"You absolutely must see...Part 1." Top 5 Page for this destination Dubai Travelogue by colin_bramso

Dubai Travel Guide: 3,944 reviews and 11,521 photos

THE HEART & SOUL OF DUBAI

Many people criticise Dubai as fake, as one big theme park, as being all man-made. Well, no city is natural and Dubai's no different, they're all man-made. But what those critics don't understand is that Dubai never was a very big city. Even when we left originally in 1984 the population was only about 250,000.

Just look at the photo taken as recently as 1949. That was the extent of the city of Dubai. A few hundred buildings huddled on the banks of the Creek.The buildings were mud reinforced with blocks of coral, so they weren't really going to last for centuries, especially in this climate. In fact the city only became established in 1830 when the Bani Yas tribe, led by the Al Maktoum family, settled on the banks of the Creek and began the trading that became the hallmark of Dubai.

In the photo Deira is at the top, this side of the Creek on the bend is Shindagah and a little further to the right is Bur Dubai. And that was it. The vast majority of modern Dubai is built on what was simply empty desert.

Although all the world-wide publicity is about the new developments you can still absorb the atmosphere and flavour of old Dubai, and this Travelogue is to tell you where to find it.

The Travelogue is in two parts - there's too much to show to squeeze it all into one! So I'll do it in order of how I suggest you should plan your tour. OK, off we go...

AL KHOR

The Creek, Al Khor in Arabic, is still the heart and soul of Dubai. You can do this tour at any time of the day but I prefer the evening. I like to start around 4pm, when it's cooler, the shops are all opening for the evening session, the lights are starting to come on and the atmosphere is at its best.

You should start your walking tour on Deira side at around the Sheraton Dubai Creek. Walk down with the Creek on your left. You'll soon come to where the traditional wooden dhows still load cargo right in the heart of the city. They trade mainly, as they always have, with the sub-Continent, with Iran just across the Gulf and with East Africa.

These days they have motorised cranes to help with the loading and you'll even see cargo as large as trucks being loaded onto the deck of the dhows. And you'll still see manual loading - backbreaking work as they carry heavy loads on their shoulders up the gangplanks onto the decks. And a point about Dubai's safety - the cargo just sits on the quayside day and night, you'll always see it there. It isn't stolen.

This is living history, you're seeing exactly what people a hundred years ago would have seen. And the Creek has its very own unique smell, a mixture of the old timbers, the spices, the water. Add the hot sun, the humidity and it really is a very special experience.

SOUKS & SHOPS

Carry on walking past the abra stations, which have recently been upgraded, mainly for safety reasons. Abra is the little wooden ferry boat that takes people across the Creek between Deira and Bur Dubai. We'll come back to them later.

Walk a little further and you come to an area with old shops featuring wind towers, barjeel in Arabic. These pre-date electricity & air-conditioning and were an ingenious method of ducting the breeze into the building to cool it.

THE SPICE SOUK

Walk into this area and you're in the Spice Souk. The atmosphere again is very special. The small shops, narrow lanes, the smell of spices from the open sacks and the traders burning frankincense and other natural perfumes to attract customers.

You can buy small packets which contain natural perfumes such as musk and frankincense, a small clay burner and some charcoal. They cost about Dh15. You cut off a piece of the perfume, put it on a small amount of charcoal in the clay burner, light the charcoal and enjoy the perfume as it drifts through house or garden.

THE GOLD SOUK

Then on into the old Gold Souk, which is about 130 shops side-by-side with literally tonnes of gold on display. Gold jewellery is usually 18 or 22 carat and is sold by weight at the day's gold price plus a making charge. Take your time, don't buy the first nice piece you see, shop around, bargain over prices and eventually go back to where you found the best item at the best price.

These days the shops are mixed - the traditional Arabic and Indian jewellery, modern Italian designs and the sort of rings you can find in the shops back home but which are much cheaper in Dubai.

HAGGLING IS EXPECTED

Then you carry on strolling out of the Gold Souk into the old shopping area around Naif Road. There are bargains galore to be had and you can find just about anything you're looking for.

Again it's safe to just wander around, so don't be afraid to explore the small alleyways. Shops selling the same range of products tend to be clustered together, which makes shopping easy. It makes bargaining easier too, because you can visit several shops side-by-side selling the same items, bargain with them all and go back to the one with the best deal.

This area, and Al Fahidi Street in Bur Dubai that I'll talk about later, are much more intersting than the over-hyped Karama, which is a boring, soulless modern shopping district that just doesn't compare for atmosphere.

JUICE AND A SNACK

By now you probably need a cold refreshing drink, and there are many little cafes and restaurants in the area.

Alcohol is only available in major hotels, so fresh fruit juice is the best choice. The variety is quite amazing, and exotic mixed fruit 'cocktails' are made.

If you're a little hungry, try a sharwarma, which is shaved meat from the skewar wrapped up in small Arabic pocket bread, with a sesame sauce and some pickles. Absolutely delicious - but only eat one because you're having an excellent dinner later! Sharwarmas will cost about Dh3 by the way.

ABRA TO BUR DUBAI

There's so much to see that you may discover you've spent the whole evening in Deira so you don't have time for the second part of the tour now. If you have don't worry, just come back tomorrow evening and pick up the tour here where you left off.

Whenever it is that you continue the tour, you need to go to an abra station because now you're going across the Creek to Bur Dubai.

As I said earlier, abras are the little wooden ferries. They hold twenty passengers, sitting in two rows back-to-back down the centre of the boat. The fare to cross the Creek is only Dh1, which is about 27 US cents.

Now you need to go to Travelogue "You absolutely must see - Part 2" to finish your true Dubai experience. Just click here.

  • Page Updated Jan 18, 2013
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