of tea and a chat whilst picking out from the very large choice, the pieces you would like to by.
Sa'ada women weave magic into baskets: The Jewish women in Sa'ada make the beautiful, colored cylindrical baskets unique to Yemen. The best place to buy them is in the craft shops in Al-Gah, or at Yahya Mohammed Dawam's shop in Suq Al-Milh, Sana'a.

Spilling the beans on a fabulous Friday market: Beginning as a settlement for coffee merchants, Bayt Al-Faqih in Hodeida grew into a commercial centre for the region and now has one of the best Friday markets in the country. Over 1000 traders congregate selling fruit, vegetables, animals, coffee and locally produced Tihami handicrafts, textiles, and pottery.

Frankincense is simply heaven-scent: Still used today in Yemeni households to give clothes or rooms a pleasant odor, frankincense is available in Suqs countrywide. Don't forget to buy a vessel in which to burn it, these can be crafted from a wide range of materials including wood, copper and silver.

Open a window to Yemen in your home: The attractive wooden shutters used at the windows of Yemeni houses to keep out sand and light can become a unique wall decoration in your home, making the whole room evocative of Arabia. They are sold in most Suqs, the price dependant on the age of the shutters and the intricacy of the carving. 

Yemeni music: Yemeni music is everywhere and usually played loud. The traditional instruments are the oud (lute) and mizmar ( a double flute). Tapes of Yemeni and other Arabic music are available in the Suqs. Most Arabic songs are love ballads full of yearning and longing.

Belt  Up: Men in Yemen do not commonly wear jewellery, except for the jambiya, a decorative dagger which has great symbolic value, establishing one's place in social hierarchies. The belt is an important decorative and functional element of the jambiya. Leather is covered with velvet and other fabric embellished with geometric or religious designs in metallic gold or silver thread.

A really sweet gift idea: Stuck for souvenir ideas? Buy Yemeni honey or even honeycombs. Considered by Arabs to a general panacea and a strong aphrodisiac, the best honey is considered to be that from Wadi Do'an (Hadhramout). It is sold in Suq Al Milh, Sana'a.

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Yemen Tourism Promotion Board.