A day of contrasts in Dubai

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.

Dubai Buildings Skyline
Welcome to Dubai

DUBAI MALL

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.

Dubai Mall Aquarium
Dubai Mall is home to the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater World, a 10-million litre tank which is the largest in the world. I can’t believe this is located in a shopping mall. You can even take diving lessons in here.

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.

Dubai Choc and Nuts exterior
It’s run by a really friendly Iranian man who’s happy to let you try anything you want
Dubai Choc and Nuts
for the squirrel in you

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.

Dubai Creek Boat Full
The boats wait to fill up before they leave. It usually doesn’t take that long
Dubai Creek Abra SCB
The abras didn’t used to have advertising on them. They do have lifejackets under the roofs which is great

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.

Dubai Souk Hallway
I love the high wooden arches of the souks. Everyone is trying hard to entice you in to their store
Dubai Souk Spices
You can definitely smell when you are in or near the Spice Souk because of all the weird and wonderful scents in the air
Dubai Souk Bobbleheads
I was very amused by these emirati bobbleheads.
Dubai Souk Gold Ring
This is some Guinness World Record winner for being the largest ring in the world. Why on earth you’ll want a ring you can’t wear is beyond me

DUBAI HARBOUR

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.

Dubai Creek Port Trade
Men at work – lots of loading and unloading happening

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.


4 thoughts on “A day of contrasts in Dubai”

  1. Good to know :) One more question.

    I checked out your entry on Qasr Al Sarab and came to the conclusion that its way over my budget for a stopover! Also checked out some hotels in dubai http://www.trivago.sg/dubai-549/hotel well the prices are not that expensive but do you have any recommendation on where to stay?

    1. Hi liting – yeah we had a special deal on that through my friend and it’s a pretty pricey place to stay! Unfortunately don’t have any personal recs at this point though, sorry! I’ll drop you an email if I come across any, but do share any of your own recs here =)

  2. Hi, how many days would you reckon to stay in Dubai? I would like to visit Dubai but am not sure if it is worth spending a week there or to tie it as a stop over city for a day or two.

    1. Hi liting, I don’t think you need to stopover there for an entire week! I think 2-3 days is more than enough to check out the Dubai quite thoroughly – spend some time along the river and the souks, check out the al fahidi fort museum and walk around the windtowers a little, maybe the burj and other buildings if you’re so inclined, a mall or 2 for the heck of it…

      hope that helps! perhaps other people might like the place, but I personally think there’s not much to see in Dubai…

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