I know, here I go rambling on about malls again. But avoiding malls in Kuwait is like never seeing the Sphinx in Egypt. You just have to accept it, embrace it and go check it out. However, I will promise that this will be my last mall-specific posting. I had come across a few listings of malls in Kuwait on various blogs and thought that there might be a few worth checking out. So over the last week, Bean and I have been thoroughly mall-hopping just to make sure we didn’t miss something fabulous.
This is just half a mile down the Gulf Road from us. It’s an average mall. We come here to pay our internet bill at one of the kiosks, but otherwise have never shopped here. The shops and atmosphere are nothing to do cartwheels over, however they do have a nice restaurant section called “Marina Crescent”. The Crescent is located across Gulf Road from the mall (accessible by an enclosed walkway) and has two levels of restaurants wrapping around the speedboat-strewn harbor. At night and on weekends it’s extremely popular, and it’s not uncommon to get run over by strollers, scooters, bicycles and big wheels, as you’re trying to maneuver through the throngs of people and the haze of billowing shisha smoke.
Al Kout Mall
Al Kout is located south of Kuwait City in Fahaheel and it intrigued me when I read on visit-kuwait.com, that, “The fountain at the Al Kout Mall is one of the largest in Kuwait.” Maybe not a reason to divert the family vacation, but certainly a reason to fill an hour or two on a weekday. So, Bean and I headed off.
Al Kout is located right on the Gulf, with expensive yachts and speedboats mooring on either side. It has two “wings” or “piers” (one with regular nothing-extraordinary mall shops and other with fresh veg, meat and fish stands). Between these two is the infamous fountain and lots of open-air cafes. For a lunch or weekend brunch it would be a lovely spot to relax with friends.
I had seen the fountain spraying high as I explored the mall, but when we wandered outside to get a better look it suddenly went on break and did nothing more than a few spits and spurts. We waited for five minutes, but it just burped a bit creating some random ripples, so we walked on. Luckily, as we were circling the final side, getting ready to re-enter the mall and head back to our car, it started up again.
Now, I have no frame of reference for whether it’s truly “one of the largest” fountains in Kuwait (though I can say that Kuwaitis do love a good water feature), and maybe this is an unfair reference, but after having seen the fountains at the Dubai Mall, this was like it’s distant half-bred cousin. Lovely in its own right, but I might downplay the “largest in Kuwait” as your expectations are grander than the real thing.
It was on the visit-Kuwait.com website, where I first heard of Kuwait’s Magic Mall. It definitely sounded like something not to be missed! Especially when touted as a, “state-of-the-art retail mall in Kuwait, and is located … next to one of the best Sandy beaches in Kuwait,” [sic]. We passed it on our way to Al Kout mall, so on our way home, we stopped off to check out the magical wonders. In summary, disappointing, and yet, amusing.
The shops were less-than-average and overall it appeared a bit worn and tired, definitely not “state-of-the-art,” however I was amused by the décor. There was one whole wing decorated like an Egyptian tomb, with hieroglyphics and fake stone pillars.
One side of the elevators had a lovely fountain, and the other side had a woodland scene, with plants, rocks, a dribbling creek and little wooden bridge, overseen by a fake mashrabiya window. Another section’s ceiling was painted in deep sky blue with puffy white clouds. In a country where you get sun 93% of the time, this seemed a bit silly. Some skylights would have been just as effective, plus would have allowed some light in.
Despite my poking around, I never did come across anything remotely magical, either from a retail standpoint or an entertainment standpoint. But just when I was ready to call this a completely wasted trip, I came upon Wee Amusement Land (my name for it). It was a fairly large area housing lots of rides that you’d typically see in any amusement park, spinning tea cups, swinging pirate ship, merry-go-round horses, bumper cars, train, etc. But everything was miniature and designed for the average four-year-old. It was quite amusing and if Bean were older I’m sure we’d be forking out the dinars to let her bob on the lazy river. Admittedly I did not find out how much these rides cost, and considering I just learned that a can of spray paint is $30 (I opted not to purchase it and tried not to gasp audibly), I wouldn’t be surprised if they were not cheap. But for a summer day of 130 degree temps, this would be a nice spot to spend an hour and let junior spin until he pukes.
