Re: Leaving for Egypt in 11 hours!!
When you find the 2-3 hookahs you like, do a quick visual inspection. Look at the seems (the hose port, the release valve, any where you see one piece of metal join another). Then pull out the stem and look down the tube. Make sure you don't see any visual rust or other effects (do your shopping in the day so you can hold the stem up to light). A lot of egyptian hookahs look like steal on the outside, but the interior is copper. My Stainless Steel Egyo hookah had a copper interior tube. This eventually rusted and snapped (ie hookah was done). I had it for 2 years, but still sucked. Some people like copper for taste reasons, personally, I dont think its worth it for longevity reasons. Copper would be a brownish color of course, I'd look for a shiny steel color.
Have the shop owner put together the hookahs and make sure he puts on all of the right grommets/gaskets to connect the stem and vase. Then plug in a hose. Put your thumb over the bowl port and pull. You should get zero air. If you are getting some air, try to figure out if its the gaskets or some part of the stem. Getting air should be a warning sign that this isnt a good hookah, especially if it looks like all of the gaskets are a good fit.
Also, remember that anything goes! So if you like a stem and you like a base, you can combine those. The shop owner will have a lot of gaskets to make this work, so dont be confined to just the setups on display, mix and match if youd like.
I'm not sure what you are looking for, but I got a glass hookah and a glass-less hookah. The glass-less hookah was all stainless and was nearly indestructable. If you plan on having a lot of crazy parties, having a hookah without glass is great, and makes hosting parties with hookah less nerve racking.
One last thing to check: The release port. It should be a little screw on metal piece with a ball in it. I remember seeing some hookahs that instead of a ball they just shoved in some paper material. Make sure the release valve works (do the test above, plug the bowl port and then blow out). If the stem you like has a crappy release port, usually you can switch out that piece too.
Budget a good few hours to shop and make sure to talk to a lot of buyers. Its fun, take your time.