So at this point in your hookah hobbyist career you’ve had a few experiences and you’ve decided that this thing is worth some investment; you are going to buy your own set up.
This process is only as stressful as you make it. Remember this is all for your benefit. All of the decisions you’re making are based on your personal preference.

In the westernized world you will find that hookah stores are full of character, especially relative to the stores that you would be otherwise more likely to visit.

The Professional-Looking One

This store is classy; like, really classy. It may be so classy that you feel under-dressed for the shopping experience. It’s located in an area surrounded by various artist guilds, upscale bars, and presumably opera houses. If you are anything like me, you will automatically feel like a poor person when you see what they have in store. The hookah tobacco here contains flavors you ddidn’t know existed, but now you have an acute curiosity as to what “Passion Fruit & Durian Sunset” could possibly taste like. The hookah’s themselves are works of art. Blown glass and unique color patterns make the inside of this building glimmer in a way that is reminiscent of a Persian mosque.

“That’s it.” You think to yourself. I don’t care how much it costs, I deserve to buy myself something nice every once in a while. You march right up to the person at the front check-out counter who appears to be the same woman who guided your tour of the local art museum on your seventh grade field trip. Right before you point triumphantly at a beautiful pipe on the other side of the room she tells you that it’s on sale for only $800. You hesitate long enough to thank her and tell her “I might come back later.”

The Head Shop

This store doesn’t officially sell anything except for pipes for “tobacco” and incense. All of the doors and half of the walls have been inexplicably replaced by tapestries. Most of the purchases made here are customarily followed by a wink and a nod. You have come to a hippie den.

The selection of hookah pipes is probably not what you were hoping for. They have a little bit of variety, but you hadn’t planned on investing your hard earned money in something Bob Marley themed. You begin thinking that this place is a bust before you realize the tobaccos they have. Anything from strawberry kiwi to green apple is sold in containers ranging from “I just wanna try a taste of this.” to “I am the CEO of the international pineapple-raspberry-splash tobacco corporation and I need to restock all of my stores.” This is the opportune time to ask the clerk for a recommendation. Make sure you get a good whiff of the stuff before making your move. Walk out feeling much calmer than you did going in.

The ‘Authentic’ One

You walk in only to be met by dozens of glass displays full of ornate pipes and various smoking tools. You’ll find the pipe selection here is fantastic for the price, but you are somewhat unnerved by the over-enthusiastic salesmen. He’s a forty year old bearded guy with an ethnic background that could be anything from Middle Eastern to South American. You are especially unsure because it sounded like he began his sentence in Hebrew and ended it with Turkish. To make matters worse, his incredibly attractive wife might actually be his daughter and her Portuguese is being spoken with a Russian accent.

This model U.N. is actually a great place to buy especially for pipes. Just be aware that haggling might be the name of the game. These stores can be found in most major cities, but rarely on google maps.

All in all it doesn’t take a lot to find a pipe worth smoking with a tobacco worth tasting. Both of my hookahs were presents brought back from the Middle East and they still serve me well.
In the end it’s all about exploring your hobby in the way you feel suits you best.