“Konichiwaaaa!” the Moroccans shouted at us while walking through the maze of the medina in Essaouira, our first stop in Morocco.
At first I was perplexed why they all think we’re Japanese. But that’s usually how it is when you’re traveling as an Asian abroad. In some parts of the world, they think I’m Chinese. In other parts of the world, I’m Thai. Sometimes they think I’m Vietnamese. In Morocco, I’m Japanese. I never really figured out how Japanese culture is connected to Moroccan culture and I didn’t really see a lot of Japanese tourists there too which left me wondering why they would think most Asian tourists in Morocco are Japanese.
In the beginning Lilibeth, my Filipino friend, and I usually answered back “No, we’re from the Philippines!” to which they say “Ah Philippine. Nice country!” Later on we couldn’t be bothered and just answered back “Kawaiiiiii” with Asian fingers to legitimize our Japanese-ness. I mean it can get very tiring to keep explaining where we’re really from. But sometimes, when we were out shopping and haggling prices of Moroccan rugs and leather bags, we would tell them we’re from the Philippines. “Third world. No money. Give us good price habibi,” we would say.
Interestingly it worked to our favor. One seller in the Red City of Marrakesh told us he had a Filipino ex-girlfriend and gave us a really good deal with the leather bags. In the northern Imperial City of Fez, the waiter of Chez Thami named Ismaili (as in “smiley”) loved us and he calls me Apl.de.ap as soon as he learned we’re from the Philippines. While waiting for our food to arrive we would be singing “Bebot” with him. And every time we passed by the restaurant he would start singing the song loudly to our embarrassment. Morocco is an amazing country with its friendly locals and it is definitely one of my favourite destinations in the world.
How could you maximize your trip there as an Asian?
Here are my top 9 travel tips to Morocco:
- Haggle like crazy. If you’re like me who grew up in South East Asia, you know fully well that haggling is almost second nature to us. So don’t be surprised if you need to start bargaining in Morocco. It’s an intrinsic part of their culture so just ignore the first price a merchant puts forward and haggle away! Haggle as low as half the first price.
- Know your Moroccan rugs and leather goods. There are many fake rugs and leather goods in the souks so better read up on how to check if the Moroccan rug you’re buying is real or fake.
- Taxis are the best way to get around. Morocco is cheap so I suggest taking the taxi to get around town. You’ll also haggle for the price. Depending on how far you’re going, it shouldn’t cost you more than 10 euros to go around. Ask if they’ll use the meter. In places like Fez, they do even without me asking. In Marrakech, they also do fixed prices but you may need to remind them.
- Go in the spring. Morocco is lush and green at this time of the year. And it’s perfectly warm. I was shocked to learn that June-August is low season in Morocco. It makes sense since it’s probably almost 40 degrees and no one wants to go out!
- Stay in a riad. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house built around an internal garden. They are gorgeous and it is the best way to experience Morocco. If you insist on going in the summer then a stay in a riad is a must. My favorites are Riad Anata in Fez and Riad Quara in Marrakech.
- If you’re offered a mint tea by a local, sit down and enjoy it. Mint tea is the hallmark of Moroccan hospitality and I’m sure you’ll get offered tea at least a dozen times during your visit. Don’t think they want something from you. Don’t think they will poison you. They won’t. It’s impossible to refuse it so just say yes.
- Avoid tourist scams. There are a few scams in Morocco that you should be aware of – the henna scam, the fake nice kids who will get you lost in the maze of the medina, the tannery scam and the snake charmers among others.
- If you’re a woman just ignore unwanted attention. I was traveling with a female friend and met another female friend during our trip. The harassment can be a bit overwhelming specially if you’re traveling solo. Just ignore it and continue walking. The best thing to do is to avoid eye contact. If it persists, threaten police involvement. It’s surprisingly effective.
- Eat lots of tagines or join a food tour! One of the main reasons I love Morocco is the food. The food is so tasty and affordable here. We joined Marrakech Food Tours which introduced us to Moroccan cuisine and enjoyed lots of great food. We also pretty much ate a lot of tagines, grilled fresh sardines and pastilla all over Essaouira, Marrakech, and Fez. The best thing? Food is so cheap here you can easily satisfy your cravings.
If you’d like to learn more about adventures in Morocco, get in touch with Journey Beyond Travel today. Whether you are from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, or the Philippines, our team can help make sure you have the experience of a lifetime and plenty of stories of your own to tell!