Al Hamra Mall
Al Hamra Mall: affectionately known (to me) as the Spiral Mall because the skyscraper it's connected to kind of spirals up, although another friend said she thought it "wraps" more than "spirals"; she's probably right. Two attempts to gain access to the parking garage were met with failure, so I eventually just parked on the street one morning and plunked Bean in the stroller and headed off. First comment, the area is not stroller-friendly area at all. I think we bumped up and over about 27 curbs, and stumbled our way over potholes and broken sidewalks until we finally reached the front of the mall.
My troubles didn’t stop here. Once we finally made it to the front of the mall, I couldn’t figure out how to get in without scaling multiple stairs. I wandered back and forth along its front and finally dragged the stroller up the stairs and got in. I’m sure that for those in “the know” who can find the Narnia-like parking garage, entering the mall would be very far less arduous. Upon entering the mall, I was definitely impressed with its modern design and overall feeling of far-too-posh-for-you-dear. My husband had been there once before to see a movie (and he highly recommends the theaters, and go on a Friday to the 1 p.m. show, it’s practically empty), but when he heard I was planning this outing all he said was, “look don’t touch.” And after perusing the shops, I saw why. Definitely out of my tax bracket. I did gaze at the Vera Wang Bridal store with fairytale-like longing, but otherwise I didn’t pause too long anywhere for fear that either they’d realize I didn’t belong there and boot me out, or they’d suck me in and I’d be dropping $3k for some stiletto Louis Vuitton boots (which would look lovely sitting next to my crocs in the closet). I did attempt to explore more than the ground floor but I couldn’t find a lift to save my life; and frankly I wasn’t actually interested enough to ask someone. So, we took one last glance at how the other half shops, and headed out, down the stairs, around the potholes and back over the 27 curbs to our awaiting car.
Allegedly posh, but in comparison to Al Hamra and the 360 Mall, I’d disagree. From the exterior it’s really nice; reminds me a bit of the Venetian Hotel in Vegas, with yachts and speedboats mooring at their door. But the interior is non-impressive and slightly disappointing. They do have a lovely promenade along the Gulf, though.
Laila Gallery Complex
This was a very small mall, however I thought it was a lovely design (which you can see by the photo I took quickly before the security guard told me “mafeesh” – which means “There are none”, which I took to mean “There are none photos allowed”). We wandered the two floors and quickly realized that it apparently specializes in shops selling ball gowns, wedding dresses, and accompanying bling. The one store that didn’t seem to fit in with the general theme, was the Saeed & Samir Bookstore located in a corner of the basement. It wasn’t large, but it had mostly English books, lots of children’s books, and some fiction and non-fiction for adults. May not sound like a huge gem to folks who can still pop by a Barnes & Noble for a few hours of browsing, but for those of us in Kuwait, a bookstore of any kind is a delight.
A year ago, I was looking for a travel book before our trip to Oman and Googled bookstores and found that the Virgin MegaStore was touted as the largest bookstore in Kuwait. Always excited to explore a new bookstore I headed off, only to find that they were having a huge clearance sale. What luck, I thought! However, as I was looking through their small travel section, I overheard a woman ask a salesclerk why they were having a sale. “We’re closing,” he said. Apparently Kuwait is not an easy market for book sellers. Hence our appreciation for those few who remain.
So, based on my latest (and final) round of mall explorations, I think I can conclusively state that despite any and all claims of "biggest" or "largest" or "tallest" or whatever other -ests they can tout, there’s really nothing more to discover. When it comes down to it, a mall is a mall is a mall; unless you're in Dubai.