I’m not a huge shopper when I travel. After all, I live out of a suitcase for months of time and don’t have space for random knickknacks. But Uzbekistan is a shopping paradise and I wanted to buy everything here. Silk carpets and scarves, handmade pottery and ceramics, miniature painting artwork and decorations. Everything was so beautiful and even I couldn’t resist filling my suitcase with souvenirs that I know I will love and cherish for years to come. So, if you’ve come here looking for tips on shopping in Uzbekistan, my first tip would be to make sure to leave room in your suitcase. As for what to buy, where to buy, and how much to spend? Read on for all my tips for Uzbekistan Souvenirs.
What to Buy in Uzbekistan
When it comes to Uzbekistan souvenirs, you can find all the typical knickknacks that they have in every country of the world. Things like magnets, keychains, and t-shirts are readily available. But I’m not going to discuss those things. The Uzbekistan souvenirs I’m going to share with you are unique and special to the country and worth bringing home.
Suzani are embroidered textile prints found on all types of products around Uzbekistan. This can include pillowcases, tablecloths, wall hangings, and even jackets. The patterns are often nature-based and certain designs symbolize certain things. For example, a pomegranate is a sign of fertility.
Suzani items can be made out of a range of fabrics, the most common being cotton or silk (or a mix of both). They can also be machine-made or hand-made. The best way to tell is to look at the back and check for knots. If there are a number of knots, then you know it’s handmade.
Handmade designs can take weeks or even months depending on the size of the product being made. Which, of course, means prices will vary depending on what you buy. For reference, I bought a handmade silk suzani pillowcase (throw pillow size) and was able to haggle the price down to $25 USD (starting price was $35).
There are a few countries in the world that are known for their carpets, and Uzbekistan is one of them. Uzbekistan is especially known for its silk carpets, which come in a range of colours, patterns, and sizes. You might even find a ‘magic’ carpet which is one carpet, the same colours, but two different prints on each side so it can be reversed.
Like other products, Uzebek carpets can be hand-made, machine-made, or even a mix of both. The handmade carpets will cost significantly more as they can take years to make depending on the size. If it’s not in your budget, however, you can also find machine-made silk carpets which are also beautiful. I ended up buying a small, machine-made silk carpet as I fell in love with the design and it was (much) more in my budget.
There is an endless supply of carpet shops throughout Uzbekistan. Some are small little market stalls while others are large showrooms. Some of the showrooms even offer demonstrations and have their employees in a separate room in the back so, as a visitor, you can go through and see how these carpets are made by hand. In Bukhara, I went to one called Bukhara Silk Carpets where we got to see the process first-hand.
For reference, handmade silk carpets will cost you thousands of dollars. I even saw one that was for sale for 250,000 USD. You can still barter, but if you want a real, handmade silk carpet you will pay for it. I had a couple of friends in my group who purchased the hand-made silk carpets and spent about $5000 USD per carpet (after haggling). Keep in mind these are small ones that they could roll up in a suitcase. In contrast, my machine-made silk carpet (same size) was originally $300 USD but I ended up getting it for $180 USD.
Another popular Uzbekistan souvenir is scarves. These can be made from a variety of materials including polyester, cotton, silk, cashmere, and even baby camel hair. They can also be embroidered with suzani designs, either hand-made or machine-made. Since they are so easy to pack (and very wearable!) scarves are a popular souvenir.
However, do be careful when shopping for scarves as some shop owners won’t be entirely truthful about the material. I had dozens of vendors tell me they had baby camel hair scarves for sale for (starting price) $20 USD when, in fact, they were polyester. They were still beautiful and soft, but actual baby camel hair scarves are not so common and cost at least triple that. The same goes for real silk scarves, they will cost at least $60 USD (starting price) if not more. One way to tell if the scarf is actually silk is to burn it- it smells like burnt hair. However, unless a shop owner specifically shows you it can be hard to ask vendors to burn their products for proof.
That being said, the material doesn’t really matter if you love the scarf. This information is more for you to keep in mind when haggling.
Ceramics and Copper Plates
Ceramics and copper plates are also popular artworks found across Uzbekistan. Ceramic dishes can be plates, bowls, and even tea sets. There are master ceramic artists who have higher quality products that come at higher prices. Large serving platters started around $150 USD. I got a colourful little butter dish for $25 (original asking price, $35).
