The Khan has been a marketplace since the end of the 14th century; commercial activity is its lifeblood. A winding maze of small streets and narrow alleys charts its way around the bazaar, and these passages are filled with scores of vendors hawking their wares and attempting to draw customers into their small shops. It is a chaotic mixture of Egyptians and tourists, smells of perfume and incense, fragments of age-old buildings next to modern amenities—and always noise and confusion. With a little determination, you can find just about anything you want to take home as proof of your trip to Cairo. Carpets, gold, silver, clothing, belly-dancing outfits, spices, perfumes, water pipes, woodwork, books, pottery, blown glass, leather, papyrus, pharaonic replicas—you name it, it's here. There are hundreds of little stores that will attract or repel.
A few words of advice: never take something at the first price; bargaining is the modus operandi in the Khan, and if you do not show
interest, the price is likely to drop. In the case of a silver- or goldsmith, for example, while a fixed price for the weight of the piece exists, you can bargain on the quality of the workmanship. If a shopkeeper offers you tea or coffee and you take it, you are in no way obligated to buy something from his shop; it's just Middle Eastern hospitality. If someone offers to take you to his workshop on the second floor, accept if you have time; most of these crafts are fascinating to see in progress. If you pay by credit card, there may be a service charge of 3% to 6%; ask before handing over the plastic. The Khan has ATMs where you can take out Egyptian pounds. Finally, if someone offers to sell you marijuana or hashish, do not accept; you're likely to get oregano, compressed henna, or a stay in a dreadful local jail.
The Khan has plenty of places to eat, including the grilled-meat restaurants on the corner of Maydan al-Husayn and Shar'a Muski and places that serve fiteer, Egyptian pancakes filled with everything from feta cheese to raisins. They form a row just outside the Khan, between Shar'a Muski and Shar'a al-Azhar. Most stores are closed on Sunday and during Friday prayers (the hour around noon, 1 pm from April through October, during daylight saving time).