Shopping in Arabian Malls


The first mall in Jeddah was built in the early 1980s. By the time I had last visited the Kingdom there were no malls yet in the Eastern Province where I was. I did not have the experience of an Arab shopping mall. 

Since my arrival I have gone to two malls in Jeddah. The Red Sea Mall and the Mall of Arabia. Both are the biggest ones here and I have a preference for the Red Sea Mall as the other is undergoing renovations and had less stores of interest to me. The Mall of Arabia is better for families because it has a large amusement park section on the ground level with rides and games. 

Businesses in Saudi stay open late. With much of the year being very hot, things pretty much spring to life at sunset. Businesses here stay open to midnight or later. During Ramadan restaurants, especially, can stay open until 3 or 4 a.m. This is forcing me into a later pattern than I am used to. I'm generally a morning/day person due to my light sensitivity.

Many international brands are here: H&M, Body Shop, Clarks, DKNY, etc. There are also some European brands such as Boots and Marks & Spencer. I also found the Turkish equivalent of Payless Shoes. There are many stores that are, of course, unfamiliar. 

Being outside KAUST, I must wear an abaya, although I can leave my head uncovered. For the local women, you will see quite the assortment. The liberal women are uncovered, the conservative are completely covered (including face), and the moderates have their hair covered, but not their faces.

Shortly after arrival I experienced a flash from the past as the businesses began to shut down for Prayer Time. Muslims pray five times a day and in the evening there is one at sunset and another a few hours after that. This was the last prayer of the day around 8 p.m. It is best to time dinner for Prayer Time so that you have something to occupy you while shops are closed for 20-45 minutes. 

The food courts are just as varied as the shops. There are Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, Popeye's, Tim Horton's from the west as well as international cuisine options. My first night I opted for Indian and my second night I stumbled across a Yemeni stand. So glad I tried it. 


I had a meat mugalgal, which is a stew that is popular throughout the peninsula. It came with the most fabulous flatbread. It was large, like a platter, and so flaky! It was a carb cheat day because I couldn't resist!

Upon arrival in Saudi I came to realize some of my dresses wouldn't cut it. I have to have things covering to below the elbows and knees. One dress showed my knees and another had too high a slit. This was my goal in the shopping trips, along with some black, low heel shoes.

I entered H&M, gathered an armload of clothes, and then went in search of a Fitting Room. They were all marked 'closed' and finally I had to ask and everyone gave me bewildered stares and said, 'closed!'. It was not until I later talked to people at work that I learned there are few fitting rooms in Saudi. Instead, you purchase the clothes, go to a Ladies' restroom, try them on, and, if necessary, return them. This explained why there was a long return line at the register.

I was on a deadline and ignorant of this fact. Keep in mind that things here are marked in European measurements for the most part. I paid for my items and, luckily, returned home to find that I had picked out my sizes perfectly. Phew!

Returning to the bathroom situation, the first mall had no changing rooms that I saw. Only toilets. It was the second mall that had an area of changing rooms separated from the toilets/hammams. 



For Arabs 'hammam' means bathroom. It was at Mall of Arabia that I encountered my first on this trip. I couldn't find a western toilet and had to go like a native. While there are arguably benefits to this style, I find it rather a pain when you are dealing with abayas that already skirt the floor as it is. Hammams are a lot wetter and so one must take a lot of care gathering up clothes. So glad I wasn't wearing pants that day or I'd have had to deal with pulling down as well as gathering up! The hose you see is present in both toilets and hammams for additional cleaning 'down there', if necessary. 

I no longer have much of a need to go to the malls now that I have what I need, but may still venture to some of the others as it is something to do as a means of entertainment, so to speak. The Red Sea Mall has the first movie theater in Jeddah that only opened recently. It is, not surprisingly, so popular that you must reserve seats as soon as the date opens up. 

I'd much rather shop the streetside shops and markets much like I remember them. This I will do tonight with my Saudi roommate, Azhar, who has agreed to be my guide and translator. That post soon!