The last time I was in Dubai was back in 2007 with my Dad in transit to Moscow, this time around I was back here with friends and I was curious to see how much it had changed since. On this little adventure around the UAE, we only planned to spend one night in Dubai, fresh from a wonderful stay at Qasr Al Sarab, our desert oasis hotel in the Liwa desert, before heading back to Abu Dhabi.
I’ve always found Dubai an odd place – Singapore is often noted for its amazing speed of progress, but Dubai has an even more accelerated pace, thanks in part to having oil money. You can see the contrast in the shiny sky-high skyscrapers alongside the older, rambling souks and buildings. Dubai is famous for its growing skyline, where buildings try to outdo each other in height and architecture weirdness. I would dearly have loved to go up to the top of these buildings – I love a good high viewpoint – but we didn’t have a lot of time so I only got to admire them from afar…
My friends and I have a particular boxing day Christmas celebration that involves a secret Santa gift exchange. Since no one had had time to do any shopping before the trip, we decided to give it a twist this year – we hit the Dubai Mall separately with AED100 budget (that’s about S$30++) each to see who could get the best gift… in just 30 minutes. If you know just how sprawling Dubai’s shopping malls are, you’ll know how challenging this really was. I was pretty knackered after that sprint through the shopping mall.
CHOC & NUTS
But the one place you can’t leave Dubai without visiting is the one and only Choc & Nuts store! It’s a rather small place, nondescript amidst the high buildings and busy streets, but this is apparently where everyone who visits Dubai gets their souvenir chocolate dates and nuts to bring home.
RIDING THE ABRA ON DUBAI CREEK
It there’s just one traditional thing you have to do in Dubai, it’s heading to Dubai Creek to ride the Abra, a very simple river taxi system that ferries people from one side of the creek to the other, for just 1 dirham! The boats and docks been upgraded a fair bit since 5 years ago when I rode this with my Dad – now there are proper jetty docks, signage in English, and even helpful guides that speak good English who will direct you to the right boats.
EXPLORING THE SOUKS
We took the abra from Baniyas to the Dubai Old Souk station and later back to the Deira side to check out the surrounding souks. These souks or marketplaces are great to just wander around in – lots of strange knickknacks all around and a throwback to Dubai in the old days. The most prominent souk here is probably the Gold Souk. Expect lots of people to call you and try and entice you to check out their wares and their stalls, and I also made sure to keep an eye on my stuff because it was crowded.
And as the sun started to set, we decided to take a walk along the creek back to where our car was parked. Surprisingly, the old harbour is still very much in use today, with lots of small boats and goods being hauled off them in the evening. I saw just about everything from tyres to refrigerators in the port that day. It’s a lovely place to get a real feel of the city beyond the glitzy buildings and the touristy souks.
We headed back to the hotel that evening and had a lovely dinner at the Japanese restaurant Zuma that night. Quite frankly we had very little Middle Eastern food on this trip, mostly because my friend who was living there K is not a big fan, but lucky for her Dubai is a very cosmopolitan place so it has excellent selection of fancy restaurants if that’s what you are into. This night was also when the infamous ‘Mistaken for a Hooker‘ event happened, ah Dubai.