A trip to celebrate our 10-year milestone. That was the theme that we had in mind when my better half and I scrambled into finding a rather last-minute holiday destination end of 2018.
Why we ended up choosing Morocco? I would sum it up as a mix of breathtaking sceneries, a dose of unique culture, awesome local halal food (yes not those routine overseas Indian halal food and street shawarmas), fun activities and an opportunity for us to unlock a new continent, Africa.
So, after a long 24-hour journey from KL (click here to read about it) we found ourselves in the city of Marrakesh. A former imperial city and one of the most popular tourist cities in that part of the World, Marrakesh particularly the old city or medina is famous for its markets, palaces, mosques and an iconic square. We chose Marrakesh to be our entry and exit point for our 10-day Morocco trip and by spending 4 days there (not enough!) we had a bit of a preview on what Marrakesh has to offer.
Riads, when accommodation is an attraction by itself
Yes, you cannot come to Marrakesh or Morocco without spending at least a couple of nights in a Riad. A textbook definition of a Riad would be a large traditional Moroccan house built around a central courtyard, often converted into a hotel. So, you would have hundreds of these riads in the old city of Marrakesh that offer different level of comfort and luxury. One thing for sure, the riads are always a pretty sight especially at the courtyard area, balcony and rooftops. Not only that, riads are mostly spread out within the medina itself so location is another plus point.
We stayed at 2 different riads during our stay in Marrakesh – Riad Romance and Riad Miski. Both are small and personalised with great interior and efficiently run by friendly owners/staff.
….and it’s definitely instagrammable.
Breakfast @ a Riad is usually at the rooftop enjoying the view of the sunrise is a must-do although it gets a bit too cold in winter.
Even at night, the view at a Riad is something you would not mind bragging about on your IG feeds.
Marrakesh has lots to offer. We were not there long enough to tick many places off the tourist must-see list but we did visited a few.
Jemaa el-Fanaa Square, Marrakeh’s main landmark.
The Jemaa el-Fanaa is the center of all the attractions in the medina. This is the heart of all the action Marrakesh has to offer. Most of the bazaars or souks connect to the square and we were there on all the days in Marrakesh either for their street food or just some good old people watching.
Hop on to the rooftops of the few cafes surrounding the Jemaa el-Fanaa for an aerial view of the square.
Or walk around and absorb the colorful sight, surrounding aroma of good food and listen to the local music coming from the snake charmers.
However, I did get a bit uncomfortable seeing snakes and monkeys being used to make a few Dirhams out of tourists wanting to take photos with these poor animals.
The mobile henna stands. Be clear on what you want and agree on a price before you even sit down.
Once the sun sets, it is a different kind of fun experience. It is Makan time!
Morocco is a Muslim majority country which means that the food are mostly halal so we love the fact that we can be more explorative with the local flavours particularly their street food. Just be ready to be pulled by the aggressive locals trying to lure you into their stalls.
The fish stall. Recommended by our Riad operator. Quite a simple menu but couple the seafood with the side dishes and killer jalapeno it turns out as not being too bad.
Our favourite stall. No 31.
BBQ of lamb, beef, chicken sausages. A combination of tasty food and some classy kitchen performance.
And the mandatory daily dose of fruit punch or mixed juice.
French influence in Morocco is quite strong so breads, pastries and desserts are also must-try.
It is really no surprise why I came back to Malaysia 2KG heavier. Food was just amazing.
We also gave the recommended Clock Cafe’s signature Camel Burger a try. While the ambience was nice, the camel burger is nothing to shout about. Perhaps it is just a matter of preference as I enjoyed camel meat eaten with Mandy rice in meals I had in Saudi Arabia much more.
Souks @ Marrakesh’s Medina
“Do get lost, it’s part of the fun”.
That was the message given by one of the staffs in our Riad as we headed to Marrakesh souks for the first time. I was not ready to give up so easily. Equipped with a fully-charged mobile phone loaded with offline Google Maps and Maps.me apps, I was ready to prove the guys wrong. Surely technology can beat this.
And I was right, I survived the first couple of hours with combination of instinct, signages and technology. After a while, technology starts to fail me, we got into narrower and covered lanes which started to play tricks on my GPS location. Soon enough I found my way returning to spots I’ve been to. Asking the locals would lead to more confusion as most will guide you deeper into the souks before asking a small tip to “pulang ke jalan yang benar”.
Only when that we accepted that it is normal to get lost, we started to enjoy the whole experience. We started to discover unique shops and lanes and here’s a quick tip, always anchor yourself to major iconic places like the Madrasa or the mosque or the famous square and you’ll be fine. Another pro tip is when you buy something, ask the seller as most likely he will point you to the right direction, something like a buy fridge magnet get directions for free package.
There are plenty to buy and see in the souks. We spent quite a few hours a day just taking different lanes and discovering something new.
Spices for home.
Fridge magnets. Go deeper and further from the square for better deals.
The open air section. From cactus to carpets.
Remember the juice stands? This is where the fruits come from. The fruit market.
I kind of like the ambience at the fruit market as there were not many tourists and the sellers were not too pushy despite us buying only a few KG or oranges.
Bahia Palace, a traditional Moroccan architecture.
A beautiful palace where a man stays with his four wives and 24 concubines. While that sounds like an exciting and valid reason why we chose Bahia Palace over other tourist sites in Marrakesh, we actually went there for the architecture.
Took me a while to absorb the Palace no thanks to the massive crowd of tourists but eventually we get to spend some time going through the various sections of the Palace. The gardens, corridors, multiple rooms and the courtyard all showcasing the signature Moroccan mosaics, marbles, wood ceilings and pretty architecture.
Pro tip: arrive early and go straight to the later part of the Palace to get the chance to snap good photos minus all the people photobombing. You will be able to backtrack later.
One for the gram.
A bit of regret as we did not get the chance to visit Saadian Tomb and the El Badi Palace (days were short during winter and we decided not to do touch and go to complete a number game of places to visit, so we took it a bit easy). I was also a bit frustrated to discover that Madrasa Ben Youseff, one of the most beautiful places in Marrakesh was closed for renovation for a couple of years. Oh well you can’t win it all.
The iconic Koutobia Mosque
Koutobia Mosque is another Marrakesh’s landmark. As Muslims, we we able to enter any of the mosques but IMHO, Koutobia’s unique features would be its structure particularly the tall minaret.
Located at one far end of Jamee El Fanaa square, it’s nice to listen to the maghrib azaan coming from the minaret of this mosque (as well as many other mosques nearby) as the sun sets in the evening. Just stand in the middle of the square and enjoy the sights and sounds… beautiful.
Marrakesh offers exactly what we wanted as our first destination in Morocco – a sneak preview on what to expect for the rest of the trip. The good ones like beautiful riads and palaces, delicious food and local culture. As well as the not so exciting ones such as scam attempts, cold winter nights and touristy crowd. I would highly recommend to spend at least 3-5 nights in Marrakesh alone to absorb and enjoy the many tourist sites.
And what better way to end our Marrakesh adventure with a nice 2-hour massage and traditional hammam. Scrub it all before we hit to our next destination in Morocco, the Sahara Desert.
A video on my Vlog Series of our time in Marrakesh. Watch in full HD. 😊
Next up: Sleeping under the stars, Glamping in Sahara!