Sooner, rather than later, you will want to explore the bustling commercial centre of the old town centered around Batha’a.
Don’t be put off on your first visit by its grubby buildings and its teeming masses. In fact, it would probably be best to make your first visit here on a Thursday morning when the crowds of people are very much reduced. Go on a Friday evening, and not only will there be nowhere whatsoever to park, but you will hardly be able to move through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds; for this is the time that the place is teeming with people from the sub continent and the Philippines and it will be all you can do to get through the souq, let alone be able to have the luxury of seeing anything!
The first thing to understand is that the Batha’a Souq area is enormous, but principally it’s divided into three distinct regions with the northern end taken up predominantly with Filipino shops, members of the Pakistani community taking up the central area, and people from India and Bangladesh ‘inhabiting’ the southern end. But of course there are loads of other nationalities all mixing together to make a truly cosmopolitan whole.
This large souq is also split up into very many smaller souqs; so if you want to buy electrical and DVD items you’d probably head for the electrical souq in the Filipino end. There’s lots of furniture and material to be found in the central area, whilst if it’s gold or household you want, then start at the southern end.
Need some camping gear, or canvas bags made to measure? Head for the tent souq.
Spare wheels or gadgets for your car? Head for the automobile parts souq.
Spices and vegetables? There are spice stalls and food markets aplenty.
There are also areas devoted to costume jewellery, handbags, sugar cane, bicycles, henna, perfume – just name it and you will find it at Batha’a, often at ‘ridiculous’ knock-down prices.
Remember that the shopkeepers expect you to haggle down the price of anything they have on offer and the fact is that it is almost impossible to come away from Batha’a without having picked up a real bargain.
With the dark and narrow alleyways stuffed full of shops it’s very easy to get totally disorientated, and one of the best ways of visiting Batha’a for the first time is to stay in one block of alleyways and to make sure you do not cross a road until you have ‘discovered’ everything within that block. Then as you emerge into daylight, take your bearings and head across a road to the next block and start exploring there. You can almost guarantee to get lost the first time you go there, but after a few visits you start to get your bearings and you will be able to find the particular souq-within-a-souq that you are after.
By the way, a word to the wise… If you are after a pair of really good walking boots for walking in the desert, you simply cannot beat a visit to the army souq where you will pick up an excellent pair for around SR200. Look for the Suleiman Centre at the southern end of Batha’a and opposite this centre on King Faisal Street you will see lots of army surplus stores.
Finding Batha’a Souq is very easy. From the Kingdom Centre, go south on Olaya Street, past the Interior Ministry and down King Faisal Street.
Pass the Abdul Aziz Historical Centre in Murabba Park (look for the Water Tower) and then at the next traffic lights turn left. The entire area ahead of you is Batha’a.