Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marrakech, Morocco: Jemaa el-Fnaa, Souk & Riad

Fri 15/8/14

Marrakech Menara Airport

Ah Marrakech, you have been so elusive to us! But finally we are here.

We were greeted with the hot and dry Mediterranean summer weather (average 37 C, max 42 C). After the long queue at the immigration, we went to the taxi stand. A grand taxi (old and beaten manual Mercedes) with a grand old man in it came to us. He didn't speak a word of English. Then came a younger man helping to translate. We were asked to pay MAD 200 (Moroccan dirham) or RM 75 to take us to Jemaa el-Fnaa where our Riad was. We agreed to it as we didn't know how far it was from the airport and thought that was a fair price.

It turned out that Jemaa el-Fnaa was only 5km away! We were ripped off by the totally dishonest pakcik (old man). And we had to pay additional MAD 40 (RM 15) to another guy with a pushcart who brought our luggage to our Riad. To be honest, the Riad location was quite confusing to find on our own, it was like a labyrinth, walking through the narrow lanes so we wouldn't mind paying the MAD 40. But what the old man did was totally unacceptable. To those who plan to travel to Marrakech, please be aware of this scam. Post trip, I read here on Wikitravel:

The airport is about 5km (3 miles) from the city. There is an air conditioned airport bus every 30m that costs MAD30 one way, MAD50 return.

The taxis at the airport are totally dishonest and they act as an organised mob. The price on the meter to the airport is MAD15. The official price is four times that, MAD60, and even this is not enough for these greedy people. They will try to point at the wrong sign showing MAD100 (which is for a place 20km away) or ask for more because it's night. The best way to deal with them is to ignore those just outside the terminal; walk across the car park where you will find many more taxis waiting. Offer them MAD40, they will say "no, that's ridiculous, etc.," but once you start walking away towards the roundabout one of them will pull up behind you and say "ok, MAD50". If you really want to save money you can walk to the roundabout and catch a taxi there for the metered fare (MAD15-20 to the old town/Gueliz).

Definitely not a good start. We reminded ourselves to be extra careful next time.

The journey to Jemaa el-fnaa was pleasant though with well managed beautiful gardens surrounding the city, including the Menara gardens.

The dishonest taxi driver in old and beaten taxi

beautiful garden otw to Jemaa el-Fnaa

Pushcart guy
Derb Moulay Abdel Kader - entrance to our riad
almost there

Riad Dar Marhaba

The maze like narrow lanes leading to our Riad Dar Marhaba did not look convincing. But once there, our fears were proven wrong. We were amazed by the rustic charm of the riad with a courtyard in the centre and the rooms surrounding it. Now we believe why it was highly rated in There are only 5 rooms here with wifi, air cond, safe and hot shower. There are also shared facilities i.e. 1st floor lounge, dinner room, patio and roof-top terrace. Our room costs EUR 30 (RM 130) per room per night. Breakfast is included.

We were greeted by Sanaa who didn't speak English but tried her best to accommodate us. She served us with the lovely Moroccan mint tea in a beautiful traditional teapot and tagine.

Riad entrance door

mint tea. the cubes are sugar. not nasi himpit

our charming room
there's a safe inside


limetree in the courtyard

Jemaa el-Fnaa / Medina / Souk 

After refreshing ourselves, we ventured out to the Souk and Jemaa el-Fnaa (main square), just a 5 minute walk away. There are many shops selling clothes, groceries, bakeries; hammams and restaurants at the roofed Souk which is along the way to the Jemaa el-Fnaa (main square). The square was crowded with tourists, mostly French as this was during the summer holiday and French is spoken widely in Morocco, together with Arabic and the local Berber language. You could find a variety of things, similar to a pasar malam (night market) at the square: traditional crafts such as lanterns, chandeliers, tagines, teapots, souvenirs, food, fruits and orange juice stalls, dessert with tea and argan oil, just to name a few. During the day, there are also snake charmers and show apes (yes!). The Jemaa el-Fnaa is listed as a Unesco Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and the Medina (old city) in which the Jemaa is part of, is one of Unesco's World Hertiage sites.

Unesco World Heritage site

Food is cheap here at the Jemaa el-Fnaa and also halal. Morocco is a Muslim country with 98.9% of the population being Muslim. We tried the cheap but very refreshing jus d orange (only MAD 4 or RM1.50) and some skewers (MAD 45 or RM17) at the food stall at the square. The skewer tasted so-so only. We think this is because the food here is pre-cooked, and then re-heated upon ordering. However, the skewer is barbecued on the spot.

We reckon to eat at one of the restaurants instead, with a 3 course meal dinner with traditional show at only MAD 80 (RM 30) or 3 course meal lunch for MAD 60 (RM 22). We didn't try eating at the restaurant though, so we couldn't comment if they are tasty or otherwise. Having said that, eating at the stalls at the Jemaa should be experienced as well, blending in with the local crowd. Try both for comparison. We also tried some local crepe which looks like thin roti canai (MAD 8 or RM3) along the way.

After the eating and window shopping, it was time to retire after a very long and tiring day.

Souk El Kessabine
dates, apricot, figs
lantern / chandelier
argan oil
Jus d orange
local crepe
food stall
let's eat!
food stall menu
fishing game!
break for prayer



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