I didn’t know what to feel when my father announced that the family was going on a trip to Dubai over the Christmas holidays. The truth is Dubai has never been anywhere near my travel radar, which is why I had no idea what to expect. So it’s a bit ironic (in a good way) that I come home declaring it as one of my favourite cities I’ve ever visited so far. And while that statement might come into question if I ever get to experience the Arabian summer, the Dubai during the cold season was certainly perfect!
I’ve been thinking long and hard on how I would go about writing my Dubai travel blog posts. It took me a couple of months as you can see. We dropped by A LOT of places— and by dropped by I mean we visited a lot of places but some only quite briefly— though it was enough for me to easily tell you which locations were my favourites. It didn’t seem like going strictly with a per day narration of our trip was going to work, so I’ll just try my best to create a sort of flow for this series of posts.
Just to give you a little idea of what to expect in this series, here’s a little travel video I put together of all the places we visited. I’ll add this as a footnote to every post I write about the trip from here on out. (And in case you’re wondering who the dude with the kooky antics is, that’s my cousin Eriko!)
Dubai is a beautiful city. At a glance, it’s quite easy to forget that this place is actually a desert that has been reclaimed and built over, with structures that are as grand and sprawling as any of the sheikh’s palaces. (And why not, since the sheikh does own a lot of the structures and hotels anyway.) The main city is extremely modern, but there are still areas where one can appreciate the “old Dubai”.
Driving around feels a little like you’re driving in circles. Actually it reminds me a little of Singapore in that sense because it’s almost as if you take a few spins on different roads in the same area to get from one place to another. It’s really interesting to just watch the city pass by the car window as the place is a treasure trove for aspiring architects (like my brother!) because you can’t help but marvel at how unique the buildings here are.
You might be curious at this point about the palaces, but we were only allowed to appreciate the sheikh’s palaces from afar. Here’s a family photo we took with the Za’abeel Palace in the background. This was more or less as close as we were allowed when we went there, but I am confident the inside is very lovely and extravagant.
(The fact that they were all wearing sunglasses and I was not is entirely unintentional!)
A lot of people seem to have the misconception that when you visit Dubai, the gals have to be all covered up in head to toe black like a traditional Hindi woman. But since Dubai is an open and global city, they have embraced the more modern way of living. Roughly speaking you can wear anything you want, but of course, there are still some places that will require you to dress appropriately, but I mean, isn’t it just normal to dress properly anyway?
Dubai has quite the diverse population, so it’s important to be respectful as well as conscious of how we behave while going around this lovely city. The law is quite strict so it’s quite safe here, so at least in that aspect you can breathe a little easier right?
I found Dubai’s city planning rather meticulous. Most of the multinational companies are grouped together by field in a business district. And for the sake of uniformity, all of the houses and apartments are built using an Arabian-style of architecture, making the residential sector of the city look like a modern take on Aladdin’s hometown. A good illustration of this architecture for me is the Madinat Souk. On the outside it looks like a traditional Arabian desert home, but on the inside it’s actually air-conditioned and decorated very well! It’s a mix of old and new that works so beautifully!
The Madinat Souk is actually an indoor marketplace that allows you to browse all the lovely little Arabian trinkets, jewelry, rugs and carpets, cups and saucers and such.
My favourite things to look at are the stained glass lamps and lights. They are simply some of the most stunning I’ve seen.
This carpet store is literally just like a scene from Aladdin.
The things being sold here are more on the pricey side since it’s really a tourist stop, but I can’t deny there are so many pretty things to see in here.
DEIRA SPICE SOUK
The markets are always a nice way to get a taste of the local flair, so visits to the famous old Dubai souks are a definite must. You take a little Abra boat ride across the Dubai Creek to get to the older part of the city called Deira. It does feel a little bit like stepping back in time to get a glimpse of what Dubai was like way before all the high-rises.
The Spice Souk is not the grandest of markets but it is much more full of life than the Madinat Souk, in my opinion. Here is the place hagglers will really enjoy being in, first of all thanks to the sheer number of things in the souk, and the fairly game storeowners who will keep asking you to name your price. Yes, even for the gold and the diamonds!
The souk is not crowded and is actually very organized, which I was thankful for, but what made my foodie heart really flutter is the insane variety of spices, dried fruits, teas, and nuts here. Possibly every spice or tea you could imagine! There are also a lot of dried flowers, which in hindsight I regret not carefully perusing!
We managed to take home some saffron, dried figs, and a whole lot of nuts, but what I did forget to buy are the fresh vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks, plus the dried lavenders and roses I have always wanted to try in my baking. I know, I know. It was a very scatter-brained moment on my part. Sadly I foresee that it’ll be a long time before I can come here again.
Now that photo below actually has a funny story attached to it. Before I exited the Spice Souk, this guy chased after me, asking ‘Where are you from?’
‘The Philippines,’ I tell him.
‘Oh!’ He pauses to think for a moment, and with a twinkle in his eyes he says, ‘May boyfriend ka na ba?’
I was startled for a second, hearing such familiar words coming from a man whose face doesn’t quite match the language. Then I laugh at the joke and ask him to pose for a photo. He of course flashes an award-winning smile.
The people in the market are generally quite friendly and accommodating, but of course when you’re in a market you should not forget to keep your wits about you in order to score some good deals!
DEIRA GOLD SOUK
Adjacent to the Spice Souk is a place that is literally a haven for jewelry lovers. I’m not into that very much, but you really won’t realize just how true the talk about this being a city of gold and riches is until you walk into the Gold Souk.
The first thing that greets you is this display of the world’s largest… ring. I mean, it’s a ring if you’re a giant, but for regular people the size of this thing is more like a dress. It can cover up a person’s body, it’s so big! Called the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba) it is indeed shaped like a ring estimated to cost $3 Million! (FYI, it’s not for sale!)
Just a bit of trivia, in case you’re curious:
- The ring is 21-carat and weighs 64 kilograms. (We’re a few kilos apart in weight haha!)
- It is studded with 5.1 kilograms of precious stones, including 615 Swarovski crystals.
- It took 55 workers and 45 days to finish the ring.
Jewelry here is displayed like it’s normal wares and not composed of precious minerals. It’s crazy especially when you come from a country where jewelry stores would have state of the art security systems. Here the stores are regular glass-fronted ones, and all the gold simply hang from racks like regular fancy jewelry! (I guess it also goes to show that here in Dubai the law is truly respected.)
I have never seen such an abundance of gold and diamonds in one place.
Unfortunately I can’t really relate any gold buying experience since I didn’t buy anything from the Gold Souk. However I’ve heard that when you step into the store, the sellers would actually ask you what price you want to buy the jewelry for, and you start bargaining from there. Some people have successfully bought their jewelry at unheard of low prices.
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