The copper plates are made for display and often have a colourful engraved scene in the centre. They were absolutely beautiful and I got to watch an artisan at work on one in Bukhara- it’s quite the skill. It also comes with quite a price tag. I looked at a small saucer-size plate and the original asking price was $100. I didn’t bother trying to haggle because, personally, I didn’t want to spend anywhere near that amount on an ornamental copper plate.
Hand forged Steel
Knives and steel are incredibly common around Uzbekistan and I found myself in a master blacksmith’s shop one day looking at engraved kitchen knives. The blacksmith showed me two options, decorative knives for $40 USD or titanium-edged steel knives that could actually be used for $140. Now, I’m not a knife person but I do have a brother that likes to cook and it was a month until Christmas. I ended up going with the higher-end option featuring an engraved camel caravan on the blade representing the Silk Road. It came with a certificate of authenticity from the blacksmith and he even engraved my brother’s name on it, which I thought was a nice touch on an already unique gift.
Some of my favourite Uzbekistan souvenirs are the miniature paintings. These can come in all kinds of forms. Personally, I bought a ceramic Christmas ornament, a painted tile, and a small wooden box. My designs were more geometrical and reminiscent of the architecture and tilework found in the mausoleums and madrassas of Uzbekistan. A friend I was travelling with bought an actual painting done by a miniature artist, hers depicted a scene of caravans and travellers along the Silk Road. As for costs, I paid $18 USD for my ornament, $25 USD for my tile, and $25 USD for the box.
Where to Shop in Uzbekistan
One of the things I struggled with in terms of shopping in Uzbekistan was where to shop. We visited 3 cities and I was worried I might buy in one but find better in another. I asked my guide for advice and she told me this “If you see something you like, buy it. You probably won’t see the exact same thing anywhere else.” Honestly, it was great advice. But, with that in mind, I still have a few notes to make to help you with your Uzbekistan souvenir shopping.
The first thing to note is that there will be bazaars for shopping as well as individual shops. The bazaars are going to be the cheapest and where you will find a lot of typical souvenirs like magnets and t-shirts. They will still have some scarves, suzani, and ceramics but they will typically be machine-made or not the best quality. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it, but if you are coming to Uzbekistan for a silk carpet or a silk scarf or handmade suzani, the bazaar isn’t the best place to look.
Instead, many of the higher-end products can be found in the shops lining the madrassas. This is true in Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. Of course, not every stall in a Madrassa is high-end but, in my experience, this is where I was able to find the craftsmen (and women) and higher quality goods.
I will also mention that I found Bukhara to be the best for shopping. I got pretty much everything there in the trading domes and madrassas. That being said, Bukhara also seemed more expensive than the other cities, however, it is known for its artists and, at the end of the day, Bukhara is where I saw the things I liked the most. Of course, I still haggled.
Haggling, or bartering, is part of life in Uzbekistan so if you want to go shopping in Uzbekistan, get ready to haggle. As mentioned earlier, a lot of the goods here are handmade and can take days if not weeks or even months to make. Uzbekistan is not a rich country and I wanted to make sure that I was paying fairly while also not overpaying. I asked a couple of guides what they thought and the overall consensus was that if I got 30% off it was a fantastic deal.
Most of what I ended up getting was 20-30% off although the steel master didn’t budge much for the knife (I only managed to get $20 off his original asking price of $140). There was also a miniature painter who proudly showed me a little box he had just finished painting to match a palace ceiling he had been commissioned to paint. The tiny floral print was beautiful and took him three days. When he told me that it was $25 USD I just handed him the cash. I know I was supposed to barter but $25 for all that work seemed more than fair to me for such beautiful work.
Another tip that helped get lower prices was to buy in bulk. Since I was with some friends we often all found things that we wanted to buy so we all purchased carpets from the same shop, as well as the suzanis. This made it easier to haggle with shop owners and they were more likely to give us a better deal.
Finally, cash is king. Obviously, if you are buying a $5000 USD carpet, that’s not going to be possible. However, even for my carpet, he would only give me the deal if I paid cash, not a credit card. Both USD and Uzbekistan Som are accepted by most shop owners.
Happy shopping in Uzbekistan!
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