The last time I was in Dubai was back in 2007 with my Dad in transit to Moscow and we didn’t have a lot of time there. Also, it was June and HOT. Six years later I was back again, but this time in cooler climate with friends and I was curious to see how much Dubai had changed. We spent more of our time out in the desert and in Abu Dhabi where my friend actually lived, and spent one night in Dubai in our little adventure around the UAE.
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. The Dubai skyline is made up of shiny sky-high skyscrapers where buildings try to outdo each other in height and architecture weirdness, and the more traditional structures that hint to Dubai’s history.
My friends and I had a particular Christmas celebration that involved 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 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 at the end of the day 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 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 also involved that one incident where I was mistaken for a Hooker which is funny on hindsight but will also affect how I think of Dubai.